OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Vegso Racing Stable’s Officiating overtook the lead in mid-stretch to win his second graded stakes in Saturday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap for 4-year-olds and up sprinting six furlongs at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Saffie Joseph, Jr., Officiating broke alertly under Manny Franco and stalked the pace set by 2021 Tom Fool-winner Chateau, who marked the opening quarter-mile in 22.66 seconds over the fast main track with Kendrick Carmouche up.
Officiating, who was carrying a co-field high 123 pounds, was kept to task by Franco down the backstretch and was joined by the slow-breaking Repo Rocks as the field entered the turn. The pair split a fading Prime Factor in second and made steady progress towards Chateau as he continued to lead by 1 1/2 lengths exiting the turn after a half-mile in 46.19.
Officiating, swung to the outside for the drive, continued to make up ground and took the lead from Chateau just past the sixteenth pole, drawing away to win by 5 1/2 lengths in a final time of 1:12.22.
Chateau held onto place honors by 1 1/4 lengths over Repo Rocks, who angled to the center of the racetrack from the rail to pick up his second consecutive graded placing. Prime Factor finished another seven lengths back to round out the superfecta with Timeless Bounty completing the order of finish.
The Tom Fool was the six-furlong debut for the son of Blame, who cut back after finishing third in the one-mile Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper last time out at Gulfstream Park.
“It was very exciting,” Joseph, Jr. said of the effort. “He cut back to six furlongs for the first time and he wasn’t outpaced. He was always in a handy spot. I was sure at the top of the lane he was going to kick in because he was cutting back in distance, and he did just that. I’m very proud of the horse.”
Franco said the race unfolded exactly how he and Joseph, Jr. had expected.
“Just like they told me: break out of there, get good position and try to be in the clear,” said Franco, who rode the bay for the first time in the Tom Fool. “The race developed the way we planned and he got it done. He was ready.
“Every time I asked him to do something, he was there for me,” Franco added. “I watched his replays and the more you push him, the more he goes. I was happy with where my horse put me and I was just waiting for the right moment to move. I wasn’t worried at all, I wasn’t too far away from him [Chateau].”
Joseph, Jr. praised Franco for his smart off-the-pace ride.
“That was the instruction: to get a good break and get position and, if he could, to work his way out into the clear,” Joseph, Jr. said. “Manny did exactly that. He gave him a good trip and was assertive to get him into the race early and into a good spot down the backside in the clear.”
Carmouche, who was aboard Chateau for his Tom Fool victory last year, said his horse gave his best effort.
“The track was a little heavier than he probably would have liked, but he still ran his race,” said Carmouche.
The Tom Fool was the second graded stakes score and fourth career victory for Officiating, who won the seven-furlong Grade 3 Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream Park on December 11 ahead of his third in the Fred W. Hooper.
Joseph, Jr. said the performance may warrant a start in the seven-furlong, Grade 1 $300,000 Carter Handicap on April 9 at the Big A.
“I would say that would definitely be under consideration,” said Joseph, Jr. “You would think that’s the next possible start – he’s won at seven-eighths already. We’ll talk it over with [owner] Peter Vegso and see if we’ll give it a go.”
A Florida homebred, Officiating earned $110,000 for his victory, bringing his total purse earnings to $331,097 and improving his record to 16-4-4-3. A $2 win wager on Officiating returned $13.40.
Live racing resumes Sunday at the Big A with an eight-race card headlined by the $125,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational. First post is 1:20 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the winter meet at Aqueduct Racetrack on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Press Release
Photo: Officiating gets a well-earned pat from Manny Franco after they took the Tom Fool H. By 5-1/4 lengths. (Joe Labozzetta)