10/30/2017 3:26PM

Firenze Fire pushes Jason Servis into spotlight

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Barbara D. Livingston
Trained by Jason Servis, Firenze Fire comes into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile off this win in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Trainer Jason Servis would like to stay under the radar. But with the stable he has built that’s becoming increasingly difficult.

Saturday, Servis will step into the Breeders’ Cup spotlight for the third time when he sends out Firenze Fire in the $2 million Juvenile at Del Mar. Firenze Fire is coming off a victory in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 7. He has trained extremely well since, giving the impression that he could be a threat to the heavily favored Bolt d’Oro in the Juvenile.

“I think he’s matured the last month and a half, two months,” Servis said by phone Monday from south Florida, where he was training his string based at Palm Meadows. “I think my horse is doing good at the right time. We’ll see how it goes.”

Servis’s stable is doing good at this time. He has approximately 75 horses split between New York and Florida, a mix of low-level and high-level claimers as well as stakes horses. In addition to Firenze Fire, who also won the Grade 3 Sanford at Saratoga, Servis trains the filly Actress, who won the Grade 2 Black-Eye Susan as a maiden, and the developing Lasting Legacy, a 3-year-old son of Tapizar, who is 2 for 2, including an allowance win at Belmont for which he earned a 98 Beyer Speed Figure.

“Seems like my career’s really coming to hand,” said Servis, who has 958 career victories. “I paid my dues.”

Servis worked as an exercise rider and a jockey’s valet before taking out his trainer’s license in 2001. He has trained hard-knocking horses like Ribo Bobo and Tightend Touchdown, who finished second in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and sixth in the 2014 Turf Sprint. Other stakes winners he’s trained include Hangover Kid, who ran sixth in the 2014 BC Turf, Inchcape, and Sunny Ridge, who was briefly on the Derby trail in 2016.

Servis likes that he’s getting better stock, especially having hooked up with owners Gary and Mary West, who gave him Actress and Lasting Legacy. But he likes the claimers too. In fact, Oct. 7 probably epitomizes what Servis is about.

After Firenze Fire won the Champagne that day at Belmont, Servis and Ron Lombardi, whose Mr. Amore Stable owns Firenze Fire, went to The Meadowlands and claimed a 7-year-old gelding for $5,000, winning a two-way shake.

“I love that stuff,” Servis said. “It’s nice to have horses for some of the biggest outfits in the world, but winning the Champagne and going to claim a cheap horse, I kind of like it.”

A cheap claim produced Firenze Fire. In April 2012, Lombardi and Servis claimed the mare My Every Wish for $16,000 at Aqueduct. The filly had breathing issues and never raced for them. Lombardi put My Every Wish on a farm for a couple of years and ultimately decided to breed her to Poseidon’s Warrior, a $6,500 stallion standing in Florida. The resulting foal was Firenze Fire.

Firenze Fire debuted at Monmouth Park on June 18, winning a maiden race by 3 1/2 lengths. Five weeks later, he pulled a 12-1 upset in the Grade 3 Sanford, beating, Free Drop Billy, who recently won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.

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Firenze Fire ran back in the Grade 1 Hopeful, where he finished a dull fourth. Servis said before the race that Firenze Fire had been coughing the week of the Hopeful and, unsurprisingly, he ran a flat race.

In the Champagne, Firenze Fire, was 10th of 12 early under Irad Ortiz Jr., came five wide in the stretch and won by a half-length over the maiden Good Magic.

“I was surprised on the turn how loaded Irad was,” Servis said.

In the subsequent weeks, Firenze Fire has seemingly taken a step forward. On Saturday at Belmont Park, Firenze Fire put in a fabulous five-furlong workout in 1:00.12. He started four lengths behind a stablemate, picked up an additional horse to follow after a furlong. In the stretch, Ortiz tipped Firenze Fire into the three path and he finished extremely well and galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.61 and seven furlongs in 1:27.62.

“Before he was too rank, he’d just break and want to go,” Ortiz said. “Now, he relaxes a little more.”

Servis has always been relaxed. He has a laid-back attitude and likes to keep out of the spotlight. He gives a lot of responsibility to his assistant, Henry Argueta, who has overseen Firenze Fire’s last two workouts.

“He works very hard at trying to stay under the radar,” said John Servis, Jason’s brother, who is best known for training 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones. “He’s always been like that.”