2019 BEST OF OHIO – FORMFUL AND FAST
If you like playing favorites, Mahoning Valley Race Course was the place to be on October 26 for the $750,000 Best of Ohio series. Four of the five races that highlight Buckeye-breds in each division went to the top picks. Only multiple state champion Leona’s Reward (a second choice) was not the favorite.
The track stayed fast for the entire card, despite a steady drizzle that picked up in intensity throughout the afternoon. The day started with the presentation of the inaugural “Albert Palacios Award” that is given to an individual that reflects the qualities of the much-respected Palacios.
The deserved recipient was trainer Jeff Radosevich for his outstanding sportsmanship and horsemanship. He is a hands-on conditioner who trains for many owners and could have runners at three tracks in a single day. Despite his heavy workload, he keeps his owners informed, finds spots where their runners can succeed, maintains a pleasant attitude and finds time for his family. Surrounded by them, Radosevich proudly accepted the award after the second race – the only race he didn’t have a starter in.
Charlie Williams owned and trained Moonlit Mission stamped herself as the top juvenile filly in the state with her fourth consecutive victory coming in the 1 1/16 mile $150,000 John W. Galbreath. The daughter of Shackleford out of Moonlit River by Maria’s Mon was bred by Belvedere Farm. Ridden by Ricardo Mejias the odds-on choice dropped down to the rail in the early going and was eighth after a half-mile. She was angled out to the five-path on the turn and closed steadily on Nikki My Angel who had a 3 ½ length lead into the stretch. Moonlit Mission seemed to relish the added distance and won by 2 ¼ lengths in 1:46.36 over Nikki My Angel and Succotash.
Breaking from post position 8 in a 11-horse field, jockey Mejias elected to save ground in the Galbreath. “It was not an easy trip,” said Mejias. “We were down inside, and horses were starting to bunch up in front of us, once she makes her move – she goes! We found an opening towards the outside and I had all the horse in the world. Like the last start, she came in a little, but we were clear already.” Williams purchased the chestnut Moonlit Mission for $18,000 at the Fasig-Tipton yearling sale in October 2018. “Give the credit to Dennis Stiff, who looks at every last one on our list. He makes sure the walk is good and the repository checks out. We set our ceiling at $30,000 so now it looks like we got a deal.” In her brief six race career, she sports a record of 6-4-0-0 for earnings of $182,050.
The Blazing Meadows – WinStar Farm partnership continues to make their mark in the Ohio Program. Their latest is Liberate, a 2-year-old gelding who recorded the largest margin of victory in “The Best of Ohio,” when he ran away from 13 rivals crossing the wire with ease by 7 ¾ lengths in the $150,000 Juvenile Stakes. “With such a big field we wanted to be close to the lead and we ended up having it,” stated jockey Gerardo Corrales. They put away pole sitter Foolish Equation after a half-mile and then had a stout, but brief challenge from Authentic Cowtown. “I felt that pressure, but knew I had plenty of horse under me. When I asked him to go the last part was easy.”
The Juvenile was third stakes win for Liberate. She captured the $75,000 Hoover Stakes by 7 lengths at Belterra Park after breaking her maiden at first asking by a eye-popping 17 ¼ lengths at Thistledown. Four weeks later she dominated her rivals in the $75,000 Cleveland Kindergarten – at one point leading by as many as 13 lengths. The only blemish on her first season’s record came in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park. “We were looking for a race around two turns and the Sapling fit,” reflected trainer and O.T.B.O. President Emeritus Tim Hamm. “It wasn’t her day on several levels. In the race she was in tight and got pinched along the rail, but I think the real factor was the sweltering heat along with shipping in it.” Liberate was given a month off and went back to work in October recording back to back bullet workouts stretching from 3 to 5 furlongs. “He really indicated he could go the distance in the two weeks leading up to the race,” Hamm said.
