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SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY – Madaket Stables, Manganaro Bloodstock and Robert Masiello’s Empressof the Nile bested a full field of 12 fillies and mares 3-years-old and up to capture Sunday’s $125,000 Zagora, a 12-furlong test on Aqueduct Racetrack’s inner turf course.
Trained by Graham Motion and expertly piloted by Irad Ortiz, Jr., the 5-year-old graded-stakes placed Pioneerof the Nile bay secured her first stakes win with a powerful turn-of-foot to overtake favored Fools Gold and stay off the charge of Homeland Security and Lemon Zip for a half-length score in 2:33.43.
Lady Montdore, with Joe Bravo up, led the field into the first turn with Fools Gold, the 9-5 mutuel favorite under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, nestled in third position along the rail through an opening quarter in 25.12 seconds on the inner turf rated good.
Bravo and Lady Montdore, who captured the 2018 Grade 2 Glens Falls at Saratoga Race Course, continued to lead the charge down the lane for the first time with Mercilla and Fools Gold content to stalk her early foot. Grouped behind the stalking pair were Lemon Zip, Pamina, Beau Belle and Sky Full of Stars in front of the well-rated Empressof the Nile.
Fools Gold angled off the rail into the final turn with Lemon Zip following her lead as the favorite took command heading into the top of the stretch. Lemon Zip loomed large outside of rivals, but Empressof the Nile, under strong urging from Ortiz, Jr., found her best run late and surged outside Fools Gold to earn the win.Ortiz, Jr., who won four Breeders’ Cup races over the weekend, including the Grade 1, 6 million Classic with Vino Rosso, was pleased with his winning trip aboard Empressof the Nile.
“I got a perfect trip. I can’t complain,” said Ortiz. Jr. “I saved ground the whole way around and it worked out perfect.”
Homeland Security, with Manny Franco up, followed the run of Empressof the Nile between rivals in time to complete the exacta by a neck over Lemon Zip. Rounding out the order of finish were Fools Gold, Not in Jeopardy, Mercilla, Beau Belle, Wegetsdamunnys, Sky Full of Stars, Lady Montdore, War Cabinet and Pamina.
The Zagora was originally scheduled for Closing Day Sunday of the Belmont fall meet on a card that was cancelled following the first race due to high winds and heavy rainfall. Empressof the Nile was not initially entered in the Zagora, but the connections reconsidered when the race was moved to Aqueduct.
“She had never run particularly well at Belmont, so we thought to toss that out while getting the extra week, and we entered here at Aqueduct and everything worked out,” said Masiello. “I thought Irad [Ortiz, Jr.] gave her a perfect trip. It’s nice to pick up a stakes win with her.”
Empressof the Nile finished a closing second in the Grade 2 Glens Falls on August 31 at the Spa ahead of an off-the-board effort in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont leading into the Zagora.
Masiello said the connections could consider the Grade 3, $400,000 Long Island on November 30 as a possible next start for the bay mare.
“She ran really well in the Glens Falls. I would guess the Long Island is a possibility in four weeks, but that will be up to Graham,” said Masiello.
Bred in Kentucky by Pam Doddridge, Empressof the Nile banked $72,188 in victory while improving her record to 4-3-1 from 19 starts. She returned $10.20 for a $2 win ticket.
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