07/14/2011 2:17PM

Colonial Downs: Street Game means a lot for Serpe


A victory in any race with a $600,000 purse would be special. A victory in Saturday’s $600,000 Virginia Derby would likely rank as the highlight of trainer Phil Serpe’s 27-year training career.

It will be with a heavy heart and a sense of purpose that Serpe will saddle Street Game in Saturday’s Grade 2 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs. Street Game will be among the first horses Serpe will start for Flying Zee Stables since its owner/breeder, Carl Lizza Jr., died on July 1 at the age of 73. Street Game, coming off a monster 7 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Hill Prince at Belmont Park on June 18, is the epitome of the type of horse Lizza has been attempting to get since he revamped his program seven years ago.

“There’s a feeling like we got to get this done for the boss – that’s what I feel like,” Serpe said earlier this week. “There’s nothing we would love to do better. Carl waited a long time to get a quality horse like this. It would mean everything for us to get the victory for him, [Lizza’s widow] Viane, and the family.’’

Street Game, a New York-bred son of Street Cry, will be more than just a sentimental favorite in the Virginia Derby, a 1 1/4-mile turf race restricted to 3-year-olds that drew a competitive field of 12. Street Game enters the race on a three-race winning streak, has a versatile running style, and has the pedigree to suggest that stretching out from a mile to 10 furlongs is within his scope.

“We’ve never done it, so we don’t know it, but pedigree-wise he’s supposed to be able to do it,” Serpe said about the distance. “His father made a living doing it.”

Street Game won the Hill Prince in front-running fashion, taking advantage of a paceless race. But his two previous victories – against restricted company – came from a stalking position. There does not appear to be much speed signed up in the Virginia Derby. Edgar Prado, who was also close friends with Lizza, replaces the injured Ryan Curatolo aboard Street Game.

Tom Proctor sends out the morning-line favorite Banned, who comes off wins in the American Turf and Jefferson Cup – both at Churchill Downs. He won the American Turf from well off the pace and the Jefferson Cup from an attending position.

Banned is by 2004 Virginia Derby winner Kitten’s Joy and has stamina influence Sadler’s Wells in his pedigree, giving Proctor hope his horse can get the 1 1/4-mile distance.

“That’s something you got to be concerned about, but he’s got [the pedigree] and he’s a great mover, that says he can go a mile and a quarter,” Proctor said.

Air Support finished third to Banned in the American Turf and second to Street Game in the Hill Prince. But trainer Shug McGaughey feels the 1 1/4 miles should be ideal for his son of Smart Strike.

“I think going a mile and a quarter we’ll be doing a lot better,” McGaughey said. “He seems to be doing real well. He had a very good work [at Belmont] the other day.”

King Congie is another with a sentimental story behind him. Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, King Congie is named after one of that group’s longtime employees, Congie DeVito, who died in February from osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease.

King Congie has finished first in all three of his turf races, though he was disqualified and placed third in the Hallandale Beach at Gulfstream on Feb. 6. Since then, he ran third, beaten a head in the Blue Grass and was seventh in the Preakness.

“His only bad race was the Preakness,” trainer Tom Albertrani said. “All his other races it looked like he finished well.”

Crimson China has displayed a sensational turn of foot winning an allowance race at Gulfstream in February and the Lamplighter at Monmouth in May. Graham Motion trains Crimson China for Team Valor International and has Julien Leparoux to ride.

Callingahardten has won his last two on turf, including a maiden score at 1 3/16 miles. Thirtyfirststreet won the Lone Star Derby at 21-1

Watch Me Go, The Waco Kid, Benergy, Newsdad, and Casino Host complete the field.

The Virginia Derby (8:05 p.m. eastern post) is the last of eight consecutive turf races to begin the 14-race card that begins at 5 p.m. It is the last leg of an all-stakes pick five that includes a trio of $50,000 races and the $150,000 Virginia Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.