Manny Franco celebrates his title-clinching win aboard Victorious Wave (Coglianese)
By Keith McCalmont – NYRA Press Office
OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Jockey Manny Franco captured his fourth winter meet riding title at Aqueduct Racetrack, posting 63 wins at the meet that ran from January 1 to March 26. Linda Rice paced all trainers with 37 wins, while Windylea Farm secured their first NYRA-circuit owners title with 12 wins.
Franco, who rode a pair of winners on Sunday’s Closing Day card, finished three wins ahead of runner-up Dylan Davis and 20 wins clear of third-place Jose Lezcano.
“It means a lot to me. This is what we’re here for,” said Franco, who is represented by agent John Panagot. “I want to be one of the top riders here on the New York circuit, and I work hard to make it happen. I want to thank all the trainers and owners that support me during the year. I’m happy to be back on top again.”
The 28-year-old native of Carolina, Puerto Rico, who equaled a NYRA record by winning with 6-of-7 mounts on January 6 here, completed the meet with a record of 246-63-42-32 for total purse earnings of $3,297,246.
He also added a five-win day on March 10 as part of a tremendous winter meet that included a win with Kentucky Derby hopeful Hit Show in the Grade 3 Withers. Franco’s other stakes winners at the meet were Law Professor [Queens County], Dr Ardito [Haynesfield], Neural Network [Gander], Rossa Veloce [Correction] and Looms Boldly [Damon Runyon].
“Hit Show was one of the biggest wins, but every win here is important. I’m just happy to have the opportunity to ride for everybody here in New York,” Franco said. “Every day you learn something new. You have to have the right horses and make the most of them. When you get that opportunity, you have to make it happen.”
Franco, who was the NYRA circuit leading rider from 2018-19, has won six previous meet titles, including 2018 Aqueduct winter and fall; 2019 Aqueduct winter and spring; 2019 Belmont Park fall; and 2020 Aqueduct winter.
Rice, 59, won her third Aqueduct winter meet title following past success in 2019-20. She sent out 37 winners, 14 wins more than second-place trainer Rob Atras and 21 ahead of third-place finisher Chad Brown.
Meet highlights for Rice, who saddled seven straight winners in mid-March, include stakes triumphs with Betsy Blue [Interborough] and Downtown Mischief [Cicada], who was a perfect 3-for-3 at the meet.
Rice has also enjoyed meet leader success in 2009 at Saratoga Race Course in addition to topping the tables at 2011 Aqueduct spring [tie]; 2011 Belmont spring/summer; 2012 Aqueduct spring; 2017 Aqueduct spring [tie]; 2019 Aqueduct winter; 2020 Aqueduct winter; and 2022 Aqueduct fall.
“It’s been a really good winter,” Rice said. “We’ve had a good fall and we had a good meet before that as well. Then to come back and have a really good winter meet was great. We had a couple stakes winners, Betsy Blue and Downtown Mischief. But, in general, the whole barn and my entire staff has been working real hard and it showed up in the afternoon.”
Rice started 142 horses for a record of 37-30-27 and $1,952,790 in earnings. Her runners posted a win rate of 26.06 percent and a 66.20 in-the-money percentage.
Windylea Farm led all owners with a record of 31-12-5-10 and total purse earnings of $473,760. A trio of horses posted a pair of wins for Windylea Farm at the meet, including Super Quality, Jake Rocks and Ouster, who garnered a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure in a state-bred optional-claimer on March 18.
“It’s very gratifying that we’re seeing the fruits of our labor come to fruition,” said Windylea Farm’s Kip O’Neill. “We really started to invest more heavily, both from a time and a financial standpoint, in late 2018 into 2019. We’ve seen a nice growth in our program from a breeding and racing standpoint.”
It was a three-way tie for second between Michael Dubb [31-10-5-5, $537,377], Winning Move Stable [27-10-4-6, $445,590] and Linda Rice [35-10-2-7, $334,740].
Live racing continues Thursday at the Big A, Opening Day of the 19-day spring meet that runs through April 30. First post for Thursday’s eight-race card is 1:20 p.m. Eastern.
The Aqueduct spring meet includes 14 stakes worth a total of $2.8 million, highlighted by the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino on the same April 8 card as the Grade 1, $300,000 Carter Handicap presented by NYRA Bets. The Wood Memorial Day card is bolstered by the Grade 3, $250,000 Gazelle and the Grade 3, $200,000 Bay Shore.