OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Jockey Luis Saez swept both stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack, piloting Highland Sky to a last-to-first victory in the $100,000 Woodhaven for 3-year-old turf horses and following that with a well-timed win aboard Libreta in the $100,000 Park Avenue division of the New York Stallion Series for 3-year-old fillies.
Highland Sky settled in last along the rail through the early going as Mighty Mo towed the field of nine through an opening quarter-mile in 24.28 seconds, with the half going in 49.19. Tipped outside on the backstretch, he commenced his bid early on the turn and moved into striking position straightening for home. Given his cue, the Sky Mesa colt responded eagerly, engaging Mighty Mo in a spirited tussle in midstretch and emerging with a neck victory at the wire.
His winning time for the 1 1/16 miles over a firm turf course was 1:43.69.
“He got a perfect trip,” said Saez of the Joyce Young and Gerald McManis-owned colt. “He’s a big horse, you’ve got to ride [him where] he’s comfortable and make one run. When he was at the half-mile, I did my move and he responded. I had to move a little early, he was really comfortable and I got way back so I had to do something to be close and fight with the other horses. Everything went well and he won.”
It was the second victory, and first in a stake, for Highland Sky, who as a 2-year-old finished fourth in the Grade 3 Pilgrim at Belmont Park and sixth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. This year, Highland Sky returned from a five-month layoff to finish second in the Cutler Bay at Gulfstream Park.
“We know he wants to go further, and we know he’ll like the big turns at Belmont, but for his family, we were really hoping to get a stakes win,” said Robin Smullen, assistant to winning trainer Barclay Tagg. “It means a lot to the breeder, Bonner [Young]. We’ve got that under our belt now and we’re really, really looking forward to Belmont. Our real goal is the [G1, $1.25 million] Belmont Derby [July 9], with another race in between. If it all works out, maybe the Pennine Ridge [June 4]. The timing looks good.”
Highland Sky returned $4.40 to win as the 6-5 favorite. With the winner’s purse of $60,000, his earnings now stand at $134,500.
Completing the order of finish behind runner-up Mighty Mo were Unbridled Daddy, Too Discreet, Highly Prized, Dixie Runner, Toughest ‘Ombre, Rappel and In Equality.
Godolphin Stable’s Libreta pulled a 13-1 upset in the Park Avenue, benefitting from a change in tactics and coming from just off the pace for a one-length win over She’s All Ready.
“I used to ride the filly and I always used to try to put her in front because she wins in front,” said Saez of the Tom Albertrani-trained filly. “Today was different, there was too much speed so we had to decide to come from behind. When we came to the three-eighths, she responded. I had the horse and when we got to the stretch, we had the pace to let her run and ask her and she responded.”
The daughter of Girolamo, second in her 3-year-old debut at Gulfstream Park in February, is now 2-1-1 from five career starts. She completed the 6 ½ furlongs in 1:18.58 and returned $28.20 for a $2 win bet. Her career earnings stand at $125,660.
Following She’s All Ready under the wire were favored Frosty Margarita, Gregorian Gold, Madam Maybry, Berhnik’s Barnk, and Wonderment. Riot Worthy was scratched.