Horse racing: Bustin Stones looks like real gem

Roddy Valente of Loudonville has a promising horse in his barn

Bustin Stones is busting out.

Making his first start against open company, the undefeated New York-bred son of City Zip gave Roddy Valente of Loudonville his first Grade II victory as an owner in the General George at Laurel 12 days ago.

Now they’ll attempt to tackle an even bigger challenge in the Grade I Carter at Aqueduct, where they could face 2007 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute.

“That’s the kind of horse we always wanted to run against,” Vale­nte said.

And Bustin Stones is the kind of horse Valente, a Troy native who mostly sticks to the claiming ranks, has never had.

The 4-year-old homebred colt, cheekily named in reference to Val­ente’s gravel and mining business, didn’t look like much of a prospect as the third straight smallish foal out of Shesasurething. He was further hampered by chips in both knees last year, leading to surgery and a nine-month layoff after three straight wins in races restricted to New York-breds.

Trainer Bruce Levine brought him back in the listed Promonroe at Aqueduct in January, which nicely set up Bustin Stones for the General George. He did all the work early at Laurel, then somehow held off a hard-charging Lord Snowdon in the final strides.

Ridden by Ramon Dominguez, Bustin Stones displayed all of his strengths that day, an early turn of foot, and late determination. He has never been headed in five career starts.

“I’ve never been so impressed with a horse in my life,” Valente said. “He’s so gutsy, and he defied the odds. The horses that were pressing him early were nowhere to be found. Ramon said he didn’t even know that other horse was coming, but Bustin Stones did. They galloped out an eighth of a mile, and he still wouldn’t let him by.

“He’s got the heart of a champion, and we’ll see where he takes us. He’s a pleasure to own, but moreso because he understands the game and exemplifies it every time he runs.”

After dropping three straight small foals, Shesasurething looked like such a sure dud as a mare that Valente gave her away to a farm owner in Florida who used her for pony rides.

They sent Bustin Stones to Ocala, Fla., to be trained by Jim Crupi, who breaks all of Valente’s yearlings.

Unlike his two siblings, Bustin Stones got bigger and opened

everyone’s eyes with a three-furlong breeze in under 35 seconds.

“I gave the mare away, and the next thing I know, I get a call that Bustin Stones had a growth spurt,” Valente said. “Jim Crupi said, ‘Roddy, you got a freak down here.’ I said, ‘Which one?’ and he said, ‘The City Zip, the little guy. He just breezed 34 and change, and I never saw that before.’

“A week later Bruce calls me and says, ‘You’ve got a stone-cold freak,’ and coming from Bruce, that means something, because he doesn’t talk up his horses. We got him back here and raced early in his 3-year-old season. He wasn’t

really cranked up, we just wanted to see where we stand, and I’ll never forget it, he won by seven lengths. Bruce said, ‘You better go find his mother.’ ”

Valente tracked down Shesasure­thing “in the middle of nowheres land” in Florida and was able to buy her back for $2,000. “She was out there with billy goats and cows and pigs,” Valente said.

Now she’s in foal to Hook and Ladder on Dr. Jerry Bilinski’s farm in Chatham, and Valente would like to breed her to Empire Maker next year.

Bustin Stones, meanwhile, is running better than ever, despite the setback last year.

“We wanted to get him in open company last year as a 3-year-old,” Valente said. “After Edgar Prado rode him, he said, ‘Roddy, anywhere you run him, I’ll ride him.’ These guys know what they’re sitting on.

“I always believed he should be running in open company. He

always accomplished everything so easily. I was in the game 13 years when I got him, and none excited me like this one.”

The Grade I Carter on April 5 will be a stiff test, especially against the likes of Midnight Lute, who also won the Grade I Forego at Saratoga Race Course last season.

Bustin Stones has won three times at Aqueduct, and the seven furlongs suits him.

“He deserves a chance, so we’ll roll the dice,” Valente said. “It was just so rewarding to watch a horse coming back off a layoff and making the step up from restricted to open company and win a Grade II against a track bias. This is a horse that lays it on the line every time he runs.

“They’ll be looking for him, believe me. He’s the flavor of the month right now.”

stakes, more stakes

West Point Thoroughbreds’ Awesome Gem, third behind Curlin and Hard Spun in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will make his second start of the year in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap today as the 4-1 favorite in a deep field of 14.

Awesome Gem has hit the board in each of his last seven starts and nearly added another Grade I win to West Point’s breakthrough 2007 campaign, but finished second to 23-1 Student Council in the Pacific Classic and second to Tiago in the Goodwood Handicap.

Monterrey Jazz and Tiago, 1-2, respectively, in the Feb. 2 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita, are also in the field.

Tiago, the 2007 winner of the Santa Anita Derby, was seventh in the Kentucky Derby and third behind Rags to Riches and Curlin in the Belmont.

Trainer Bob Baffert has a fresh horse in the Big ’Cap with Air Commander, who won the Grade II San Fernando on Jan. 12, but skipped the Strub. He’ll have to contend with the far outside post.

Also on the Santa Anita Handicap card are the Grade I Kilroe Mile and the Grade III Sham for 3-year-olds.

Trainer Bill Mott, who will saddle Go Between in the Big ’Cap, has Peter Vegso’s War Monger in the Kilroe Mile.

War Monger won a mile allowance race at Saratoga last year and won the Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 26.

