After Junior Alvarado’s shoulder injury Saturday, the jockey’s mounts for the next couple of days opened up.
Joe Rocco Jr. picked up a fine one in Bigger Is Bettor, which he rode to a win in Monday’s $100,000 Evan Shipman at Saratoga Race Course.
Readthebyline and Groomedforvictory went out to lead the field through the first mile of the 11⁄8-mile dirt race for New York-breds 3 and up. Rocco kept Bigger Is Bettor in third and crept within two lengths of the leaders after three-quarters of a mile. He sent his charge around the outside at the top of the stretch, just as Irad Ortiz Jr. was sending Awesome Vision to the inside of the leaders.
Bigger Is Bettor got to the wire to beat Awesome Vision by a head, and Readthebyline was another neck back in third. Groomedforvictory was just a neck farther back in fourth.
“The two horses I thought had speed went out in front of me, and I was able to get over to the rail,” Rocco said. “The only hairy part, more or less, was when the 2 horse came up outside of me, and I kind of had to fight for my position, but the horse had no problem being in tight down inside. When I came off the fence turning for home, he had a clear path and he kicked in for me.”
It was Rocco’s first stakes win at Saratoga.
Winning trainer Rodrigo Ubillo was thrilled with Rocco for taking instructions so well and delivering a win on a horse he had never ridden.
“He really listened to me, and that’s a big key, too, because I gallop the horse in the morning, and it seems like he’s little harder,” Ubillo said. “He likes to fight with the jock. He’s hard to make switch leads. In the morning, I give him his head, and he loves it. No problem. In the afternoon when the jocks start getting into him, he likes to fight. This kid today did perfect.”
A BREAK FROM WORK
Instead of getting in a final work ahead of Saturday’s Grade II $600,000 Jim Dandy, trainer Rudy Rodriguez opted to not send out Vyjack for a breeze. He last worked July 16, going five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.
“He had a nice open gallop [Sunday], so I think we should be in good shape,” he said. “I worked him a little bit before the Derby, I worked him a little bit before the Belmont, now I’m cutting back a little bit. I just wanted to change things up a little bit, maybe give him another couple days rest, and maybe he’ll give us a good race.”
BIG FIRST WIN
The 2-year-old Big Sugar Soda opened the card with a win by 8 1⁄2 lengths in a maiden special weight race over 5 1⁄2 furlongs for trainer Steve Asmussen.
The name was inspired by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to restrict the sale of sugar-sweetened sodas larger than 16 ounces.
In just his second career start, Big Sugar Soda led throughout, but he was just a length ahead of Closet E until the top of the stretch, when he took off. In his first start, he was third by five lengths in a 4 1⁄2-furlong race at Churchill Downs.
“He showed a lot of talent before we ran him,” Asmussen said. “We honestly couldn’t believe he got beat the first time. He did everything right today, and he’s obviously a very nice horse.”
Jockey Javier Castellano was up for the win, his first of two consecutive to start the card.
“I really like him,” Castellano said. “He’s a very mature horse, very professional. Everything he does is the right way. He stood in the gate beautifully and broke out of the gate so sharp. He’s got very light feet. My gut tells me he is going to be a very nice horse.”
John Velazquez was second once and third three times from eight mounts, keeping him three wins from equaling Jerry Bailey’s career record of 693 at Saratoga.
He has seven mounts on Wednesday’s card, though two of those will only run if turf races are moved to the main track.