OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Louis Lazzinnaro’s Exotic West, patiently handled by Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, held off the late charge of Battle Bling to capture Sunday’s $100,000 Top Flight Invitational, a nine-furlong test for older fillies and mares, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The 4-year-old Hard Spun mare was cross-entered in a Thursday allowance at the Big A, but trainer Gary Sciacca credited his owner with the decision to take a chance at black type.
“I said to Louis, ‘If we can get her stakes placed and run well here, she’ll be worth a lot. She’s by Hard Spun and well-bred, so let’s take a shot here,’” Sciacca said.
Maiden Beauty set the tempo, marking off splits of 24.55 seconds, 49.51 and 1:13.92 over the fast main track with Frost Point providing pressure from second position and Exotic West saving ground in third.
Castellano angled Exotic West outside for the stretch run and surged past the pacesetters to take command at the eighth pole as the late-running Battle Bling, under Trevor McCarthy, dove to the rail to launch their bid. Exotic West stayed on strong to the wire and staved off Battle Bling to secure a three-quarter length score in a final time of 1:50.13.
Battle Bling completed the exacta by 3 1/4-lengths over Frost Point with Ice Princess and Maiden Beauty rounding out the order of finish. Into Vanishing, who finished second in a Friday allowance at Keeneland, was scratched.
Castellano, who guided Exotic West to a Big A allowance score in December, said he felt confident throughout.
“I had a beautiful post today and I used it to my advantage and tucked in behind the horses,” Castellano said. “When I thought it was time to go, I stepped outside. I rode with a lot of patience. I rode the filly before and know how she is.
“It was only a five-horse field and you have to ride with a lot of patience and confidence; I think it paid off.”
Battle Bling, the 6-5 favorite, entered on a strong run of form at Aqueduct that included a win in the Ladies in January and a runner-up effort to Bank Sting last out in the Heavenly Prize Invitational on March 6.
McCarthy said he tried to conserve as much horse as possible for the stretch run.
“She’s got a nice eighth of a mile, three-sixteenths of a mile run,” McCarthy said. “I was just being patient. I didn’t want her to swing five or six wide. I just wanted to make sure I had plenty of horse. When she shot to the inside she gave me a really good kick, but she kind of leveled off when I needed her the most. I thought it was a good effort.”
The victory marked the first stakes win for Exotic West. Bred in Kentucky by Gary and Mary West Stables, Exotic West banked $55,000 in victory while improving her record to 15-5-3-2. Sent to post as the longest shot on the board at odds of 10-1, Exotic West returned $23.40 for a $2 win ticket.
Live racing resumes Thursday at the Big A with a nine-race card. First post is 1:20 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the spring meet at Aqueduct Racetrack on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Press Office
Photo:Chelsea Durand Photo