Michael Pino had to wait until his 33rd year as a trainer to win a race at Saratoga Race Course.
Wallyanna, the 3-year-old he saddled for the Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame on Friday, looked like he was going to make him wait a little longer. Then jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. coaxed the 23-1 shot from fifth to first, making up five lengths through traffic in the final 2 1⁄2 furlongs.
“It felt great,” Pino said. “He was long odds. I don’t like to run long-odd horses, but I just felt like he deserved a shot. We’ll step up and see what happens, and it worked out.”
Wallyanna had settled between 4 1⁄2 and six lengths behind the leader, even-money favorite Bobby’s Kitten, and was trailing the field side-by-side with Bashart. Bobby’s Kitten carried jockey Javier Castellano to the lead and through an easy first quarter-mile in :24.00, but as So Lonesome came forward with him, the pace picked up through splits of :22.77 and :23.57.
So Lonesome had had enough at that point and slid back to finish last, but the damage was done. Trained by Mechanicville’s Chad Brown, Bobby’s Kitten was still good enough to beat most of the field to the wire, but Wallyanna was ready to run when Ortiz gave him the signal.
“The first quarter went
really well,” Brown said. “I was disappointed with the second two quarters; I thought the horse was going too fast.”
Ortiz first guided his charging colt away from the rail to look for running room, then sent him inside of Long On Value, who had assumed second place when So Lonesome tired. In the final furlong, Castellano kept urging Bobby’s Kitten along, but he had come up empty. Wallyanna flew past to win by a length, while Bobby’s Kitten held off Give No Quarter by a neck.
Another neck back, Long On Value — trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez — completed the superfecta. Mott has won the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame six times, Velazquez had won two of the previous three runnings.
“By the three-eighths pole, I knew I had horse,” Ortiz said. “The quarter-pole, I asked him, broke more hard and he responded. He took off.”
Even though he was closing fast, it wasn’t until late that Ortiz figured he had the race won.
“The last five jumps,” he said. “I was sure of that. It’s hard, you never know what will happen.”
Oddly enough, Ortiz said part of Pino’s instruction for the ride was, “Don’t let him be too far back.” Pino said that although Wallyanna had not had to close from off the pace in his previous five career races, he figured he could be a tactical horse.
“In the morning, this horse is very mature in his training,” Pino said. “He’s really push-button. At first, he was a little rank, the first couple starts we had. Now, he’s starting to relax in the mornings. I just told [Ortiz], ‘If you just sit on him, he’ll do what you want. When you call on him, he’ll do what you want.’ That’s exactly the way it worked out.”
Wallyanna paid $49.20, $11.60 and $4.20 in the win. Bobby’s Kitten returned $3.30 and $2.40, while Give No Quarter paid $2.80 to show.
Even though Pino said he doesn’t like running long-odds horses, he had two big runner-up finishes at Saratoga in 2002 with Boston Common, who was 13-1 in both the Amsterdam and Grade I King’s Bishop.
It was no surprise Wallyanna was 23-1, having never run this far or against graded-stakes company. He was 3-0-0 from five starts coming in, two of those at a mile and none of them while coming from farther back than three lengths. Then he was a distant fourth in his last try at a mile, but Pino saw something in his morning routine that made him take a chance on a Grade II.
“His last race, he was way back, no pace, lost a lot of ground; not a great trip,” Pino said. “There weren’t a lot of 3-year-old races around. This spot was here, and the horse was doing great, so we took a shot.”