OZONE PARK, N.Y. – NY Final Furlong Racing Stable and Parkland Thoroughbreds are feeling a sense of déjà vu as Venti Valentine attempts to validate herself amongst a strong 3-year-old filly division in Saturday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Gazelle at Aqueduct Racetrack. Venti Valentine is listed as the 7-5 morning-line favorite in the nine-furlong Gazelle which offers 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points to the top-four finishers.
Venti Valentine, by Firing Line, enters from a seven-length score in the Busher Invitational, earning a career-best 92 Beyer Speed Figure for the one-turn mile on March 5 at the Big A for trainer Jorge Abreu.
The ownership group was in a similar situation three years ago when Venti Valentine’s half-sister Espresso Shot, by Mission Impazible, captured the 2019 Busher and was made the post-time favorite for that year’s Gazelle, finishing fifth.
Dan Zanatta, co-founder of NY Final Furlong Racing Stable, expressed no concern with Venti Valentine’s distance capabilities, noting her strong runner-up effort in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Demoiselle at the Big A in December, which was her only defeat in four lifetime starts.
“I think it’s even more exciting. People feel that Venti Valentine has more runway, is a higher class filly, and she’s done more so far in her career,” Zanatta said. “Going into the Gazelle with Espresso Shot a few years ago, the two turns was a question mark. With Venti Valentine, she’s already proven around two turns and she ran a good race almost winning the Demoiselle back in December. She likes the trip and she likes the course. That’s not a concern.”
Venti Valentine is currently eighth on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard with 54 points. Prior to her strong pair of open company starts on the Oaks trail, Venti Valentine bested her New York-bred counterparts twice at Belmont Park. After a late closing debut win in September, she brought winning form to a sloppy and sealed edition of the Maid of the Mist one month later.
Both the Busher and Gazelle were penciled in for Venti Valentine following her Demoiselle effort. She was sent to Palm Meadows Training Center in South Florida after the Demoiselle and resumed training at the beginning of the year before shipping back up to New York in late February.
Zanatta said the filly was not completely cranked for the astonishing Busher effort.
“We always thought we had her 80-85 percent fit for that race,” Zanatta said. “She was coming off a layoff and we had her down in Florida. We trained her purposefully going into the Busher, but we didn’t think she was fully cranked up. We liked the position we were in going in and we thought she would improve from two-to-three the right way, but we didn’t think she would demolish the field the way that she did.”
While Venti Valentine is almost guaranteed a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Oaks, Zanatta said they had considered skipping the Gazelle and training up to the “lilies for the fillies.”
“We thought we had enough points but she’s doing so well right now that she has to run,” Zanatta said. “It’s been five weeks and she’s really fresh so we’re in a good position. She’s in perfect form, her coat is great, she acts like she has a lot of energy so we’re in a great spot going into Saturday.”
Zanatta said Venti Valentine, who will break from post 5 under Manny Franco in the eight-horse Gazelle field, should have pace to chase Saturday.
“We have a great post, we’re perfectly spotted and on paper, it looks like it sets up well for us with some speed to the inside,” Zanatta said. “Sometimes, the Gazelle can be a paceless race, but hopefully that’s not the case on Saturday.”
Zanatta said most of the NY Final Furlong Racing Stable syndicate partners involved with Espresso Shot are back aboard with Venti Valentine.
“It’s pretty much the same partners except for two people,” Zanatta said. “Hopefully this isn’t a question mark and it’s just the next step in the process. Everyone’s flights, hotels and tickets are booked for Kentucky. We hope she continues to progress, makes a good showing on Saturday and it’s on to Churchill.”
NYRA Press Release
Photo: Venti Valentine in Busher Invitational Stakes/ Chelsea Durand