01/14/2017 5:08PM

Sunny Ridge confirms fondness for inner track in Jazil Stakes

Joe Labozzetta/NYRA
Sunny Ridge, under Manny Franco, wins for the first time since last January in Saturday's Jazil.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - January on Aqueduct’s inner track and the living is easy for Sunny Ridge.

Taking advantage of a bad stumble by 6-5 favorite Royal Posse, a contested pace between Res Judicata and Bay of Plenty, and a heady ride by Manny Franco, Sunny Ridge galloped to a 4 3/4-length victory in Saturday’s $125,000 Jazil Stakes at Aqueduct.

The win was the fourth from 12 starts for Sunny Ridge, a 4-year-old New Jersey-bred gelding by Holy Bull, and his first since taking the Grade 3 Withers here last Jan. 30.

“The inner track, he handles it well,” said trainer Jason Servis from Florida, where he watched the race via simulcast. “I think that’s a factor. I don’t think Rudy’s horse has ever won on the inner.”

Servis was referring to trainer Rudy Rodriguez and his horse Royal Posse, who was 0 for 6 over the inner entering the Jazil.  He was virtually eliminated at the break Saturday when he stumbled and his nose went to the dirt. He ultimately finished fourth.

Sunny Ridge, under Franco, was fourth early, but along the inside while Res Judicata and Bay of Plenty dueled through fractions of 23.32 seconds for the quarter-mile and 46.87 for the half-mile.

As Bay of Plenty began to back up, Doyouknowsomething and Sunny Ridge advanced into contention. Doyouknowsomething, under Rajiv Maragh, was the first to go after Red Judicata and Franco followed that horse.

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Sunny Ridge took command at the three-sixteenths pole and drew off for the easy score. Grasshoppin, a 17-1 invader from Parx, finished second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Doyouknowsomething. Royal Posse, Res Judicata, and Bay of Plenty completed the order of finish.

Sunny Ridge covered the mile and 70 yards in 1:42.45 and returned $7 as the 5-2 second choice.

“I wanted to stay on the rail and not too far out of it,” Franco said. “He was dragging me from the half-mile pole to the quarter pole. I was just trying to grab him and take to the outside and he responded.”

Servis noted that Sunny Ridge ran a huge race to be third to Exaggerator in the Grade 1 Haskell last summer at Monmouth Park. Sunny Ridge didn’t run well in the Pennsylvania Derby and Discovery. He finished third in the Queens County when wide over an inside speed-favoring inner track on Dec. 17.

“He ran his biggest race in the Haskell and some of the top handicappers tell you they’ll bounce and it takes three races to get over it,” Servis said. “He had his three races; he was cycling back.”

Servis said owner Dennis Drazin fielded some phone calls regarding the $12 million Pegasus for Sunny Ridge prior to the Queens County. Those calls stopped after his third-place finish. There are still three open slots for that race with less than two weeks to the race and it remains to be seen if there is renewed interest.

More likely, though, Servis said Sunny Ridge could run back in the $125,000 Stymie Stakes here on March 12.

For Royal Posse, the fourth-place finish was the first time since May 2, 2015 that he finished worse than second.

“He was standing perfect, just unlucky,” said Irad Ortiz Jr., the rider of Royal Posse, about the stumbling start. “They ran away from him and he had too much to do. Don’t count this one for him.”