Morello back in stakes company in Gravesend 

December 27, 2022

Morello drawing away to a win in the $62,000 Feature Allowance at Laurel Park, Oct. 8, 2022. (Jim McCue/MJC)

NYRA Press Office

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Blue Lion Thoroughbreds, Iapetus Racing and Diamond T Racing’s graded-stakes winner Morello returns from a two-month absence in Friday’s $135,000 Gravesend, a six-furlong sprint for 3-years-old and up, at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, the 3-year-old Classic Empire chestnut has won 3-of-5 starts at the Big A, including scores in the seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield in February and the one-mile Grade 3 Gotham in March with jockey Jose Lezcano up.

Dave Lyon, managing partner of Blue Lion Thoroughbreds, said he relishes the opportunity for Morello to headline a 12-horse field in Friday’s feature.

“It’s good that here in the dead of winter in New York we’re getting big fields. That’s a positive thing,” Lyon said. “We have confidence running on our home track. It’s a surface we know he can run on and won on many times, so we’re happy to be on our home track.”

Morello stepped up in class for off-the-board efforts in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino here in April and the Grade 1 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun in June at Belmont Park before a four-month break that saw him return victorious in a six-furlong optional-claimer on October 8 at Laurel Park, easily besting returning rival Greeley and Ben.

“We had him in some pretty tough company and then gave him the summer off,” Lyon said. “His comeback race in Maryland was off the charts. He really didn’t break well there, but he ran down Greeley and Ben and ran a nice race.”

Morello was last seen finishing a distant fifth after stumbling at the start in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap, a one-turn mile versus older company on October 29 at Belmont at the Big A.

Lyon said he is pleased to see Lezcano return to the irons from post 7 aboard Morello, who is assigned 124 pounds.

“The secret is out on Morello. He has to break well,” Lyon said. “He’s not broken well out of the gate several times, even in races he’s won. I kind of closed my eyes the last couple races and hope he breaks well. We’re happy to have Jose back on him, who rode him to three wins in a row last year around this time to get things started.”

Morello, who is overseen by assistant trainer Toby Sheets in New York, has breezed consistently over the Belmont dirt training track since the Kelso effort, including a five-eighths effort in 1:01.63 on December 18.

“He’s training lights out,” Lyon said. “Toby knows how to turn the screws and he has him cranked up and ready to race. He’s looked terrific every time.”

Lyon said he’s proud of everything the $250,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale purchase has accomplished thus far.

“It’s nice to have a Saturday horse, even though it’s a Friday this time. We have great partners on this horse, and we loved this horse at the sale and had to have him,” Lyon said. “You buy a horse for a quarter-million at the sale, you’ll have high expectations and Morello hasn’t let us down.

“He’s still a 3-year-old. We had a lot of success right out of the gate with him and then a little disappointment, but that’s what this sport is,” Lyon added. “You have to be able to weather the storm. Missing the Kentucky Derby was definitely a gut punch, but we have a young horse with a lot of talent, and we’ve been very patient with him. If you give these horses the time off that they need, they’ll come back and reward you.”

Trainer Butch Reid, Jr. will look to continue a solid run of form at Aqueduct when he sends out a pair of multiple stakes winning Pennsylvania-breds in LC Racing’s Smooth B [post 5, Abner Adomo, 124 pounds] and St. Omer’s Farm and Christopher J. Feifarek’s Beren [post 9, Frankie Pennington, 124 pounds].

Beren and Smooth B are cross entered in other stakes events with both entered in Wednesday’s Blitzen at Parx and Beren also entered in the Dave’s Friend on Friday at Laurel Park. 

Reid, Jr. said he has yet to decide where to run his horses as both Parx and Laurel Park deal with inclement weather. The Dave’s Friend was initially scheduled for today before the entire card was moved to Friday due to frigid temperatures and threats of flash freezing, while Parx was forced to cancel both training and racing today.

“I’m not sure what we’re doing just yet,” Reid, Jr. “For now, we’ll enter, hope for the best and pick our best spot.”

