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2023 Johnstone Mile Handicap Preview | Sunset Louise Brings Winning Form To Saratoga

2023 Johnstone Mile Handicap Preview | Sunset Louise Brings Winning Form To Saratoga

Vincent Stanzione’s Sunset Louise will seek to keep her perfect Saratoga Race Course record intact when taking on six other New York-bred fillies and mares in Wednesday’s $125,000 Johnstone Mile Handicap through the Spa’s Wilson Chute.

The Johnstone Mile Handicap honors NYRA’s late Racing Operations Manager Bruce Johnstone, who held that position for 13 years. Before his tenure with NYRA, Johnstone was a trainer in his own right and won the 1983 Shirley Jones at Gulfstream Park with Secrettame – the dam of prolific stallion Gone West – and 1986 Grade 2 Bay Shore with Bucks Aly.

The Johnstone Mile Handicap is slated as Race 9 on Wednesday’s 10-race program. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.  

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The 4-year-old Tonalist chestnut, bred in the Empire State by Schiano Racing, Inc., won both of her Spa starts by 5 3/4 lengths through the one-mile Wilson Chute. Last year, she showed tactical speed to defeat state-bred winners, before making a triumphant return to Saratoga on July 16 in gate-to-wire fashion in an off-the-turf open company allowance optional claimer.

Sunset Louise additionally has won all three of her starts this year, capturing a second level state-bred allowance optional claimer over returning rival Bustin Bay on May 4 at Belmont Park. She returned to Big Sandy the following month against open allowance optional claiming company to defeat next out Grade 1-placed Sacred Wish by one length.

Although she seemingly has a strong affinity for Saratoga, trainer Bruce Levine pointed out that she has won at all three NYRA tracks. She was a second-out graduate at Aqueduct Racetrack last January before her pair of Belmont wins this spring.

“She’s won at all three tracks so she doesn’t really have to take her racetrack with her,” Levine said. “It doesn’t make much difference even though she’s obviously run really well here.”

Levine said Sunset Louise is improving with age and racing.

“She has come a long way mentally. She’s really matured,” Levine said. “She’s a Tonalist and you just think they get better with age. She’s kind of progressed that way. Her numbers are that way, and her races are that way. Hopefully, she keeps progressing and moves up another notch.”

The Johnstone Mile will be a second stakes endeavor for Sunset Louise, who finished a distant eighth in the Empire Distaff in October at Belmont at the Big A.

“She chipped an ankle in the stakes race, so we took that out. We gave her the winter off, ran her back and she’s been 3-for-3 since,” Levine said. “She’s a big filly and we knew she’d get better with age. We figured she would be better as a 4-year-old than at three. But she started getting good last summer and into the fall.”

Sunset Louise, a full-sister to graded stakes-placed The Reds, is out of the graded stakes-placed Exchange Rate mare Ash Zee, whose half-sister Wickedly Perfect was a Grade 1 winner.

Sunset Louise will leave from post 2 in rein to Luis Saez. She will carry 122 pounds.

In order to capture her first stakes, Sunset Louise will have two open company stakes winners to deal with including NY Final Furlong Racing Stable and Parkland Thoroughbreds’ Venti Valentine, who captured last year’s Busher Invitational at Aqueduct for trainer Jorge Abreu.

The 4-year-old Firing Line chestnut rounded out her sophomore season with a state-bred stakes triumph in the Bay Ridge on December 17 going a one-turn mile at Aqueduct. She will look to return to the win column following a distant fourth in the Critical Eye on May 29 at Belmont before finishing third at open company allowance level the following month over Big Sandy.

Bred by NY Final Furlong Racing Stable and Maspeth Stable, Venti Valentine is a half-sister to multiple stakes-winner Espresso Shot, who also was campaigned in part by NY Final Furlong and trained by Abreu. Both are out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Glory Gold.

Breaking from post 1 and carrying the high weight of 124 pounds, Venti Valentine will be ridden by Manny Franco.

Current Saratoga co-leading trainer Linda Rice will saddle a pair of contenders, including Cloud Nine Stable’s Betsy Blue [post 5, Jose Lezcano, 123 pounds] who captured the Garland of Roses in December and Interborough in January – both open company stakes at Aqueduct. The 5-year-old Tonalist dark bay brags field-high earnings of $687,010 through a 23-10-8-2 record.

Betsy Blue was bred in the Empire State by Blue Devil Racing Stable and is out of the Yonaguska mare Honest to Betsy.

Rice will also be represented by Winning Move Stable’s Bustin Bay [post 4, Kendrick Carmouche, 122 pounds] who boasts a 6-3-0-2 Spa record and enters from a 1 1/2-length victory against open allowance company going nine-furlongs at Saratoga.

The Bustin Stones 5-year-old dark bay, bred by Robert D. Rosenthal, Peter Rosenthal and Martin Greenbe, boasts a consistent 2023 record of 7-4-1-2 and was haltered by Rice for $45,000 following a narrow triumph over returning rival Mia Bea Star in an April 2 optional claimer going a one-turn mile at the Big A.

Trainer Ray Handal will saddle Merrylegs Farm’s homebred Timeless Journey [post 6, Joel Rosario, 123 pounds], who seeks her first win since capturing the state-bred Biogio’s Rose in March at Aqueduct. The 6-year-old Verrazano mare will make her first start over the Saratoga main track.

Completing the field are dual stakes-placed Know It All Audrey [post 3, Javier Castellano, 119] and five-time winner Mia Bea Star [post 7, Dylan Davis, 118].