(Jockey Marcelino Pedroza, Star Wisher and Wildcat Justice / All Photos by Coady Photography)

From the Horseshoe Indianapolis Media Team / Tammy Knox:

Trainer Tony Granitz made a bet seven years ago that paid off handsomely.


The Illinois native for years had been a fixture in Chicago horse racing. But he handicapped the Indiana racing and breeding programs and projected a winner, moving his base to Horseshoe Indianapolis.


The results speak for themselves. Granitz is perennially among the leaders in the overall track standings and also among the leading owners and trainers of Indiana-bred horses. That’s on display Saturday as Granitz has three horses in the $100,000 Ellen’s Lucky Star Handicap for 3-year-old fillies and two horses in the $100,000 Snack Handicap for 3-year-olds. Both races are for registered Indiana-breds competing at a mile on turf. The five horses are part of Granitz’s large stable based most of the year in Indiana and the winter at Tampa Bay Downs.


“I’m building up my string,” he said. “I own part of about 20 of them, and mine are all Indiana-breds. I invested well in the program, with living here and Tampa in the winter. But we also have some nice Kentucky-bred 2-year-olds we bought in the sale.”


Lucky J Stables’ Star Wisher is the 3-1 favorite in the Ellen’s Lucky Star’s full field of 12. She’s 2 for 3, the defeat a third-place finish last fall in a tough Keeneland allowance race won by the well-regarded Heavenly Sunday. 


“Star Wisher was training really great in Ocala over the winter,” Granitz said. “When she got up here, she got real sick with coughing and mucous. So, we missed some time with her, and didn’t get her first race of the year until June. But she won really impressively. The saddle slipped that day, too. She went to the lead. Marcelino Pedroza tried to get her to relax, but the saddle slipped up on her neck. As he told me, he was so close to her ears that he just kept telling her, ‘You’re doing great. You’re doing great.’

“Saturday we have to overcome the 12 hole, but there’s a lot of speed inside of us. We’re hoping the pace is good and that she can sit right in the pocket. Marcelino loves the filly. We’re excited because her owner (Cal Johnston) will be here, and it will be the first time he’s been able to see her run.”


The consistent Wildcatjustice (12-1) runs for the first time on grass, for which she is bred, after winning an off-the-turf allowance race in her last start.


“She’s training really well, and she’s run some really good races here,” Granitz said. “She’s Indiana-sired, too, but we’re trying her against the big girls. I’m hoping she takes to the turf, and we’ll see what happens.”


Izforever is 30-1 in the morning line, but her one win in five starts was also her only turf start. She also adds blinkers.


Backyard Justice is the Snack’s 9-2 second choice, with a maiden win and seconds in his three grass starts. Spotonjustice, an Indiana-bred stakes-winner sprinting, makes his turf debut after fading to ninth in the 1 1/16th-mile Hoosier Breeders Sophomore.


“He’s run great the last two times,” Granitz said of Backyard Justice. “The last time I thought he should have won. He got in a little tight and got checked. But I believe he’s going to run a big race. We’re really looking for a big effort from him on the grass and going two turns.”


Spotonjustice, he said, “He has never been on the grass. But he’s kind of a horse who doesn’t like dirt in his face. So I wanted to try him on the grass and see if he breaks good. He drew a good post (the rail), and he gets Orlando Mojica on him, so I’m excited about that. He rides the grass really well here. Hopefully, he can get the horse out and keep the dirt out of his face. He’s an Indiana-sired horse, so there are some good spots down the road for him.” 


Granitz co-owns Wildcat Justice, Backyard Justice and Spotonjustice.


The 5-2 favorite in the Snack is the George Leonard-trained King Ice, owned by Louisville attorney Ron Hillerich and Churchill Downs-based owner-trainer Bernie Flint, who trained King Ice’s broodmare sire, Unbridled Express. King Ice is a son of 2015 Travers winner Keen Ice, the only horse to defeat Triple Crown winner American Pharoah as a 3-year-old. 


“He’s really coming into his own, and I think his better days are ahead of him,” Leonard said. “He’s a solid, muscled-up horse – a giant rock of a horse. I like him a lot.”


