Last of 13 on the turn, favored Zivo mowed down his rivals through the Belmont Park stretch win his fifth consecutive race in the $200,000 Commentator Handicap, the highlight of New York Showcase Day May 31 (VIDEO).
Jockey Jose Ortiz registered his third win aboard heavy favorites on the lucrative card for state-breds, including a win aboard front-running Captain Serious in the $125,000 Mike Lee Stakes for 3-year-olds (details below). He also was aboard the pacesetting La Verdad for an odds-on win in the $200,000 Critical Eye Stakes.
Ortiz rode 13-10 pick Zivo to a well-timed neck victory for Chad Brown, who trains the ultra-consistent 5-year-old son of True Direction for owner/breeder Thomas Coleman. The bay horse is out of the winning Quiet American mare American Skipper.
Zivo, whose current winning streak includes victories over New York-bred rivals in the Whodam and Kings Point stakes earlier this year at Aqueduct Racetrack, has now won six of nine lifetime starts at the one-mile distance. Carrying top weight of 123 pounds, he was clocked in 1:34.11 for the Commentator while tagging 15-1 shot Big Business just before the wire. Pacesetter Weekend Hideaway (17-1) was third, three-quarters of a length farther back.
"They didn't really give me instructions, but I know the horse very well," said Ortiz after winning on Zivo for the fourth time. "I was worried because the track is playing fast. There was a little traffic but I asked him to go little by little. I saw (Big Business) was ahead by three lengths when I got clear, so I thought maybe I wouldn't get there, but I kept riding and he kept flying."
Weekend Hideaway, ridden by Jose Lezcano, provided a solid pace while pushed along by Big Business, Comandante, and Crafty Dreamer through quarter mile splits of :22.69, :45.29, and 1:09.51. Big Business took the lead at the sixteenth pole and opened a clear advantage, just failing to get to the wire first as Zivo charged home under urging from Ortiz on the extreme outside.
Zivo trailed the field down the backstretch and was still at the back of the pack while racing along the rail on the turn. He was angled out between horses in upper stretch and still had plenty to do by the time he reached the furlong marker. But he never quit in an eye-catching performance to defeat Big Business, ridden by Cornelio Velasquez.
"That was very exciting," said Cherie DeVaux, assistant to Brown. "It's been really rewarding to have (Zivo) in the barn. He's such a professional, gutting it out and getting there right when he needs to. I'm sure everyone heard me cheering for him. He waits until the very last second, but he knows what he's doing. We'll see how he comes out of the race and take it from there."
A three-time winner at Belmont from five starts, the bay was coming off a two-length win in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race at Aqueduct April 26. He improved his career line to 8-2-4 in 14 starts with earnings of $507,300.
Zivo paid $4.70, $3.20, and $3 to top a $55.50 exacta with Big Business, who returned $10.80 and $6.70. Weekend Hideaway was $7.90 to show. Prohibition, Crafty Dreamer, Awesome Vision, defending Commentator winner Readtheprospectus, Pinball, Smooth Bert, Moneyinyour Pocket, This Hard Land, Bernardo, and Comandante completed the order.
The 7-5 odds on Captain Serious in the Mike Lee Stakes turned out to be a gift as the undefeated son of Successful Appeal trounced his rivals by a geared down three lengths (VIDEO).
Had graded stakes-placed Uncle Sigh, the 4-5 morning line favorite for the opening leg of the Big Apple Triple, not been scratched, this may have been a contest. Instead, Captain Serious shook loose of the field under Ortiz and was never threatened as he completed the seven-furlong test for New York-bred 3-year-olds in 1:20.99 on a fast track.
Michael Hushion trains Captain Serious, now 3-for-3 in his career, for owner Barry K. Schwartz, whose Stonewall Farm bred the bay gelding out of the stakes-placed Mr. Greeley mare Madame Diva.
"I think he can go on a little bit, distance-wise," Hushion said afterward. "He seemed nice and relaxed on the lead. His mother was one of my favorite horses ever."
Breaking from the far outside in the field of eight, Captain Serious took the early advantage over Eye Luv Lulu, then settled into a quick tempo while pressed by Loki's Vengeance through swift quarter-mile fractions of :23.22 and :45.73. Asked for his best near the three-sixteenths pole, Captain Serious left his pace rival behind at the top of the stretch and cruised clear under encouragement from Ortiz. They hit the furlong marker in 1:08.83 in front by four lengths en route to a dominating performance.
"I was hoping that (Loki's Vengeance) was going to go (to the lead), but he didn't break well, and I knew the track was playing fast so I decided to go," Ortiz said. "I took the lead and after that I was just a passenger."
Empire Dreams used a nice inside trip under John Velazquez to get second, three-quarters of a length in front of the stalking Deceived and Rajiv Maragh. John's Island was fourth, followed by Eye Luv Lulu, Swell, Loki's Vengeance, and Freddie G.
Captain Serious graduated in his debut April 5 at Aqueduct Racetrack, taking a six-furlong maiden special weight for state-breds by 1 1/4 lengths. He returned to Aqueduct three weeks later to win another restricted race at six furlongs, defeating first-level allowance opponents by 1 1/4 lengths. The latest victory boosted his career earnings to $142,200.
The winner carried 118 pounds and paid $4.80, $3.30, and $2.70 while keying a $23.40 exacta with 9-2 shot Empire Dreams, who returned $4.80 and $3.40. Deceived paid $4.50 to show.
In addition to Uncle Sigh, outsider Double Gold was also scratched.