10/19/2013 5:59PM

Belmont Park: Saratoga Snacks holds on to win Empire Classic

Barbara D. Livingston
Saratoga Snacks and jockey Joel Rosario prevail by three-quarters of a length Saturday in the Empire Classic.

ELMONT, N.Y. – In upper stretch of the $250,000 Empire Classic, Saratoga Snacks had a clear advantage and seemingly was on his way to an easy victory. But it soon became evident that he was going to be tested in the final furlong by the oncoming gray Bigger Is Bettor.

It was in those final 220 yards that Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells and trainer Gary Sciacca were going to find out whether choosing to run in the nine-furlong Empire Classic instead of the six-furlong Hudson Handicap was the right decision.

“I thought he was fit enough,” Sciacca said.

Indeed, Saratoga Snacks, the 3-2 favorite, was fit enough, as, under Joel Rosario, he held off 23-1 longshot Bigger Is Bettor to take the Empire Classic by three-quarters of a length Saturday at Belmont Park. It was 2 3/4 lengths farther back to Moneyinyour Pocket in third.

They were followed by Spa City Fever, Zetterholm, Awesome Vision, Readtheprospectus, and Warrioroftheroses.

The win was the seventh from 10 starts for Saratoga Snacks, a 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat. One of his three losses came in this race last year, when he was beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Lunar Victory.

The win helped Sciacca breathe a sigh of relief, as he was torn all week over which race to choose. Saratoga Snacks hadn’t run since Aug. 1, when he was third in the John Morrissey Stakes going 6 1/2 furlongs. He had foot issues that plagued him thereafter, but those seemed to get rectified by the addition of glue-on shoes on his two front feet.

Saratoga Snacks is owned by Parcells, who races under the banner of August Dawn Farm. Parcells was not at Belmont on Saturday, choosing to watch the race from his home in Jupiter, Fla.

“He said, ‘Great job getting him ready,’ ” said Sciacca, who spoke with Parcells right after the race. “He was very, very happy.”

In choosing a race for Saturday, Sciacca said Parcells left the decision up to him but asked him one question.

“How is he training right now compared to last year?” Sciacca said. “I said, ‘Bill, he’s training so much better. He’s aggressive.’ Once I put the glue-on shoes on him, it made all the difference in the world.”

Saratoga Snacks stalked the quick pace of Warrioroftheroses – he ran a half-mile in 46.67 seconds while being chased by Spa City Fever – from third and three wide.

Rosario gradually advanced Saratoga Snacks into contention, and shortly after turning for home, he was in front and appeared as though he was going to draw off. But Saratoga Snacks drifted in a little bit while Bigger Is Bettor, under Angel Arroyo, was making his run, albeit futile.

Saratoga Snacks covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.79 and returned $5 as the favorite.

“He’s a heavy horse – you got to help him a little bit,” Rosario said. “I got a little bit worried when he switched leads before turning for home, but I know when somebody came to him, he fights.”

Sciacca said he might run Saratoga Snacks in the Grade 1, $500,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, Readtheprospectus finished seventh, ending a seven-race winning streak. Jockey Junior Alvarado said the 4-year-old gelding didn’t offer the same kick he had for him the previous three times he rode him.

“At the three-eighths pole, I started pushing the buttons, and he wasn’t picking it up,” Alvarado said. “He was just steady, which is not him. Turning for home, he switched leads, and he didn’t give me that kick that he always does.”