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Aaron previews the 2022 Prioress Stakes at Saratoga, then gives his top picks and longshots. After finishing second in the 2022 Test Stakes (G1) over this same course, Hot Peppers takes a class drop while cutting back in distance, but is she a lock to win? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
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The track press release:
Trainer Rudy Rodriguez will hope to see the talented Hot Peppers pick up her second graded score in Friday’s Grade 2, $250,000 Prioress for 3-year-old fillies sprinting six furlongs on the main track at Saratoga Race Course.
Owned by Michael Dubb and Michael Caruso, Hot Peppers enters from a game runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Longines Test on August 6 at the Spa where she was defeated 1 1/2 lengths by 17-1 upset winner Chi Town Lady in her Grade 1 debut. There was a brief steward’s inquiry into the stretch run of the Test after Hot Peppers drifted and brushed with the Wesley Ward-trained Chi Town Lady and third-place finisher Matareya.
“She ran a great race,” said Rodriguez. “The horse for Wesley Ward looked like she was going to win either way. There was an inquiry, but everything was clear and we’ll keep fighting another day. The value as a broodmare went higher for sure with a Grade 1 placing.”
A daughter of Khozan, Hot Peppers earned her best victory two starts back with a gutsy three-quarter-length effort over returning rival Half Is Enough in the Grade 3 Victory Ride on July 9 at Belmont Park, scoring her first graded win on the heels of a win in the Jersey Girl at the same oval in her first start with Rodriguez. She began her career with three wins from five starts for former owner/trainer Ronald Spatz, with all three victories coming at Gulfstream Park.
Rodriguez said both her performance in the Test and her ability to travel well gives him confidence that she is a top-level filly.
“Definitely. But at the same time, we’ve got to make it easy for her and try to do the right thing,” said Rodriguez. “Every stakes race is tough. She’s still got to show up. But at least she doesn’t look like she needs a track. She’s won at Gulfstream and Belmont and [ran well] at Saratoga. That’s a plus when you see horses bring their form to the next track. She’s not that big, but she’s got a lot of heart.”
Hot Peppers is one of several horses owned by Dubb and Caruso that are trained by Rodriguez, who said he is grateful for the chance to train another classy filly.
“She’s doing everything we ask her. We’re just lucky they picked us and give us the opportunity,” said Rodriguez. “We just have to keep her happy and she’s a runner. I think the trainer before [Spatz] did a very good job.”
Rodriguez said that Hot Peppers has grown out of the immaturity she showed in the starting gate earlier this year at Tampa Bay Downs.
“Unfortunately at Tampa, she started acting up in the gate. We’ve had the chance to school her here and show her everything and it’s working,” said Rodriguez. “No issues with her, thank God. I tell the guys at the gate that she has had problems in the gate and they’ve been patient with her. So far, she’s been nice and calm.”
Hot Peppers put in her final preparations for the Prioress with a half-mile breeze in 51.60 seconds over the main track on Sunday.
“She had a nice light breeze today, just light maintenance. It was nice and easy,” said Rodriguez. “She seems happy.”
Hot Peppers will be ridden by regular pilot Luis Saez from post 2.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Winchell Thoroughbreds will look to continue their graded stakes success at the Spa with Wicked Halo, who streaks in from two solid stakes wins at Churchill Downs in the Leslie’s Lady and Tepin, winning by a combined 7 1/2 lengths.
A daughter of Gun Runner, Wicked Halo already boasts a graded win at Saratoga after taking last year’s Grade 2 Adirondack sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs. She earned another Grade 2 placing when third in the Eight Belles in May at Churchill Downs and boasts a 7-for-8 lifetime in-the-money record.
Tyler Gaffalione, aboard for both stakes wins at Churchill, has the call from post 1.
Paradise Farms Corp. and David Staudacher’s Lady Scarlet is in search of her second graded win this year, hoping to add to an off-the-pace victory by 3 3/4 lengths in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness on May 20 at Pimlico Race Course.
Trained by Mike Maker, the dark bay Union Rags filly made her first three starts for conditioner Brad Cox before she was claimed for $150,000 out of her maiden-breaking score in November at Churchill. She went on to capture Aqueduct Racetrack’s Cicada by 4 3/4 lengths and was last seen finishing an even sixth in the Coronation Cup over the Spa turf on July 15.
Lady Scarlet will exit post 3 in rein to Jose Ortiz.
The New York-bred Phil Serpe trainee Bank On Anna wheels back on three weeks rest from a smart 2 3/4-length win in the Union Avenue facing state-breds on August 12 at Saratoga. There, she tracked a length off the pace in second before taking her cue from jockey Jose Lezcano to gain a two-length lead at the top of the stretch and widen her margins down the stretch.
Owned by WellSpring Stables and bred by Lou Corrente, Bank On Anna will be ridden by Lezcano once again from post 5.
Completing the field are dual winner Mischievous Diane [post 4, Manny Franco]; stakes-placed Angitude [post 6, Joel Rosario]; two-time New York-bred stakes winner Sterling Silver [post 7, Trevor McCarthy]; Grade 3 Victory Ride runner-up Half Is Enough [post 8, Flavien Prat]; Grade 2-placed Smash Ticket [post 9, Kendrick Carmouche]; and two-time winner Union Lake [post 10, John Velazquez].
The Prioress is slated as Race 9 on Thursday’s 10-race card, which includes the $150,000 Lucky Coin in Race 8. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
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