Sunday at Saratoga: ‘Rocket’ brings the heat

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Rocket Heat came bounding into the paddock before Sunday’s eighth race at Saratoga Race Course, a $92,000 allowance-optional claimer. The big dark bay gelding lifted his feet high off the ground as he bounced down the horse path on his toes. The sprinter was eager to race and full of energy, but not misbehaved as he met trainer Carlos Martin in the saddling stalls.

“He’s a pretty straightforward, old hard-knocking classy gelding,” Martin said. “He’s just a horse that does his job and he’s a great horse to be around.”

A 6-year-old by Latent Heat, Rocket Heat won the Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes at Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Oaks undercard in 2016 and placed in six other stakes over the past two years. Despite his accomplished record, the gelding began running in optionals and claimers late last year. Although he won for $25,000 at Santa Anita February 17, owner Matt Schera thought Rocket Heat had potential to rekindle his old form.

“An agent actually brought him to my attention. I looked him up and he’s got a lot of back class,” Schera said. “He’s just an extremely fast horse. I don’t think anyone outruns him in the whole country on the turf for the first quarter-mile.”

Schera bought Rocket Heat privately and gave the horse to Martin. He won a Laurel Park allowance on debut for his new connections April 15 before finishing second in two straight stakes at Pimlico Race Course in May and Presque Isle Downs in June.

“We bought him off a $25,000 win, but this was a stakes horse the year before running in seven straight stakes,” Martin said. “We paid a lot more than $25,000. We just got lucky that they wanted to sell the horse, they thought he was going in the other direction, so it worked out.”

Rocket Heat ran the way his pre-race comportment indicated in Sunday’s sixth. He broke on top and led by 2 lengths in a :22.11 quarter, 2 1/2 lengths past a :45.39 half, and drew off to win by 4, completing 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.90. The win improved Rocket Heat’s record to 10-for-34 with $516,160 in the bank and was the second win of the meet for Schera, who’s Glorious Empire dead-heated with Channel Maker in Saturday’s Grade 2 Bowling Green.

“We’re 2-for-2 here, so can’t complain about that,” Schera said. “It was impressive. It feels good with the family here too. It’s way better when the kids are here.”

The victory proved bittersweet for Martin and Schera as Rocket Heat carried a $62,500 tag Sunday and was claimed by Flying P Stable for trainer Michael Tannuzzo.

“The purses up here are so good, it’s hard to not take a chance,” Schera said. “The stakes are tough, the Troy was the other option we considered, but winning here like that is worth it.”

“I wish we got to keep him,” Martin said. “But you want to win races at Saratoga. It’s a blessing to have a horse like this and to win at Saratoga for one of my good friends and one of my best clients. They’ve been big supporters of my barn.” – Brandon Valvo


• Horseplayers use all sorts of angles when betting on racing, from simply a horses’ name to the jockey-trainer combinations to the size and look for a horse’s foot. One of the surest bets at Saratoga is Bill Mott’s ability to win on July 29 – his birthday.

Mott won two races on Sunday’s card with Claiborne Farm’s and Adele Dilschneider’s Glossy in the third and Length in the fifth. Mott has won at least one race on his birthday for 17 of the last 24 years, with some of those dates falling on dark days.

“It puts a lot of freakin’ pressure on you,” said Mott. “It’s my birthday and everybody expects it.”

Mott beamed as he flew down the clubhouse steps into the winner’s circle after the third, celebrating Glossy’s 2 3/4 allowance victory.

“We were joking with him, he must have known she was going to win and he must have asked them to write the race for him on his birthday,” said Claiborne Farm’s Walker Hancock.

With Junior Alvarado aboard, Glossy settled in the back and boldly moved toward the front as they passed the quarter-pole. She swung wide, taking control at the top of the stretch and pulled away to win 2 1/2 lengths.

“This is from one of our really good families,” said Hancock. “She’s actually related to Elate back through a couple of dams. She’s a nice mare and I’m glad she looks like she’s finally found her stride and she’s really doing well and we hope she’ll continue to improve.

“It’s important to place them in good spots and if there’s a starter allowance we might as well take advantage of it while there’s time. Bill’s been great for us, we’ve had a lot of success and hopefully we’ll continue to do so.”

Joel Rosario climbed aboard Length in the fifth, riding her to a 2 3/4-length maiden-breaking victory and securing Mott his second win of the day.

“There’s been a few winners on the birthday,” said Mott. “It’s fun when it works out. My family’s in town and I’m going to drink a nice cold beer when I get home.” – Shayna Tiller


• Trainer Mike Maker and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. picked up two wins in less than two hours, Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Fast Track Kathern in the second and Three Diamonds Farm’s Love My Honey in the fourth.

Love My Honey broke her maiden in the $85,000 race for 2-year-olds in her debut.

“She was ready to run,” Maker said. “We’ve always been high on this filly and she showed up really well. She showed us a lot of talent from the get go and she didn’t disappoint.”

Love My Honey, who won the 6-furlong maiden by 1 1/4 lengths, provided the second victory in two days for her sire Shackleford after Promises Fulfilled won the Saturday’s Grade 3 Amsterdam.

“We had an inkling she was fast,” said Kirk Wycoff of Three Diamonds Farm. “At the 2-year-old sale (OBS April), she worked 10 and 2. But the interesting thing is, the day she worked there was a 20-mile-per-hour wind in her face, so even though they say, ‘she worked 10 and 2,’ we thought she was going to be a 10-flat horse.”

“It’s our first ever debut winner at Saratoga, first ever two-year-old winner. We have 35 horses up here and we’re just happy to have a few win. We got great trainers, great riders and we’re up here for the six weeks. We love Saratoga.”

Maker thinks Love My Honey will have more success running further than 6 furlongs.

“She definitely wants to (run further),” he said. “She’s a big scopey filly that wants to go a little more ground.”

Wycoff said they might look at the Spinaway going 7 furlongs Closing Weekend.

“We’ll just be happy if she comes back good this week and then we’ll go from there.” – Sarah Newman


• Ken Ramsey and the betting public were quite surprised as Fast Track Kathern, the sixth choice in a field of nine with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., went on to win the second.

“The trainer didn’t think she would win, I didn’t think she would win and nothing really clued us in that she would run that well,” Ramsey said. “I named her after my wife, because she’s by Bullet Train and my wife’s name is Kathern. But we didn’t even bring her today because we said ‘we don’t think we’ll win.’ ”

Ramsey stuck around the winner’s circle to watch the replay and hold court.

“See there? When she stumbled out the gate I thought it was all over with, and then when she was all blocked in the middle of the stretch there I didn’t think she was going to get through,” he said. “I’m as shocked as everyone else is. That’s the truth, you got to tell it how it is.”

The Ramsey’s bred Fast Track Kathern in 2015, after three starts she broke her maiden and was claimed by Paradise Farms Corp. and trainer Peter Walder. She raced once for those connections, stumbled and lost the rider, but that didn’t stop the Ramseys from claiming her back.

“She has good breeding, so we got her for a broodmare,” Ramsey said. “We thought we could improve on her, but the last race she didn’t show much improvement so we got a little down on her. Nobody claimed her today, so they missed their chance she won’t be running that cheap again.”

This was the first win of the meet for the Ramseys, and as always he was enthusiastic looking forward to the rest of the meet.

“I broke my maiden, but I won’t get shutout,” Ramsey said. “Back in the old days if you got shutout for the meet they would give you a duck that was supposed to be enough food to get you through to the next meet, however now they give out rubber ducks and there’s no good food value there. At least I wont be getting the duck.” – David Woods