08/11/2009 12:00AM

Tortora adds to his Stallion Stakes lore


MIAMI - Michele Blanco, the hard-working director of communications at Calder, has dubbed the Tortora family a "Florida Stallion Stakes dynasty," and rightly so.

When Sweetlalabye rallied to a three-quarter-length victory in Saturday's Desert Vixen Stakes, it marked the 10th time trainer Manny Tortora has posed in the winner's circle following a Stallion Stakes race. Sweetlalabye is an all-family affair as she's owned and bred by Tortora's wife, Jacqueline, along with his daughter and son-in-law, Toni and Richard Ancona.

Sweetlalabye was the 106th starter Tortora has sent out in Stallion Stakes races since the series began in 1982, far and away the most by any trainer in series history. His 10 Stallion Stakes victories puts him behind only the late Frank Gomez (14) and Eddie Plesa Jr. (11).

Tortora's most notable Stallion Stakes achievement came in 1994 when he became the first trainer to sweep the series with two different horses. He accomplished the feat with Sea Emperor, who captured the Dr. Fager and In Reality divisions, and the incomparable Mecke, whose victory in the Affirmed was just a precursor of what was to come later in a career that featured victories in the Arlington Million, Super Derby, and Early Times Turf Classic.

Tortora, who has won more races at Calder than any other trainer - more than 1,500 since the track opened in 1971 - was elected into the Calder Hall of Fame in 1998.

"The Stallion Series has been good to us, that's for sure," Tortora said. "This one was a homebred, but any time I go to the sales to buy a young horse, I always buy one that's eligible for the Stallion Stakes."

Tortora said it's hard to pinpoint any single highlight among all his Stallion Stakes success stories through the years.

"I won the first In Reality back in '82 with Luv a Libra," Tortora recalled. "Of course, there was the year we swept the open division with the two different horses. And winning with another of our homebreds, Boots N Jackie, that was special, too, because the horse was named after my wife, Jacqueline, and my partner's wife, Boots."

Tortora also is looking for future Stallion Stakes winners with Sweetlalabye's family.

"We have the mare, her sister, a foal by the mare's side, and she's in foal again, although I'm not sure who my daughter bred her to this last time," Tortora said.

Tortora also is looking for a race for Sweetlalabye's stakes-winning older brother Hypocrite, who has not started since finishing sixth as the odds-on favorite in the Tampa Bay Sprint Stakes on April 4.

"He had a little crack in his knee, which just required some time to heal," Tortora said. "He's training better than ever now and he's probably about 10 days or two weeks away from a race."

Princess Rooney form holds true

Calder officials were all smiles after Game Face and Keep the Peace finished first and second in Sunday's Grade 2 Honorable Miss Stakes at Saratoga. The result matched that of the Princess Rooney Handicap here four weeks earlier.

The Princess Rooney is the only Grade 1 race on the Calder stakes schedule and also was a Win and You're In event for this year's Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

Poor start costs First Passage

Saratoga wasn't as kind Saturday to the locally based First Passage, who finished an unlucky fourth following a horrific start in the Grade 1 Test Stakes. First Passage, winner of the Grade 3 Azalea Stakes here last month, had her head turned sideways at the break and then stumbled once finally away. She was eventually beaten less than two lengths by Flashing while missing third by a nose following a very wide trip.

"I'm still trying to get over that one," trainer Marty Wolfson said Tuesday. "I know what she would have done with a good start, and they all know what she would have done, too. Unfortunately, it was so costly to her because even with the bad start she was beaten just a nose for third in a Grade 1, and it was a race she probably would have won with a fair beginning."

Wolfson said he's had problems with First Passage at the gate, but that she's gotten better and better with experience.

"I went through a few channels to let the gate crew up there know she'd been a problem but had gotten better and better in her last few starts, and maybe I'd have been better off saying nothing at all," Wolfson said. "They loaded her with the boy off her back the other day, and we'd never done that before. I think it panicked her a little. The rider said she froze up back there after that and then had her head turned when they let them go."

Wolfson, who said First Passage might not start again until the Grade 2 Raven Run at Keeneland on Oct. 24, will return to Saratoga two more times this summer, with Icon Project in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign and It's a Bird in the Grade 1 Woodward.

Sweetsouthernqueen eyes rebound

Sweetsouthernqueen, whose five-race win streak was snapped in the Nancy's Glitter Handicap on July 25, returns to starter-allowance company in Thursday's $19,500 main event. The contentious one-mile starter race for fillies and mares also drew top contenders Even Road, Wyatt's Women, and Bob's Jawbreaker.

Sweetsouthernqueen finished a distant third behind Jessica Is Back as the highweight in the Nancy's Glitter. She had registered four of her five previous wins against starter-allowance competition.

Even Road has won three of her last six starts while not worse than second in any of those tries. Wyatt's Women finished a tiring fourth making her local debut in the Nancy's Glitter, while Bob's Jawbreaker rides the crest of a three-race win streak that includes a victory in the Runaway Marcie overnight stakes.