Speedy frontrunners set the $100,000 James Marvin Stakes (gr. III) up perfectly for Michael Dubb and Gary Aisquith's Sage Valley, who closed from off the pace to take the seven-furlong sprint July 19 at Saratoga Race Course (VIDEO).
The Saratoga opening day winner was ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, whose book is now managed by agent Steve Rushing, formerly responsible for the business of the recently retired Ramon Dominguez.
A 4-year-old son of Discreet Cat, Sage Valley came back from a fifth-place finish in the June 5 RTN True North Handicap (gr. III) at Belmont Park to get the job done, clocking the distance in 1:22.49 while carrying high weight of 123 pounds.
"Very, very perfect trip," said winning trainer Rudy Rodriguez. "Cornelio gave him a perfect ride. He's one of the best riders in the country.
"You always want to see those kinds of fractions when you come from behind. He's a very classy horse. It looked like he put a lot in the race; if we give him the right time, he ought to show up (next time)."
Sage Valley showed good speed but was fourth off the pace set by 9-5 favorite Souper Speedy , who was pressured through an opening quarter in :22.38 and a bruising half in :44.42. Strapping Groom dueled for the lead coming off the turn, but both faded as Sage Valley came three wide off the turn and gained the advantage passing the furlong marker.
With three-quarters posted in 1:09.23, the eventual winner inched clear in the final sixteenth and proved best by a length under a left-handed whip. Politicallycorrect finished willingly for the place, while Hello Lover closed but flattened to secure third after breaking a step slow.
"I broke well and had a good trip; there was a lot of speed," Velasquez said. "I came into the stretch, and I had a lot of horse."
Bred in Kentucky by Buck Pond Farm out of the Cryptoclearance mare Ashwood C C, Sage Valley was a $47,000 RNA at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale. He was claimed by Dubb and Rodriguez for $50,000 in February 2012 after breaking his maiden first time out at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, when running third in an optional claimer at Aqueduct Racetrack.
He put together a tidy three-race win streak at the end of 2012, capped by a 6 3/4-length victory in the Mr. Nasty overnight stakes at Aqueduct, and returned from a layoff to post a driving 2 1/4-length score in the May 18 Maryland Sprint Handicap (gr. III) at Pimlico Race Course.
The dark bay colt now has six wins and three thirds from 10 starts, with earnings of $315,200.