First Career Graded-Stakes Win for 23-Year-Old Trainer O’Connor
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Not quite two years ago, Matthew Brice O’Connor registered his first career win as a trainer at Gulfstream Park. The 23-year-old did himself one better Saturday, sending out MeB Stables’ Clear Vision to a front-running upset victory in the $100,000 Tropical Turf (G3).
The 44th running of the one-mile Tropical Turf for 4-year-olds and up on the grass served as the headliner on an 11-race program that was capped by a mandatory payout of the 20-cent Rainbow 6.
Clear Vision ($23.40) completed the distance in 1:35.36 over a firm course under jockey Julien Leparoux to give O’Connor, a native of New Hyde Park, N.Y., his first graded-stakes victory with his first starter of 2022.
It was also the first graded triumph for MeB Stables, the nom de course for Mary Ellen and Anthony Bonomo, fellow native New Yorkers who got into racing in 2006. Though not related by blood, O’Connor has considered the Bonomos family since a young age as his father and Anthony are best friends.
“It means the world to me. I’ve been working since I’ve been 8, 9 years old just to follow the path to here,” O’Connor said. “To do it for my Uncle Anthony and Aunt Mary Ellen, it means a lot.”
Clear Vision is one of four horses O’Connor has stabled at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County. O’Connor claimed the gelded 6-year-old son of Grade 1 winner Artie Schiller for $25,000 out of an Oct. 16 win at Belmont Park, and ran him for the first time in the Claiming Crown Emerald Dec. 4 at Gulfstream, finishing second.
Leparoux had Clear Vision on the lead quickly from Post 2 in the field of seven, where he ran an opening quarter-mile in 23.62 seconds pressed by Belgrano on the outside and Flying Scotsman between horses. Belgrano forged a short advantage over Clear Vision, racing on the inside, as Flying Scotsman checked back to third after a half in 46.97.
“I told Julien to just play the break. We thought Flying Scotsman would go and it looked like he broke a little slow. We wound up on the lead and Julien went on with it,” O’Connor said. “That’s the way he runs his best races. Those two wins he had in New York back-to-back he got loose on the lead. He just got brave out there and kept going.”
Clear Vision ran six furlongs in 1:10.94 to take the lead back and straightened for home in front as Value Proposition and 3-5 favorite Largent rolled into contention. Leparoux kept Clear Vision to task through the lane and he was able to edge clear to win by two lengths, while Value Proposition rallied up the rail to take second over Belgrano.
Largent, a Grade 2 winner making his first start since being beaten a neck in last January’s Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) by stablemate Colonel Liam, wound up fourth followed by Call Curt, Flying Scotsman and Phat Man.
“When they came to the quarter pole I saw Largent making his run,” O’Connor said. “[Clear Vision] is a gritty horse. He knows his job, he loves what he does and he dug in and turned away the competition.”
O’Connor credited his former boss, Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, with giving him the confidence to run Clear Vision. O’Connor worked two years for Zito before going out on his own in 2020, and he won his first race with Duellist April 4 of that year at Gulfstream.
“I have to thank Nick Zito. He’s known for winning big races with long shots and he always told me, ‘If you think you can run fourth in a stake, take the shot,’” he said. “We followed that method here today, and it worked.”
O’Connor grew up five miles from Belmont Park, where his father owned horses with trainer Dennis Brida, and knew early on that he wanted to make a career with horses. He now has four wins from 57 lifetime starters.
“From the time I was an infant even before I could walk I was in the barn area. My Uncle Anthony got into racing in 2006 and at that point I was more into it,” O’Connor said. “Crazy as it sounds, at that young an age I knew I wanted to train or do something like that. I started working for Dominic Schettino, where my uncle had his horses, and went from there.
“I worked for Robert Falcone Jr. for a year before going to Nick Zito,” he added. “While I was working with Nick I went to the University Racetrack Program at the University of Arizona and kind of plotted the course to get to where we wanted to be, and here we are.”
Gulfstream Park Press Release
Photos: Gulfstream Park, Coglianese Photos, Ryan Thompson, Lauren King