Artiste Royal, winner of the Grade I Clement Hirsch during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita last fall, has drawn highweight of 118 pounds.

El Gato Malo, an impressive winner of the Grade III San Rafael for West Point, will face six others in the Sham, including Colonel John, who will be ridden by Garrett Gomez in place of injured Corey Nakatani.

El Gato Malo has won his three career starts by a combined 16 lengths.

Colonel John was second to Into Mischief in the Cash Call Futurity in his last start in December.

At Aqueduct, Grade I Cigar Mile winner Daaher will make his first start since a disappointing loss as the heavy favorite in the Donn Handicap. Daaher is the 122-pound topweight in the listed Stymie Handicap, which trainer

Kiaran McLaughlin wants to use as a prep for the Dubai World Cup or Godolphin Mile.

The 4-year-old upset sprint champion Midnight Lute in the Cigar Mile, but was seventh at 4-5 to Spring At Last in the Donn at Gulfstream Park.

“It was his first race of the year, but I don’t think he needed a race, because we hadn’t stopped on him,” McLaughlin told the New York Racing Association. “He did receive a lot of pressure on the lead, which, combined with the surface and the heat, could have been a factor.”

“I just hope he rebounds,” jockey Mike Luzzi told NYRA. “It was a little disappointing. I knew he was in trouble around the first turn. He’s a fast horse, so he should be able to run fast early and go forward.”

Also in the six-horse Stymie field is the 10-year-old gelding Evening Attire, who won this race last year and is coming off a win in the Queens County Handicap and a second in the Aqueduct Handicap this winter.

Kiss the Kid, who led briefly before finishing third in the Donn, will face five rivals in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Turfway Park will feature

3-year-olds with the John Battaglia Memorial, which has drawn Big Glen, Your Round and Mr. Harry, 1-2-3, respectively, in the Feb. 2 WEBN Stakes.

curlin rolls

Horse of the Year and champ­ion 3-year-old male Curlin was all business in comfortably winning the $175,000 Jaguar Trophy by 21⁄4 lengths at Nad al Sheba Racecourse on Thursday, his 4-year-old debut and a prep for the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 29.

Jockey Robby Albarado kept a firm hold on Curlin behind Imperialista, then let him go in midstretch. Curlin won under a hand ride in 2:00.60 for almost 10 furlongs.

ladies only

The two-day Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on Oct. 24-25 will feature an opening day of five races for females only. The remaining nine Breeders’ Cup races will be held the following day, with seven of the events open to males and females.

Over the past three years, the Breeders’ Cup has grown from eight to 14 races, with total purses increasing from $14 million to $25.5 million. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth Park in New Jersey was the first run over two days. In December, three new races were added to bring the total to 14.

Among the female races is the newly named $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, which replaces the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Since 1984, the winner of the race has gone on to be voted divisional champion 18 times.

The other opening-day races are the Filly & Mare Turf, Filly & Mare Sprint, Juvenile Fillies and the new Juvenile Fillies Turf.

The second day features the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, along with the Juvenile Turf, Dirt Mile, Turf Sprint, Juvenile, Sprint, Mile, Turf and Marathon.

here and there

Monba, owned in partnership by Schenectady native Don Lucarelli, had a nasty cut on his right rear leg after finishing a distant 12th and last as the lukewarm favorite in the Fountain of Youth last weekend.

He got sandwiched between Ready Set, Kentucky Bear and Elysium Fields on the first turn, and “tore off a quarter- or 50-cent-sized chunk from the inside quarter of his right-hind hoof,” trainer Todd Pletcher told The Daily Racing Form.

Pletcher told the DRF that Monba will not run again at Gulfstream this spring and will point toward the Grade II Lane’s End at Turfway Park on March 22 or the Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 12. …

Gulfstream Park officials have revised the fractions and final time run by Cool Coal Man in winning the Fountain of Youth last weekend.

An outrider prematurely tripped the timing mechanism, and a slow opening quarter of :25.78 was posted by the teletimer. That led to the race being hand-timed, and after Gulfstream Park reviewed the race three times, they made a slight adjustment in Cool Coal Man’s winning time from 1:49.53 to 1:50.07.

His fractions were also changed to :24.03 for a quarter-mile, :47.62 for a half-mile, 1:11.52 for six furlongs, and 1:36.32 for one mile. The race’s original fractions were :23.56, :46.93, 1:10.80, and 1:37. …

By a vote of his peers nationwide, jockey Richard Migliore has won the 2008 Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award.

A winner of more than 4,000 races and a full-time member of the Southern California jockey colony for the past two years, Migliore outpolled fellow riders Roberto Gonzalez, Aaron Gryder, Randall Meier and Mario Pino.

The Woolf Award honors riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport of racing. …

Capital District Regional Off-Track Betting will hold its first Winter Challenge handicapping contest today and Sunday on races at Aqueduct, Gulfstream and Santa Anita at the Albany Teletheater.

There is a $100 entry fee, all fees will be distributed as prize money, and if fully subscribed, the top 10 finishers will be awarded a $15,000 prize purse. The grand prize winner will receive a trip to Las Vegas for “The Handicapping Championship.”. . .

Randy Romero, the retired jockey who is a 2008 Hall of Fame nominee, recently had a kidney removed and continues to battle chronic liver disease while hos­pitalized in Louisville, Ky.

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