(Vekoma / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

From the NYRA Media Team:

R.A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables’ multiple Grade 1-winner Vekoma worked five furlongs in 1:01.28 Sunday at Saratoga Race Course on the Oklahoma training track in preparation for a start in either the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint or Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on November 7 at Keeneland.

The 4-year-old Candy Ride chestnut is perfect in three starts this campaign, including a pair of Grade 1 scores at Belmont in the Runhappy Carter Handicap on June 6 and the Runhappy Met Mile last out on July 4.

Weaver said Vekoma worked well in tandem with graded-stakes placed older horse Majestic Dunhill.

“He went in company with Majestic Dunhill, who has been a frequent workmate of his the past couple years. They worked together the whole way,” said Weaver.

A six-time winner from eight starts with more than $1.2 million in purse earnings, Vekoma has won at distances ranging from six furlongs on debut in September 2018 at Belmont up to 1 1/8-miles when capturing the 2019 Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland.

Weaver said both the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile are still on the table for the versatile Vekoma.

“I’m leaning towards the Sprint, but the final decision will be made closer to the day,” said Weaver. “I think this horse would handle any track. He’s a racehorse.”

Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, aboard for both Grade 1 scores this season, is confirmed to ride.

Weaver also said Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Stetson Racing’s Point of Honor, a 4-year-old Curlin chestnut, will make her next start in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff on November 7 at Keeneland.

Point of Honor captured the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan in a productive sophomore season that included runner-up efforts in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks and Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga.

Point of Honor has hit the board in all five starts this season [5-0-3-2], finishing second in the both the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on June 13 at Belmont and last out in the Grade 2 Beldame Invitational on October 4 on Big Sandy in a compact four-horse field.

“I thought she ran well last time,” said Weaver. “She’s been running well all year, we just haven’t got her to the winner’s circle. She hasn’t dodged any competition and she’s been running in tough races all year and she’s always right there in the mix of it.

“We are planning on going to the Breeders’ Cup with her,” added Weaver. “We think it will benefit her to have a fuller field and going back to a two-turn configuration at Keeneland.”

The late-running Point of Honor has faced short fields in all but one start this season when she rallied for third, after breaking last-of-14, in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap in April at Oaklawn Park.

Weaver said a larger field in the Distaff should present Point of Honor with a more favorable pace scenario.

“I think a bigger field would help her. There’s been quite a few races this year that came up with short fields and she’s really not able to adjust and adapt to slow paces and different scenarios,” said Weaver. “Truly, her best race comes when she can leave the gate and get in a comfortable rhythm and come running. She’s really not one that you can try to place closer to the pace. There’s only so much tinkering you can do with her. There’s a certain style of running that she likes, so a fuller field with an honest pace around two turns will give her the best chance to win.”

Weaver said both Vekoma and Point of Honor will train up to the Breeders’ Cup at Saratoga and ship in to Keeneland on November 2.

The veteran conditioner notched a pair of wins on Saturday’s Belmont card, with Lead Guitar taking the $80,000 Floral Park and promising juvenile Texas Basin graduating at second asking in an off-the-turf maiden special weight sprint.

Jim and Susan Hill’s New York-bred Lead Guitar, a 4-year-old daughter of Maclean’s Music, launched her career last year under Weaver’s care, including a third-out graduation on the Saratoga turf under Luis Saez.

After making the first four starts of her 4-year-old campaign for trainer Eddie Kenneally, including a restricted August 20 optional-claiming sprint score on the Saratoga turf, Lead Guitar returned to Weaver’s care and captured an open optional-claiming turf sprint on the front end on September 20 at Belmont ahead of Saturday’s stalking score in the open Floral Park over six furlongs of soft turf.

Weaver said he was pleased to see the filly, bred in the Empire State by Windylea Farm, run her win streak to three.

“Ever since we got her as a 2-year-old, we recognized that she is just a beast of a horse. She has a lot of talent,” said Weaver. “She was able to join back with our stable after the New York-bred two other than at Saratoga and now she’s won a couple races at Belmont stepping up in class. We’re happy for the horse to see her accomplish some things we thought she might be able to when we had her as a youngster.”

