Pletcher Trained Halladay Faces Off Against Casse Trio

November 24, 2019

NYRA Press

Photo Credit: Elsa Lorieul

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Stakes-placed Halladay will attempt to sustain a highly consistent record when taking on a field of 10, including three fellow sophomores from the Mark Casse barn, in Friday’s $150,000 Gio Ponti going 1 1/16 miles over the turf at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The Gio Ponti, which will see its fourth running this year, is named in honor of Castleton Lyons’ seven-time Grade 1 winner who won three Eclipse Awards, including Champion Older Horse in 2009 for winning four consecutive Grade 1 events.

Never off the board in seven career starts, Halladay is trained by Todd Pletcher, who won last year’s edition with Bal Harbour.

Owned by Harrell Ventures, the gray son of War Front was a narrow third, beaten a half-length in the last out English Channel. Both of Halladay’s career wins took place going seven furlongs over Belmont Park’s Widener turf course. He emerged from a nine-month layoff in victorious fashion winning his fourth career start over next-out winner Sayaaf before defeating winners two starts later.

“I think the key to success in this race is getting him to settle in the first part,” Pletcher said. “Going a mile and a sixteenth that’s important. He’s been training really well and coming up to it in good shape so we’re optimistic.”

Halladay has not won past seven furlongs but, Pletcher is confident that the distance won’t be an issue.

“He trains like a horse that a mile and a sixteenth won’t be a problem for, just as long as he settles that first quarter-mile,” Pletcher said.

Breaking from post 5, Halladay will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

Trainer Mark Casse has won three stakes this meet and will look to notch another when he sends said number of contenders. Heading the Casse contingent is the well-bred Osage Moon – a Malibu Moon chestnut out of 2011 Broodmare of the Year Oatsee, who produced 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford and Grade 1 winner Lady Joanne.

Owned by John Oxley and Tracy Farmer, Osage Moon arrives off a pair of wire-to-wire victories over the turf at Woodbine. He broke his maiden at seventh asking two starts back by three lengths before defeating winners at the Toronto oval on September 28.

“He likes to be up close, that’s for sure. I would think that would be the plan.” Casse said. “He has a tremendous pedigree. It took him a while to get his act together. He’s a horse that we’re still not quite sure how good he really is.”

Osage Moon will be piloted by Irad Ortiz, Jr. from post 2.

Two-time winner Pioneer Man, who also bears the turquoise and gold colors of John Oxley, will make his first start outside of Woodbine. The son of Pioneerof the Nile graduated first out over the turf at Woodbine before switching surfaces and defeating winners in his next start.

Pioneer Man enters off a fourth-place finish over the Toronto oval’s all-weather surface as the lukewarm favorite in a race won by stable mate Uncle Bull, who Casse said is bound for the Grade 1 $300,000 Hollywood Derby on November 30 at Del Mar.

“We wanted to split them up,” Casse said. “He’s another horse with an extremely nice pedigree and has been a little slow to come around.”

A homebred, Pioneer Man is out of the Giant’s Causeway broodmare Causeway Lady, who is out of multiple graded stakes winning millionaire Mystic Lady. Pioneer Man will break from post 9.

Rounding out Casse’s contingent is Gabe Grossberg’s homebred Proliferate. The dark bay son of third crop sire Declaration of War was a troubled eighth in his last out stakes debut in the Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf on November 9 at Churchill Downs.

Proliferate won his career debut at Gulfstream Park before a close second next out against allowance company finishing a neck to subsequent stakes-winner English Bee.

“He was extremely disappointing last out and I think he may have struggled with the ground,” Casse said. “[Jockey] Chris [Landeros] got off him that day and said that he just spun his wheels. A lot of times these horses have such bad trips because they don’t respond well to the instructions of the rider.”

Proliferate will receive the riding services of Jose Lezcano and leaves from post 4.

Casse said Osage Moon and Pioneer Man, who have made a respective five and four starts this season, will receive a freshening after the Gio Ponti, while Proliferate will likely remain in training.

“I like running my 3-year-olds against 3-year-olds, hence why I have three in this race,” Casse said. “After this [Osage Moon and Pioneer Man] will get a break. Proliferate is just coming off a break so we may race him once or twice in the winter.”

Making his first start since June is Forty Under, who was a distant eighth in the Grade 2 Penn Mile last out.

Owned by Bill Parcells’ August Dawn Farm and trained by Jeremiah Englehart, who teamed up to win the 2017 Gio Ponti with Small Bear, Forty Under has made his last four starts over a turf course rated “yielding”. The gray or roan son of Uncle Mo notched graded stakes status in his third career start last year when he won the Grade 3 Pilgrim over the inner turf at Belmont Park en route to a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs. His lone start over the Aqueduct turf took place two back when second as the favorite in the Woodhaven.

Jockey Manny Franco has been aboard for all six of his career outings and will return to the saddle when he leaves from post 1.

Completing the field are Backtohisroots [post 3, Kendrick Carmouche], Kadar [post 6, Jose Ortiz], Temple [post 8, Javier Castellano] and Chilly in Charge and En Wye Cee [post 11] is entered as also-eligible.

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