Trainer Chad Brown and Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano teamed up Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park for back-to-back wins on Empire Showcase Day, a unique 11-race all-New York-bred card, including eight stakes races worth a total of $1.75 million in purses.
Peter Brant's Fifty Five got the duo off to a sharp start in the $200,000 Ticonderoga, plying her usual off-the-pace style to win by a length and cover 1 1/16 miles over the inner turf in 1:41.65.
The Get Stormy filly was rated eighth down the backside while the pace was set by Barrel of Dreams who set an opening quarter-mile in 25.17 seconds, and a half in 49.42. Fifty Five was sent along to close along the outside, and after three-quarters was run in 1:12.66, a strong outside charge allowed Fifty Five to take command in the stretch and clear of runner-up Flipcup and third-place finisher Ancient Secret.
“I handicapped the race and watched her other races and I think she's one of those kinds of horses where you have one run and that's what I did,” Castellano said. “I'm glad Chad gave me the option of making my own adjustments in the race. I broke well out of the gate with the field, I took my time, saved all the ground, and made one run. She responded like an explosion. That's what I was looking for today and she did it. Great performance today.”
The victory was her first since her March 11 win in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks, and the fourth of her career. It was also her first victory since being transferred to Brown in the spring. Favored at 5-2, Fifty Five returned $7.10 for a $2 wager.
Brown and Castellano found themselves back in the familiar winner's circle one race later with Twisted Tom in the day's richest contest in the $300,000 Empire Classic Handicap.
Twisted Tom, a sophomore gelding by Creative Cause, proved much the best against his elders with a three-length victory in the Empire Classic after running down the pacesetting Control Group, who led the field of nine through a quarter-mile in 24.73 and a half in 48.08. Sent off as the even-money favorite, Twisted Tom stopped the clock for 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.38 to return $4.10 for a $2 win wager.
“The horse has a high cruising speed and the horses weren't going that fast and I loved Javier's decision early to just put him right in the race and just get him in a nice rhythm there down the backside,” said Brown. “It looked like he had that other horse measured. I am just extremely pleased with his effort. He has been training well. He has had a really great season for us, so I am inclined to rest him now for next year.”
The win was the third straight for Twisted Tom after taking the New York Derby and Albany this summer. He boasts an overall record of seven wins from 10 starts for lifetime earnings of $680,131.
Trainer Charlie Baker also had a pair of stakes wins as Newman Racing's Absatootly surged from the rail to overtake Quezon in the final furlong to win the $150,000 Iroquois in the third race, and Verdant Pastures proved uncatchable in the $250,000 Empire Distaff to close out the day's stakes action.
In the Iroquois for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up, Absatootly won for the first time in five races. Ridden by Joe Bravo, who also had a pair of wins on the card, the 4-year-old daughter of Mineshaft outkicked 6-5 favorite Quezon by a half-length, completing 6 ½ furlongs in 1:16.04 on Big Sandy. Absatootly, who went off at 11-1, paid $24.20 to win. She increased her career bankroll to $385,107.
“She ran a great race. It was a beautiful ride,” Baker said. “I think Joe, third time riding her, figured her out. He figured out where she needs to make her run from.”
Francis Paolangeli's homebred Verdant Pastures earned her first stakes victory in the Empire Distaff for fillies and mares 3 and up, maintaining a comfortable lead by jockey Manny Franco through an opening quarter-mile in 22.94 and a half in 46.09 to hold on for the win by two lengths over 41-1 longshot Might Be.
A 3-year-old filly by Colonel John, Verdant Pastures completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.65 to return $8.10.
“She broke so well and I just let her do her thing,” said Franco, who also won the Sleepy Hollow earlier on the card. “Like in Saratoga, I just went to the lead and she relaxed by herself. She's a pretty nice filly. [At the top of the stretch] I felt my filly was getting tired a little bit, but I knew she was going to give me a little bit more because on the backside she relaxed so well. I knew I had something left.”
