Trainer Linda Rice and jockey Jose Ortiz featured prominently on the New York Racing Association's Big Apple Showcase Day with three wins each, including a pair of stakes wins, on the Memorial Day holiday card at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
The 11-race all New York-bred slate included six stakes races worth $900,000 in purses, highlighted by the $200,000 Commentator and $200,000 Critical Eye.
Rice picked up wins with Blindwillie McTell in the $125,000 Mike Lee and in the $125,000 Bouwerie with the undefeated Newly Minted. The three-time leading trainer on the NYRA circuit also captured a turf allowance on the undercard with the promising Elektronic.
Ortiz guided Blindwillie McTell to a stalking score in the Mike Lee and also piloted Gucci Factor to a mild upset in the $125,000 Kingston. The eight-time leading rider on the NYRA circuit also piloted Kept True to an allowance score on the undercard.
“This is a terrific day in racing for New York and for New York breeders, and I think the fans really enjoy it too,” said Rice.
Jerold Zaro's homebred Blindwillie McTell captured the first leg of the Big Apple Triple with a prominent score in the Mike Lee, a seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds on the dirt.
The Posse gelding, out of Bold Child, broke sharply under Ortiz but settled in second position as Le General marked opening fractions of 22.84 and 45.80 seconds. At the top of the stretch, Blindwillie McTell took command as Le General began to give way.
Funny Guy and Bankit made late-charging bids on the outside, but could not reel in Blindwillie McTell who found a good rhythm to notch a two-length win in a final time of 1:21.53. Funny Guy completed the exacta, a neck in front of Bankit. Stone Breaker was scratched prior to the start after not warming up well.
The New York-based Rice enjoyed a similarly successful Big Apple Showcase Day last year and said she is excited at upcoming prospects for her two newest stakes stars.
“Last year, on this day, we won the Bouwerie with Midnight Disguise and we won the Critical Eye with Holiday Disguise and that was really special,” said Rice. “This year, it was two different horses, but two really nice horses that I'm excited about.
“One is a homebred of Jerry's [Blindwillie McTell], and he only has one broodmare, so it's pretty exciting to have a horse like this,” continued Rice. “The other is a filly I purchased a year ago [Newly Minted] at the 2-year-old sale at OBS in April and Chester Broman is the breeder. I think they're two exceptional horses.”
The Big Apple Triple continues on July 20 with the $150,000 New York Derby at Finger Lakes and concludes on August 23 at Saratoga with the $250,000 Albany.
Blindwillie McTell's win in the Mike Lee brought his career earnings to $258,650. Sent off as the 5-2 post time favorite, Blindwillie McTell returned $7 for a $2 win bet.
Harold Lerner, AWC Stables and Nehoc Stables' Pat On the Back prevailed in a stirring stretch duel with millionaire multiple graded stakes winner Giant Expectations to capture the $200,000 Commentator.
Trained by Jeremiah Englehart, the 5-year-old Congrats chestnut avenged his nose defeat in last year's Commentator to another multiple graded stakes winning millionaire in Diversify.
Giant Expectations, with Jose Ortiz up, stumbled out of the gate in the one-turn mile for 3-year-olds and upward over the dirt and watched well back as Mr. Buff set splits of 22.80 and 45.54 with Haul Anchor and Pat On the Back tracking his early foot.
Mr. Buff continued a swift pace into the turn as Pat On the Back, with Dylan Davis up, edged closer and Giant Expectations made up significant ground while traveling wide. Mr. Buff, stubborn on the lead through three-quarters in 1:09.09, gave way grudgingly in the final sixteenth as Pat On the Back took command and prepared for the challenge of the rallying Giant Expectations.
The two New York-breds battled gamely to the finish line with Pat On the Back putting his nose to the wire first in a final running time of 1:33.43. Mr. Buff completed the trifecta three-quarters of a length behind Giant Expectations.
Englehart was full of praise for both Pat On the Back and Giant Expectations following the thrilling renewal of the Commentator.
“This was a tough race. Giant Expectations stumbling at the start didn't help his chances and he ran his eyeballs out,” said Englehart. “When they linked up at the sixteenth pole, I knew our horse would dig in. It was just a great race out of him. This horse is just so special. He's all heart, all guts. Every time you ask him to go to bat, he's swinging.”
Pat On the Back, bred by Sugar Maple Farm, banked $110,000 in victory to bring his lifetime earnings to $924,032 while improving his record to 8-4-4 from 24 starts. He paid $6.70 to win.
