Leader of the Band Takes $135K Summer Colony in Empire State Debut

August 19, 2022

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – SMD, Ltd.’s Pennsylvania homebred Leader of the Band made her first New York outing a winning one when rallying to take the $135,000 Summer Colony, a nine-furlong main track test for older fillies and mares who have not won a graded stake this year, on Friday at Saratoga Race Course. 

Trained by John Servis, the talented Leader of the Band notched her sixth lifetime win, improving from a last out runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher on July 23 at Monmouth Park where she closed from 2 1/2 lengths off the pace to be defeated three lengths by Grade 1-winner Search Results. A 4-year-old daughter of Bandbox, Leader of the Band adds to two previous stakes scores in the Lady’s Secret in June at Monmouth and the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks last year at the Oceanport oval. 

Leader of the Band was backed in through the front of stall 4 riderless before Hall of Famer John Velazquez climbed aboard and guided the bay filly to a good start, settling in behind Envoutante and First to Act as they battled for the lead into the first turn. Envoutante came away with a slight advantage as the pair marked an opening quarter-mile in 23.70 seconds over the fast track as Leader of the Band tracked in third. 

First to Act, under patient handling by Irad Ortiz, Jr., put her neck in front through a half-mile in 47.81 and three-quarters in 1:11.87 as Bonny South swung wide from the back of the field. Leader of the Band began to pick things up when asked by Velazquez in the final turn, charging down the center of the racetrack to overtake a tiring Envoutante for second. 

Leader of the Band stuck her head in front at the stretch call, and by the eighth pole, First to Act was all-out under a strong ride from Ortiz, Jr. To her outside, Leader of the Band continued to find more with every stride and came home three-quarter lengths the best in a final time of 1:49.65. 

Envoutante held onto show honors over the late-running Bonny South with Army Wife, Misty Veil and Exotic West completing the order of finish. 

Servis said Leader of the Band has grown mentally from where she was last year, which prompted owner Will Schwartz to consider a trip to Saratoga.

“She’s matured so much from last year. Last year, she was a handful with everything,” said Servis. “Mentally, she’s matured so much, and she’s gotten bigger and stronger physically. She’s showing that in her races. She seems to be getting better in her races. We were kind of wondering whether we would sit and wait for a PA-bred race or try to find another race. Will actually pitched this race to me and said, ‘If she’s doing good, I’d love to go to Saratoga.’ I said we’d play it by ear and coming up to this week, I said ‘We’re going.’”

Leader of the Band emerged from her stall with a wedge between her and the back, something Servis said helps the often slow-starting filly. 

“She has a bad habit of sitting back on the door before she breaks. So, when the front doors open, she sits back and then breaks, subsequently getting herself left a length or two,” Servis explained. “We started putting a wedge in there, but even with the wedge, we’ve had to take her out and put her back in because she’s so used to sitting on those back doors, we couldn’t get the wedge in. So we thought we’d put the wedge in and then take her around the front and back her in, and maybe that will help her stay up instead of sitting back. Today, she broke better than she’s ever broke, ever.”

Velazquez agreed that a good break was key. 

“She behaved really well in the gate,” said Velazquez. “She did everything good. When she popped out, I made sure I got her in position, from then on she was going really easy the whole way, so I was pretty confident. She was doing everything right through the race. She finished nice, finished up really well, as soon as I got to the outside.”

Leader of the Band has been a model of consistency in her three seasons of racing, boasting a 13-for-15 in-the-money record with earnings totaling $552,940. She returned $15.60 for a $2 win wager and was awarded $74,250 for the winning effort. She is out of the stakes-placed Sir Cat mare Catsuit, who is a half-sister to Grade 1-producing broodmare Missy Turtle. 

Schwartz, whose first start under the SMD, Ltd. name came in 2000, claimed Catsuit for $32,000 in 2004 and raced her once before retiring her. In 2017, she was bred to Bandbox, the late son of Tapit that stood at Northview Stallion Station in Maryland. 

“I claimed the mare back 18 years ago and I love the family,” Schwartz said. “We raced her once and then bred her. We like the Tapit connections. Us Mid Atlantic guys like to keep it in the Mid-Atlantic and Bandbox was our choice that year.

“This has been a dream to not only win a race at Saratoga, but to win a stakes race is pretty special,” Schwartz added. 

Ortiz, Jr. said he was proud of the effort from First to Act, who entered from a July 10 allowance win at Belmont Park and has never finished worse than second in five starts. 

“She ran great, ran big. Fast race,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “She was trying everything since the gates opened. She was forwardly placed. I let her be there and she relaxed and came back to me. When I asked her to go, she responded really well and just got beat.”

Live racing resumes Saturday with an 11-race program, featuring the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama in Race 10, the Grade 2, $200,000 Lake Place in Race 8 and the $135,000 Smart N Fancy in Race 9. First post is 12:30 p.m. Eastern. 

Saratoga Live will present daily coverage and analysis of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.

Saratoga Press Release

Photo: Leader Of The Band (NYRA Photo)

@jonathanstettin great read as always!

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