Gray Lightning Looks To Keep Momentum Going in Jersey Girl

June 3, 2024

By Mary Eddy – NYRA Press Office

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – NR Club’s Gray Lightning will look to add to two romping allowance-level wins when making her stakes debut in Thursday’s Listed $150,000 Jersey Girl, a six-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies, at the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga Race Course.

The Jersey Girl is one of four stakes slated for Thursday at Saratoga Race Course to kick off the four-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, which is highlighted by the 156th edition of the Grade 1, $2 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday, June 8. The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival will include 24 stakes races with purses totaling $10.25 million, the highest purse levels and number of stakes offered since the launch of the multi-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival in 2014.

The Pennsylvania-bred Gray Lightning was an eye-catching open-lengths winner of her last two outings for trainer Tyler Servis, taking a six-furlong open-company optional-claimer by 14 1/2 lengths on March 18 at Parx Racing ahead of a similar 12 1/4-length score against state-bred elders on April 29 at the Bensalem oval. Both efforts, which were engineered by Jorge Vargas, Jr., were awarded a field-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure.

Gray Lightning has worked three times since her latest effort, most recently covering a half-mile handily in 47.24 seconds Friday over the Parx main track.

Servis said speed comes easy to the daughter of Social Inclusion.

“She’s doing great and she breezed very well this morning,” said Servis. “She’s a great gate horse and that makes it a lot easier on her. She does things so effortlessly, even this morning – I looked at my clock and thought maybe she was going too slow for what I wanted going into the race, but then I looked again and saw 35 and change [for three furlongs] and I was confident she was going to finish up the work good.”

The talented gray has won 3-of-4 starts, including a pacesetting win on debut in November. Her lone loss came next out in her first effort against winners when Servis experimented with getting her to rate early on. She finished second, beaten 4 3/4 lengths, but flourished next out to win the aforementioned March 18 tilt with pacesetting tactics again.

“I always knew from the get-go that she was a good filly,” said Servis. “We ran her for a maiden $40,000 first time out because with the way the purses are structured here, you actually make more money running there. We sneaked by with that one, and then the only time she got beat was because of some instruction error. With all the speed she has, I think that was negative to her advantage. She has really blossomed this year and has shown that on the racetrack.”

Gray Lightning was purchased for $370,000 by her current owners during this year’s Fasig-Tipton April Digital Sale. She is out of the winning Cat Thief mare Fairy Gray and is a maternal descendant of multiple graded stakes-winner and prolific broodmare Cherokee Frolic.

Vargas, Jr. retains the mount from post 8.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher sends out two contenders in undefeated Group 3-winner Manama Gold [post 4, John Velazquez] and maiden-winner Roman Grace [post 2, Irad Ortiz, Jr.].

Victorious Racing’s Manama Gold makes her American debut on the heels of an impressive score for previous trainer Fawzi Nass in the Group 3 UAE Oaks in February at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. The daughter of Star Guitar notched two allowance-level victories this winter en route to her 1 1/4-length UAE Oaks score where she dictated the tempo for the 1 3/16 miles.

Manama Gold has posted three works at Saratoga, most recently covering five furlongs in 1:01.25 Friday over the Oklahoma dirt training track.

JP Racing Stable and Paradise Farms Corp.’s Roman Grace makes her stakes debut off a runner-up effort to Dame Cinco in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance on May 3 at Belmont at the Big A. The Munnings chestnut graduated at second asking in a seven-furlong maiden at Keeneland with a wire-to-wire trip under Tyler Gaffalione to win by 3 1/2 lengths.

Becky’s Joker (NYRA/Coglianese)

Lee Pokoik’s graded stakes-winner Becky’s Joker [post 3, Junior Alvarado] could make her return from a 10-month layoff in the Jersey Girl, but will also be entered in the Grade 1, $500,000 DK Horse Acorn, according to trainer Gary Contessa.

“If the Acorn is void of speed, we might consider that,” said Contessa. “A lot of it comes down to the owner, Lee Pokoik. If he has a strong feeling about one or the other, I would honor his request. He has been a long-time owner and he deserves that right.” 

Becky’s Joker was a memorable winner on debut last summer at the Spa in the six-furlong Grade 3 Schuylerville with an off-the-pace trip under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, cruising home a 3 1/4-length winner over Saratoga Secret. She followed with a distant off-the-board finish in the Grade 3 Adirondack in August ahead of her extended respite that was due in part to mental fragility.

Contessa said the talented filly has relished sprinting despite her large frame. 

“She is huge. She is seventeen-two [hands] on the tape. She is as big as they get,” said Contessa. “Distance is a God-given ability. I have had huge horses that won’t run over three-quarters. I’ve had tiny, little horses that will run all day. There’s not a body type that makes a horse run long or not. It is just a God-given ability to run long or be a sprinter.” 

Becky’s Joker has worked extensively over Saratoga’s Oklahoma dirt training track, and most recently covered six furlongs in 1:14.65 in company with Grade 1-winner Nutella Fella, who is targeting the Grade 1, $500,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on June 8.

Frank Fletcher Racing Operations and Ten Strike Racing’s Almostgone Rocket [post 5, Flavien Prat] puts her undefeated record on the line for two-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner Brad Cox.

The Into Mischief bay is 2-for-2 after a dominant debut in April at Oaklawn Park that saw her battle for the early lead in the six-furlong sprint before drawing clear with ease in the turn and powering home an 11 3/4-length winner. She followed with another prominent victory last out on May 3 at Churchill Downs to annex a 6 1/2-furlong optional claimer by 4 1/4 lengths over sloppy and sealed footing, garnering a 93 Beyer.

The $250,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase is out of the multiple stakes-winning Jump Start mare Bound, a half-sister to graded stakes-placed Justice for Auston and stakes-winner Lune Rouge, as well as Soleil Rouge, dam of graded stakes-winner Battle Bling.

Carmelina (Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club)

Cash is King and LC Racing’s multiple stakes-winner Carmelina [post 1, Jose Lezcano] looks to regroup after a distant off-the-board finish in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness on May 17 at Pimlico Race Course.

Trained by Butch Reid, Jr., the Pennsylvania-bred Maximus Mischief bay won the state-bred Keswick and Shamrock Rose, and open-company Gin Talking in December for her most recent win. This year, she was a pacesetting second to Jody’s Pride in the Listed Busher Invitational ahead of off-the-board efforts in the Grade 3 Gazelle and the Miss Preakness.

Completing the field is SJB Stable’s Dorothy’s Dreams [post 6, Trevor McCarthy], a last-out allowance-winner at Finger Lakes Racetrack for trainer Anthony Ferraro; and Cypress Creek Equine’s allowance-winner Moonlit Lady [post 7, Ramon Vazquez] for trainer Fausto Gutierrez.

The Jersey Girl is slated as Race 4 on Thursday’s 10-race card, which co-features the Grade 2, $250,000 Belmont Gold Cup in Race 10; the Listed $150,000 Tremont in Race 2; and the $150,000 Astoria in Race 9. First post is 12:50 p.m. Eastern. 

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