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Saratoga Race Course Notes - August 14

By NYRA Press Office | 08/14/2014 03:45 PM ET

  • Fans to decide Mike Venezia Award; winner will be announced August 30
  • Mott has Saratoga Snacks for Morrissey, three for G1 Alabama, regally bred Crown Queen for G2 Knob Creek Lake Placid, and Amira's Prince for G1 Sword Dancer Invitational
  • Weekend Hideaway tests stake company again in John Morrissey
  • Spring to the Sky an impressive winner of off-the-turf Troy for Brown
  • Penwith returns Friday in optional claimer for McLaughlin, Darley
  • Hushion hopes Amberjack moves forward in second start off the bench in John Morrissey

The New York Racing Association will provide racing fans with the opportunity to vote for the Mike Venezia Memorial Award online here through Saturday, August 30. 
Created in 1989, the Mike Venezia Memorial Award is given to jockeys who exemplify extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship. It is named in honor of Mike Venezia, who died as the result of injuries he suffered in a spill in 1988 at Belmont Park.

Representatives from the Jockey's Guild and the New York Racing Association have nominated a trio of exemplary individuals to be considered for this year's award. Each is an accomplished athlete whose aptitude on the track is rivaled only by the respect they garner off it.

Fans will be able to choose from outstanding jockeys Javier Castellano, Cornelio Velasquez, and John Velazquez to decide the 19th recipient of the Venezia Award. The winner will be announced and presented with the award in the winner's circle on August 30 at Saratoga.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott will have live runners in four stakes during the next three days at Saratoga Race Course with Saratoga Snacks in the $100,000 John Morrissey on Friday, three fillies in the Grade 1 Alabama, Crown Queen in the Grade 2 Knob Creek Lake Placid on Saturday, and Amira's Prince in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational on Sunday.

The John Morrissey, a 6 ½-furlong race for New York-breds 3-years-old and up, will be Saratoga Snacks' first start for Mott. Previously, the ridgling, who is owned by NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells' August Dawn Farm, won three stakes, including last year's 1 1/8-mile Empire Classic Handicap, for Gary Sciacca. The 5-year-old is unraced since finishing second in the Whodam overnight stakes in January at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Saratoga Snacks is the 7-2 third choice on the morning line for the Morrissey, which also attracted Evan Shipman Stakes runner-up Big Business (5-2), stakes winner and Grade 3 Belmont Sprint Championship fourth-place finisher Moonlight Song (3-1), and three-time stakes winner and recent allowance victor Weekend Hideaway (6-1).
"His previous form shows he can compete at that level [of the Morrissey]," said Mott. "I don't think the [quality of competition] is the issue. I don't think there's a question of class. It's just a question of if he can run well run well enough off the layoff."
Saratoga Snacks has won stakes sprinting and routing, but Mott doesn't know what type of races he'll focus on following the Morrissey.
"I really haven't thought about it because he seems to be a horse who can do about everything," said Mott. "He's proven he can run well at a mile and an eighth and he can sprint. The fact this is his first race back, it makes sense to run him in the shorter race now."
Mott entered three fillies in the 1 ¼-mile Alabama for 3-year-old fillies, topped by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider's Size, the 5-1 morning-line third choice. 
Size enters the Alabama off a 1 ¼-length victory in her route debut, the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Iowa Oaks on June 28 at Prairie Meadows. Mott also has Miss Besilu (15-1) and America (15-1), third and fourth, respectively, in the Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Coaching Club American Oaks on July 20 at Saratoga. Miss Besilu is a half-sister to 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam, graded stakes winners Congressionalhonor and Quiet Giant, and stakes winner Dance Quietly.
"We've been looking forward to 10 furlongs for America for quite some time," said Mott. "The other fillies have been running good. Miss Besilu was third last time. Size is coming off a win. She's very game. She keeps coming, keeps coming. Whether she'll keep coming at 10 furlongs, we just have to wait and see. She has a lot of natural speed. She's come a long way in a short period of time, and there are not a lot of straight 3-year-old races left with this importance. We decided to give her an opportunity right now. She was entered last week in the Monmouth Oaks, but we just felt it was probably better to wait."
Crown Queen, a half-sister to three-time champion Royal Delta, will represent Mott in the 1 1/8-mile Knob Creek Lake Placid for 3-year-old fillies on the turf. She has won two straight, including a four-length score in an entry-level allowance on July 20 at the Spa. Like Miss Besilu, Crown Queen is owned by Benjamin Leon.
"Her last two races were good enough to jump up [into graded stakes competition]," said Mott. "This is a big jump up because there are some really nice fillies in there. We could have run in a restricted stakes at a mile, but [based off her most recent start] the distance would be satisfactory going at a mile and an eighth."


