by Sarah Mace
Al Fried homebred Moonlight Song (Unbridled’s song) had the stakes credentials, dangerous speed to spare and a history of running well fresh to loom as a possible upsetter of dual Grade 1 winner and odds-on favorite Palace in Thursday’s featured $100,000 John Morrissey for New York-breds at Saratoga Racetrack.
Once Palace suffered a miserable start, however, the 8-year-old’s task became much easier. He seized opportunity by the forelock and proceeded to control the pace solo for an impressive wire-to-wire victory for his third stakes win.
The 6 1/2-furlong Morrissey, which originally attracted eight, was contracted by scratches. Last year’s winner Weekend Hideaway scratched in the morning and, once a heavy rainstorm reduced the track to a sloppy (sealed) condition, Ostrolenka defected. Moonlight Song, unraced since his winning the 6 1/2-furlong Hudson Handicap at Belmont Park on October 18, 2014 for trainer Charlton Baker, went postward under regular rider Jose Ortiz as the second betting choice after Palace.
Unlike his unfortunate rival Palace, who stumbled at the start and spotted the field two lengths, Moonlight Song exited post five sharply and took control of the race. He led the field through strong fractions of 22.03 and 45.20, with Readthebyline a length behind in second. Palace meanwhile managed to make his way up into third.
Set down unchallenged in upper stretch, Moonlight Song widened his advantage to as many as four lengths and, though tiring somewhat, held well to stave off any closing threat. A 1 1/4-length winner in a final time of 1:17.69, Moonlight Song was followed across the wire by John’s Island, who closed with an energy from last to second, Palace, Noble Cornerstone, Readthebyline and Smooth Bert. [VIDEO]
Winning jockey Jose Ortiz reported, “My horse broke great and he went to the lead pretty easy. When I asked him to run by the quarter pole he responded very well. The horse was 100 percent. The horse has to take all the credit. I was just the passenger. [Trainer] Charlie [Baker] does a tremendous job with him. He always shows up.”
Charlton Baker added, “It was a great trip. He went all the way so it was pretty easy as far as I was concerned. He trained good for the race and I’m excited.”
As to the weather, Baker said, “We were happy to see the rain. He’s five out of six in the slop so that was a lot of help there. I thought we were faster on paper, but it was a help to see the one [Weekend Hideaway] and three [Ostrolenka] scratch, less pressure. I told [Jose Ortiz] not to slow it down too much. I wanted him to chase hard, so I didn’t want him to slow it down too much for them to sit on his heels.”
Trainer Linda Rice supplied a report on Palace. “The horse next to him was acting up in the gate and he just kind of fell out of there and grabbed himself with a hind foot. He tried to recover, but you can’t give that type of horse five or six lengths in the mud or an easy lead. I also don’t think Palace runs his best races in the mud, either. It’s not really his best, but that’s racing.”
Moonlight Song, a late bloomer and otherwise lightly raced due to physical issues, added the Morrissey win to victories last year in Belmont’s Hudson Handicap and Aqueduct’s Gold and Roses. Now a stakes winner at all three NYRA tracks, his record now stands at eight wins, two seconds and third from 17 starts with $474,294 in earnings.
Moonlight Song is the third foal, and one of four winners out of Moonlightandbeauty (Capote), also bred by Fried, who purchased her dam, Stolen Beauty (Deputy Minister), for $30,000 at the 1990 Keeneland September yearling sale. Stolen Beauty won the Grade 2 Demoiselle in 1992 in her third career start, and won or placed in seven stakes races, earning earned $299,451.
Stolen Beauty’s daughter Moonlightandbeauty, a stakes winner and $228,053-earner trained by Rick Schosberg, began her broodmare career with a bang, producing Giant Moon (Giant’s Causeway) as her first foal, also trained by Schosberg. Giant Moon went undefeated in his first four starts, culminating with a victory in the 2008 Count Fleet Stakes, and was voted champion New York-bred 2-year-old male in 2007. Giant Moon won at least one stakes race every year from 2007 to 2010 and earned just over a half million dollars ($502,586).
Moonlightandbeauty produced a filly by Street Cry (IRE) this year.