Saez, aboard for the last two efforts, is now a perfect 3-for-3 aboard Lead Guitar, who garnered an 86 Beyer Speed Figure in the Floral Park.

“The filly runs well for Luis Saez and we’ve been really lucky to have him for these last couple races. It just seemed like Luis fits her,” said Weaver. “I talked to Luis before the race and we won the ‘two other than’ by pressing and establishing the lead, but with the soft turf yesterday, it didn’t seem like we needed to be aggressive.

“The filly doesn’t really need the lead,” continued Weaver. “If she’s able to get there the right way she’s double tough, but she doesn’t need it. I was a little concerned about how she would handle the soft turf but she jumped up and did it well. I was proud of her for digging in and it shows you what a good racehorse she is. She adapted well to a different scenario yesterday and got the job done.”

R.A. Hill Stable and BlackRidge Stables’ Texas Basin earned a 61 Beyer for his rallying rail-skimming nose score over Momza to graduate in the six-furlong off-the-turf sprint.

Bred in Kentucky by Hinkle Farms, the Successful Appeal bay was purchased for $250,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He finished sixth at first asking in a six-furlong turf maiden special weight on September 20 at Belmont won by next out Grade 3 Futurity-winner Second of July.

“Texas Basin has done everything right. He’s been a green horse and playful, still trying to figure it out,” said Weaver. “I thought yesterday was a step in the right direction for him. He seemed to handle the dirt well and I was very impressed with his final quarter mile of the race. I thought he showed great acceleration and grit to get the job done.

“I hope he’ll continue to improve mentally and get better and adjust as he runs against better horses,” added Weaver. “I was pleased with both horses yesterday and they came out of it well.”


Firenze Fire in fine form for Breeders’ Cup Sprint

Mr. Amore Stable’s multiple graded-stakes winner Firenze Fire worked five furlongs in 1:01.20 Friday on the Belmont main track in preparation for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland.

“The breeze was very good,” said trainer Kelly Breen. “We’ll get at least one more good work into him and maybe a two-minute lick, but that’s about it. It’s just maintenance stuff now.”

The 5-year-old Florida homebred son of Poseidon’s Warrior secured his fifth win at Belmont last out with a prominent score in the Grade 2 Vosburgh that earned a 101 Beyer and an automatic entry into the Breeders’ Cup Sprint via the Breeders’ Cup “Win And You’re In” Challenge Series.

Breen took over training duties for Firenze Fire earlier this year and has saddled the horse to a record of two wins from five starts that also includes a score in the Grade 2 True North on June 27 on a fast Belmont main track.

Breen said Firenze Fire is peaking at the right time.

“I hope so,” said Breen. “He just ran his best Beyer for me, so if he can duplicate that or do a little bit better I think we have an excellent chance of winning.”

Firenze Fire, who boasts a record of 29-12-3-2 with purse earnings in excess of $2 million, will have the services of returning rider Jose Lezcano at the Breeders’ Cup.


Performer a strong possibility for G1 Cigar Mile

Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said he was delighted to see a triumphant return to racing action for Phipps Stable and Claiborne Farm’s Performer, who emerged off an 11-month layoff to an effortless allowance victory going one mile over the Belmont Park main track.

The 4-year-old son of Speightstown, who was a last out winner of the Grade 3 Discovery on November 30, saved ground along the rail and was nudged by jockey Joel Rosario around the three-eighths pole and strolled home to an in-hand 1 ¾-length triumph. He earned a 98 Beyer in victory.

“I know it was a light field, but I was pleased with the way he went over there and did it,” McGaughey said. “He was very professional with everything he did. I didn’t know what the speed was going to do. I thought the horse to the inside of us [three-time winner Empty Tomb] was going to show more speed. Joel was just patient; he knew what he had and just took it from there.”

McGaughey said he is giving strong consideration to the Grade 1, $250,000 Cigar Mile on December 5 at Aqueduct.

“It would be a big option,” said McGaughey, who won the 1996 Cigar Mile with Gold Fever.

There is a chance that McGaughey could saddle two top-level contenders for the final Grade 1 event of the year on the NYRA racing calendar as W.S. Farish’s Code of Honor also is possible for the race. McGaughey said Code of Honor would be more likely for the nine-furlong two-turn Grade 1, $500,000 Clark on November 27 at Churchill Downs.