Once the calendar flipped to August, trainer Phil Serpe's barn began to heat up. Following a quiet start to the meet, Serpe had won with three of his past eight starters entering Thursday's card.
"We're very happy, because this is the toughest place in the world to win a race," Serpe said. "You can come up here and think you're going to win and not win, and you can come up here wondering if you're going to win, and win. You've got to take that as it comes here."
Serpe hopes to keep the momentum going with Weekend Hideaway in Friday's $100,000 John Morrissey for New York-bred sprinters going 6 ½ furlongs on the main track. He will break from post 3 in a field of eight under jockey Jose Lezcano.
"Everything's going well," Serpe said. "His works have been excellent going into the race, and we think he's in top form right now."

The 4-year-old son of champion sprinter Speightstown is coming off a 1 ½-length victory in a state-bred allowance win at Belmont Park on July 11 at the John Morrissey distance. Among the horses he defeated were Morrissey foes West Hills Giant and Amberjack.

"I think he's doing well and that's what's most important," Serpe said. "The race seems like it's quite a bit tougher than the last race down at Belmont. There's a couple new horses in the race. We're optimistic, but we're also realistic about what we have to get done."
Bred by the late Carl Lizza's Flying Zee Stable, Weekend Hideaway was purchased for $40,000 out of the stable's dispersal sale for owners Red and Black Stable. As a 2-year-old, Weekend Hideaway won two of three starts on dirt with one second at Saratoga, including a victory in the six-furlong David Stakes.
"This is the logical spot being a New York-bred and having won the last race," Serpe said. "Those are basically the kind of horses that run in these races anyway, even though it was listed as an allowance race. It seems like his races from six to seven furlongs are the best distances for him, on the dirt. That's basically why we targeted this race. From the get-go we knew that he looked like a pretty talented young horse. He always shows up."

When the $100,000 Troy came off the turf Wednesday because of rain, trainer Bruce Brown had to decide whether to scratch his red-hot sprinter Spring to the Sky.

The defection of the speedy Tightend Touchdown after the race was moved to the sloppy, sealed main track helped make Brown's call easier, and it proved to be the right one as Spring to the Sky turned in a top effort, leading gate-to-wire to win the 5 ½-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up in 1:04.01.

The three-quarter-length victory over Grade 1 Carter Handicap winner Dads Cap was even more impressive because leaders were not holding well in the stretch through much of the race card and Spring to the Sky laid down a scorching opening quarter-mile in 21.68 seconds. It also wasn't unprecedented for the horse: He broke his maiden by 9 ¾ lengths at 5 ½ furlongs on a muddy, sealed track in September 2011 at Belmont Park.

"That was a pretty hard first quarter," Brown said. "For him to gut it out, he was dead tired after the race, but he's just all heart and wouldn't let that horse go by him. I watched him galloping out, and he still kind of stayed in front of the other two."

Spring to the Sky, a 5-year-old son of Langfuhr, has won three straight now.

He took the Lucky Coin Stakes, a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint, on July 20 and scored in an optional claiming race June 29 at Belmont Park, running six furlongs on the grass in a rapid 1:07.05.

Spring to the Sky has won six of 23 lifetime starts and earned $412,700, with all six victories coming under meet-leading rider Javier Castellano.

"I didn't realize that," Castellano said when informed of the stat. "I just get along really good with him."

In the past, Spring to the Sky raced off the pace, but that has changed in his recent starts and Brown credits the jockey.

