(Ice Chocolat wines the G3 Poker at Saratoga on Saturday / Photo by Susie Raisher & Courtesy of NYRA)

From the NYRA Media Team / Keith McCalmont:

Ice Chocolat set a solid tempo and turned back all comers with a stubborn gate-to-wire score in Saturday’s Grade 3, $350,000 Poker, a one-mile inner turf test for older horses, at Saratoga Race Course.

Trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse for owners Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Peter Deutsch, the 6-year-old son of Goldikovic utilized new tactics to make the grade under an aggressive steer by Jose Ortiz. At 24-1, Ice Chocolat was the second longest shot on the board behind his 29-1 stablemate Lucky Score.

Trainer Mark Casse: 

“He brought his ‘A’ game today. It was great,” Casse said. “You have to give a lot of credit to Jose. I don’t give instructions. I told him to just play the break and see what happens. He said he broke running and from there, catch me if you can.

“This horse doesn’t run on the lead usually, but one thing about this horse is he does get himself in a little trouble so he’s actually a better horse than he looks,” added Casse. “Today, obviously making the lead, Jose won it in the first half-mile. And he had nothing to get in his way. He’s a pretty good horse.”

Casse said Ice Chocolat could return to the Spa for another shot at the Grade 1, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap on August 10 – a race the Hall of Famer has won previously with World Approval [2017] and Got Stormy [2019, 2021]. The one-mile test for 3-year-olds and up offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile in November at Del Mar.

“He’s shown in the past that he likes Saratoga. You can go back two or three races where he showed his class, but he just got unlucky,” Casse said. “In turf racing you need some luck. When you go to the lead nobody gets in your way.

“I would think we’ll see him here back at Saratoga in a stakes race,” added Casse. “He likes it here. Nothing is in mind right now. We’ll look. Maybe long term, the Fourstardave. We like that race.”

Rider Jose Ortiz: 

“Mark usually doesn’t give instructions, so I see that he broke clean, so I help him into the turn and see what happens,” Ortiz said. “I wasn’t expecting to be there but how he broke; I would intend to be there. If they clear me, then I take back, but they left me alone and the horse took care of the rest.”

Ice Chocolat made a pair of starts last summer at the Spa, finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Kelso and third in the Grade 1 Fourstardave Handicap with rallying efforts. He shortened up successfully traveling six furlongs in Grade 2 company at Woodbine Racetrack when a close third in the Nearctic on turf and second, by a nose, in the Kennedy Road on Tapeta.

Rider William Buick: 

Buick lamented not being able to extract the Charlie Appleby-trained Mysterious Night from the rail earlier.

“He ran well in there. He just got locked in at the wrong time,” Buick said. “Once he leveled out, he picked up really well. He’s definitely better at that trip – the mile – and he ran right up to his best form.”

Rider Irad Ortiz, Jr.:

Ortiz, Jr. said he had no excuses for Talk of the Nation after pressing the pace throughout.

“The winner came out running. I thought I’d be the speed but they break running so I went into the first turn and sat off of him,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “I was traveling good. We had no excuse. We started running at the three-eighths pole and I couldn’t catch him.”