Sharp Azteca, Name Changer shine in Laurel stakes wins
Sharp Azteca impressed in the City of Laurel Stakes. Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.
From a Maryland Jockey Club release
Gelfenstein Farm’s Grade 3 winner Sharp Azteca made a triumphant return to the races Saturday at Laurel Park, pulling away from a pacesetting duel with previously undefeated Hot Seat to win the $100,000 City of Laurel presented by Fidelity First.
The seventh running of the City of Laurel for 3-year-olds and 26th renewal of the $100,000 Safely Kept presented by Insight for 3-year-old fillies, both at seven furlongs, were among seven stakes worth $825,000 on an 11-race Fall Festival of Racing program highlighted by the $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) presented by Maker’s Mark.
Ridden by Edgard Zayas for trainer Jorge Navarro, both based in South Florida, Sharp Azteca ($7.40) hit the wire in 1:22.03 over a fast main track in his first race since finishing second in the 1 1/16-mile Super Derby Prelude Aug. 6 at Louisiana Downs, exiting the race with a major quarter crack.
“We thought he was going to be out more than three months, maybe up to a year. My blacksmith, he did an amazing job,” Navarro said. “Seven-eighths is a distance that can be tough unless he’s ready, and I guess he was. He’s going to be my top 4-year-old.”
Hot Seat, making his stakes debut after maiden and allowance victories by a combined 20 ½ lengths at Parx, broke well but was outrun for the lead to his outside by Sharp Azteca, who sailed through an opening quarter-mile in 22.53 seconds and a half in 44.86.
The leaders continued to separate from the field after going six furlongs in 1:09.33 before Sharp Azteca steadily edged away as Hot Seat switched to the outside, winning by 5 ¼ lengths. Hot Seat was a clear second, 3 ½ lengths ahead of Carry Back (G3) winner Rated R Superstar in third.
“He’s not a horse that’s going to fire when you ask him. He’s just a grinder,” Zayas said. “He keeps going and going. He’s a free-runner. We did not expect to be on the lead. We got going well and we put his biggest threat to the inside and hope we could outrun him, which he did.”
Sharp Azteca strung together three straight wins earlier this year capped by a 2 ½-length triumph in the Pat Day Mile (G3) on the May 7 undercard of the Kentucky Derby (G1). He was fourth in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens (G2) at Belmont Park prior to the Prelude.
Navarro said Sharp Azteca, a sophomore son of Freud, would be pointed to the seven-furlong Malibu (G1) Dec. 26 at Santa Anita Park for his next start.
NAME CHANGER POUNCES FOR SMALL WIN
For Colts Neck Stables’ Name Changer distance has been a game changer, making the Richard W. Small Stakes presented by Samsung Business an attractive target, even though the Alan Goldberg-trained 3-year-old would face older rivals in 1 1/8-mile stakes on Saturday’s Fall Festival of Racing program at Laurel Park.
The son of Uncle Mo was the recipient of a dream trip under jockey Jevian Toledo, relishing every inch of the Small’s two-turn distance on his way to a convincing 2 ¼-length triumph over his elders.
“The distance was the main reason. He’s a deep closer. This track sometimes helps horses that come from off the pace,” said Goldberg’s assistant trainer Jorge Duarte, who saddled the Kentucky-bred colt. “You can give a horse a breather here more than at speed tracks.”
Name Changer, who was sent to post as the 2-1 second choice in a field of 11, broke from the gate clearny from his No. 2 post position to obtain a ground-saving stalking position around the first turn and along the backstretch as even-money favorite Tommy Macho set sensible fractions of 25.54 (seconds) and 50.51 for the first half mile. Discreet Lover, a 72-1 long shot ridden by Jose Flores, pressed the pace before moving to the lead on the far turn.
Approaching the turn into the stretch, Toledo eased Name Changer to the outside and his mount picked up the pace to take the lead at the top of the stretch before drawing away to a victory by a comfortable margin.
“He broke perfect today. We ended up getting in behind the speed and I was able to sit right behind the leaders,” Toledo said. “I had plenty of horse late. He just kicked away and kept going.”
Discreet Lover held second, 1 ¾ lengths ahead of Ami’s Holiday, who nosed out Tommy Macho for third.
“The race didn’t quite go as we planned, so I had to find a good spot for my horse early,” said Flores of Discreet Lover’s trip. “Blinkers have really helped this horse. He ran a nice race today.”
Name Changer, who is now 3-for-3 while testing his elders, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.99 to collect his first stakes victory. In his only other start at the distance, he finished third in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park in August.
Name Changer had prepped for the Small with a 5 ¼-length triumph in an optional claiming allowance race over the Laurel Park surface Oct. 28.
“He’ll probably get the winter off, but he could run one more time. He’s not on the Florida list, but I could see the boss wanting to run him in the Queen’s County,” said Duarte of the 1 1/8-mile $125,000 Queens County at Aqueduct on Dec. 17.