NY-based syndicates continue to ride wave of recent success

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021

Breeding and racing in New York continues to show advantages to its participants. NYRA Photo.

By Tom Law and Paul Halloran

Three of the more visible New York-based ownership syndicates swept the late pick three last Thursday at Belmont Park, including a pair with New York-breds, and they and others continue to reap the rewards of breeding, owning and racing in the Empire State.

Dream Maker Racing’s Big Bobby and Sackatoga Stable’s Blitz to Win bookended the final sequence, winning a $80,000 state-bred allowance at 6 1/2 furlongs and a $75,000 state-bred maiden at 1 mile, both on the main track. Zilla Racing Stable’s and Acqua Nova Stable’s Boldish filled out the middle, taking an open company off-the-turf 9-furlong allowance worth $92,000.

“We’re very proud to have raced and won with a horse that we bred and being a New York-bred, run for the best purses in the country and have the extra added bonus that if you do breed a horse good enough to be competitive in New York you get the breeders awards as a dividend,” said Dream Maker’s Tom Gallo.

“I don’t think there’s another state in the country that gives you the combination of high purses, running at the best tracks and participating in a legacy brand that’s held to the highest standard of racing in the industry. It’s an achievement that you can really be proud of onward and upward!”

Jack Knowlton, who heads up the Saratoga Springs-based Sackatoga Stable that has raced New York-bred stars Tiz the Law and Funny Cide, took special satisfaction in Blitz to Win’s victory for several reasons. The 3-year-old Speightster gelding was injured in a stall accident as a 2-year-old and Sackatoga was uncertain if he’d even make it to the races.

“Sackatoga Stable was thrilled to get Blitz to Win over the finish line first in the last race at Belmont (Thursday),” Knowlton said. “His win today brought his earnings to nearly $100,000, with only one win. Sackatoga Stable races exclusively New York-breds and currently has 11 in our stable, including yearlings by Constitution and Accelerate purchased in August at Saratoga.

“Trying to follow in the footsteps of Funny Cide and Tiz the Law is most challenging but as Blitz to Win demonstrates, you do not need a champion to be successful with New York-breds and enjoy the sport of Thoroughbred racing.”

Mike Piazza, who started Zilla Racing in 2012, enjoys the same benefits when the partnership races New York-breds. In nine years, Zilla has won 112 races at a rate of just under 20 percent, with more than $5.1 million in earnings, and its best two horses have been New York-breds in Celtic Chaos and English Soul. Celtic Chaos won the John Morrissey Stakes twice and earned $718,011, while English Soul was a two-time stakes winner who banked $345,334.

“The purses are huge,” Piazza said of the advantages of racing in New York. “You’re running for purse money that is higher than even open company races.”

As a New York-based operation, there are additional benefits of running at home.

“We’re located here and we have a team of people here,” said Piazza. “We are able to watch our horses train, get videos and share them with our partners. Everyone knows their horses. It also allows us to be sharper in our assessment of our horses.”

Zilla currently has 20 horses in training, including seven New York-breds, and 200 investors overall. The syndicate buys yearlings and 2-year-olds at auction and is an active participant in the claiming game.

With the overall improvement in the caliber of New York-breds and the racing opportunities that are available, it’s harder to find bargains such as Celtic Chaos and English Soul, both of whom were bought by Zilla as 2-year-olds at auction for $55,000.

“That has changed,” Piazza said. “We used to go to the sale with a budget of $100,000 and knew we would be picking from the top horses in almost all scenarios. Now it can be a struggle to get a top New York-bred for under $100,000.”

Days such as last week’s Empire Showcase Day are especially important.

“It’s the big day for all the connections that operate within the same parameters,” Piazza said.

West Point Thoroughbreds, a syndicate started by Terry Finley 30 years ago, has also reaped the benefits of racing in New York and owning New York-breds.

“The New York-bred program has always been in our thinking,” Finley said. “We have followed the growth and development the program has made. It has played a legitimate part in our growth and success.”

New York-bred Out of the Realm, one of the first horses West Point ever claimed, set the track record for 1 1/2 miles on turf at Hialeah – 2:24.43 – in 1995. West Point also scored big with New York-breds Empire Dreams and Awesome Vision, both multiple stakes winners, who banked $813,751 and $439,286, respectively.

“New York-breds are very nice to have,” said Finley. “You have the option of running against open company or their own kind.”

Finley attributes the current success of the New York program to a positive working relationship between the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. and NYRA.

“The synergies and cooperation are as good as I’ve seen anywhere in the country,” he said. “They’ve made some tweaks over the years, but they haven’t tried to be everything to everybody. They have kept it fair and equitable.”

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