Closethegame Sugar Prevails in $150K Mahony at 19-1

August 13, 2023

Closethegame Sugar pulls off the upset in the Mahony (NYRA/Coglianese)

By Keith McCalmont – NYRA Press Office

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— Trainer and co-owner Adam Rice continued a torrid run of form at Saratoga Race Course by earning his sixth win from just nine Spa starters when 19-1 shot Closethegame Sugar upset Sunday’s $150,000 Mahony, a 5 1/2-furlong Mellon turf sprint for sophomores.

The 32-year-old conditioner, who previously captured the 2020 Fitz Dixon, Jr. Memorial with Like a Saltshaker at his Presque Isle Downs base, was overcome with emotion in the winner’s circle.

“It’s only my second career stakes win and to have it be here is something special,” Rice said of the special Spa score engineered by Jose Lezcano. “You’re reaching coming up here some days coming out of Presque Isle – [but] the horses are nice, and if they’re nice, they tell you what they want to do, and he’s one of my favorite horses to ride every day. I can’t talk and I might be tearing up a little bit.”

Rice, who saddled Dancing Spirit [No. 10, $18] for a victory in Race 2 earlier on the card, won with his first Saratoga starter when Don’t Be So Salty posted a maiden special weight score at 9-1 odds in August 2015. The Tiz Wonderful gelding followed up two weeks later with a third-place finish in front of stablemate Montauk Cove in the Spa’s Schenectady.

His other Spa winners include Monster Bea [MSW, 2015], Shekky Shebaz [CLM, 2019] and the now two-time local hero Closethegame Sugar, who won a restricted maiden special weight over good turf here last summer with Jose Ortiz up, besting next-out winner Webslinger, who is now a graded stakes-winning millionaire.

Team Closethegame Sugar recieve the Mahony trophy (NYRA/Coglianese)

Closethegame Sugar, co-owned by Sugar Diaz, was put away after his maiden score and returned on June 5 to finish a close second in the six-furlong Tom Ridge over the Presque Isle Downs synthetic.

“I tell you what, there’s so much fight in this horse it’s not even funny. He gives every bit you ask of him,” Rice said. “His first [time] out, he was a little bit short I think and that horse [Webslinger] gave it to him, and he still gave it. Jose [Ortiz] was excited when he got off of him. Jose couldn’t ride him today, but Jose Lezcano brought it home.”

Dual stakes-winner Uncashed, a frontrunning victor of 5-of-6 starts, was hustled out of the gate by the Spa’s leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. to set splits of 21.49 seconds and 44.64 over the firm footing under pressure from stakes-placed Harry Time with stakes-winning mutuel favorite No Nay Hudson in third.

Closethegame Sugar, who raced with hind shoes on, settled into fifth position, racing to the inside of Private Creed as the front-end battled raged on through the turn. No Nay Hudson took over as the field straightened away and his Wesley Ward-trained stablemate, the New York-bred Eye Witness, loomed large with a menacing move. A patient Lezcano stayed near the rail before tipping out late in the turn and diving through an opening between a tiring Uncashed and putting a head in front of the surging No Nay Hudson.

Private Creed, with Joel Rosario up, found his best stride in deep stretch, bumping with the Jose Ortiz-piloted Eye Witness to his inside as No Nay Hudson tried in vain to stay with Closethegame Sugar. But there was no denying a game and determined Closethegame Sugar, who staved off a cavalry charge of rivals to secure a half-length win over Private Creed in a final time of 1:02.54. It was a half-length back to Eye Witness in third, who was a neck better than No Nay Hudson.

“He broke sharp and he was right there,” Lezcano said. “The horses up on the front end of the pace went fast early on. I had plenty left in the tank. When I asked him, my horse gave a good kick and went on and won the race. He kept running, finished very strong and galloped out very well.”

Son of a Birch, Gaslight Dancer, Drew’s Gold, Uncashed and Harry Time rounded out the order of finish. Crispy Cat, who finished fifth earlier today in the Select at Monmouth Park, was scratched. A claim of foul by Ortiz, aboard Eye Witness, against Rosario and Private Creed for interference late in the lane was denied.

To the winner’s circle for Closethegame Sugar (NYRA/Coglianese)

Rosario said he was focused on his mount as the battle heated up in deep stretch with Eye Witness.

“There was a little room for him to go in there but I don’t know how much room there was. I just kept riding my horse where I was,” Rosario explained. “My horse had a good trip, it looked like for a second my horse was going to get there but the horse on the inside [Closethegame Sugar] got his inside trip. It was a good run for my horse.”

Rice said that while he would like to try Closethegame Sugar on dirt, he has yet to consider a next start for the Girvin gelding, who was purchased for $10,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

“Man, I’m still trying to get through today. I’ve got to go back to Presque Isle and train horses in the morning,” said Rice, with a laugh.

Bred in Kentucky by Brereton C. Jones, Closethegame Sugar is out of the Magna Graduate mare Casual Cocktail, who is a half-sister to graded stakes-placed Rum Go. He banked $82,500 in victory while improving his record to 3-2-1-0 and returned $41 for a $2 win bet.

Live racing resumes Wednesday at Saratoga with a nine-race card featuring the $125,000 Suzie O’Cain in Race 8. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.

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