Former NFL coach and general manager Bill Parcells made an executive decision since his 5-year-old ridgling Saratoga Snacks last ran.
He moved the son of Tale of the Cat, owned by Parcells’ August Dawn Farm, from the barn of trainer Gary Sciacca to that of Bill Mott, who will saddle the 7-2 morning-line third choice today in the John Morrissey at Saratoga Race Course, a 6 1⁄2-furlong race for New York-breds 3 and up.
Saratoga Snacks last ran second in the Whodam at Belmont Park in January, beaten by a head by Zivo, who is 5-for-5 this year with a win in the Grade II Suburban.
“His previous form shows he can compete at that level [of the John Morrissey],” Mott told the New York Racing Association. “I don’t think the [quality of competition] is the issue. I don’t think there’s a question of class. It’s just a question of if he can run well enough off the layoff.”
Saratoga Snacks is 7-3-1 from 11 starts, missing the board only in the Grade I Cigar Mile last November. He was third in the John Morrissey last year, 13⁄4 lengths behind the victorious Saginaw. He has won ungraded stakes ranging in distance from seven to nine furlongs, and Mott has not settled on a set distance at which to run the horse.
“I really haven’t thought about it, because he seems to be a horse who can do about everything,” Mott said. “He’s proven he can run well at a mile and an eighth, and he can sprint. The fact this is his first race back, it makes sense to run him in the shorter race, now.”
Saratoga Snacks drew the rail for the John Morrissey, which drew a field of eight.
Big Business is the 5-2 favorite, and Moonlight Song is 3-1. Big Business was second here in the Evan Shipman on July 31, and he was runner-up in the Commentator Handicap at Belmont on May 31. Moonlight Song is 4-2-0 from seven starts in the past 16 months, having come off a six-month layoff to finish fourth in the Grade III Belmont Sprint Championship on July 5.
Phil Serpe’s Weekend Hideaway is 6-1 and will look to extend the trainer’s hot streak. Three of the last eight horses he has saddled here have won.
“We’re very happy, because this is the toughest place in the world to win a race,” Serpe said. “You can come up here and think you’re going to win and not win, and you can come up here wondering if you’re going to win, and win. You’ve got to take that as it comes.”
Amberjack, who came within one win last year of the Big Apple Triple — winning the Mike Lee at Belmont, the New York Derby at Finger Lakes, then finishing runner-up in the Albany at Saratoga — will break from post 7 in the eight-horse field. Trainer Mike Hushion is hoping Amberjack moves forward off his last start, a state-bred allowance at this distance at Belmont on July 11 in which he was third, two lengths back from winner Weekend Hideaway.
Thursday’s card started off with a wild steeplechase, the Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes covering 23⁄8 miles for horses 4 and up.
Ireland-bred Bob Le Beau landed awkwardly after the fifth jump and lost rider Jack Doyle, then continued on, leading the field over several fences before leaving the course and being caught by the outriders. The field had to be cautious as the riderless horse jumped the fences in front of them.
Just about the time Bob Le Beau was out of the field’s way, Sporty fell going over the ninth fence and lost rider Xavier Aizpuru and was later vanned off.
Schoodic, who spotted the field about eight lengths at the start, gradually worked toward the front and kicked through the stretch to win going away, finishing ahead by four lengths. He paid $9.10, $3.90 and $3.50 in the win. Address Unknown returned $4.10 and $2.90, while Bluegrass Summer paid $2.60 to show.
Race fans will get to choose the recipient of the Mike Venezia Memorial Award by voting online at www.nyra.com/veneziaaward through Aug. 30. Voting fans can choose from three jockeys who have been nominated by the Jockey’s Guild — Javier Castellano, Cornelio Velasquez and John Velazquez.
The award was created in 1989 to honor the jockey who best exemplifies extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship. It is named for Mike Venezia, a jockey who died after a spill in Belmont Park in 1988.
HERE AND THERE
The Daily Racing Form reported multiple Grade I winner Verrazano has been retired because of lameness and will begin his career as a stallion at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud near Versailles, Ky.
Verrazano was 6-1-2 from 13 career starts, winning the Wood Memorial and Haskell Invitational, both Grade I races, as well as the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby and Grade III Pegasus.