Flying Connection, Masqueparade Newcomers to Atras Barn

May 22, 2024

Flying Connection trains for the 2023 edition of the Kentucky Oaks (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

G2 Penn Mile or G3 Manila Next for Neat

Way to Be Marie Headed to G3 Regret

NYRA Press Office

OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Trainer Rob Atras has welcomed to his barn a pair of potential starters for the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival in Grade 1-placed Flying Connection and graded stakes-winner Masqueparade.

Brad King, Randy Andrews, Chris Coleman, Jim Cone, Suzanne Kirby and Lee Lewis’ Flying Connection won 7-of-15 starts for her former conditioner Todd Fincher, including the 2023 Sunland Park Oaks and Zia Park Oaks.

The 4-year-old Nyquist bay won the one-mile Harry Henson Handicap in her seasonal debut at Sunland Park before on-the-board efforts in Grade 1 events when closing from last-of-9 to finish second in the 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom Handicap in April at Oaklawn Park and a rallying third in the seven-furlong Derby City Distaff on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs.

Dual Grade 1-winner Adare Manor was a 5 1/2-length gate-to-wire winner of the Apple Blossom with Flying Connection finishing three-quarter lengths in front of third-place Free Like a Girl, who exited that effort finish second to Idiomatic in the Grade 1 La Troienne at Churchill. The Apple Blossom has proven to be a productive race with fourth-place finisher Shotgun Hottie winning the Allaire DuPont Distaff last weekend at Pimlico.

“I’ve trained for Brad King before and he asked me to take her,” Atras said. “They wanted to run her in New York and thought there was a better path on the East Coast to get to the Breeders’ Cup with her.”

The versatile Flying Connection, who finished sixth in last year’s Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, is under consideration for either the seven-furlong Grade 2, $200,000 Bed o’ Roses on June 15 at Belmont at the Big A or the Grade 1, $500,000 Ogden Phipps presented by Ford, a nine-furlong test for older fillies and mares offering a berth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November at Del Mar.

“Seven furlongs is almost too short for her, and she’s run good at a mile and eighth. She’s very versatile,” Atras said. “She was really coming at the end of that last race. We’ll see how things shake out over the next week or so.

“That Apple Blossom has really come up a strong race. There are horses that have come back and won and horses that have come back and placed in graded stakes,” added Atras. “It’s turned out to be kind of a key race and, with that in mind, if we think the Ogden Phipps suits her better, we might think of doing that. She’s a very nice filly. I hope we can keep her in form and keep her running the way she’s been running.”

Masqueparade (outside) prevails in the Temperence Hill March 29 at Oaklawn Park (Coady Media)

Masqueparade started his career with trainer Al Stall, Jr., taking the nine-furlong Grade 3 Ohio Derby in 2021 ahead of a Saratoga summer that saw the now 6-year-old Upstart gelding run third in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and sixth in the Grade 1 Travers.

The long running bay was claimed for $80,000 in September at Churchill Downs by trainer Robertino Diodoro and won the 12-furlong Temperence Hill two starts later at Oaklawn Park. He was last seen finishing third in the 12-furlong Isaac Murphy Marathon on May 1 at Churchill Downs.

Atras has nominated Masqueparade to the Grade 2, $350,000 Suburban on Belmont Stakes Day June 8 at Saratoga and would consider the Spa’s $150,000 Birdstone on August 4 at 1 3/4-miles a long-term target.

Masqueparade, who was a good second to Art Collector in the 2022 Alydar at Saratoga, breezed a half-mile in 50.29 on May 18 over the Belmont Park dirt training track.

“He’s a really nice horse. He’s a big horse and really easy going in the morning when he gallops,” Atras said. “I can see why he stays and runs those longer distances. He has a big stride on him and cruises around there. He’s not nervous or a run off. We worked him the other day and he worked really nice.”

Atras was represented by a pair of nice turf sophomores during Kentucky Derby week at Churchill Downs with filly Way to Be Marie finishing a close second in the Grade 2 Edgewood over yielding going on Oaks Day and Grade 3-winner Neat landing seventh over good footing in the Grade 2 American Turf on Derby Day.

Neat (inside) narrowly wins the Transylvania (G3) April 5 at Keeneland (Courtney Snow/Past The Wire)

Red White and Blue Racing’s Neat, a Constitution colt, won the Texas Turf Mile in January at Sam Houston and followed with a dramatic nose win in the Grade 3 Transylvania on April 5 at Keeneland – both with Reylu Gutierrez up.

Atras said Neat didn’t handle the Churchill course in the American Turf.

“After watching him run and talking to Reylu after the race, he said he really struggled to get a hold of it,” Atras said. “That turf course is a little shorter cut and he ran at Houston and Fair Grounds and Keeneland where they have a traditional longer type turf course and he seemed to thrive on those types. We’ll put a line through that race and move forward.”

Neat will now point to either the Grade 2, $400,000 Penn Mile on May 31 or wait for the one-mile Grade 3, $250,000 Manila on June 29 at Belmont at the Big A.

“It’s 50/50 right now. He’ll breeze again this week and we’ll see,” Atras said.

Atras said Neat will likely stay at the one-mile distance for now but he did not rule out stretching the horse out in the future.

“He has good tactical speed and a good kick turning for home. He’s thrived going a mile, so we’ll try and keep him in that range,” Atras said. “I’m not saying he won’t stretch out a little bit further, but we’ll keep in that mile range in the near future.”

Way to Be Marie (inside) settles for second in the Edgewood (G2) May 3 at Churchill Downs (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

Robert V. LaPenta and Madaket Stables’ Way to Be Marie, by Not This Time, was nosed out of a second-out maiden score in November at Aqueduct by well-regarded Chad Brown-trainee Dynamic Pricing.

Way to Be Marie would graduate in her next start traveling nine furlongs over firm Fair Grounds turf in December. She followed with two more good runs at the Louisiana oval when second in a 1 1/16-mile optional-claimer in her seasonal debut in February before wiring older company at the same distance in March.

The talented bay was sent to post at odds of 11-1 in the Edgewood and held a head advantage at the stretch call but could not stave off her familiar foe Dynamic Pricing, who got up to win by a half-length.

“We were pretty high on her going in. She breezed well going in and was getting better every race,” Atras said. “We spaced her races out nice and let her develop over the winter, so we were expecting her to run well.

“It was heartbreaking to get beat like that,” added Atras. “The horse that beat us, also beat us at Aqueduct the previous fall right at the wire in pretty much the same fashion. It was a great race, and you hate to get beat like that, but we were really happy with the way she ran.”

Atras said Way to Be Marie will now point to the Grade 3, $275,000 Regret, a nine-furlong test for sophomore fillies on June 1 at Churchill.

“I think going a mile and an eighth would be good for her,” Atras said. “She seems to want to stay and has a high-cruising speed. It seems she can handle the distance.”

Atras said a good result at Churchill could bring the filly under consideration for the Grade 1, $500,000 Fasig-Tipton Belmont Oaks, a 1 3/16-mile test for sophomore fillies on July 6 at Belmont at the Big A.

This is so beautifully written; You bought a horse and took him to a farm moved me. Bless You.

@sandyfprieto View testimonials



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