“Either the Clark [for Code of Honor], or I would run the two in the Cigar Mile,” McGaughey said. “I’d be more inclined to run Code of Honor around two turns. He ran well over that track.”

A two-time Grade 1 winner when taking last year’s Runhappy Travers at Saratoga and Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, Code of Honor was elevated to second in last year’s Grade 1 Kentucky Derby following the disqualification of Maximum Security, who won last year’s Cigar Mile.

A direct descendant of undefeated Hall of Famer Personal Ensign and four-time Grade 1-winning millionaire My Flag, who also were trained by McGaughey, Performer is the third progeny out of graded stakes-placed Protesting who also produced turf stakes winner Breaking the Rules. His granddam On Parade was a full-sister to 2002 Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Storm Flag Flying.

“They both have distance of ground,” McGaughey said of Performer and Breaking the Rules. “She [Protesting] wanted to run long. She was fourth in three Grade 1 stakes and was second in the Demoiselle at Aqueduct. They’re both nice horses, but run on different surfaces. Not that Performer couldn’t run on turf, being by Speightstown.”


G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile a possibility for Funny Guy

Four-time New York-bred stakes winner Funny Guy has proven himself highly competitive against graded stakes company this season and trainer John Terranova said he has not completely ruled out a start in the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on November 7 at Keeneland.

Owned by Gatsas Stable, R.A. Hill Stable and Swick Stable, the son of Big Brown was a last-out second to Complexity in the Grade 2 Vosburgh on September 26 at Belmont Park after a game fourth as the post-time favorite in the Grade 1 Forego presented by America’s Best Racing on August 29 over a sloppy main track at Saratoga.

“I don’t have any definite plans yet. I’m going to work him a couple of times and see where we’ll go,” Terranova said. “We’ve got time for that; I’m going to breeze him [Monday morning] and then come back next weekend and let him tell me.”

Funny Guy has proven versatile from both a distance and pace standpoint having won from on and well off the pace as well as from distances ranging from six furlongs to a mile-and-an-eighth. Following an off-the-pace win in the one mile Commentator on June 12 over Big Sandy, he cut back in distance and tracked a half-length off the pace to win the seven-furlong John Morrissey Handicap on July 20 at Saratoga.

Other possibilities for Funny Guy could include the Grade 3, $100,000 Bold Ruler on October 31 at Belmont Park going seven furlongs over the main track.

“We would consider a race like the Bold Ruler, and there’s some other stuff later on,” Terranova said.


Come Dancing ready to fire fresh in Breeders’ Cup finale

Blue Devil Racing Stable’s Come Dancing worked a bullet five-eighths in 58.80 Thursday on the Belmont main track in preparation for the final start of her career in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

Trainer Carlos Martin said the 6-year-old Malibu Moon mare worked effortlessly under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who guided Come Dancing to a three-quarter length score last out in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss on September 6 at the Spa.

“Everything went great. She worked really, really well,” said Martin. “She went by herself. It was a little quick but we wanted to get a good work into her before we leave next week for Kentucky. Irad let her have a good, strong gallop out with the race about three weeks away. He went out seven eighths in 1:24, but if you had seen the workout you’d have said she was on cruise control. I was happy with how she came back and her energy level is good. I think we’re on the right track.”

Come Dancing won 4-of-6 starts last year including scores in the Grade 3 Distaff at Aqueduct, the Grade 2 Ruffian and Grade 2 Gallant Bloom at Belmont, and the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga. She completed her campaign by finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita.

Martin said he is hoping a fresh Come Dancing will be ready to fire a big shot in the final race of an impressive career that includes nine wins from 18 starts and more than $1.1 million in purse earnings.

“I think the last race got her back on the right path,” said Martin. “We wanted her a little fresher this year. We skipped the Gallant Bloom, a race I really loved winning last year, but she’s a 6-year-old now and I wanted to take her in fresh for her swansong. She runs great fresh.

“For a 6-year-old mare, it’s more a mental thing than conditioning,” added Martin. “She gets a lot out of her gallops. I don’t think fitness is an issue at all. I just want to keep her happy and wanting to do it on race day.”

Martin said a fresh and happy Come Dancing will breeze again on Friday on the Belmont training track before shipping to Keeneland on Sunday to finalize preparations.

