Six stakes highlight New York Showcase Day

Sunday, June 9th, 2024

Fingal’s Cave, winner of the Fleet Indian as a 3-year-old, is among the stars on Sunday’s Showcase Day card at Saratoga. NYRA Photo.

By Alec DiConza/The Saratoga Special

Two years after Fingal’s Cave won both starts at Saratoga Race Course, the 5-year-old mare returns to the Spa in Sunday’s $200,000 Critical Eye Stakes as part of New York Showcase Day and the final card of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.

The Critical Eye is one of six New York-bred stakes on the card, along with the $125,000 Mike Lee for 3-year-olds, $125,000 Bouwerie for 3-year-old fillies, $200,000 Commentator for older horses, $125,000 Mount Vernon for fillies and mares on the turf and $125,000 Kingston for older horses on the grass.

In 2022, Fingal’s Cave opened her career with five consecutive wins, highlighted by the Fleet Indian Stakes at Saratoga. She finished with a good second in the Grade 2 Raven Run at Keeneland. After a 14-month layoff, she returned with a win in Aqueduct’s Bay Ridge Stakes last December before most recently running third and fourth in the Grade 3 Distaff and Grade 2 Ruffian respectively. 

“She’s a really nice filly,” trainer David Donk said. “I would say she was pretty impressive off the long layoff in December. Had a slight break on purpose because of the weather, came back and she ran well in the first race with open company and then her last race wasn’t quite as good. She didn’t finish up quite as well. I’m not sure, it was kind of a funny race. But she’s done well since, she’s had a couple good breezes. She breezed well here last week. She’s won at the distance, so it’s a good spot to hopefully get her back on the right track.”

Donk reflected on the 2022 season and believes the filly will enjoy the return to Saratoga for Alifyfe Racing and Mo Speed Racing.

“She was 2-for-2 that year, won the allowance race and won the stake, so that’s nice,” he said. “A lot of horses that seem to run well here in the past continue to. She’s been up here a couple weeks, settled in. So I’m hopeful that this is the right spot.”

Donk thinks the return to New York-bred company could help.

“I think she needed ideally easier company, although this is a pretty good race,” he said. “Being New York-breds, you get the opportunity to run against their own kind.”

Fingal’s Cave will have plenty of work ahead of her in the eighth race. She breaks from post eight as the 2-1 morning line favorite in a field of nine. Several, like Fingal’s Cave, are generally forward early. Donk will leave the tactics up to jockey John Velazquez.

“There’s a lot of pace in the race, especially for a mile and an eighth race,” he said. “He’s a Hall of Famer, there aren’t really going to be any instructions. I’m going to let him do what he thinks is best. She likes to be up on the pace or close, but I’m going to leave it in his hands.”

Second choice Venti Valentine lost to Fingal’s Cave twice, but trainer Jorge Abreu thinks the distance could be the difference maker for the daughter of Firing Line owned by NY Final Furlong Racing Stable and Parkland Thoroughbreds.

“She’s acting like she wants to go two turns,” he said. “Before, she was acting like she only wanted to go seven-eighths of a mile. Last race, the Serena’s Song at Jersey, she was just compromised by being checked pretty hard and she still got up out in front of everybody. Nice field. David Donk’s horse is the one to beat on paper but my filly is pretty good.”

Other major contenders include Bustin Bay, winner of the first race on opening day last year at Saratoga, for trainer Linda Rice and Winning Move Stable. She comes off a front-running victory at Aqueduct. Midtown Lights comes in for trainer Brad Cox off two wins going a mile at Aqueduct. Sunset Louise comes back to dirt after the Plenty of Grace Stakes at Aqueduct and is 2-for-3 at Saratoga. Others are Sweet Mystery, Amanda’s Folly, Lavon, and Bon Adieu.

Drake’s Passage returns in Sunday’s Commentator. NYRA Photo.

• Trainer Christophe Clement will be well represented with four stakes entries. Drake’s Passage goes in the Commentator. He impressed in a win in last year’s Albany at Saratoga. Although winless since, the 4-year-old son of Tonalist owned by Robert “Shel” Evans has put forth seconds in his last two starts against open company. Clement’s son and assistant, Miguel Clement, said the horse comes into the contest in good form.

“He’s doing very well,” he said. “We’re excited to see him run. His race here last season was very impressive.”

Breaking from post two, the 7-5 favorite will sit wherever is necessary. He has performed well from many early positions.

“Manny Franco is riding very well, he knows the horse inside out,” Clement said. “And Drake’s Passage is versatile. He can be forwardly placed, he can come from a bit off the pace, stalk. It’s very much whatever Manny would like to do, so we don’t have to worry about the pace.”

The race drew a competitive group of seven. Sheriff Bianco breaks from the inside for Linda Rice and finished second in the Empire Classic last October at Aqueduct. Dr Ardito was a closing winner of the Alex M. Robb Stakes and won the Evan Shipman last year. Whittington Park won the Haynesfield at Aqueduct and returns to New York-bred competition after two graded stakes tries. Donegal Surges stretches to two turns but comes off a third in the Affirmed Success. Union Fleet won over the slop at Pimlico in an allowance three weeks ago. 

