Antonio of Venice, Heavyweight Champs Headline Damon Runyon

March 15, 2024

Antonio of Venice after his Great White Way victory Dec. 16 at Aqueduct (Joe Labozzetta)

By Christian Abdo – NYRA Press Office

OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Trainer Rudy Rodriguez will saddle the strong duo of Antonio of Venice and Heavyweight Champs in Sunday’s $100,000 Damon Runyon, a six-furlong sprint for New York-bred sophomores, at Aqueduct Racetrack. 

Antonio of Venice and Heavyweight Champs finished one-two in the $500,000 Great White Way division of the New York Stallion Stakes Series, sprinting seven furlongs on December 16 here. 

Owned by Rodriguez in partnership with Michael Imperio, Robert Cotrone, and Hibiscus Stables, Antonio of Venice has raced once since his Great White Way victory, finishing second beaten a length by returning rival Mischief Joke going 6 1/2-furlongs in the state-bred Rego Park on January 28 here. 

“He is a horse that is improving all the time, but we caught a sloppy track last time, and he didn’t travel well at the beginning,” said Rodriguez. “He finished very strong and galloped out nicely, so we are happy to have him here for sure.” 

The Laoban bay finished off-the-board in stakes tries as a juvenile, finishing fourth in the Aspirant at Finger Lakes and sixth in an off-the-turf edition of the Skidmore at Saratoga Race Course, both at 5 1/2-furlongs in September and August, respectively. 

“I think he is going to be a versatile horse, maybe even a good mile horse, but we don’t write the condition book and this is the race that was coming up after his planned time off,” Rodriguez said. 

Bred by Cypress Creek Equine, Antonio of Venice was a $35,000 purchase at the 2023 OBS March Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. Out of the Trappe Shot mare Stella Performance, he has banked $370,744 through a 7-2-2-1 lifetime record. 

Regular pilot Manny Franco will be aboard from post 2. 

Heavyweight Champs breaks his maiden Feb. 25 at Aqueduct (NYRA/Coglianese)

Big Dom Racing Stable and Big Toe Stable’s Heavyweight Champs graduated last out with a 6 3/4-length frontrunning score under Kendrick Carmouche in a 6 1/2-furlong state-bred maiden special weight on February 25 here. 

Three weeks earlier, he went off as the even-money favorite when sprinting seven furlongs at the same level but finished a distant fifth under Ruben Silvera over muddy and sealed footing. 

“This race he ran the way we thought he would run. I was a little disappointed with the race before, but Ruben Silvera said he did not like the sloppy track,” said Rodriguez. “We drew a line through that race and are very happy now.”

The chestnut Solomini gelding debuted with his place-honors performance in the aforementioned Great White Way, where he set the pace before being out-kicked by Antonio of Venice and Brick Ambush, settling for third, then moved up a spot through a disqualification of the latter. 

“He breaks so well all of the time. It is hard to take a horse with that much speed out of the gate and try to slow him down, so hopefully when he gets older he can relax a bit more, but right now we won’t change anything,” Rodriguez said.

Bred by Laurel Least and Gabriel McDonough, Heavyweight Champs is out of the Officer mare Miss Bonnie, and sold for $290,000 at the 2023 OBS April Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. 

Carmouche retains the mount from post 4. 

Mischief Joke takes the Rego Park Jan. 28 at Aqueduct (Susie Raisher)

Last out Rego Park-victor Mischief Joke [post 5, Dylan Davis] looks to add another state-bred stakes score for owners Paradise Farms Corp., Parkland Thoroughbreds, Barry Fowler and Angelo Carlesimo. 

The Practical Joke dark bay has hit the board in 8-of-9 efforts for conditioner Mike Maker, all versus fellow state-breds, featuring a 4 1/4-length graduation in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden tilt here on September 21. His two subsequent outings were a third in the six-furlong New York Breeders’ Futurity at Finger Lakes and a distant fifth in the one-mile Sleepy Hollow at Belmont at the Big A, both in October. 

Bred by Pine Ridge Stables, Mischief Joke has a consistent ledger of 10-2-5-2 with $204,595 in earnings. 

Toby Roth’s Mad Banker [post 3, Romero Maragh] looks for his first stakes score after a third-place finish in a state-bred 6 1/2-furlong optional claimer on Sunday here. The effort earned a career-best 74 Beyer Speed Figure after a wide trip over muddy and sealed footing.

The Central Banker chestnut was haltered for $30,000 out of a winning effort on December 8 for his former trainer Mark Hennig. He ran off-the-board in his first two starts off the claim for conditioner Wayne Potts, both optional claimers at Sunday’s distance, on January 5 and February 19. 

Bred by Seidman Stables, Mad Banker is 7-1-1-2 lifetime and looks to add a win on short rest. 

Rounding out the field is Luanne Bianchi’s Aelfgar [post 1, Samuel Camacho, Jr.] for conditioner Rachel Sells, who ran fourth on Sunday in a local maiden tilt at the Damon Runyon distance. 

The Damon Runyon is slated as Race 4 on Sunday’s eight-race card, which features other New York-bred stakes action with the $100,000 East View in Race 7, a six-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies. First post is 1:20 p.m. Eastern.

@jonathanstettin Great article!

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