OCEANPORT, N.J. – Of the eight colts entered in Saturday’s $200,000 Sapling Stakes for 2-year-olds at Monmouth Park, seven are coming off debut wins. Of those seven, six were well backed at the betting windows, with the longest shot among them going off 7-2.
Then there’s Freedom Road.
The Gregg Sacco trainee was one of the biggest surprises on TVG.com Haskell Stakes day on July 23, winning a 5½-furlong Maiden Special Weight race by 2½ lengths at odds of 27-1.
“I wasn’t really surprised that he won,” said Sacco, a fixture on the Monmouth Park backstretch. “I was surprised that he won as professionally as he did off the pace that day. On Haskell day it was a very speed-conducive track. I think he was one of the few horses that won off the pace that day.
“He did everything right going into the race. As I said, it was the professionalism that surprised me. It looked like he beat a pretty decent field. Time will tell.”
Sacco fully expects Freedom Road, a Kentucky-bred son of Malibu Moon, to be largely ignored once again by bettors for the one-mile Sapling Stakes, the first two-turn test for every horse in the field. Todd Pletcher has a pair entered – Lost Ark, a $275,000 yearling purchase, and Major Dude, a $550,000 yearling purchase – and Brad Cox will send out Bourbon Spirit, who cost $200,000 as a yearling.
Freedom Road, owned by Pinnacle Racing Team, cost a mere $20,000, making him the least expensive purchase in the field.
The colt was picked out by Sacco’s son Will at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale for 2-year–olds in Training in March. It was the first horse the younger Sacco has purchased for his father.
“That made his win a little more special,” said Sacco.
While Sacco knows the Sapling is a major next step for Freedom Road, he also believes he has the talent to be a good one.
“I did name Joel Rosario to ride him for his first start,” he said. “I called (agent) Ron Anderson. I knew they were coming in for Haskell day and he accepted the mount. But Rosario had horses to work that day and the private jet was leaving a little late and he couldn’t make the first two races (Freedom Road was in the second race).
“I would not have reached out to them if I thought he was a mediocre, run-of-the-mill colt.”
Hector Diaz wound up with the mount and will retain it Saturday.
Beyond the Pletcher and Cox entries, trainer Juan Avila is sending V Mart, an 8¾-length winner in the slop at Saratoga in his debut, while Cal Lynch will ship in Saloon, a sharp winner at Delaware Park his first out.
“I know on paper – I took a look at the race – that it is a deep field with some impressive winners,” said Sacco. “We have our work cut out for us. But I like his running style.
“He was a May foal who is still maturing. We kind of felt he slipped through the cracks a little. He was very immature in March when he worked. I’m hoping he slipped through the cracks. It looks like he did.”
Sacco said Freedom Road “acts like the two turns should not be a problem.”
$500 NHC/BCBC HANDICAPPING CONTEST SET FOR SATURDAY
A $500 Handicapping Contest offering a seat to either the NHC or BCBC for the top four (4) finishers will take place at Monmouth Park on Saturday, Aug. 27.
The contest is open to the public with walk-up registration only the day of the event. The $500 cost covers a $250 non-refundable entry fee and a $250 tournament bankroll.
The format for the contest is as follows: Players must wager on a minimum of 10 races (there is no maximum), with at least five races being from Monmouth Park. Saratoga and Monmouth are the available tracks for the contest. The minimum wager per race is $25 (there is no maximum) and the betting format is win place and/or show only.
The top four finishers will choose from a total of three NHC seats and one BCBC seat. For every 15 entries above 150, an additional NHC seat will be offered.
Walk-up registration will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first floor of the Clubhouse.
Players will be able to wager on self-service machines.
Monmouth Park Press Release
Photo: Monmouth Park starting gate (Eric Kalet)