Antonio of Venice Cruises in Damon Runyon

March 17, 2024

Antonio of Venice cruises to the win. (Chelsea Durand)

By Mary Eddy

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Stakes-winner Antonio of Venice made every pole a winning one to capture Sunday’s $100,000 Damon Runyon, a six-furlong sprint for New York-bred sophomores, at Aqueduct Racetrack. 

Trained by Rudy Rodriguez, who co-owns the colt with Michael Imperio, Robert Cotrone and Hibiscus Stables, the Laoban bay notched his second career stakes score, adding to a strong three-quarter-length victory in the $500,000 NYSSS Great White Way in December here ahead of a runner-up effort to Mischief Joke in the 6 1/2-furlong state-bred Rego Park on January 28. He faced a rematch with Mischief Joke Sunday, but his familiar foe proved no match for him this time.  

Ridden to victory by regular pilot Manny Franco, Antonio of Venice broke cleanly from post 2 in the four-horse field and took charge with Mischief Joke tracking in second through an opening quarter-mile in 22.96 seconds over the fast main track. 

The Dylan Davis-piloted Mischief Joke remained in contention down the backstretch with Mad Banker holding third over the slow-starting Aelfgar before the top pair began to draw well clear of the latter two. Davis asked Mischief Joke to pick it up in the turn and briefly pestered along the outside of his rival as Franco sat quietly aboard a loaded Antonio of Venice through the turn and the half-mile in 46.09. 

Antonio of Venice was asked for his best from Franco at the top of the lane and did not need to give much more as an all-out Mischief Joke could not cut into an ever-growing gap between him and the pacesetter after five-eighths in 57.81. Antonio of Venice had an insurmountable advantage in mid-stretch and Franco wrapped up on the colt well before crossing the wire 9 1/4 lengths in front in a final time of 1:10.35. 

Mischief Joke held place honors by 1 1/4 lengths over the oncoming Aelfgar with Wild Banker completing the order of finish another six lengths back. The Rodriguez-trained Heavyweight Champs was scratched due to a quarter-crack in his hoof, according to his conditioner.  

Rodriguez said he instructed Franco to be wary of the often-prominent Aelfgar, who finished a pace-pressing second to Heavyweight Champs in a February maiden here and was returning on one week’s rest. 

“I told Manny if he breaks good, take it – don’t take no advantage with the one [Aelfgar] because the last time, the one chased Heavyweight Champs a lot,” said Rodriguez. “I think maybe running that horse back too quick maybe got a little bit out of that horse or maybe they wanted to take him back. But it was good we found ourselves on the lead. I told Manny if you find yourself on the lead just take it from there.”

Super happy team all around! (Susie Raisher)
Super happy team all around! (Susie Raisher)

Franco said he was pleased to find himself on the lead today after sitting off the pace in his last two outings. 

“He is a versatile horse. He can do whatever you ask him to do,” said Franco. “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,” Franco added. “I just eased him down. He did it so easily.” 

Bred by Cypress Creek Equine, Antonio of Venice banked $55,000 in victory and improved his record to 8-3-2-1, his other win a graduation at third asking in a restricted July maiden at Saratoga Race Course. Out of the winning Trappe Shot mare Stella Performance, Antonio of Venice was a $35,000 purchase at last year’s OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training. He returned $4.10 on a $2 win bet.

Davis, aboard the Mike Maker-trained Mischief Joke, said he knew his charge would have his work cut out for him after the sharp break from Antonio of Venice. 

“I just wanted to break well, and I thought we were just second best here. Manny caught a good jump out of there,” said Davis. “I gave him a good challenge there until the quarter pole, but his horse was much the best here. After that, I just had to hold on for second.” 

Live racing resumes Thursday at the Big A with an eight-race card. First post is 1:20 p.m. Eastern. 

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