OZONE PARK, N.Y. – NY Final Furlong Racing Stable and Parkland Thoroughbreds’ Venti Valentine will look to continue her journey down the Road to the Kentucky Oaks in Saturday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Gazelle for sophomore fillies going nine furlongs at Aqueduct Racetrack. The Gazelle offers 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points to the top-four finishers.
A New York-bred daughter of Firing Line, Venti Valentine has compiled a near-perfect record, registering three wins from four starts including two stakes victories. Trained by Jorge Abreu, Venti Valentine was a last-out winner of the Busher Invitational by an impressive seven lengths in her sophomore debut.
The bay filly kicked things off with a debut win going six furlongs at Belmont Park in September, rallying from 10th to nab a nose victory against fellow state-breds. She stepped up to stakes company in her first start against winners and easily took the Maid of the Mist against fellow state-breds by 3 3/4 lengths when stretching out to a one-turn mile in October, stalking a bit closer and taking command at the top of the lane.
Venti Valentine’s graded stakes debut came in the Grade 2 Demoiselle at the Big A on December 4, which also marked her first attempt at nine furlongs. Ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, Venti Valentine was positioned a half-length from the lead at the half-mile marker before making her run at pacesetter and winner Nest. She closed well to the outside but came up short and was beaten a neck.
After a freshening at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, Venti Valentine made her return to the Empire State in the $250,000 Busher Invitational three months later. With Manny Franco in the irons, Venti Valentine was sent off at odds of 5-1 and launched a menacing bid rounding the turn. Under urging, she improved her advantage to seven lengths at the wire and completed the mile in 1:39.65.
“We knew she had talent early on, and turning from two to three, you could see the right change on her,” Abreu said of Venti Valentine’s development. “She got stronger, she was more focused and she showed that in her last race.”
Venti Valentine posted a sharp five-furlong work in 59.11 seconds over the Belmont dirt training track on March 27 with Franco up and made her final Gazelle preparation on Saturday, breezing a half-mile in 49.90 in company with stablemate Guardian Moon.
“They breezed really well,” Abreu said. “I gave her a really strong breeze the week before with Manny.”
Bred in New York by Final Furlong Racing Stable and Maspeth Stable, Venti Valentine is a half-sister to 2019 Busher victress Espresso Shot, who was also campaigned in part by Final Furlong and trained by Abreu. Venti Valentine is Abreu’s second-highest earning trainee behind Espresso Shot.
“It’s been so exciting,” Abreu said with a laugh. “I’m on cloud nine right now.”
Franco will pilot Venti Valentine again from post 5.
Divine Huntress will look to regain her winning form for owners Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Long Valley Stables and trainer H. Graham Motion. The daughter of Divining Rod began her career with trainer Rick Buckley at Laurel Park, finishing third on debut sprinting six furlongs. She shipped to Parx Racing to break her maiden at second asking, stretching out to seven furlongs and hand-ridden by Mychel Sanchez to a 2 1/4-length victory over next-out winner Misty Mauve.
The bay filly was transferred to Motion’s barn for her next outing, a dominant optional claiming score going one mile and 70 yards at Parx on January 22. With Sanchez in the irons again, Divine Huntress spotted pacesetter Colin’s Grey Lady four lengths at the half-mile marker before launching her bid and taking command at the three-quarter call, galloping away and widening her margin to 12 3/4 lengths at the wire in a final time of 1:47.32.
“She did it very impressively,” said Motion. “You always wonder what’s behind you in those kind of races, but she couldn’t have done it any easier.”
Divine Huntress made her stakes debut in her next outing, stretching out to 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds on February 19 under new rider Jose Ortiz. Racing in seventh of 11 sophomore fillies, Divine Huntress could only manage to improve her position to fourth at the three-quarter marker before tiring and fading to ninth 14 1/4 lengths behind Turnerloose.
Motion said Divine Huntress’ performance may have been hindered when the Steve Asmussen-trained pacesetter La Crete was pulled up down the backstretch.
“It was kind of a head-scratcher for us and I don’t know what to make of it,” said Motion. “That horse of Steve’s went wrong on the backstretch in front of her which put her off her game a little bit. She just didn’t seem to run her race and Jose took care of her in the last part. She seems fine and she went into it well.”