“I’ve learned over the years, especially with older fillies, you just need to keep them sound and happy,” said Martin. “She knows her job. She’s been great for us and I hope she’ll put in a great performance for us in the last race of her career. She definitely won’t be short.”


Bond to send out talented pair for Empire Showcase Day

R and H Stable’s Evaluator switched back from turf to dirt in his last start with successful results, posting a 13-length blowout victory over a sloppy and sealed Saratoga Race Course main track on September 2.

Trainer H. James Bond had moved the 5-year-old Overanalyze gelding back to dirt after two consecutive third-place finishes on the turf over a nearly yearlong span, and will stick with the main track on Saturday for the $175,000 Empire Classic that headlines the Empire Showcase Day card at Belmont featuring eight total stakes for New York breds at Belmont Park.

Evaluator earned a 78 Beyer for his win at 1 1/8 miles last month. He will now return to that distance in the Empire Classic for 3-year-olds and up after continuing to train forwardly at Saratoga.

“He’s doing great. I’m very happy with him,” Bond said. “We’re just hoping he runs back to his last race.”

Evaluator, bred by EKQ Stables worked five furlongs in 1:00.67 on Thursday over the Oklahoma training track. Off an 11-month layoff, Bond returned Evaluator to racing on July 30 going 1 1/16 miles on the Spa turf before his triumphant return to the main track.

“He’s a very kind horse and good to be around and is a good-training horse,” Bond said. “He always shows up pretty good.”

Rinaldi, owned by Bond and bred by Barry Ostrager, has won consecutive races for the first time in his career and will look to sustain that momentum in Saturday’s $150,000 Mohawk for state-bred 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

The 4-year-old son of Posse will enter off a 1 1/2-length win in the West Point on September 4 over softer Saratoga turf at the Mohawk distance, improving to 2-for-2 during the summer meet at the Spa following a victory over optional claimers on July 30 also going 1 1/16 miles on the grass.

“He’s just a handy horse and is one of those over-achievers who just keeps getting better and better,” Bond said. “He’s a very kind horse and wants to win and he puts his heart into it every time.”


Englehart holds strong hand for Empire Showcase Day

Trainer Jeremiah Englehart will have strong representation in Saturday’s annual Empire Showcase Day, featuring eight stakes races worth $1.2 million, topped by the $175,000 Empire Classic at 1 1/8 miles on Big Sandy.

Englehart’s contingent includes Makingcents ( Empire Distaff), Party at Page’s (Maid of the Mist), Critical Value (Iroquois) and Team Hanley’s multiple stakes winner Captain Bombastic, who is under consideration for both the $125,000 Hudson at six furlongs and the featured Empire Classic.

“We’re probably leaning towards the Hudson, but I’m not 100 percent sure yet,” said Englehart. “I’ll talk to Jay [Hanley, owner] in the next couple days and make a decision from there. It seems like he’s doing well, so hopefully he can get back to his winning ways on Showcase Day.”

The sophomore Forty Tales chestnut, bred in New York by Chester and Mary Broman, will look to add to a stakes ledger that includes wins this year in the Mike Lee at Belmont and the NYSSS Times Square at Saratoga along with a second-out score in the Sleepy Hollow last year Belmont. He finished sixth last out in the Grade 3 Chick Lang at Pimlico.

Englehart sent out Peter Leidel’s lightly-raced sophomore colt Raven Rocks to a half-length score Saturday under Jose Lezcano in an off-the-turf state-bred sprint.

The Into Mischief Bay, a $220,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Select Yearling Sale, closed from tenth to sixth at first asking in a main track sprint on September 4 at Saratoga.

“I was really happy with the effort yesterday. I thought Jose gave him an excellent ride,’ said Englehart. “In his first start, he surprised me when he got out a little sluggishly and didn’t really get into the race. I thought Jose did a really good job with the race experience and he made a nice move late in that race and Jose seemed pretty happy with him.”

Raven Rocks was game between rivals down the lane Saturday to secure the narrow score that garnered a 72 Beyer.

“He used that first race to help him yesterday and he finished up really well,” said Englehart. “He’s not a real big horse but he’s a horse that would rather fight than give up.”