Antonio of Venice Back for More in NYSSS Times Square

April 11, 2024

Antonio of Venice dominant in the Damon Runyon March 17 at Aqueduct (Chelsea Durand)

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By Mary Eddy – NYRA Press Office

OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Michael Imperio, Robert Cotrone, Hibiscus Stables and trainer Rudy Rodriguez’s dual stakes-winner Antonio of Venice will look to earn back-to-back stakes scores in Sunday’s $200,000 Times Square division of the New York Stallion Stakes Series, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for eligible New York-sired sophomores, at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Antonio of Venice arrives from a dominant 9 1/4-length romp in the local Damon Runyon on March 17, where he dictated terms throughout under regular pilot Manny Franco and drew clear of his three rivals with ease at the top of the lane. He galloped home geared down to complete the six furlongs in a final time of 1:10.35, awarding him a career and field-best 83 Beyer Speed Figure.

“You’ve just got to hope they come back and run good,” said Rodriguez. “Antonio is a horse that is trying all the time, and even when we tried him in Saratoga in a stakes [Skidmore, sixth], he was competitive and he was trying. He’s pretty useful. He’s a solid little horse.”

The Laoban bay graduated at third asking in a 5 1/2-furlong sprint in July at Saratoga Race Course and finished off-the-board in a pair of stakes before breaking through with a three-quarter-length score in the seven-furlong $500,000 NYSSS Great White Way in December at the Big A. The win came after an off-the-pace trip that saw him blocked at the quarter pole and forced to angle outside of rivals. He bravely fended off the late rush of Brick Ambush, who crossed the wire second but was disqualified to last for interference in the stretch.

A $35,000 purchase at the OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training, Antonio of Venice was bred in New York by Cypress Creek Equine and is out of the winning Trappe Shot mare Stella Performance, a half-sister to Irish stakes-winner Bebhinn. He has banked $425,744 through an 8-3-2-1 record.

Franco rides again from post 4.

Rodriguez also sends out Big Dom Racing Stable and Big Toe Stables’ stakes-placed New York-bred Heavyweight Champs [post 3, Kendrick Carmouche] on the heels of a third-out graduation on February 25 here.

Heavyweight Champs graduates Feb. 25 at Aqueduct (NYRA/Coglianese)

Bred by Laurel Least and Gabriel McDonough, Heavyweight Champs led at every point of call going the Times Square distance and pulled away strongly to win by 6 3/4 lengths as the favorite of 10 state-bred sophomores.

Heavyweight Champs had been entered in the Damon Runyon, but was scratched due to a quarter crack in his hoof. He has since breezed twice, and most recently covered a half-mile in 48.03 seconds Sunday with Kendrick Carmouche in the irons.

“He ran a big race,” Rodriguez said of his maiden coup. “Too bad he come back with a quarter crack, but he came back and breezed an easy half a mile, [and then] breezed very nice. Kendrick breezed him and he was very, very pleased with the horse. I think he’s pretty fit. We missed a couple of days of training, but he’s a 3-year-old, he’s a baby, so I don’t think he lost much fitness.”

The Solomini chestnut was impressive on debut when setting the pace in the Great White Way and crossing the wire third behind Antonio of Venice. He was elevated to second after the disqualification of Brick Ambush, giving Rodriguez the exacta in the lucrative sprint.

A $290,000 purchase at the OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training, Heavyweight Champs is out of the unraced Officer mare Miss Bonnie, who also produced graded stakes-winner Lookin to Strike. His fourth dam is multiple turf graded stakes-winner Plenty of Grace.

Tristar Farm’s New York-bred Doc Sullivan [post 7, Dylan Davis] enters from a good runner-up effort in the one-mile state-bred Gander on February 25 here.

The Mike Miceli trainee rated one length off the pace set by The Big Torpedo and responded well when asked for his best by jockey Trevor McCarthy in the turn, but was no match for the victorious Pandagate, who exited that effort to finish third in the Group 2 UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse. Doc Sullivan battled on gamely to hold place honors by a neck over Liberty Central.

“The winner wound up third in the big race in Dubai, so that was no slouch that beat him that day,” said Miceli. “It was a good race and the better horse won that day. This next race was on the table and we said, ‘let’s take a shot at it.’ It’s good money and we’ll see if we can get another win under his belt.”

The Solomini dark bay entered the Gander from an impressive first-level optional claiming conquest going one mile against fellow state-breds on January 19 here. He scored by seven lengths over Brick Ambush after stalking 1 1/2 lengths off the pace, a trip that saw him sit much closer than his graduation one start prior in a six-furlong maiden in December.

“He’s gone six before and broke his maiden going that distance,” said Miceli. “I don’t think the turnback is going to present a problem. There’s quite a bit of speed in the race, so hopefully if he’s in a spot where he’s in reach of them and not too far back, I think he’ll put in a little punch in the last part.”

Doc Sullivan has been working regularly over the Belmont Park dirt training track, most recently covering a half-mile in 49 seconds flat on April 5.

“Everything has been going well for him,” said Miceli. “He had a good blowout the other day and he’s doing good. Hopefully, he’ll run a good race for us Sunday.”

Bred by Seamus Coughlan, Doc Sullivan was a $59,000 purchase at the OBS June 2-Year-Olds and Horses of Racing Age Sale. Out of the winning Giant’s Causeway mare Queen Frostine, Doc Sullivan is a half-brother to the stakes-placed Fix Me a Sandwich. His second dam, Parchisi, is a half-sister to multiple graded stakes-winners Sun King and Ocean Drive, and Grade 1-winner Traitor. His extended family also includes multiple graded stakes-winners Peeping Tom and Hurricane Bertie.

“It wasn’t that he was a real fast horse in the mornings, but when he trained up to his first race, he trained very forwardly and with enthusiasm,” Miceli said of his early impressions of the colt. “He won and then had a nice second in the stake, so he’s moving in the right direction.”

Trainer Linda Rice, the leading trainer at the Aqueduct winter meet, has entered two contenders in maiden winners Freedsdale [post 2, Jose Lezcano] and Black Almighty [post 5, Javier Castellano].

Everything’s Cricket Racing’s New York homebred Freedsdale enters off 10 day’s rest after a successful debut against state-breds last Thursday at the Big A. The Redesdale gelding stalked one length back of a pace duel in the six-furlong sprint and pounced at the half-mile call to take control of the seven-horse field, inching clear down the lane to a 3 1/2-length victory. The effort was awarded a 77 Beyer.

ERV Enterprises’ Black Almighty, bred in the Empire State by Mr. & Mrs. Bryan Guy Rice, arrives off an even fourth-place effort in a local starter optional claimer on March 21 here when in the care of conditioner Adam Rice.

The Central Banker dark bay, who races with blinkers on, was a winner on debut for trainer Eduardo Falcon in November at Camarero in Puerto Rico, and made his first start for Linda Rice when third in a February starter optional claimer.

Completing the field are Cable Ready [post 6, Eliseo Ruiz], winner of Finger Lakes Racetrack’s Tin Cup Chalice in November for trainer Linda Dixon; and the maiden Grand Opening [post 1, Jeiron Barbosa], who makes his career debut for conditioner W. Robert Bailes.

The Times Square is slated as Race 5 on Sunday’s nine-race card, which co-features the $200,000 NYSSS Park Avenue in Race 8 and the Listed $150,000 Top Flight in Race 3. First post is 1:20 p.m. Eastern.

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