• The stakes action for Clement continues in the Mount Vernon with favored Silver Skillet for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Tango Uniform Racing, and Steven Rocco. She exits a fourth in an allowance at Aqueduct off a layoff. Last year, she won two races at the Spa including the Suzie O’Cain. Joel Rosario has the mount. Clement is enthusiastic about her chances. 

“Makes a lot of sense, it’s a mile, I believe that’s her favorite distance,” he said. “She won well at Saratoga last year, two races here last summer, and it’s a logical place to go. She was the New York-bred champion for turf filly and mare last season, and hopefully we kick off the year in the right way in this spot.”

Second choice Marvelous Maude, a Chad Brown trainee, who won this race last year at Belmont Park. She has only run once since then, a third in the Plenty of Grace Stakes. Brown also trains Klaravich Stable’s Overacting, who broke her maiden in her debut last summer at Saratoga and comes out of a win at Aqueduct. Stonewall Star makes her turf debut for Barry Schwartz and trainer Horacio De Paz. She won the Biogio’s Rose at Aqueduct last out. Completing the field are Lady Jasmine, Lisa’s Vision, Masterof the Tunes, Snowy Evening, and Sweetest Princess.

• The longest shot of Clement’s quartet is The Shoe Lady, who at 10-1 under Dylan Davis will contest the Bouwerie going 7 furlongs. She comes off two victories at Aqueduct and steps into stakes company.

“The filly has done very well at Aqueduct,” Clement said. “She’s 2-for-3 and this is the next logical step. Without a doubt it’s a more ambitious placement, she’s going to have to step up in company. Nevertheless, she’s giving us every indication that she at least merits a try in order to obtain some precious black type.”

Race favorite Landed comes off a victory going 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland and cuts back for trainer Wesley Ward. Caldwell Luvs Gold also figures, with the two wins coming at Saratoga for Dicke Racing and trainer Brad Cox. La Banquera won her debut at Aqueduct. Tricky Temper has shown up in state-bred stakes, most recently third in the Franklin Square in January. Sunday Girl is 2-for-2 with impressive victories in a division of the New York Stallion Stakes series and a maiden special weight. The other entrants are P Mutter Pickle, Tough Love Torres, Bernietakescharge, and Carol T.

Multiple stakes winner City Man returns for title defense in Mohawk. NYRA Photo.

• The final horse from Clement’s stable running in a stakes today is City Man, a 7-year-old model of consistency with 11 wins and 22 top-three finishes in 32 starts for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Peter and Patty Seales. The son of Mucho Macho Man makes his 2024 debut in the Kingston Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile event. 

“He’s been very good to us,” Clement said. “That horse, he’s a millionaire, winning stakes races from the age of 2 all the way to 6. He broke his maiden at Saratoga and won a stakes here sprinting on the dirt. He’s amazingly versatile to the surface, distance, he’s done it all. He’s a great horse for all of us involved and a lot of fun.”

The last time fans got to see City Man was in the Mohawk at Aqueduct last year, where he finished second over a yielding turf course. It has been a little more than seven months since he has raced, so Clement believes there is a chance he will need the race.

“Not entirely sure if he’s fully cranked or might benefit from the race,” he said. “Nevertheless, good horses overcome when the variables are not always in their favor, and he’s a top class horse. Maybe he’s good enough to overcome it all.”

Last year, City Man not only won the Kingston by a nose at Belmont, but also won the West Point Stakes at Saratoga in August. He has run six times over the Saratoga turf course and won three with two seconds.

“He’s very consistent at Saratoga,” he said. “He’s won multiple stakes here, so he does have an affinity for the turf course and it’s exciting.”

City Man has developed a rivalry with Kingston favorite Spirit of St. Louis over the past year. Trained by Brown, this son of Medaglia d’Oro has never been worse than second and has won six of eight.  In three matchups last year,  City Man won the first with Spirit of St. Louis sweeping the the second two. Spirit of St. Louis has recency on his side, winning the Danger’s Hour Stakes at Aqueduct.

The trifecta from last year’s Kingston returns for this year’s edition. Jerry the Nipper, nipped at the wire last year, is coming back from a fourth in the Barbados Gold Cup in March and looks for his first win since July 30 at Saratoga last season for trainer Todd Pletcher. Dakota Gold, finished third behind Spirit of St. Louis in this year’s Danger’s Hour for his 2024 debut. 

The Kingston will go as the final race on the card at 6:48 p.m.

• The other stakes on the day is the Mike Lee, which will see a major scratch of initially favored Antonio of Venice, according to trainer Rudy Rodriguez. That leaves five horses with Doc Sullivan taking over the role of favoritism. He exits an allowance win at Aqueduct last month. He has never missed the board in six starts and will break from post four for Tristar Farm, trainer Mike Miceli, and jockey Javier Castellano. 

That’s Money was fourth in the same race as Doc Sullivan. Elysian Meadows tried a couple races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis and sixth in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial before running in the Woodhaven Stakes on grass. He has won twice in state-bred company for trainer Bill Mott. Mischief Joke and Grand Opening complete the field.

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