Little Vic with Carlos Olivero up takes the Tom Fool Handicap (Chelsea Durand)
By Keith McCalmont
OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Little Vic and jockey Carlos Olivero each enjoyed graded stakes glory for the first time by posting an impressive stalking score in Saturday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Tom Fool Handicap, a six-furlong sprint for older horses, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Juan Carlos Avila for Victoria’s Ranch, the 4-year-old Practical Joke colt entered from a pair of runner-up efforts here, losing by a nose to returning foe Drafted in the six-furlong Gravesend in December before adding blinkers and completing the exacta behind a streaking Repo Rocks in the seven-furlong Grade 3 Toboggan on January 28.
Victoria’s Ranch is the racing operation of retired professional baseball player Victor Martinez, a five-time MLB All-Star who finished second in the MVP voting in 2014.
“This horse is a real athlete,” said Martinez. “When you see a horse like him develop after each and every race, it’s just special. It’s a feeling that I can’t describe in words. I’m just really, really happy.”
Chateau, who won this event in 2021, broke alertly under Jose Lezcano and set splits of 21.92 seconds and 45.14 over the muddy and sealed main track with Pirate Rick tracking closely from second position and Little Vic rating in third to the outside of Runninsonofagun.
Little Vic advanced outside the pacesetters to take command at the top of the lane as Runninsonofagun was asked for his best run by Kendrick Carmouche and post-time favorite Nakatomi unleashed his late kick under Dylan Davis. But there was no denying Little Vic, who surged to the wire a 1 1/2-length winner in a final time of 1:09.73. Runninsonofagun completed the exacta by a neck over Nakatomi, who was a neck better than fourth-place finisher Eastern Bay. Rounding out the order of finish were Pirate Rick, Drafted, Wendell Fong and Chateau.
Olivero was full of praise for the improving Little Vic.
“It’s my first graded win in my career and I’m very happy,” Olivero said. “It was easy because that’s the kind of trip we planned, and we expected it. Everything worked out. He is a nice horse; he ran very well, and he finished strong.”
Martinez said he expected a good effort from Little Vic after running second last out to the much-improved Repo Rocks, who garnered a 111 Beyer Speed Figure that day and came back to win the Stymie here February 25.
“I think he beat a real good group of horses to run second in the last race. The horse that won was just on a whole different level,” Martinez said. “Like we always say in baseball, you turn the page, come back tomorrow and keep trying, and that’s what we did with him. We turned that page; we kept trying and today we are enjoying the nice result.”
Little Vic, a $50,000 purchase from the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, has finished first or second in each of his last five starts, winning a Delaware allowance against older company in October and the City of Laurel in November at Laurel Park ahead of his recent trips to the Big A.
Martinez said Little Vic could return to Aqueduct on April 8 for the seven-furlong Grade 1, $300,000 Carter Handicap presented by NYRA Bets.
“We’ll see,” Martinez said. “We’re taking it day by day. We’ll see how he gets back. We’ll celebrate this one and then we’ll look for another one.”
Runninsonofagun, who captured the Grade 3 Bold Ruler in October at Belmont at the Big A, was making his first start since a close runner-up effort to Greeley and Ben on November 26 in the Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap here.
Carmouche, who returned from injury on Friday and won earlier on the card with Market Alert, said he was pleased with his charge’s effort off the layoff.
“He ran very well. I thought he got a little tired on me late, but that’s OK,” Carmouche said. “He’s got better races coming up in the future and hopefully we get him right to where he was last year and he’ll keep running good. It’s good whenever you can give them time off and they can come back the same.”
Bred in Kentucky by Stride Sales and Syndicate, Little Vic banked $82,500 in victory while improving his record to 13-5-3-1. He returned $15 for a $2 win bet.
Live racing resumes Sunday at the Big A with a nine-race card. First post is 1:20 p.m. Eastern.