Hogy, Rocco take turf try

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Just about every horse has their little quirks. Some not so little even. Hogy’s quirks aren’t huge, but he’s got them and shows them almost daily to exercise rider Ashley Heclo in the mornings. Hogy showed it to Joe Rocco Jr. when he breezed the Offlee Wild gelding in early August and he showed it to the jockey again as he won the $100,000 Troy Stakes Wednesday at Saratoga.

“I breezed him once in the morning here, on the turf, and Ashley, who’s the exercise rider, she’s a really good galloper, and she’s done a really good job with him, getting him ready and all,” Rocco said after the 10th, two races removed from winning his fourth stakes of the meet in the 5 ½-furlong turf sprint. “When I breezed him, I was by myself. She [Ashley] cut me loose and when we hit the backside we were all alone. His ears went up and he kind of started propping a little, so I had to sit down on his back and shoo him a little bit. Once I did that, he grabbed the bit and took off. He ended up breezing really good. He was definitely balking at first but once I got him going I was like, ‘Crap, now I’ve got to slow him down.’ “

Hogy, sent to Wayne Catalano and his team at Saratoga by owner William Stiritz shortly after finishing second in the Arlington Sprint in early July, breezed 5 furlongs that morning with Rocco in :59.88. Catalano added another 3-furlong tightener Sunday and Hogy was ready to do his thing, all of his thing, in the Troy.

“He’s such a cool little horse,” said Heclo, stopped on the way to the test barn while trying to jog and catch up to Hogy and his handlers. “If you saw him galloping out just now, he just about dropped Joey after winning. That’s just him. He’s just a cool horse with a ton of personality.”

Rocco’s knowledge of Hogy’s personality and tendencies and the preparation by Catalano’s team played a part in the gelding picking up his fourth career stakes win.

The standout in the paddock and 2-1 second choice in the scratch-plagued field of five did his part, too. He showed a willingness to rate kindly off the early pace of 7-5 favorite Great Mills, use the quick turn of foot that helped him win a stakes at Canterbury as a 2-year-old to get the lead at the top of the stretch and the same determination that helped him win the Grade 3 Hanshin at Arlington two starts back.

Hogy won in 1:02.61, not threatening the course or stakes record, but quick enough considering the cut in the ground from steady rains Tuesday. Great Mills, fourth in last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and coming back from nearly eight months on the sidelines, held second with Strong Impact and Tripski bearing down hard.

Rocco added the Troy to stakes victories earlier in the meet aboard Lighthouse Bay in the Grade 1 Prioress, Bigger is Bettor in the Evan Shipman and Summer of Fun in the Auntie Mame.

“I rode the race as it came up,” he said. “The horse in front I thought was the horse to beat. I was kind of letting him go pretty easy early. Halfway around the turn I kind of squeezed on the horse to push him along and he got a head in front sooner than I thought he was going to. I thought the other horse would run along with me for a little bit. My horse got his head in front. From the other morning it did make me think, ‘You better stay busy on him because he might start looking around.’ ” 

Heclo notices the same thing in the mornings when she rides Hogy. He’s not a big fan of being solo out there, and they’ll bring the pony because “he’s a little goofy,” she said.

When they’re as good and ready to go as Hogy, the little things don’t seem to matter as much. He showed up in Saratoga with nine wins in 17 starts, stakes wins on Polytrack in the Hanshin and 2012 Hansel at Turfway Park, and three victories on turf. Claimed for $80,000 by Scott Becker in November 2012, Hogy raced five times for that trainer, winning twice and finishing second twice.

Dirt, turf, synthetic, it doesn’t seem to matter. Just don’t leave him alone too much.

“I really like him, he’s such a cool little horse,” Heclo said. “Of course he always wants to do way too much for a little horse, but he’s fun to be around. He hasn’t been with us a huge amount of time but his form speaks for itself. He’s a talented horse. We were going in hoping he would win, as you always do, but you know it’s racig and anything can happen.”

Steve Asmussen hoped for the same with Great Mills, who probably prefers a little harder turf than he got Wednesday. Beaten only three lengths by Mizdirection in last year’s Turf Sprint, the War Front horse was away from the races since winning an optional claiming race Jan. 20 at Santa Anita.

Asmussen was pleased enough with the comeback to still think about a return to the Turf Sprint, again at Santa Anita in November.

“He always runs hard,” he said. “I think the soft ground gets to him more than anything. He likes firm going.”

Additional reporting by Ryan Martin.