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Belmont Park: Mott targets first Empire Classic win with Lunar Victory
ELMONT, N.Y. – Two weeks before he attempts to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Ladies’ Classic for a second consecutive year, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott will try to win his first Empire Classic.
Mott will send out the Juddmonte Farms-owned Lunar Victory in the $250,000 Empire Classic, the centerpiece event on Saturday’s 10-race New York Showcase Day program at Belmont Park. All 10 races are restricted to New York-breds, and there are seven stakes worth a total of $1,150,000.
New York Showcase Day typically is one of the most contentious and best wagering programs annually on this circuit. There are 128 horses carded for the 10 races, including also-eligibles and main track-only entrants.
“Talk about a good betting card,” said trainer Tom Bush, who has four horses on the program including three in stakes. “The New York breeders need to use their [public relations] on this; that’s as fine a card as you’ll ever see.”
It has been a terrific year for New York-breds as 11 different horses have combined to win 14 graded stakes, including four Grade 1’s. Only three of those graded winners are in action here Saturday, however.
Lunar Victory, a 5-year-old son of Speightstown, displayed enough talent to think he could have defeated open company in a stakes race. He has won five of seven starts – including two open-company allowance races – and is 2 for 2 at 1 1/8 miles, the distance of the Empire Classic.
Lunar Victory is coming off a half-length loss in a one-mile overnight stakes race here, one in which he stumbled at the start but was gaining on the winner, Saginaw, at the end. Saginaw was entered in Saturday’s $150,000 Hudson Stakes at six furlongs.
“It looked like if it was a mile and an eighth the last time, he would have been the winner,” Mott said. “He was getting to the leader. We stumbled and we were back a little far; speed-favoring racetrack, but he was grinding them down at the end.”
Junior Alvarado, aboard for Lunar Victory’s five consecutive wins from Dec. 28, 2011, through Aug. 23, has the call from post 9.
His main competition figures to come from the 3-year-old Saratoga Snacks, owned by retired NFL coach Bill Parcells and trained by Gary Sciacca.
Saratoga Snacks, a son of Tale of the Cat, has won four consecutive races dating back to September 2011 and makes his stakes debut in this spot. Last time out, he won a one-mile allowance race here against open company by four lengths.
“I think he’s ready to run a big race,” Sciacca said. “Every time we’ve run him, he’s always made the jump. He’s had a couple of races underneath him, a couple of easy ones, the last one was a much tougher one, and it was his most impressive one. That, to me, was the best race he ever ran.”
Saratoga Snacks breaks from post 6 under Belmont’s leading rider, Ramon Dominguez. He gets seven pounds from Lunar Victory.
Trainer Dominic Galluscio won this race in 2006-07 with full brothers Organizer and Dr. Vs Magic. Saturday, Galluscio entered their full sister, the lightly raced 3-year-old Haldane, and the 5-year-old Johannesburg Smile, who finished third in this race last year.
Galluscio said he would likely run Haldane only if the track is sloppy. Fifteen days ago, she finished third as the favorite in a one-mile, off-the-turf allowance.
“I think last time, even though she was the favorite and didn’t win, she was in a position she’d never been in; between [horses] and waiting,” Galluscio said. “She’s very lightly raced, still green.”
Johannesburg Smile has not won since taking an overnight stakes here in June. Galluscio removes the blinkers from his equipment.
“He’s a hard-trying son of a gun,” Galluscio said. “I wish they’d weight these things and give me some weight. They keep beating the [heck] out of me, and I keep carrying the same weight. What’s that all about?”
Johannesburg Smile carries co-high weight of 122 pounds under Cornelio Velasquez.
Trainer David Jacobson entered both Big Business and Fiddlers Afleet, but said Thursday he planned to run just Fiddlers Afleet. As a 3-year-old, Fiddlers Afleet twice won at 1 1/8 miles. Recently, though, his better races have come at shorter distances.
Sailmate, Bigger Is Bettor, and Saxophone Len complete the field.
Gotta love Mott - but today I REALLY love Zito. I'm still shakin!
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