The $125,000 Bouwerie for 3-year-old fillies kicked off the day's stakes action in Race 4, where 4-5 mutuel favorite Newly Minted remained unbeaten making her third career start.
With jockey Jose Lezcano aboard, the Central Banker filly settled in third along the rail as Cash Offer set fractions of 23.19 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 46.58 for the half. Tipped out and moving up to take command at the top of the stretch, Newly Minted moved past Cash Offer to win by 2 ½ lengths. Behind the Couch stayed on for third just another length and three-quarters back.
Newly Minted, bred by Chester & Mary Broman and owned by Beach Haven Thoroughbreds, boosted her career earnings to $212,850 for winning trainer Linda Rice. She completed the seven furlong distance on the dirt in 1:22.07 while returning $3.80 for a $2 win wager.
Peter M. Brant's Fifty Five, under a patient ride from Hall of Famer Javier Castellano for trainer Chad Brown, angled out for the stretch run and sped by her rivals for a comfortable score in the $125,000 Mount Vernon in the fifth race on the day's card.
Sent to post as the 1-2 mutuel favorite in the one-mile trip over the Widener turf course for older fillies and mares, the 5-year-old Get Stormy bay settled in sixth position as Vip Nation led the field of 11 through splits of 24.08 and 47.88 under moderate pressure from Lady Joan.
Vortex Road, a 50-1 longshot under Kendrick Carmouche, advanced three-wide late in the turn but Fifty Five, once produced by Castellano, found a seam and strode away from the field for a one-length score. A cavalry charge for second was won by Munchkin Money, who rallied best of all under Junior Alvarado to complete the exacta a neck in front of Kreesie.
The confident score, clocked in 1:34.09 over good turf, marked the fourth consecutive win for Fifty Five, all in stakes events, including a 1 3/4-length score in the Plenty of Grace to open her 2019 campaign. The victory avenged Fifty Five's narrow neck defeat in the 2018 renewal of the Mount Vernon won by Feeling Bossy.
Bred by Empire Equines, Fifty Five banked $68,750 in victory, bringing her career earnings to $785,038 while improving her record to 9-3-5 from 18 starts. She paid $3.10 for a $2 win wager.
Lawrence Goichman's homebred Kathryn the Wise, also trained by Brown and piloted by Castellano, went to the lead and never looked back to reclaim her title in the $200,000 Critical Eye, a one-turn mile on Big Sandy in the seventh race.
Castellano, who was presented with the 2019 Mike Venezia Memorial Award earlier on the program, guided the bay daughter of Uncle Mo through splits of 22.49 seconds and a half-mile in 45.12 as Frostie Anne chased from second.
Frostie Anne gave way approaching the top of the stretch as Castellano still sat relaxed aboard Kathryn the Wise. Never in doubt, Kathryn the Wise glided to victory under a hand ride to win by five lengths. She stopped the clock in 1:33.63 on the main track labeled fast.
Midnight Disguise finished well to grab second 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Bonita Bianca.
Castellano said he was pleased with the effort from the talented filly, who has now won five of eight career starts.
“My filly broke well and I didn't want to take anything away that came easy,” Castellano said. “She broke on top and I let her run her own race. She galloped along on the lead and she was just amazing. The way she did it today, I was very impressed. I have to thank Mr. Brown for giving me the opportunity to ride the filly. It was my first time on her and she made me look good today.”
Kathryn the Wise paid $6.30 to win while notching her third stakes victory. In addition to the 2017 edition of the Critical Eye, she won the La Verdad at Aqueduct in January. The win in the Critical Eye enhanced her career earnings to $375,250.
In the eighth race, Castleton Lyons' Gucci Factor prevailed with a stylish finish while making his seasonal debut in the $125,000 Kingston for 3-year-olds and up going one mile on the Widener turf course.
Piloted by Jose Ortiz and trained by Christophe Clement, the 6-year-old Gio Ponti gelding waited patiently as 7-1 Mo Maverick went unchallenged up front through fractions of 23.33 seconds for the first quarter-mile and extended his lead to 15 lengths through the half in 46.53.
With Mo Maverick remaining in front in the upper stretch, Gucci Factor was put into a drive going past Mo Maverick at the sixteenth-pole to win by 1 ¼ lengths, stopping the clock in 1:33.51. Offering Plan was third, 1 1/4-lengths back of Mo Maverick.
Bred by Highclere, Gucci Factor returned $11.20 to his backers, boosting his lifetime earnings to $278,450 while capturing his first stakes win.
Live racing resumes on Thursday at Belmont with a nine-race card. First post is 3:05 p.m.
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