King Ice won the Indiana Futurity in his last start at 2. In two races at 3, he has a pair of seconds by a head in an allowance race and the Hoosier Breeders Sophomore. King Ice returns to the grass for the first time since his first two career starts. Leonard also is putting the blinkers back on after taking them off for one race. James Graham comes from Ellis Park to ride.


“He ran his first few races with blinkers, and we’re putting blinkers back on,” Leonard said. “It just looked like he was better with the blinkers. I ran him at Indiana against open company on the grass in his first race, then I ran him at Kentucky Downs, then we went to the dirt. And now we’re back on the grass again. I think he’s better on dirt, but I think he’s going to be as good on grass. His first couple of starts on grass, he ran in really tough races.


“In his last race, he got out of the gate super slow, was way behind and left way too much to do. He never did that before, and still almost got up. We’re thinking with the blinkers back on that he’ll break and stay closer.”


Marcelino Pedroza looking for big day, capped by Verifying 


With Belmont Park, Delaware Park and Prairie Meadows also offering multiple stakes Saturday, the national leaders among jockeys are spread all over the country. Marcelino Pedroza — tied for the meet lead with Fernando De La Cruz with 38 wins apiece heading in Friday’s racing — has every intention of capitalizing on their absence, including riding 8-5 favorite Verifying in the $300,000, Grade 3 Indiana Derby for trainer Brad Cox.


Verifying narrowly lost Keeneland’s Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass and the Grade 3 Matt Winn at Ellis Park, with a tiring 16th in the Kentucky Derby sandwiched in between. With Verifying’s regular rider, Tyler Gaffalione, in New York Saturday, Cox turned to his go-to Indiana jockey.


Pedroza’s prior experience with Verifying is working him one time over the winter in New Orleans.


“I liked him as soon as I got on,” the three-time Indiana meet champion said. “He showed in the morning what he’s shown in the afternoon. He’s been running with really tough horses like Tapit Trice. Disarm is a nice horse, too. He’s just getting beat, and hopefully we get the job done Saturday.”


Pedroza is named to ride in 10 of Saturday’s 12 races, including all six stakes. That includes Oaklawn stakes-winner Merlazza in the $200,000, Grade 3 Indiana Oaks and Lone Star’s Ouija Board winner Juncture in the $100,000 Indiana General Assembly for Cox; Grade 1-placed Strong Tide in the $100,000 Jonathan B. Schuster Memorial on turf for trainer Mike Lauer; Evangeline Mile winner Five Star General for Grant Forster in the $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Memorial; and Lil Kings Princess for John Ortiz in the $100,000 Mari George Hulman Memorial.


“It means a lot,” Pedroza said of being so well-mounted for Indiana’s biggest day of horse racing. “Normally a lot of jockeys come from out of town, and we ride a few. To have the opportunity to ride this caliber of horses on this day, and especially in the Derby, it means a lot. Hopefully, it works out the way I want, and the way Brad wants.”


Indiana Derby Day, the state’s biggest day of horse racing, will be complemented by numerous activities, including a Virtual Reality Jockey Station, cigar rolling station to the first 500, $600 Indiana Derby Hat Contest, $2,500 Indiana Derby Legends Handicapping Contest, and a drawing for one $3,000 Megabet across the board on the Indiana Derby. A total of eight premier races are on the program featuring purses in excess of $1.1 million.


Doors open at 10:30 a.m. with ample seating both indoors and outside on a first come first serve basis. Free parking and free general admission offered to guests of all ages on the racing side. Reservations are still available in the Clubhouse by contacting Beth Litteral at (317) 421-8801. For more information, visit the website at www.caesars.com/horseshoe-indianapolis/racing-promotions or follow the track on Twitter @HSIndyRacing.


The 21st season of live Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing extends through Friday, Nov. 17. Live racing is held Tuesday through Thursday with Saturday racing added in during the summer months. First post Tuesday and Wednesday is 2:30 p.m. Thursday racing begins at 2:10 p.m. The Summer Saturday Racing Series includes five all-Quarter Horse dates July 22, Aug. 12, Sept. 2, and Oct. 7 beginning at 10:45 a.m. Indiana’s featured event, the Grade 3 $300,000 Indiana Derby is set for 12:10 p.m. Saturday, July 8. For more information on live racing at Horseshoe Indianapolis, visit www.caesars.com/horseshoe-indianapolis.