Saratoga Snacks, owned by Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells, took the lead coming into the stretch and held on tenaciously under Joel Rosario's urging to capture the $250,000 Empire Classic Handicap Oct. 19 at Belmont Park (VIDEO).
Always in contention for Rosario while slightly favored at odds of 3-2 over Readtheprospectus, Saratoga Snacks defeated a hard-trying Bigger Is Bettor by three-quarters of a length. He completed the one-turn, 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:48.79 over a fast track. The victory, in the featured event of Empire Showcase Day for New York-breds, was the the seventh in 10 lifetime starts for the talented 4-year-old ridgling son of Tale of the Cat .
Bigger is Better finished second, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Moneyinyour Pocket, with Spa City Fever fourth in the field of eight. Readtheprospectus, the 8-5 second choice looking for his eighth straight victory, struggled to stay in contention and finished seventh.
Gary Sciacca trains Saratoga Snacks for the 72-year-old Parcells, who coached the New York Giants to a pair of Super Bowl wins and also had head coaching stints with the New York Jets, New England Patriots, and Dallas Cowboys. Parcells, who now lives in Saratoga Springs, races as August Dawn Farm.
"I just spoke to (Parcells) on the phone and he's thrilled," Sciacca said. "He's in Florida, watching on TV. He said 'Great job getting him ready.'
"Once I put the glue-on shoes on the horse it made all the difference in the world. He started doing good. Joel came out and worked him the other morning in 1:12 4/5. He worked good and galloped out strong. I said, 'Well, if he wasn't fit, that'll get him right there.' When they turned for home, I never screamed like I screamed today."
Saratoga Snacks, who was second to Lunar Victory in last year's Empire Classic, was making his first start since Aug. 1 when finishing third behind Saginaw in the 6 1/2-furlong John Morrissey Stakes at muddy Saratoga Race Course. This was just his third start of the year including a victory in Belmont's seven-furlong Shy Groom Stakes June 30.
Bred by Mrs. Gerald A. Nielsen out of the Red Ransom mare Near and Dear, the bay was a $60,000 yearling buy at Saratoga's New York-bred sale in August 2010.
Warrioroftheroses went directly to the front while pushed along by Saratoga Snacks and Moneyinyour Pocket through solid fractions of :23.67, :46.67, and 1:10.66. Three wide while racing on the outside of the leaders, Saratoga Snacks snatched the advantage at the head of the stretch as Warrioroftheroses gave way and Moneyinyour Pocket attempted to stay close.
After opening a one-length advantage at mid-stretch, Rosario stayed busy on Saratoga Snacks, who dug in to the wire in plenty of time to hold off Bigger Is Bettor, who closed from sixth at the three-eighths pole for Angel Arroyo.
"He's a little bit of a funny horse," Rosario said of Saratoga Snacks. "You have to really keep him motivated, keep him busy. You have to keep him focused."
"He just didn't fire today," said Chad Brown, trainer of Readtheprospectus. "I'll look at him and get to the bottom of it."
Worse than second just once in his career, Saratoga Snacks boosted his career earnings to $464,600. Saratoga Snacks has won four of five lifetime starts at Belmont.
The winner carried 122 pounds and paid $5, $3.70, and $3. Bigger Is Bettor, a homebred for Chester and Mary Broman sent off at odds of 23-1, returned $16.20 and $8.90 in a determined effort over a speed-favoring main track. The exacta was worth $76.50. Moneyinyour Pocket paid $7 to show in his stakes debut for trainer Charlton Baker, completing a $597 trifecta.