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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

AQUEDUCT BARN NOTES

Edited NYRA Staff Release –Seacoast Thoroughbreds of New England owner John Forma’s relationship with prominent New York breeder and owner Joe McMahon came full circle Saturday as General Banker, a son of McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds stallion Central Banker, took the $500,000 NYSSS Great White Way for eligible state-sired juveniles sprinting seven furlongs at the Big A.

The Great White Way was the final stakes before a 10-day holiday break from December 19 through December 28. Live racing will return to the Big A for the final three cards of the fall meet on Thursday, December 29 with the 2022 schedule concluding on Saturday, December 31.

Forma, who owns a share in Central Banker and grew up attending the races at Aqueduct, said winning a $500,000 stakes with his longtime friend was particularly special.

“Joe McMahon has been a friend of mine forever and we’ve known each other since the mid-70s,” said Forma. “I was born in Brooklyn and my mother used to take me to Aqueduct when I was 14. That caused my love for horses, so I’ve been around them my whole life. I’m in the oil business and I’m a wildcatter, so I drill for oil and gas all over the country, and gambling is something I’m used to.”

General Banker, who entered the Great White Way from two runner-up efforts at the maiden level for trainer Jimmy Ferraro, sported blinkers for the third time and graduated in style under returning rider Eric Cancel, coasting home 8 1/2 lengths clear over the muddy and sealed main track. The dark bay colt had received some therapeutic massage since his last effort on November 26 at the Big A, something Forma said made all the difference Saturday.

“For one thing, he likes an off track and the rider knew him, so there was a path for him to win,” said Forma. “Cancel told Jimmy, ‘He could be off a little in the back.’ I told Jimmy to get ahold of a masseuse I know and she gave him four massages. I really believe that, and the blinkers, made the difference. I give credit to Cancel though. He tipped off Jimmy.” 

Forma has based his breeding operation at McMahon of Saratoga for several years while residing in Portsmouth, N.H., where he moved to in 1996 after living in Westchester, N.Y. for several years. His current residency is what inspired the name of his operation, Seacoast Thoroughbreds of New England.

Forma said breeding his horses in New York has been a wise decision. 

“I’ll tell you, the New York breeding program is phenomenal. If you’re racing horses and you’re not breeding horses in New York, you’re crazy,” said Forma, with a laugh. “The additional revenues are great. I own part of Central Banker, so that’s even better. I found a unique way of being in this business.” 

Out of the Johannesburg mare Elusive Jozi, who Forma claimed in 2013 at Belmont Park, General Banker is a product of two horses owned wholly or in part by Forma, something he said he is proud of.

“He’s a homebred because when I was looking for broodmares, I saw his mother, who made over $200,000 with pretty good breeding, was in a $20,000 claimer,” said Forma. “I said, ‘Gee, I think I’ll just claim this horse and make her a broodmare.’ That’s how this horse got where he is today.”

With both his maiden broken and his first stakes under his belt, General Banker will now set his sights on bigger goals this spring as Forma dreams of a trip to Churchill Downs on the First Saturday in May.

“We’ll give him a month or two off and then look for an open stakes race,” said Forma. “Let’s find out how good he really is. He’s got $345,000 in earnings already and he’s only a 2-year-old. If he could win an open stakes race, he could be set for the Kentucky Derby. You’ve got to have pipe dreams. The sky’s the limit unless he tells me something different, and I’ll be listening to him. A lot of people think I’m crazy, but they even thought I was crazy when I went in there with a maiden yesterday.”

Venti Valentine to get a well-deserved break

NY Final Furlong Racing Stable and Parkland Thoroughbreds’ Venti Valentine is slated to receive some down time following a redeeming 3 3/4-length triumph in Saturday’s $100,000 Bay Ridge at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Trained by Jorge Abreu, the sophomore chestnut daughter of Firing Line entered the one mile test for New York-bred fillies and mares winless in her previous five outings, last finding the winner’s circle in the open-company Busher Invitational in March at the Big A. Piloted by Dylan Davis for the first time in Saturday’s race, Venti Valentine settled in fourth position early on, launched her bid around the five-sixteenths pole and battled to the outside of Know It All Audrey in the last eighth of a mile to earn an 85 Beyer Speed Figure for the winning performance.

Dan Zanatta, the co-managing partner of NY Final Furlong Racing Stable, said Venti Valentine will soon head to RiceHorse Stables in Fort McCoy, Florida for a freshening before joining Abreu’s winter division at Palm Meadows Training Center in South Florida. A possible long term target for Venti Valentine could include stakes action on Big Apple Showcase Day, traditionally run on Memorial Day weekend at Belmont Park.

“She scoped clean and came out of the race good last night. She’ll head down to Florida and get a break. She deserves it,” Zanatta said. “She’ll get 60 days on the farm and train at Palm Meadows until everyone comes back to Belmont. Hopefully, we’ll have her ready to run at the Belmont spring meet and we can go from there. That might be good timing for her. We’ll see how she comes back and how she trains during March and April and let her tell us when she’s ready to come back.”

