10/17/2014 6:15PM

Strong New York-bred contingent targeting Breeders’ Cup

Barbara D. Livingston
Zivo, winner of the Grade 2 Suburban, is one of several New York-breds who have made a splash against open company this season.

Some of New York racing’s biggest stars won’t be in action Saturday on Empire Showcase Day at Belmont Park, but the reason why is a nice problem for the state’s Thoroughbred industry to have.

New York-breds have had a phenomenally successful year racing against open company, and a handful of the program’s best are eyeing the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

“This year has been blockbuster in terms of open-company performances at the graded level,” said Jeff Cannizzo, executive director of New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. “There’s horses that are running every single weekend around the country, and they’re not just running in these races – they’re actually winning. It’s exciting to see, and I’m looking forward to the Breeders’ Cup.”

New York-breds have won 18 graded stakes races in North America in 2014 through Oct. 10, a surge in productivity that demonstrates a focus on quality over quantity by state breeders.

“With the economic declines our country faced several years ago, it forced people to really raise the bar in terms of the horses they were breeding because you had to bring a better horse to sale,” Cannizzo said. “So, you have people that shortened the scale but strengthened the quality of the mares in their broodmare band. And here in New York, you had mares coming in state that had commercial appeal and the pedigrees to go along with it to take full advantage of our program. And here you are with the results on the racetrack.”

New York has produced 53 Breeders’ Cup starters since the event’s inception in 1984, with just one winner – London Bridge, who won the now-defunct Marathon last year at Santa Anita.

The Empire State’s contingent this year is led by Breeders’ Cup Classic contender Zivo. The 5-year-old won six consecutive races from late 2013 into this summer, with four stakes scores in that span, capped by a three-length win over Moreno in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park in July. Most recently, he was second to classic winner Tonalist in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont after being checked when Wicked Strong lost rider Rajiv Maragh leaving the backstretch. Zivo became a millionaire with the effort.

“He ran terrific. In my eyes, it was another career-best race for him,” trainer Chad Brown said after the race. “He had some trouble, as did a handful of other horses when [Maragh] went down, but regained his composure and restarted his race at that point. I’d like to take a shot in the Classic. He’s doing so well right now, and it’s one of the best races in the world. Why not?”

Zivo, who races as a homebred for Thomas Coleman, was foaled at Keane Stud in Amenia, N.Y. His sire, True Direction, stood at Keane in 2007 and 2008 – with Zivo conceived in the latter season – before being exported.

Six New York-breds have run in the Classic, with the best finish being L’Carriere’s runner-up effort behind champion Cigar over a muddy Belmont track in 1995.

Brown also would hold a strong hand in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf with the millionaire Dayatthespa. Although the mare is not yet committed to the race, she did earn an automatic berth in the starting gate with her front-running score in the First Lady Stakes at Keeneland – the second Grade 1 win of her career and the ninth stakes victory overall.

“Horses like her don’t come along very often,” said Peter Bradley of owner Bradley Thoroughbreds. “You just are overwhelmed when you see them do something like that. If you get her to settle – she’s not pulling – she’s a bear. She’s at the top of her game right now. She deserves to go to the Breeders’ Cup. Chad and I will sit down with the rest of the team and figure out where we’re going to go with her. We’re gonna enjoy this, [but] we’ve got to think about the Breeders’ Cup.”

This would be the second Breeders’ Cup start for Dayatthespa, who finished ninth in the 2011 Juvenile Fillies Turf. The mare has been among the stars of her division in the last few years, along with a fellow statebred, the Grade 1 winner Discreet Marq, who is seeking her first win of the season in the Ticonderoga Stakes on Empire Showcase Day. Both runners are scheduled to sell as part of a star-studded lineup at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall mixed sale Nov. 3, two days after the Breeders’ Cup.

Among the most consistent New York-breds this year have been Palace and Artemis Agrotera, candidates for the Sprint and Filly and Mare Sprint. Palace, a former claimer whom Linda Rice has developed into a consistent graded stakes horse, won the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap and Grade 1 Forego Stakes at Saratoga over the summer. Most recently, he checked in third in the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont.

Artemis Agrotera, fifth in last year’s BC Juvenile Fillies, won her last three starts by nearly 17 lengths combined, including a romp in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga and a narrow victory last out in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom at Belmont.

New York’s representation at the Breeders’ Cup also could include several graded stakes-winning 2-year-olds: Skyway in the BC Juvenile and Startup Nation, also trained by Brown, and International Star in the BC Juvenile Turf.