Dating to November 6 when Foggy Night finished second in the Tempted, Reid, Jr. has started six horses in Big A stakes events for a record of 2-1-2 led by scores from Eloquist in the Discovery and Dr B in the Grade 3 Go for Wand.

“We’ve had a good winter up there and had a few stakes wins. We love New York,” said Reid, Jr. with a laugh.

Smooth B, a 7-year-old son of Weigelia, boasts a record of 48-10-9-7 for purse earnings of $714,038.

“He’s a trooper,” Reid, Jr. said. “He’s been a great find for us for a long time now and we couldn’t be any happier with him. No matter where we end up running, he’ll give us a good effort – he always does.”

The evergreen bay’s last two wins have come at Parx in the Marshall Jenney Handicap, a five-furlong off-the-turf event versus fellow state-breds in August that garnered a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure; and a last-out allowance win sprinting 6 1/2-furlongs against open company on November 8. He finished third here in an optional claimer in February to kick off his current campaign.

Smooth B’s Marshall Jenney score came after three previous appearances, including a third-place effort in 2019 and runner-up efforts in 2020-21.

“That race is one of the big highlights of the year for him,” Reid, Jr. said. “He really caught the track that day. A lot of the Weigelias seem to like a lot of moisture on the track and it worked out for us that day.”

Reid, Jr. said Smooth B will appreciate the slight cut back in distance.

“We’ve tried him at seven-eighths and going further distances but he’s very good at three-quarters,” Reid, Jr. said. “He’s tough to deal with when he catches his track. What I’m worried about is a loose winter track, but they always seem to do a nice job with the Aqueduct track in the wintertime. It’s usually nice and firm and he likes that kind of racetrack.”

Bred by St. Omer’s Farm and WynOaks Farm, Smooth B, out of the Disco Rico mare Katarica Disco, is a full sibling to multiple stakes winner Disco Ebo and stakes winner Fat Kat.

Beren, a 4-year-old Weigelia colt, captured the six-furlong Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash in prominent fashion in July at Laurel Park and added the seven-furlong Jump Start against state-breds to his ledger in October at Parx.

Reid, Jr. expressed his appreciation for Weigelia as a consistent sire of talented stock.

“We’ve had a lot of luck with them, and they’re usually bargain purchases at the sale,” Reid, Jr. said. “These two look like twins. They’re both solid horses and seem to hold their soundness over a period of time. They’re super consistent as long as they catch the racetrack they like.”

The hard-trying bay, who boasts a record of 22-9-6-1 for purse earnings of $697,960, enters from a pacesetting third in the 6 1/2-furlong Let’s Give Thanks on November 23 at Parx.

Reid, Jr. said Beren was hampered by a poor start last out.

“He doesn’t mind a little dirt in his face, but he got away terrible that day and the jock had to use him a little bit early,” Reid, Jr. said. “He rushed up, but still didn’t get a very clean trip turning for home. That race is a bit of a throw out for me, but he always gives a genuine effort, and we love him for that.”

Beren is a seven-time stakes winner, including back-to-back scores in the Gold Fever on a fast track and an off-the-turf Paradise Creek over sloppy and sealed going in May 2021 at Belmont Park.

“He’s won stakes in New York and all over the place. His whole thing is taking his racetrack with him,” Reid, Jr. said. “He needs a little bit of a firm track and a little bit of water doesn’t bother him either. A wet, firm track is what he likes.”

Bred by Susan C. Quick and Christopher Feifarek, Beren is out of the multiple graded-stakes winning Diamond mare Silmaril.

Dublin Fjord Stables, Racepoint Stables, Kevin D. Hilbert and Thomas E. O’Keefe’s multiple graded-stakes winner Drafted [post 3, Luis Rodriguez Castro, 126 pounds] also returns from a two-month respite after finishing a close fifth in the six-furlong Grade 3 Bold Ruler on the Kelso undercard.

Trained by David Duggan, the 8-year-old Field Commission gelding, who boasts career earnings of $1,083,193, has posted a record of 8-3-1-1 this year led by Grade 3 wins in the Toboggan in February at the Big A and the Runhappy in May at Belmont.

