09/27/2014 5:04PM

Private Zone earns trip to BC Sprint with Vosburgh repeat

Barbara D. Livingston
Private Zone wins the Vosburgh Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park for the second straight year.

ELMONT, N.Y. – He began his career in Panama and called California home for more than two years, but Private Zone is a New Yorker at heart.

For the second year in a row, Private Zone came East to prepare for the Breeders’ Cup, and for the second year in a row, he put forth a game performance to win the Grade 1, $400,000 Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park by a neck, thus earning a fees-paid berth into the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.

By winning the Vosburgh for a second consecutive year, Private Zone joined an elite group that includes only Sewickley (1989-90) and Dr. Fager (1967-68). Saturday was the 75th running of the Vosburgh.

Private Zone, a 5-year-old gelding by Macho Uno, did it in somewhat similar fashion to a year ago. In 2013, Private Zone was loose on the lead, got headed late by Justin Phillip, and came back to win by a neck. On Saturday, he dueled with Happy My Way, made the lead in upper stretch, and came back on Dads Caps, who headed him in mid-stretch, to win by a neck.

“I haven’t been on a horse in 30 years as game as this horse,” said winning rider Martin Pedroza.

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Palace, the 6-5 favorite, finished third, a neck in front of Salutos Amigos. He was followed, in order, by Coup de Grace, Happy My Way, Ribo Bobo, and Zee Bros.

Private Zone finished 10th in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, then returned to New York to run second in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in November. He didn’t make his 5-year-old debut until last Sept. 1, when he finished fourth in the Grade 3 Turf Monster Handicap at Parx.

“I told Rene [Douglas] I could have won it, but there were holes all over the grass course,” Pedroza said. “It was very uncomfortable for my horse. Every time I let him run, he kind of bobbled.”

Doug O’Neill was listed as the trainer for that race, but he stayed in Parx with Alfredo Velazquez, a friend of Rene Douglas, the former jockey who plucked this horse out of Panama for the Good Friends Stable.

Velazquez believes the horse is headed back to O’Neill for the Breeders’ Cup, though O’Neill said in a text that the decision would be made by Douglas.

One thing is for sure: Pedroza will be aboard. After getting headed by Dads Caps in the stretch, Pedroza said he knew his horse would fight back.

“Once he looks at a horse’s eyeball, he’s just as game as they come,” Pedroza said.

Private Zone covered six furlongs in 1:08.95 and returned $13.80 to win.

Dads Caps nearly gave trainer Rudy Rodriguez his third graded stakes on the day, having earlier won the Grade 1 Beldame with Belle Gallantey and the Grade 2 Kelso with Vyjack.

“He ran big,” Rodriguez said. “The other horse is a very game horse. They did the same thing to that horse last year, and he came back and beat them.”

Palace, the 6-5 Vosburgh favorite after winning two Grade 1 races at Saratoga, finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Dads Caps.

“It looked to me like they didn’t go very fast early, and I thought we were a little too far back,” Linda Rice, the trainer of Palace, said, referring to the half-mile in 44.81 seconds. “But he made a run, just didn’t have the same impact. Probably still go to California and hopefully go better.”