Chester Broman and Rodrigo Ubillo needed a rider. Ubillo was saddling his first starter of the newly minted Saratoga meeting so he didn’t have any immediate past successes to rely on.
Broman did though, the memory of Joe Rocco Jr. riding his Crackerjack Jones to victory two days earlier still fresh in his mind made the decision relatively easy. The choice proved a winning one as Bigger Is Bettor, back on the scene of his only prior stakes victory, benefited from Rocco’s patient ground-saving ride and won Monday’s $100,000 Evan Shipman Stakes for New York-breds.
Broman’s decision to use Rocco, called to duty with Junior Alvarado still nursing a sore shoulder from a starting gate incident Saturday, who got him in the winner’s circle and then in line to cash a couple tickets for his wife Mary.
“My wife bets like $5 to win, things like that. I think she bet $20 on the race,” Broman said, his bride’s cash in hand through the clubhouse on the way for some champagne in the Trustees Room. “I picked the exacta for her. It’s our horse with the favorite.”
The runner-up, Awesome Vision, was second choice actually, but that’s irrelevant. What was relevant was Broman’s pick of Rocco, who didn’t ride any races opening day and couldn’t finish better than fifth in his first five rides Sunday before winning aboard Crackerjack Jones for trainer Mike Hushion.
Rocco’s win on Crackerjack Jones was quite different than the Shipman. He went overland for that one, winning from the four or five path on the turf, but still showing patience without an ounce of panic. It resonated with Broman.
“He rode for us the other day, we had to pick a jockey and he won with Crackerjack Jones,” Broman said. “I was very happy with the jockey, he did a great job.”
Ubillo agreed. He knows his horse, a 5-year-old by Grand Reward who can be a bit of a handful. He likes to fight with riders on occasion, but when they give him his head he’s all business. Rocco listened to Ubillo, gave Bigger Is Bettor a nice long rein and let him settle on the inside.
The only time Rocco got busy until midstretch was midway around the turn when he pushed Bigger Is Bettor a bit to hold his ground and slip past Groomedforvictory before setting after free-running leader Readthebyline. The winner stayed there through the stretch. Rocco threw a few crosses inside the furlong marker and got the response he needed from four or five left handed cracks to separate just enough and win by a head from the four-wide Awesome Vision in a four-way photo. Readthebyline and Groomedforvictory were in between, third and fourth in the end.
Rocco said Bigger Is Bettor, winner of the Albany Stakes back in 2011, was a “fun” ride and used that same word to describe what it’s like to be in the Spa winner’s circle. He also knows all too well the ups and downs of picking up mounts and losing mounts.
“Yes, one the other day when Junior got hurt unfortunately and this one today,” Rocco said of his two Saratoga wins.
Bigger Is Bettor ate up a few hours after the race and was relaxed in his stall in Ubillo’s barn at the harness track across Nelson Avenue the morning after the race. Saturated from the heavy rains that hit the area Tuesday morning, Ubillo soaked in the victory and allowed himself to look ahead just a bit.
“It feels good [to be back at Saratoga], my family is here and I’m away pretty much all the time so it feels great,” he said. “I didn’t know about winning, but I know he likes the track and already had a win here so I wasn’t sure about winning but I knew he was going to run good.”