Divine Huntress has posted a series of works over the dirt at Fair Hill, most recently breezing five-eighths in 1:02.60.
“I haven’t done a lot with her,” Motion said. “She keeps herself pretty fit, but she’s had several breezes at Fair Hill and she seems to have done well.”
The Gazelle will be the farthest race so far for Divine Huntress, whose immediate family includes the versatile Grade 1-placed and multiple stakes-winning Aggadan.
“She seemed a little fresh in New Orleans and she probably wants to be a bit forwardly placed going the nine furlongs,” Motion said.
Divine Huntress breaks from post 7 with Dylan Davis aboard.
Robert Low and Lawana Low’s Classy Edition will look to regain winning form after a three-race win streak was snapped last time out in the Grade 2 Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park on March 5.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, the New York-bred Classy Edition won her first three starts by a combined 18 lengths, starting with a professional debut state-bred maiden special weight win in September at Saratoga Race Course.
She followed up her maiden victory with a pair of state-bred stakes triumphs, taking the seven-furlong Joseph A. Gimma at Belmont by eight lengths and the six-furlong Key Cents by 3 1/2 lengths at Aqueduct.
The daughter of Classic Empire made her first start going one mile last time out in the Davona Dale, racing from off the pace under regular rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. She came up two lengths short of next-out Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks winner Kathleen O. to suffer her first career defeat.
Pletcher said he was proud of the effort from Classy Edition, who had some traffic trouble at the top of the lane in the Davona Dale.
“I thought she ran really well. She was bottled up inside and had to wait for room and Kathleen O got the jump on her,” Pletcher said. “That form was flattered by Kathleen O coming back to win the Gulfstream Oaks. We’ve always felt like Classy Edition wanted two turns and this is going to be her first opportunity to get stretched out to a two-turn mile and an eighth. We’ve always felt like this is what she’s been wanting to do.”
Out of the Bernardini mare Newbie, Classy Edition is a half-sister to the multiple stakes-winning New York-bred mare Newly Minted and multiple stakes-placed New Girl in Town.
Classy Edition will break from post 6 with Joel Rosario aboard.
Pletcher will also be represented by maiden-winner Greatitude, who enters from a distant fifth in the Grade 3 Forward Gal at Gulfstream Park on February 5.
Owned by Repole Stable, the daughter of Dialed In was a winner at second asking sprinting seven furlongs at Gulfstream before stepping up to graded company in the Forward Gal. Ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., Greatitude broke sharply and stalked the pace in fourth behind pacesetter Girl With a Dream but failed to improve position racing two-wide and was beaten 10 1/2 lengths.
Pletcher said maturity and more ground will be the keys to Greatitude’s success.
“She really didn’t behave very well in her last start. She was very upset in the paddock before the race and we felt like she left her race in the paddock,” said Pletcher. “We shipped her up to Belmont early and she did some paddock schooling at Aqueduct this week and did well, so we’re hoping she’ll keep herself composed and getting the opportunity to stretch out will make a difference.”
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano picks up the mount from post 2.
Godolphin’s Nostalgic is still in search of her first stakes triumph and enters in good form after a 6 3/4 length victory at the optional claiming level for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. The Kentucky homebred daughter of Medaglia d’Oro graduated on debut going 1 1/16 miles at Belmont Park in October, striding away to an easy 7 3/4-length victory under regular rider Jose Ortiz.
Nostalgic, who has won two races by a combined 14 1/2 lengths, will be guided by Ortiz from post 3.
Completing the field are multiple stakes-placed Morning Matcha [post 1, Frankie Pennington]; Shotgun Hottie [post 4, Trevor McCarthy], a well-beaten runner-up to Venti Valentine in the Busher; and Caragate [post 8, Eric Cancel], who finished third in the Maddie May on February 21 in her stakes debut.
The Gazelle is slated as Race 10 on Saturday’s loaded 11-race card that also features the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino in Race 8 and the Grade 1 Carter Handicap presented by NYRA Bets in Race 9. First post is 12:50 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the spring 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 Office
Photo: Venti Valetine (Joe Labozetta Photo)