Team Venti Valentine ready for Oaks Day

Friday, May 6th, 2022

Venti Valentine’s connections celebrate the filly’s victory in the Busher this winter at Aqueduct. They’re hoping for more success in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks. NYRA Photo.

By Tom Law

The pomp and circumstance surrounding Kentucky Derby Week always brings out stories of lifelong dreams and goals of winning the world’s most famous horse race.

Everywhere you look in Louisville, from Wagner’s to the Watterson, it’s Derby, Derby, Derby.

Vince Roth, Dan Zanatta and the other partners involved in NY Final Furlong Racing Stable and Parkland Thoroughbreds take a different approach. They’re here for the season, sure, but mainly they’re here for a reason that’s different than the predictable.

“Dan was the one who said it when we started this, what, 11 years ago, the goal was to win the Kentucky Oaks with a New York-bred filly,” Roth said Thursday morning at Churchill Downs. “When we switched to a filly-only model, which was a year later, that was the goal.”

And here they are, with their homebred chestnut filly Venti Valentine in one of America’s most important races for 3-year-old fillies. Venti Valentine, who would be the second New York-bred filly to win the prestigious race, was co-bred by Maspeth Stable and foaled at Schuylerville Thoroughbred Farm.

“I said to Dan when we started this, ‘the first time I’m going to step foot on Churchill Downs is when we have a horse in the Kentucky Oaks,’ ” Roth said. “Well, that was kind of a lie because we came here Tuesday. … It’s all neat. Now we just hope it all comes together.”

Venti Valentine’s arrival at Churchill comes after a 7-length victory in the Busher Invitational March 5 at Aqueduct followed by a runner-up effort to fellow Oaks entrant Nostalgic in the Grade 3 Gazelle April 9 at Aqueduct. She won two of three starts last year, including the Maid of the Mist Stakes on Empire Showcase Day.

That’s the short version. The long, as it so often does, goes back a lot further.

The partners campaigned multiple New York-bred stakes winner, $516,625-earner and one-time Kentucky Oaks possible Espresso Shot. They eventually bought the dam of Espresso Shot, on the advice and encouragement of the late Mike Recio, selling in foal to Firing Line for $13,000 at the 2018 Keeneland November breeding stock sale.

About three few months later Glory Gold, a one-time winner and New York-bred daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, produced the filly that would become Venti Valentine. And now, three years later, they’re all at the Oaks.

There’s more to the tale, isn’t there always?

“Part of it was the Covid-sales environment,” Zanatta said. “There’s a lot of back story with how we got here. One was Mike Recio finding the mare because of Espresso Shot.

“The intention was to sell all the offspring. They canceled the Saratoga sale (in 2020) and we weren’t left with a ton of good options. She was nice enough, so we said let’s keep her. …And now we’re obviously humbled and honored to represent the New York breeders and have a New York-bred here, supporting that program.”

Venti Valentine drew post eight of 14 for the 9-furlong Oaks and is listed at 20-1 on the morning line. Tyler Gaffalione takes the call for the first time. Gaffalione was aboard for Venti Valentine’s breezes at Churchill, including her 5-furlong move in 1:00.80 last Friday for trainer Jorge Abreu.

Abreu, a former assistant to trainer Chad Brown who went out on his own seven years ago, will also make his Oaks debut with Venti Valentine.

“I’m happy with the way she’s coming into the race,” Abreu said while his team gave Venti Valentine a bath after training Thursday. “She looks like she’s handling everything well. We schooled her yesterday and it looked like she had a good day. We schooled her in the gate. It’s never been a problem but it’s a new ballgame here with all the people and stuff.”

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