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Post Time: Bona Ventures’ Smooth Bert steps up at Big A

By Gene Kershner

On Saturday afternoon, eight colts will head to the gate at Aqueduct Racetrack in search of valuable qualifying points for Kentucky Derby 139. Stepping into the outside gate will be Bona Venture Stables’ Smooth Bert (15-1), who will commence his quest for the Run for the Roses on the First Saturday in
May. 

The Grade 3 $200,000 Withers Stakes is the first race in New York on Churchill Downs’ “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, with the winner to receive 10 points, the runner-up 4 points, the third-place finisher 2 points, and the fourth-place finisher 1 point.  The race will be run over 8-1/2 furlongs over the winterized inner track at the Big A.

Smooth Bert is coming off almost a two-month layoff after winning the $80K non-graded Damon Runyon, where he came off the pace late to make a surge to win for the stable made up mostly of alumni of St. Bonaventure University.

Managing Partner Dan Collins thinks his works suggest he could be sitting on a big race. “The longer the better for Bert.  After his last race, the Runyon, Luzzi said he was ‘playing with the field.’  He wasn’t even breathing hard. Luzzi said he easily could have gone around again.  We’ve always felt that as his experience grew and the races got longer, he would get better,” said Collins.

He’ll  be stepping up into graded company for the first time and super-trainer Todd Pletcher will unleash race favorite Revolutionary (3-5), a colt who won by over eight lengths in breaking his maiden last out.  Revolutionary has been the overwhelming favorite in all four career races but only has the win in late December. Javier Castellano will ride for the first time, replacing injured rider Ramon Dominguez.

According to the NYRA press release, Pletcher thinks Revolutionary’s bad luck troubles are behind him. “[The improved performance] was a combination of a lot of things, the stretch out the, two turns, the clean start, a good trip,” said Pletcher. “We weren’t surprised he did something impressive, and it was the first time everything had gone smoothly. He didn’t have a bad trip when
he was second at Belmont, but I thought the track that day was very speed favoring and it was hard to make up ground. A talented horse got loose and we just couldn’t run him down, and he had a horrible start in the one-turn race at Aqueduct.”

When asked what would be the perfect pace scenario for Smooth Bert against a field that includes the talented Revolutionary, Collins replied, “I would like to see a couple horses take the field through a quick half-mile.  A (half-mile) pace of 0:46 would be great for him.  Escapefromreality (6-1) is likely to be on the lead, but looking at the past performances there really isn’t another horse that might push him.  So, it could be Bert, right on his shoulder.  Amerigo Vespucci (15-1) might be near the lead as well.  Maybe a 1:10 for 6-furlongs. That will set him up nicely. What we want is a quick pace, Bert just off the lead and running as the field moves into the stretch.”

If Smooth Bert prevails on Saturday, bigger things would be in store. “We haven’t thought it through completely.   We likely will skip the Gotham.  If he wins, well then the Wood (Memorial) looms large.  If not, but he runs really well, we might look around for another shot at a qualifying race,” said  Collins.

 The Bona Venture partnership has performed well with 2-year-old fillies. In the past two years alone, two Bona Venture fillies have advanced to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf race. Summer of Fun finished third at Santa Anita last November.

We’ll see how they fare with their first serious foray on the Derby trail.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

 

The field for the Grade 3, $200,000 Withers:

     

PP

Horse

Jockey

Wgt

Trainer

Odds

1

Long River

I Ortiz, Jr.

116

McLaughlin

7-2

1A

Valid

J Alvarado

116

McLaughlin

7-2

2

Revolutionary

J Castellano

116

T A Pletcher

3-5

3

Escapefromreality

J L Ortiz

116

D A Schettino

6-1

4

Amerigo Vespucci

Rodriguez

116

Tullock, Jr.

15-1

5

Siete de Oros

M Remedio

118

R Preciado

8-1

6

Champion Boy

E Castro

116

J C Guerrero

30-1

7

Smooth Bert

M J Luzzi

118

L Gyarmati

15-1

 

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Horse Racing
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