Antonio of Venice dominates Damon Runyon

Sunday, March 17th, 2024

Antonio of Venice and jockey Manny Franco cruise to victory in Sunday’s Damon Runyon Stakes at Aqueduct. Chelsea Durand/NYRA Photo.

Antonio of Venice enjoyed a much smoother trip this time around and turned the tables on Mischief Joke in Sunday’s 49th renewal of the $93,000 Damon Runyon for 3-year-old New York-breds at Aqueduct.

Second by a length to that foe in the Rego Park in late January, Antonio of Venice took command shortly after the start and stayed in control through the 6-furlong stakes for his second stakes victory. Owned by Michael Imperio, Robert Cotrone, Hibiscus Stables and trainer Rudy Rodriguez, the 3-year-old son of former New York-based sire Laoban won by 9 1/4 lengths and improved to 3-for-8 with three placings in the Damon Runyon.

“He is a versatile horse,” winning jockey Manny Franco said. “He can do whatever you ask him to do. Today was a short field, I had to play the break and he broke that fast so I just went on with him, because I knew he could be on the front end, too. That is what we did. We got it done.

“You can see at the eighth pole that I just eased him down. I think I hit him once, but after that I did nothing. I just eased him down. He did it so easily.”

Antonio of Venice went to the post as the even-money second choice in the field of four reduced after the scratch of morning-line favorite Heavyweight Champs. Antonio of Venice and jockey Manny Franco led Mischief Joke by a half-length through the opening quarter in :22.96, with Mad Banker not far back and Aelfgar fourth of the quartet.

Antonio of Venice and Mischief Joke started to separate from the other two around the far turn and the former edged away from his rival after a half in :46.09. Antonio of Venice cruised from there, turning for home well clear, sliding past 5 furlongs in :57.81 and drawing clear late to win in 1:10.35 over the fast track. Mischief Joke finished second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Aelfgar with Mad Banker fourth.

“Those were the two best horses in the race,” Rodriguez said of Antonio of Venice and Mischief Joke. “I said to Manny, ‘if you hook up together, let it be,’ but I didn’t want to hook up with the one horse. When Manny asked him at the three-eighths pole, it looked like he had a lot of horse. I felt really confident when he asked him and he opened up half a length. He looked very comfortable.”

Bred by Cypress Creek Equine LLC, Antonio of Venice sold for $35,000 at the 2022 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale and for the same price at this year’s OBS March sale. Antonio of Venice is the third foal out of Stella Performance, who also produced winning full siblings to the Damon Runyon winner in New York-breds Modern Midas ($78,200 in earnings) and I’m Wide Awake ($144,228).

Stella Performance is also the dam of a New York-bred yearling colt by McKinzie and filly by Keepmeinmind born February 18 in New York, and both bred by Cypress Creek Equine LLC.

A maiden winner at Saratoga Race Course in his third start, Antonio of Venice finished off the board in his first two stakes tries before a victory in the $500,000 Great White Way division of the New York Stallion Series Stakes in mid-December. The victory in the Damon Runyon boosted his earnings to $425,744

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