12/31/2015 6:16PM

Empire Dreams duels to victory in Alex M. Robb

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Empire Dreams and Saratoga Snacks may not get as much publicity as fellow New York-bred Effinex does, but they show up more often than not and give their connections and backers a thrill.

Such was the case again Thursday at Aqueduct as Empire Dreams, under Manny Franco, hooked up with Saratoga Snacks, with Angel Arroyo in the irons, outside the eighth pole, and the two ran heads apart for the final furlong before Empire Dreams won a head bob to take the $100,000 Alex M. Robb Stakes. It was three lengths back to Good Luck Gus in third.

The win capped a strong season for Empire Dreams, who won three stakes from eight races in 2015 and earned $422,834. He increased his lifetime earnings to $746,501. Saratoga Snacks, the 2012 Robb winner, now has a record of 9-6-4 from 24 starts with earnings of $693,500.

“It’s a great way to end the year,” said Terry Finley, head of West Point Thoroughbreds, which owns Empire Dreams. “I knew we were going to be in a tough battle with Saratoga Snacks. He’s been our nemesis. We’ve kind of traded punches all year. I’m sure 2016 will be the same with him.”

Thursday was the fifth time this year the two have met. Empire Dreams beat Saratoga Snacks in the Commentator and Empire Classic. Saratoga Snacks beat Empire Dreams in the Saginaw and finished in front of him when the two were second and third in the Evan Shipman Stakes at Saratoga.

Empire Dreams, trained by Tom Albertrani, received a stellar ride from Franco to win the Robb. Empire Dreams doesn’t like racing inside of horses. Breaking from the rail Thursday, he was fifth and inside going into the first turn. Franco gradually got him to the outside down the backside.

Arroyo had Saratoga Snacks tracking the pace-setting Ostrolenka through a half-mile in 49.06 seconds and six furlongs in 1:13.65. Saratoga Snacks took over from Ostrolenka midway around the far turn and had a length lead at the eighth pole.

But Empire Dreams, kept a few paths away from Saratoga Snacks, kept on coming and won the bob despite Saratoga Snacks coming over on him late.
Empire Dreams, a 4-year-old gelding by Patriot Act, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.14 and returned $4.90 as the favorite.

“My horse likes to run on the outside,” said Franco, who won three races on the card. “He’s more comfortable like that. At the half-mile pole, I tried to make a move on the outside. That horse [Saratoga Snacks] is a tough customer.”

Gary Sciacca, owner and trainer of Saratoga Snacks, had mixed emotions about the defeat.

“It’s tough to get beat like that, but he ran good,” said Sciacca. “It looked like at the eighth pole, he was a stone winner.”

Finley said Empire Dreams will likely get a break with his first major goal of 2016 being the Commentator Stakes at Belmont on May 30.