Liberate toured the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.27 and his $90,000 payday pushed his earnings to $206,250. Authentic Cowboy held on for the second spot over the pace pressing Wicked Warrior. Liberate is a gelded son of Gemologist out of Southern Silence by Dixie Union and was bred by Blazing Meadows Farm LLC and WinStar Farm LLC. Those two entities are joined by Michael Lewis in the ownership of the leading Ohio-bred juvenile.
2018 Ohio Horse of the Year Altissimo became the fourth favorite to light up the board with his well-timed victory in the $150,000 Best of Ohio Sprint. He came into the race off a well-planned season schedule by trainer Richard Zielinski that included forays beyond Ohio’s borders. After winning the grassy Gendelman Memorial going long at Belterra Park, the 6-year-old gelding was given a six-week vacation and next raced at Delaware Park in the $100,000 Hockessin Stakes. Altissimo led every step of the way cutting out quick fractions of :21.77 and :44.54 stopping the timer in 1:09.31. He returned to Ohio where he was the heaviest of favorites in the $75,000 Honey Jay Stakes, only to remind race fans that “There is no such thing as a sure thing.” Brown Buckeye ran the race of his life and after catching Altissimo at the half-mile marker, refused to let the champion regain the lead.
Six weeks later Altissimo resurfaced at Laurel Park in the Grade 3 DeFrancis Memorial Dash. While making what appeared to be the winning move, a longshot front runner ducked to the outside impeding the momentum of Altissimo. Jockey Christian Pilares managed to get him back in stride only to miss by ¾ lengths in the graded race. He entered the Sprint with seasonal earnings of $215,000.
Twelve horses loaded the starting gate at Mahoning Valley and when the latch sprung you could see Dare Day was up for a game of “catch me if you can!” Except for the Ohio Derby, the Ron Paolucci colorbearer had won every start in his 4-race career while sprinting. Dare Day jumped out to a two-length lead, extended it to three lengths and turned for home one length in front of last season’s juvenile champion Diamond Dust. The leader cut out quick fractions of :22.24; :44.28 and :57 while Christian Pilares was content to watch the action confidently from the third position.
“I know Dare Day is quick, but I knew he was going to come back to me,” stated Pilares who in Altissimo’s regular rider. “I let him go and when I asked my horse to go, he was so strong. At the finish I had a lot of horse.” Not everyone watching knew that, and Dare Day was looking to pull off an upset as he strode away from Diamond Dust. But the day was to go to Altissimo who reeled the leader in with 40 yards left and won by a thrilling ¾ lengths. Dare Day finished three lengths in front of Diamond Dust. The final time of the six furlongs was 1:09.90.
Altissimo is a son of Noble Causeway out of Great Goin Rose by Albert the Great. He was bred by Nancy Lavrich and Niknar Farm LLC and is owned by Nancy Lavrich and Ronald Zielinski. The career record of Altissimo is 39-17-6-4, bankrolling $779,388 which is a testimony to the planning, patience and horsemanship of trainer Richard Zielinski.
You can’t keep a good girl down, in a season that looked, on paper, like multiple state champion Leona’s Reward was starting to show her age, she erased all doubt with a track-record performance in the $150,000 Best of Ohio Distaff. “Coming up to the race she had never trained better,” trainer Tim Hamm emphasized. “She had a few excuses this season. We made a rider switch to Gerardo Corrales who I believe is a great young rider, he’s young and very athletic and strong. I don’t usually give riding instructions, but we wanted to place her forward in the race and urge her left-handed in the stretch. Big horses like her can’t stop and start back up in a race.”
Corrales followed the instructions perfectly and put the big mare on the lead over her eleven rivals going 1 1/8 miles. Lightly raced this season, Magna Rose was made the 2-1 choice and jockey John McKee never let the leader out of his sight and they ran 1-2 all the way around the Mahoning Valley strip. Magna Rose was urged to go past Leona’s Reward and pulled within a head entering the stretch. Corrales remembered the plan, and with a few left-handed taps “Leona” won going away by three lengths setting a new course record of 1:52.03. Magna Rose held the second spot over Grizabella.
