Pebbles Stakes Gets Former Johnson Assistant in the Winner's Circle

Heriberto "Ocala" Cedano, longtime assistant to the late Hall of Fame trainer Phil "P.G." Johnson, registered his first victory as a trainer Monday afternoon when Fortunate Damsel led all the way to win the $112,300 Pebbles Stakes (gr. IIIT) that highlighted the Columbus Day card at Belmont Park.

The victory by the 3-year-old filly under jockey Javier Castellano was the first win for Cedano since taking over the stable following Johnson's death on Aug. 6 at age 78.

"It is always nice to break your maiden in a stakes," Cedano said after Fortunate Damsel set an easy pace of :25 3/5; :50 2/5; 1:13 4/5 and 1:36 3/5, before completing the 1 1/8 miles on firm turf, with the rail set out 18 feet, in 1:48 4/5. "P.G.'s birthday was October 9th, so it is very nice to win the race after his birthday. He is smiling.

The Pebbles marked the first race without blinkers for Fortunate Damsel in her last eight starts. Owned by Spruce Pond Stable, the daughter of Runaway Groom bred in New York by Edward J. Messina was winning for the fourth time in 14 career starts.

Fortunate Damsel returned $15 to win as she held off 4-5 favorite Venturi, a group III winner in Ireland making her second start in the U. S. Delta Sensation was third, followed by Go Robin, Right This Way, Sabellina, Serendipitous and Lenatareese. Tigi was scratched.

"She did it easy," Castellano said. "She broke well out of the gate. She broke sharply and nobody wanted to go to the lead. I let her do whatever she wanted. The jockeys let me go easy in the first part. She settled down very good, and when she saw the other horses coming on, she was fresh and took off again.

"There was no pace," said Venturi's jockey, John Velazquez. "I should have put her up into the race, but that's not where they wanted her."

(Chart, Equibase)