ELMONT, N.Y. – When NY Final Furlong Racing Stable was launched in early 2012, one of the goals for managing partners Dan Zanatta and Vince Roth was to win the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks with a New York-bred filly. On Friday, Venti Valentine, owned by NY Final Furlong Racing Stable in partnership with Parkland Thoroughbreds, could make the syndicate’s dreams a reality when taking on a deep field of sophomore fillies in the nine-furlong test at Churchill Downs.
NY Final Furlong Racing Stable operates a unique model of investing solely in New York-bred fillies with the goal of a higher probability for success.
“Last year, we won at a 29 percent clip and we were in the money 63 percent, which we didn’t do on accident. It involves a lot of homework and making sure you’re entering horses for the right races,” Zanatta said. “Our whole program, on how we raise horses and who we have work for us and with us and how we select horses and build our team, it’s all a very refined and narrow process.
“When you look at the New York-bred filly divisions, we all kind of become acquaintances with our competition because we know the competition well enough.” Zanatta added. “It’s a unique focus and we’ve had some success, so we’re going to stay focused on what we’ve been successful with.”
Venti Valentine, trained by Jorge Abreu, burst onto the Kentucky Oaks scene in December with a game runner-up effort to Kentucky Oaks-favorite Nest in the Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct. The effort came following two state-bred triumphs in as many starts at Belmont Park, including a victory in the Maid of the Mist in late October.
After breezing four times in January and February at Palm Meadows Training Center in South Florida, Venti Valentine made the trek back to her native state to defeat open company in the Busher Invitational in March at the Big A, a race which her older half-sister Espresso Shot won in 2019.
Venti Valentine arrives at the Oaks off a pacesetting runner-up effort in the nine-furlong Grade 3 Gazelle at Aqueduct, where she was narrowly beaten by the late-rallying Nostalgic, who she will face again on Friday.
Zanatta said the connections are on cloud nine to be a part of Friday’s prestigious race.
“It’s beyond a dream for everyone involved. We talk about our goals and dreams of getting to the Kentucky Oaks. Now that we’re here, it’s well beyond a dream,” Zanatta said. “It’s nerve racking, but there’s tremendous excitement for everyone. We managed these New York-bred fillies over the years to be successful. I don’t like to enter a race unless there’s a high certainty we can win that race.”
Venti Valentine, who will exit post 8 under Tyler Gaffalione, arrived at Churchill Downs early to get acclimated with the surface and has breezed twice over the Louisville oval.
“If we didn’t feel that she would run her absolute best race in the Kentucky Oaks, we wouldn’t go. She got there three weeks ago and she is thriving. She loves the environment at Churchill Downs. She’s put on weight, and she’s gotten stronger. It seems like she loves training there,” Zanatta said. “A couple weeks ago, we wanted an easy 49 and change and she went 47 all on her own without being pushed. Tyler breezed her on Saturday and he didn’t ask her at all, he just sat on her. She went 48 and 4 and out in 1:00 and 4 and he has all the confidence in the world in the filly. He really thinks she’s training well, galloping well, and handling the surface excellently.”
Zanatta said the daughter of 2015 Kentucky Derby runner-up Firing Line is likely to utilize a stalking trip.
“I think she’ll be sitting just off the pace. We don’t want her too far back or on the lead. I definitely think she has enough speed. She breaks well from the gate where if she can just sit off the front two or three, that’s where we want to be with her,” Zanatta said. “If there’s going to be a sloppy track, it’s even more important to be forwardly placed in that race. Running on a track with moisture is something we know she can do, she won the Maid of the Mist over a sloppy track.”
The Kentucky Oaks experience is relished by not only Zanatta, but also by the 14 partners that will be in attendance, including Albany native Paul Caputo.Caputo’s first experience at horse ownership came with Parting Glass Stable’s Sweet Madness, a daughter of Freud, who won twice on the NYRA circuit in 2008.
When NY Final Furlong Racing Stable offered Sweet Madness’ first progeny, an El Corredor filly named Elle’s Dilemma, Caputo decided to join in. Caputo said summers at Saratoga with his family sparked his interest in racing, especially witnessing the 1973 Whitney where Onion infamously upset the great Secretariat.
“I could tell you where I was standing at 4-or-5-years-old the day Secretariat lost to Onion. I was hooked from that point on,” Caputo recalled. “Summers at the track with them were my fondest memories as a child. I bought my first horse, Sweet Madness, in a partnership I was involved in. I’ll never forget the feeling I got when she broke her maiden at Aqueduct. It was a feeling I always wanted to have.”
That feeling was multiplied when Caputo was a part of Espresso Shot and Venti Valentine’s Busher triumphs.
“When they win, there is no feeling like it,” Caputo said. “When they turn for home and you get that feeling, it’s great. But even more so with milestones like your first stakes win. When Espresso Shot won the Busher, that was my first stakes win that wasn’t in New York-bred company.
“When Venti Valentine won the Busher and the Maid of the Mist, I knew she was something special,” Caputo added. “I can’t imagine what it would feel like if she were to win the Oaks. I get emotional thinking about it. I think of how much gratitude I have to my brother, uncle and cousin, who brought me into this game. I remember, as a kid, it wasn’t even about the betting, I just loved the sport.”
Caputo spoke high volumes of his experience with NY Final Furlong Racing Stable.
“They make you feel like you own the entire horse, not just a portion of it and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience than the one I’m having right now with Venti Valentine,” Caputo said.
No matter the outcome on Friday, Caputo said he’ll still feel like a winner.
“She belongs with this group. There are times that I feel I’ve already won because I’ve had this experience,” Caputo said.
NYRA Press Office
Photo: Chelsea Durand/ NYRA Photo