Venti Valentine took the partners of NY Final Furlong on a memorable ride earlier this season. Following her seven-length romp in the Busher, she was narrowly defeated by Nostalgic in the Grade 3 Gazelle in April at the Big A before running in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 6 at Churchill Downs where she finished last-of-14. She re-routed to state-bred company after a distant fourth in the Grade 2 Mother Goose and followed with a distant third in the nine-furlong Fleet Indian on August 26 at Saratoga Race Course under Irad Ortiz, Jr., who returned to the irons for a penultimate sixth-place finish in the October 30 Iroquois at Belmont at the Big A.

“We’ve been on quite a journey with this filly,” said Zanatta. “We never were able to find the perfect race for her. Some of the partners were having their doubts, but yesterday really was redeeming. Everyone is on board for giving her a break and campaigning her next year We had a bunch of the breeders there so there was some great energy.”

Zanatta said Ortiz, Jr., who recently moved his tack to Gulfstream Park for the winter, reached out to him following the race to offer congratulations.

“In her last two starts, Irad even said seven furlongs to a mile is really what she needs. Irad texted us after the race and congratulated us,” Zanatta said. “He’s always been high on her. It was unfortunate he couldn’t ride for us, but it was fun to see he was following her and happy for the filly.”

The journey with Venti Valentine has been somewhat similar to that of her half-sister Espresso Shot, who also won the Busher as a 3-year-old and ended up doing her best running going one-turn against fellow New York-breds. A daughter of Mission Impazible, Espresso Shot won stakes at ages 2, 3, 4, and 5. Both are out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Glory Gold.

“Espresso Shot ultimately told us the same things. She never really wanted to go two turns,” Zanatta said. “Both fillies have a lot of heart and natural ability. Whenever they got beat or finished off the board, they didn’t get beat by much. Ultimately, were being led to the same places with them both. Even the mare, Glory Gold, won sprinting.”

Venti Valentine, bred by NY Final Furlong Racing Stable in partnership with Maspeth Stable, was initially scheduled to be sold at auction in the summer of 2020, but Zanatta said he backtracked due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the most part, our breeding operation is meant to sell everything. We get excited as breeders and owners of these families,” Zanatta said. “Venti might be the first homebred that we’ve bred to race. When she was scheduled to sell as a yearling it was in the middle of the pandemic and we didn’t think the market was going to help bring what we thought, so we syndicated her to the partnership. It’s turned out really well.”

Venti Valentine has a soon-to-be 2-year-old half-sister, who was purchased by Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Lael Stable for $500,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale. Glory Gold is currently in foal to Munnings and is scheduled to be bred to Uncle Mo next year.

***

Wudda U Think Now eyes return to sprinting after Alex M. Robb victory

The Elkstone Group’s Wudda U Think Now garnered an 84 Beyer Speed Figure for his victory in Saturday’s one-mile $100,000 Alex M. Robb against fellow state-breds for trainer Rudy Rodriguez. The 5-year-old son of Fast Anna made his first start beyond the sprint distance since March 2021 under the guidance of Dylan Davis and answered the challenge with aplomb, sprinting clear down the stretch to win by 3 1/4 lengths.

“He walked good this morning and he’s proud of himself,” said Rodriguez. “So far, so good. He’s a nice horse to be around for sure. I don’t think he was comfortable going the mile, but he got the job done, thank God.”

The Alex M. Robb was the third stakes victory for Wudda U Think Now, who took the Hollies Hughes in February at the Big A and the John Morrissey in August at Saratoga Race Course, both of which were at sprint distances in state-bred company. Rodriguez said Wudda U Think Now, who has now earned more than $500,000 in total purses, will look to return to sprinting in the $100,000 state-bred Say Florida Sandy going seven furlongs on January 8 at Aqueduct.

“We’ll go to the next race coming up at the beginning of the year at seven-eighths,” said Rodriguez. “Seven [furlongs] is very good. He looks happy this morning and that’s all we can ask for.”

Davis piloted Wudda U Think Now for the first time Saturday after getting a leg up on the classy gelding for his last breeze before the Alex M. Robb. Rodriguez said he was pleased with the ride Davis engineered and would like to have him back aboard in the Say Florida Sandy.

“He worked him a couple times and liked him, so I got together with his agent and everything worked out the way we planned,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez will hope to celebrate more stakes success next week on the Grade 1 stage with Hot Peppers in the $300,000 La Brea on December 26 at Santa Anita Park. The sophomore daughter of Khozan notched her first graded stakes victory this July at Belmont Park in the Grade 3 Victory Ride on the heels of her first stakes score in the Jersey Girl in June. She earned a Grade 1 placing when a game runner-up in the Longines Test in August at Saratoga and was last seen finishing a retreating fourth in the Grade 2 Prioress over the same oval.

“She seems good. We jogged her yesterday, we’ll jog her again today, and then gallop her tomorrow,” said Rodriguez. “They say she’s getting over the track good. Until you run, you never know. But she’s there and she’s eating good, so that’s a plus.”

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