By Mary Eddy
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – After a lengthy inquiry into the stretch run of the $500,000 Great White Way division of the New York Stallion Stakes Series, Michael Imperio, Robert Cotrone, Hibiscus Stables and Rudy Rodriguez’s Antonio of Venice retained his victory in Saturday’s seven-furlong test for eligible state-sired 2-year-olds at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Rodriguez, Antonio of Venice weaved his way out from the inside under Manny Franco to post his first stakes score as Brick Ambush crossed the wire second and the Rodriguez-trained Heavyweight Champs finished third. But after a stewards’ review into the eventful stretch run, Brick Ambush was disqualified and placed last due to interference, giving Rodriguez the top-two finishers in the lucrative race and $375,000 of the available purse money.
“It’s one of the bucket list things that we got one-two in the $500,000 race. That’s what we work so hard for,” said Rodriguez. “All the credit goes to the help in the barn, they do an amazing job. The grooms, the hotwalkers, my assistants – we have a very good team. I’m so happy to be around in the mornings with them. We have a lot of laughs, a lot of cries, but I’m just so happy to see this happen to us.”
The bay son of Laoban emerged from the inside post in the field of 12 and was asked by Franco to join the fray at the front of the pack, racing in third along the rail as first-time starter Heavyweight Champs marked an opening quarter-mile in 22.49 seconds over the fast main track.
Entering the turn, Solo’s Fury, who tracked in second to the outside of Heavyweight Champs down the backstretch, inched closer as the Junior Alvarado-piloted Brick Ambush was asked for his best from fifth and loomed large widest of all with the half-mile in 45.78. Meanwhile, the Javier Castellano-piloted The Big Torpedo attempted to make his run between Solo’s Fury and Antonio of Venice, but steadied abruptly as Solo’s Fury came in and Antonio of Venice was angled out and off the rail to make his run at the lead into the stretch.
Solo’s Fury backpedaled quickly and a game Heavyweight Champs dug in under Ruben Silvera as Brick Ambush prepared to take charge, but Antonio of Venice found his best stride once in the clear down the center of the course to make it three across the track at the sixteenth marker. Heavyweight Champs was the first to concede and Brick Ambush ran on bravely, but there was no denying the momentum of Antonio of Venice, who crossed the wire three-quarter lengths in front in a final time of 1:24.40.
Brick Ambush finished 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Heavyweight Champs before his subsequent disqualification with The Big Torpedo crossing the wire fourth one length back. Liberty Central, B D Saints, Profitability, King Freud, Solo in Paris, Palace Boss, Solo Empire and Solo’s Fury completed the order of finish. Wo Hop and also-eligible entrant Kaz’ Mega Bank were scratched.
The stewards’ official ruling on the stretch run determined that Brick Ambush, racing widest of all at the quarter-pole, came in and caused a chain reaction that pushed Solo’s Fury down into The Big Torpedo. As a result, Brick Ambush was disqualified and placed behind Solo’s Fury.
Rodriguez, who won his first Great White Way, expressed pride in both of his top finishers.
“He [Antonio of Venice] ran unbelievable. I’m just very, very happy with the way he was,” said Rodriguez. “The other horse [Heavyweight Champs] went, so I was just rooting for any of my horses. I saw him coming up the outside and thought, ‘Oh, it’s the other one!’ We’re very excited and very happy with the way they ran.”
Rodriguez added that no future plans have been made just yet for Antonio of Venice.
“Maybe he wants to run from behind. He got a lot of kickback along the rail and then was able to come outside. I don’t know [what’s next]. These guys [the owners] want to bet him in the pool for the Derby,” Rodriguez said, with a laugh.
Franco, who piloted Antonio of Venice to a close pacesetting fourth-place effort last out in the Aspirant at Finger Lakes Racetrack, said he kept to the rail at the top of the stretch until it was time to make his move around Brick Ambush.
“I held my spot inside and the pressure was coming from outside,” said Franco. “I was just trying to hold my spot because the twelve [Brick Ambush] is coming, so I knew when he comes I’m going to go around him. I held my spot there.
“I had to work the trip late,” Franco added. “He got it done, but I had to ride hard.”
Bred in the Empire State by Cypress Creek Equine, Antonio of Venice banked $275,000 in victory, increasing his total purse earnings to $350,744 through a record of 6-2-1-1. He returned $14.60 for a $2 win ticket.
Immediately after the race, Alvarado was full of praise for Brick Ambush as he made the third start of his career off a strong maiden win in November for trainer Danny Gargan.
“He ran a hell of a race and just got beat the last few jumps to the wire,” said Alvarado. “He gave a great effort. He might have moved a little early with the quick pace, but we just tried to make sure to get the jump on everybody. He stayed on the outside, and that helped.”
The Tom Morley-trained The Big Torpedo was making just his second start and is still in search of his first victory. Castellano said his main focus in the turn was safely maneuvering the son of Big Brown through the traffic.
“The three [Heavyweight Champs], he tried to get out and the one [Antonio of Venice] came out and the eleven [Solo’s Fury] was squeezing,” Castellano said. “I was right in the middle with no place to go. I had to eat it, basically. In my mind in that moment, just hold it together and don’t go down.”
Live racing resumes Sunday at the Big A with a nine-race card. First post is 12:20 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the fall meet at Aqueduct Racetrack on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.
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