"When he gets in front - and that's what Javier's kind of figured out with him - when he gets in front, he's tough," Brown said. "He used to break bad a lot, but he's gotten into his last four races, and he breaks like a shot. That makes it a lot easier when you're planning on going to the lead; you hate to break a little slow and have to rush up. He's there right away. You don't have to really use him to get there. A lot of the credit with that is Javier. I almost feel like I'm not going to run him unless Javier's going to ride him, so we'll pick our spots accordingly."

The third-place finisher from last year's Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct Racetrack, Penwith, will be taking a different route this week than the two who finished ahead of her, Stopchargingmaria and Got Lucky.

On Friday, Penwith will take on five rivals in a 1 1/8-mile optional claimer, while on Saturday, Stopchargingmaria and Got Lucky will contest the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama.
Since the Demoiselle, Penwith has one win from three tries, which came in an optional claimer on January 2 at Gulfstream Park.  Following that victory, the 3-year-old filly by Bernardini tested graded stakes waters again in the Grade 2 Davona Dale, finishing fourth, and the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, finishing sixth.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin for Darley Stable, Penwith enters Friday's race off a layoff of 4 ½ months.
"She's training great and she's working well," said McLaughlin. "She's coming off of a few months, so we hope she runs well. We were hoping this would be an easier spot, but it came up pretty tough. It's Saratoga."

 McLaughlin is not sure what accounted for Penwith's disappointing performances in South Florida, but is hopeful his filly is set to get her career back on track.

"It's hard to say, but they were tough races - graded stakes," said the trainer. "Now we're trying an easier spot. She might not like Florida. We hope [she belongs with Stopchargingmaria and Got Lucky], but right now she needs to get back in the winner's circle."

Amberjack will attempt to add another stake to his resume when he competes Friday in the $100,000 John Morrissey, his second start off a nearly 11-month layoff.
Last year, Amberjack won the seven-furlong Mike Lee at Belmont and the 1 1/16-mile New York Derby at Finger Lakes before he came up two lengths short in his attempt to sweep the Big Apple Triple when second in the Albany at Saratoga.
Amberjack made his return in a 6 ½-furlong non-conditioned allowance for New York-breds on July 11 at Belmont, racing in fourth early, looming at the top of the stretch, and finishing third, beaten two lengths by Weekend Hideway, who was entered back in the John Morrissey. The Morrissey, like the allowance race, is a 6 ½-furlong race restricted to New York-breds.
"He's trained better; he looks fitter [since the allowance race]," said trainer Mike Hushion. "He's even acting a little sharper since the last race. He ran like a horse who might have needed the race. We'll find out if he's improved off his last race."

Hushion said Amberjack will need to move forward in order to be competitive in the John Morrissey, which at 6 ½ furlongs likely is shorter than the colt's best distance.

"Six and a half [furlongs] might be a bit short for him, but if he takes a couple of big steps he'll certainly be competitive."

Irad Ortiz, Jr. will ride Amberjack (8-1) from post 7 in the Morrissey.

The 5-2 program favorite for the John Morrissey is Big Business, runner-up in the Evan Shipman at Saratoga on July 31 and the Commentator Handicap at Belmont Park on May 31 for trainer David Jacobson. Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride from post 6 in a field of eight older horses.

Winner of the 2013 Empire Classic, Saratoga Snacks will be making his first start for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott in the John Morrissey. Third in last year's event, the winner of the Shy Groom and Alex M. Robb was last seen running second to Zivo in the Whodam at Aqueduct on Jan. 19. Junior Alvarado will ride from post 1.

Weekend Hideaway won the Bertram Bongard in 2012 and the Gone Fishin in 2013 and was third by a length behind Zivo and Big Business after setting the pace in the Commentator, and third by a neck in the six-furlong Affirmed Success on May 2. Jose Lezcano gets the call for trainer Phil Serpe from post 3.

The John Morrissey field, from the rail out, is Saratoga Snacks (7-2), Brigand (12-1), Weekend Hideaway (6-1), Quick Money(10-1), Moonlight Song (3-1), Big Business (5-2), Amberjack (8-1) and West Hills Giant (15-1).