That effort, and her now $842,556 in earnings, could have set the stage for a well-earned swan song to a career as a broodmare. Well, hold the presses. According to Hamm, “Plans are to run her back in 2020 as long as she is 100%. There are still some opportunities for this year (she won three stakes at Mahoning in 2018 at the end of the season) and she has won close to $1 million. We’ll point her to the Accredited filly stakes. She holds her weight well and she’s never been better thanks to our staff – they are all so important. There are some members that have been with us for over 20 years, from assistant trainers to grooms. We have meetings from Ohio to Florida or any of the tracks we are stabled. We are all on the same page and know what the goals are for each horse.”
Leona’s Reward is by the recently pensioned Ohio stallion Parent’s Reward out of Prime Time Dancer by Montbrook. Bred by Blazing Meadows Farm, she is owned by Blazing Meadows LLC and Michael Friedman.
Forwarned more than paid for the van ride from his base at Parx Racing with an authoritive win in the $150,000 Best of Ohio Endurance. To talk to his optimistic and enthusiastic trainer Uriah St. Lewis, he describes the horse not as a highly competitive regal steed who gives his top effort each time he goes to post, but more like a beloved Disney character – Goofy! Uriah St. Lewis spent his early years in Trinidad and Tobago and moved to the United States when he was 15 in 1973. He has a reputation for finding horses at a modest price and turning a profit. His most notable achievement to date is Discreet Cat who he purchased for $10,000 and developed into the winner of the Grade 3 Excelsior Stakes for his first graded stakes triumph and earned a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic by defeating multiple Group 1 winner Thunder Snow in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
St. Lewis found the Ohio-bred at a sale at Timonium. “The owner had died and he was entered in the sale. I asked the consignors to see him and they wouldn’t take him out of the stall because of the way he acted, so I asked if I could go in. He was acting goofy and continues to do so to this day,” spoke St. Lewis with his pleasant lilt carried from his roots in Trinidad. “He just wants to play all the time. During his morning exercise on the track he goes in and out, luckily he has a rider who knows him and is used to his antics. He can reel off morning times of :57 or 1:10 when he puts his mind to it. If he wasn’t goofy he’d be a grade 1 winner. He runs Beyer figures in the 90’s all the time and he’s been racing with the likes of McKinzie, Yoshida, Coal Front and finished 1 ½ lengths behind Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso. He doesn’t wear blinkers in the morning, but on race days he’s a different horse.”
Favored Forwarned donned the blinkers and regular rider Anthony Salgado above his withers as he paraded to post in the field of 12 who would try the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles. Two-time horse of the year Mo Dont No was going for his fourth win in the Endurance and was installed as the second choice. His stablemate Funnel Cake led the field throughout the first half-mile and was replaced on the front end shortly after by Indian Fever. Scott Speith kept “Mo” near the leaders throughout while Forwarned saved ground in mid pack.
“Mo” dug in and took command at the mile marker and shortly after was joined by Forwarned. Those two matched strides in early stretch and on cue from Salgado, Forwarned quickened his action to pull away by 2 ¾ lengths to establish a new track record of 2:04.41, erasing the time held by Mo Dont No for three years. “Mo” held on for the second spot over a rallying Over Icce. The win in the Endurance pushed Forwarned’s earnings to $375,613. The 4-year-old son of Flat Out, out of Fortune Play by Five Star Day was bred by Preston Stables LLC.
St. Lewis was asked if he would be making more trips to Ohio in the future. “If the pots were $100,000 I’d come more often. It’s a six-hour van trip to this part of the state. He’s a big horse, almost 17 hands and when he gets older, he might be better. We’ll be back for the Best of Ohio unless we go to the Breeders’ Cup next year.” St. Lewis owns all of the horses he trains and has 25 head at Parx Racing. “I prefer it that way. No one can tell me where or when to race or threaten to move the horse. I have another Ohio-bred named Black Light and thought about bringing him, but that Altissimo is a very, very good horse.”