Venti Valentine returns to winning ways in the Bay Ridge at Aqueduct Dec. 17 (Joe Labozzetta)
Maiden Winner Weekend Rags Headed to Saratoga
Highway Harmony Also Possible for Spa Action
NYRA Press Office
ELMONT, N.Y.— Dual graded stakes-placed New York-bred Venti Valentine put the final touches on her preparation for her seasonal bow in the state-bred $200,000 Critical Eye Handicap on May 29 at Belmont Park, breezing an easy half-mile 49.77 seconds on Friday morning over the Belmont main track.
Owned by NY Final Furlong Racing Stable and Parkland Thoroughbreds, Venti Valentine completed the four furlongs under exercise rider Luis Cueva one week after drilling through five furlongs in 59.78 under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.
“She had a pretty good breeze,” trainer Jorge Abreu said. “She came off a hard breeze last week with Irad. I like what I saw from her this morning. She had a nice gallop out.”
The 4-year-old Firing Line chestnut captured the 2021 Maid of the Mist over Big Sandy en route to a close second to Nest in the Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct Racetrack, earning her honors for New York-bred Champion 2-Year-Old Filly that year.
She was a runaway seven-length winner of the one-turn mile Busher Invitational the following March at the Big A before a close second in the Grade 3 Gazelle in April 2022 and, subsequently, finished last-of-14 in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. She has not raced since a triumph in the December 17 state-bred Bay Ridge at a one-turn mile over a muddy and sealed Aqueduct main track.
Dan Zanatta, who manages NY Final Furlong alongside Vince Roth, said the 1 1/16-mile Critical Eye was on their radar as early as December, when Venti Valentine was put away for a winter freshening.
“As soon as she won the stake, we had it in our minds that we would give her some well-deserved time off,” Zanatta said. “We were thinking about giving her time off last summer and fall, but she didn’t give us any impression that she needed it in her training. Getting her back to one turn will do the trick for her and solves some of our open questions, but regardless of how well she ran to enter her 3-year-old campaign we wanted to give her some time off.”
Zanatta even said Venti Valentine was ahead of schedule in her return to action.
“She got back to the track sooner than we expected, so she’s definitely very well-intended,” Zanatta said. “She got a real nice blowout last week in 59 at Belmont with Irad aboard, so I think she’s good to go. The Critical Eye going one turn at Belmont is the right spot for her, she’s obviously been successful over that track before. I know Irad had good things to say about her after he breezed her last week. He said it was the best she had ever breezed for him.”
NY Final Furlong also campaigned the Abreu-trained Espresso Shot, a half-sister to Venti Valentine, who won four stakes. Both are out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Glory Gold.
Zanatta mentioned Venti Valentine has developed in similar fashion to her older half-sister.
“She’s definitely matured, I think. She’s gotten bigger and stronger,” Zanatta said. “Knowing the family pretty well at this point, that tends to be the trajectory they follow. It seems like during their 3-year-old year, they outgrow themselves a little bit and once they’re four, they fill out and strengthen up. Venti Valentine is a bigger and stronger and better balanced filly and is more fit for the dirt. We always thought Espresso Shot was a bit turfy looking, but Venti Valentine just looks like a hardy, strong dirt horse. We’ll see how she’s improved as a 4-year-old with a recharged battery.”
Venti Valentine was bred in the Empire State by NY Final Furlong and Maspeth Stable. She boasts earnings of $524,250 and a 10-4-2-1 record.
Zanatta went on to speak of Weekend Rags, who broke her maiden in April in her turf debut. He described the Abreu-trained daughter of Street Boss as, “probably one of the more exciting horses we have in our barn.”
“I had been saying all winter long that she’s our next stakes horse. She won really impressively when she finally got to the turf this year,” Zanatta said. “She was entered to run in an allowance last week and didn’t draw off the AE list. Once we get her up to Saratoga this summer, I think she’ll be our next stakes-level filly. If we can keep her as happy as she is right now, she’ll have a lot of potential.”
Bred by Sebastian Murat, Kelly Zanella and Paul Zanella, Weekend Rags is out of the Henny Hughes mare Weekend and is a half-sister to turf stakes winner Armoire.
Zanatta said Highway Harmony also could be slated for Spa action. Second on debut in August at Saratoga, the Mo Town sophomore filly broke her maiden at second asking by 1 1/4 lengths in November at Aqueduct before finishing sixth against winners one month later.
“She came back at the same time as Venti Valentine. They shipped down to the farm together in December and came back together in February,” Zanatta said. “She was entered on the turf last week but had a foot abscess and was scratched. We just need to get her back going again. We may send her up to Saratoga. She really thrived up there and I think the best that she ever looked was in her debut. We may send her up there to try and turn things around for her and get her fresher.”
Highway Harmony, bred in the Empire State by Twin Farms, is out of the Quality Road mare Tweet Street. She was bought for $50,000 at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton New York-bred Yearling Sale.