Kicking off the day's stakes action was Berning Rose, bred and owned by Robert Rosenthal and Brad Bernstein, who captured her first stakes victory by an impressive 1 ½ lengths in the $250,000 Maid of the Mist, besting a field of seven other 2-year-old fillies. After breaking first from the outside post, jockey Kendrick Carmouche dropped Berning Rose into a stalking position through the first five furlongs, tracking Newport Breeze and I Still Miss You, before pulling clear of the field entering the stretch and holding off a bid from Held Accountable earning trainer Dominick Schettino the win.
Berning Rose stopped the clock for one mile in 1:37.76 and paid $16.80.
“When she broke sharp, I figured Kendrick could get her to settle,” Schettino said. “She is easy like that. She is not a hard horse, she is not a run off type. She is easy to relax once you take a hold of her, but she was ready for the race today.”
It was the third start for Berning Rose, a daughter of Freud, who broke her maiden with a five length score on August 30th at Saratoga Race Course, and followed it up with a second in the $150,000 Joseph A. Gimma at Belmont Park on September 17.
R and H Stable's Evaluator ran down Big Gemmy in deep stretch, posting a victory by a nose in the 21st running of the $250,000 Sleepy Hollow for 2-year-olds in Race 6.
Evaluator, a 19-1 longshot, capitalized on the class relief after consecutive Grade 3 appearances to win his first stakes, overtaking Big Gemmy from the outside before hanging on in the final jumps, completing one mile on the main track in 1:38.38. Trained by Michael Dilger, Evaluator won for the first time since his debut on August 9.
Ridden by Franco, Evaluator paid $40.20 for the win. The overanalyze colt more than tripled his previous career earnings to $195,634.
“Dilger told me to break out of there and let him be comfortable, because he doesn't have speed early on,” Franco said. “I put my head down and tried to follow a target and get a space to go and it worked out well.”
David Jacobson's Ostrolenka took advantage of a slow pace to take home the $150,000 Hudson, besting frontrunner Eye Love Lulu by a neck in an exciting stretch duel. Jockey Joe Bravo aboard Ostrolenka stalked Eye Love Lulu through slow fractions of 22.82 for the quarter-mile and 46.16 for the half, before angling the son of Musket Man to the outside in the stretch, grinding out a neck victory in the final jumps to complete the 6 ½ furlongs in 1:16.75. Off at 9-2, Ostolenka paid $11.60.
The win was Ostrolenka's seventh in 31 starts, coming after three straight second-place finishes, and bringing his career earnings to $622,689.
Ivery Sisters Racing's Black Tide took the field of six gate to wire to win the$200,000 Mohawk in 1:40.98 for 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf.
Ridden by jockey Jose Lezcano, the David Cannizzo-trained 5-year-old gelding by Hold Me Back was sent to the front and led the way with an opening quarter in 24.74 and remained through a half-mile in 47.92 before putting 1:11.41 on the timer for three quarters of a mile.
Being allowed to take a few strides unchallenged may have helped Black Tide in the later stages as he found another gear to hold off the charging Offering Plan by 1 ¼ lengths at the wire. Offering Plan settled for second over Rapt, who checked in for third.
“I let him break and go on,” Lezcano said. “Then I started to pick him up early and around the three-eighths [pole]. You have to let him open up.”
Black Tide's victory was the seventh career win through 34 starts. Black Tide paid $10.20 for a $2 wager.
There will be a $38,677 Pick 6 carryover on Sunday at Belmont Park, which will feature the $100,000 English Channel, carded as Race 7. The sequence will start with Race 4, with an approximate post time of 2:34 p.m. ET. Saturday's Pick 6 consolation payout for five of six correct was $2,148.
Wagering on the Pick 6 is available is through NYRA Bets, on-track, at Aqueduct Racetrack, as well as simulcast facilities across the country.
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