Sassicaia returns in tough spot
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – There are three stakes scheduled this weekend at Aqueduct, but Friday’s multi-conditioned allowance sprint feature certainly has the look and feel of a black-type event as well.
Sassicaia, winner of the Grade 3 Toboggan in 2016 when last seen on the inner track, and consistent veterans Chief Lion and Life in Shambles comprise half of the six-horse field in a $78,000, third-level allowance race that also is open to horses who have not won a stakes since March 1, 2016. There also is a $100,000 claiming option for which only one horse, Eighty Three, is eligible.
Sassicaia, trained by Rudy Rodriguez for Robert LaPenta, has not been out since finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Carter over Aqueduct’s main track last April 9. He has undergone knee surgery since then.
“So far, he looks pretty good. He’s come back pretty good. We got to start somewhere,” said Rodriguez, the leading trainer here this winter. “He’s trained very straight forward. He’s not missed a day. He’s got to step up because the race is not easy.”
Prior to the Carter, Sassicaia won two sprints over the inner track last winter, including the Grade 3 Toboggan. A secondlevel allowance win on Dec. 26, 2015, came following a fourmonth layoff.
“When we first got him he had a lot of issues. He was not easy to keep sound,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe the cold weather helped his knees.”
Sassicaia is well drawn in post 6 but may need some help as Chief Lion looks the primary speed under Cornelio Velasquez. David Jacobson, who trains Chief Lion, also sends out Eighty Three, who is returning from a seven-month layoff.
Life in Shambles finished fourth – beaten a length – in the Grade 3 Toboggan on Jan. 17. King Kranz, a multiple listed stakes winner as a 3-year-old, makes his 4-year-old debut. Expected Ruler tries dirt for the first time in 17 months.
RACE 8 KEY CONTENDERS
Chief Lion, by Wildcat Heir Last 3 Beyers: 88-92-98
◗ Does his best work when on the early lead, a position he was not able to obtain in the Fire Plug Stakes, where he finished fourth. “He’ll be right on the pace,” Jacobson said.
◗ His most recent victory came in a spot similar to this over the inner track in December.
Sassicaia, by Bernardini Last 3 Beyers: 86-99-95
◗ A perfect 3 for 3 at six furlongs, including two wins over the inner track.
◗ Shows 12 workouts going back to October in preparation for his return off a 314-day layoff.
FORMULATOR FACT: Over last five years, Rodriguez is 5 for 19 over the inner track with horses returning from a layoff of 180 days or greater.
Life in Shambles, by Broken Vow Last 3 Beyers: 97-95-97
◗ Got up by a nose to win the same exact conditioned race as this last November over the main track.
◗ Comes out of two fourthplace finishes in stakes over the inner track, though in the Gravesend two back he was narrowly beaten for second.
◗ Breaks from the rail. Last summer, he won three consecutive sprints from post 1.