Noda Brothers' scrappy 5-year-old T Loves a Fight will square off against five other rivals in Thursday's $100,000 John Morrissey, a 6 ½-furlong sprint for New York-breds, 3-years-old and up, at Saratoga Race Course.
T Loves a Fight was claimed by trainer Orlando Noda for $10,000 out of a fourth-place finish in a seven-furlong sprint on May 12 at Belmont Park. Following a fourth in his first start for new connections in a $40,000 claiming sprint, T Loves a Fight has delivered successive knockout punches, first, on June 13 at Belmont, winning a $12,500 claiming event to provide Noda his first career win; the second, in a restricted $25,000 claiming sprint on June 28 at Belmont; and the third on July 14 at Saratoga when arriving in time for a three-quarter length score in a $40,000 optional-claimer, covering 6 ½-furlongs in 1:15.50, to give Noda his first win at the Spa.
Noda said T Loves a Fight, who won the 2017 Mike Lee for trainer Mike Hushion, is training well into his third appearance in the John Morrissey after finishing fourth in 2017 and seventh last year.
“Every race he just keeps getting better. He's all dappled out and feeling good,” said Noda. “For the time that he put up in his last race, that's pretty much stakes time. He's actually run in the race twice and they figured he was a stakes horse when he was with Hushion.”
The 30-year-old Noda is the son of trainer Jose Noda-Fernandez. Currently with six horses in his burgeoning barn, Noda and his wife Melanii previously worked in Florida for trainer Mark Casse.
The hands-on horseman is working hard to grow his stable and improve his stock.
“Prior to claiming T Loves a Fight, I had four horses and I was doing everything – grooming, walking and galloping,” said Noda. “Once I claimed two more, my wife came along to help. I'm still galloping and I've hired someone.”
In addition to a first career win and a first win at the Spa, T Loves a Fight has also provided Noda with another important first.
“He's put me on the map,” said Noda. “I got my first owner after his win at Saratoga.”
Bred in the Empire State by Hoffman Thoroughbreds, the Girolamo bay boasts a record of 10-4-1 from 29 career starts and purse earnings of $417,485. Junior Alvarado, aboard for the first two wins of the active streak, has the call in Thursday's bout from post 6.
If T Loves a Fight is to provide Noda a first career stakes win, he'll have to topple a rich field that includes Eye Luv Lulu, Gold for the King, Celtic Chaos, Build to Suit and Finger Lakes-based shipper Saratoga Giro.
The 6-year-old Celtic Chaos, trained by Brad Cox for Zilla Racing Stables, owns a record of 8-5-8 from 34 starts, with purse earnings of $604,947.
Last out, Celtic Chaos earned a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure with a 2 ¾-length score in a $100,000 optional claiming sprint at Belmont.
The Dublin chestnut, bred by Spendthrift Farm, finished third in the John Morrissey last year after a troubled trip. He breezed four furlongs in 51.69 on Friday on the Oklahoma training track.
“He was unlucky in this race last year, so we're hoping he can turn the tables on them this year,” said Cox. “He's performed well in this race before. He's gotten a little older, but his last race at Belmont looked like as good a race as he's ever run.”
Cox said he is hopeful of a good performance from Celtic Chaos, who will depart from post 2 under Dylan Davis.
“He's coming into the race in good form and hopefully things will go his way,” said Cox.
Francis Paolangeli's homebred Gold for the King, trained by Charlton Baker, has won seven of 22 career starts with more than $700,000 in purse earnings. A multiple stakes winner, the 5-year-old Posse bay has made his last two starts in graded stakes events, finishing third in the Grade 3 Toboggan at the Big A and sixth last out in the Grade 2 True North at Belmont.
Joel Rosario will pilot Gold for the King from the inside post.
Michael Dubb's Eye Luv Lulu is the field's leading money earner with $849,379 and an ultra-consistent record of 11-12-7 from 51 career starts. Trained by Jason Servis, the 8-year-old son of Pollard's Vision finished second in this event last year.
Bred by Donald Newman, Eye Luv Lulu arrives at Thursday's test from a strong second to Pat On the Back in a sloppy renewal of the Affirmed Success. Jose Lezcano has the call from post 5.
The lightly-raced Build to Suit, trained by Chad Brown for owners Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence, enters the John Morrissey from a winning return on January 26 at Aqueduct. That effort was the first start for the 5-year-old Dominus chestnut since October 2017.
Build to Suit has won 4-of-7 starts, including twice sprinting at Saratoga in the summer of 2017. Bred by Spendthrift Farm, he has trained steadily for his return, from posting a four-furlong breeze in 50.04 on the Oklahoma training track May 5 to Friday when he covered four furlongs in 49.78 on the Belmont main.
Manny Franco has the return engagement from post 4.
Completing the field is Henry Steadman's 10-time winner Saratoga Giro. Trained by Paul Barrow, the 6-year-old son of Girolamo, bred by Mendean Jonath, has finished second in both his starts this season, including last out when completing the exacta behind P J Advantage in the George W. Barker at Finger Lakes.
The John Morrissey is slated as Race 9 on Thursday's 11-race card, which also includes the Grade 1, $150,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial, a 2 1/16-mile steeplechase event as the opening race. First post is 12:45 p.m.
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