Duggan said a strong pace will benefit the last-running Drafted.

“There’s lots of speed in there and whenever there’s a big field, you’re guaranteed a fast pace so that will play into our wheelhouse,” Duggan said.

Drafted has kept impressive company this year, finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Forego in August at the Spa won by Cody’s Wish, who exited that effort to win the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Drafted was then third in the Grade 2 Vosburgh in October here won by next-out Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint victor Elite Power; and a close fifth in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler, captured by Runninsonofagun, who finished a neck shy of victory in the next-out Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap here in November.

The popular grey, who has finished third in the previous two runnings of this event, is training forwardly for his return, posting a bullet half-mile in 47.27 on December 15 over the Belmont dirt training track.

“He’s a good workhorse. He came back and worked well and has continued to train well. We’re going to take our chance,” Duggan said.

Rodriguez Castro, who guided Drafted to a last-to-first score in the Mr. Prospector in June at Monmouth Park, picks up the mount in place of the injured Trevor McCarthy.

“Luis is a good rider and I’m delighted to have him back on. He rides a smart race,” Duggan said.

Greeley and Ben [post 10, Manny Franco, 126 pounds] made the grade last out in the six-furlong Grade 3 Fall Highweight on November 26 for owner Darryl E. Abramowitz and trainer Faith Wilson, who was filling in for his then suspended conditioner Jeffrey Englehart.

The 8-year-old Greeley’s Conquest gelding is a veteran of 39 career starts with a record of 23-7-2 for purse earnings of $882,698. He was claimed for $40,000 out of a winning effort in September at Saratoga Race Course and since posted two wins from four starts for his current connections.

He has breezed back twice over the Belmont dirt training track, including a half-mile in 49.49 on December 20.

Little Vic [post 11, Carlos Olivero, 122 pounds] enters from his first career stakes score in the seven-furlong City of Laurel on November 26 at Laurel Park for trainer Juan Avila and owner Victoria’s Ranch, the racing operation of retired Major League Baseball All-Star Victor Martinez.

The sophomore Practical Joke colt exited post 8-of-11 under Olivero in the City of Laurel and saved ground in fifth position before taking command at the stretch call and drawing off to win by 1 1/2-lengths. That effort came on the heels of a prominent allowance win on October 20 at Delaware Park that runner-up Radical Right exited to win an optional-claimer at Laurel Park and third-place Spikezone followed with an optional-claiming score at Parx.

Avila said he was impressed by the off-the-pace effort in the City of Laurel but expects a more forward approach Friday.

“The horse is in his best moment right now,” said Avila. “The last time he raced he proved he could [come from behind], but he had never done that before.”

Little Vic, a $50,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, has demonstrated impressive early foot in previous sprint efforts, including in a six-furlong Monmouth Park allowance tilt in May where he marked the half-mile in 44.49 en route to a 5 1/2-length score in a final time of 1:09.38.

The bay colt has breezed back twice at his Parx base, including a bullet half-mile in 48.36 on December 15.

Rounding out a competitive field are the graded-stakes placed Synthesis [post 4, Andre Worrie, 122 pounds] and Repo Rocks [post 8, Andrew Wolfsont, 124 pounds]; stakes winner Amundson [post 6, Kendrick Carmouche, 120 pounds]; stakes-winner Twisted Ride [post 12, Silvestre Gonzalez, 122 pounds], who is cross-entered in the Blitzen; multiple stakes-placed Three Two Zone [post 1, Dylan Davis, 120 pounds]; and three-time winner Bezos [post 2, Omar Hernandez Moreno, 120 pounds].

The Gravesend is slated as Race 7 on Friday’s eight-race card. First post is 12:50 p.m. Eastern. 

America’s Day at the Races will present live coverage and analysis of the Aqueduct fall meet on the networks of FOX Sports. For the broadcast schedule and channel finder, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.

NYRA Bets is the best way to bet every race of the Aqueduct Racetrack fall meet. Available to horse players nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.

@jonathanstettin another excellent day for the man who does it best. Thx Jon &@Tracking_Trips. Hoping you have some thoughts for tomorrow!

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