04/19/2017 12:40PM

Top New Jersey-bred Sunny Ridge streaking into Charles Town Classic

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Sunny Ridge will be seeking his third straight stakes win in the Charles Town Classic.

Just one month into spring, this already has been an outstanding year for New Jersey-breds.

Irish War Cry has won the Wood Memorial and Holy Bull Stakes and is a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby. The old warrior Green Gratto won the Grade 1 Carter on the Wood undercard. And on Saturday, Sunny Ridge will aim for his third consecutive stakes victory in the $1.25 million Charles Town Classic.

A Holy Bull gelding bred and owned by Dennis Drazin – the head of Darby Development, which operates Monmouth Park – Sunny Ridge is back on track after a complicated 3-year-old campaign in which he missed the middle part of the year. Still, his win in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct and his third in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth were enough for him to recently be voted the New Jersey-bred Horse of the Year for 2016.

Sunny Ridge came into the Haskell off a layoff of nearly five months due to a muscle pull in his hind end. He finished a brave third to Exaggerator over a sloppy track but may have paid a price for the big effort in his final three starts of the year, according to trainer Jason Servis.

“The Haskell may have gotten to him for a few races,” Servis said. “It may have weakened him for a while. I was worried about that going into the race.”

Sunny Ridge seems to just now be realizing the potential he has hinted at throughout his career. He comes into the Grade 2 Classic off back-to-back wins in the Jazil and Stymie stakes over Aqueduct’s inner track.

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“He’s doing great now,” Servis said. “I don’t think he’s an inner-track specialist, but he sure has run good there.”

While the turns of the one-mile inner track are not sweeping, they aren’t as tight as the bends of the Charles Town oval. Sunny Ridge did, however, finish second by a neck to Exaggerator in the $1 million Delta Jackpot as a 2-year-old. The tracks at Delta and Charles Town are both six furlongs.

“He’s a big guy, but he handled the track at Delta real well, and our thinking is that he’ll like the tight turns,” Servis said. “Of course, it’s a lot of money, too.”

Sunny Ridge will have a rooting section at Charles Town on Saturday since that’s where Servis was born and raised. His father, Joe, a former jockey, manager of the Jockeys’ Guild, and a steward for more than two decades at Charles Town, is a member of the track’s Hall of Fame and lives in town with his wife, Delores, and Servis’s sister, Jodie. All three will be on hand Saturday.

Drazin was one of the first owners to support Jason Servis when, after years of galloping horses in the morning and working as a valet in the jockeys’ room in the afternoon, he began training in 2001. Servis’s first stakes win as a trainer came in the 2002 Oceanport Stakes with Tempest Fugit, a horse Drazin claimed for $75,000.

Now, 15 years later, Sunny Ridge has developed into the best horse Drazin and Servis have had together, with five wins from 13 starts and $833,000 in earnings. And since Sunny Ridge is a gelding, this story hopefully has a long way to go.