by Mary Eddy
Barry Schwartz’s homebred El Grande O lived up to his 3-5 favoritism with a frontrunning score in Sunday’s $125,000 Bertram F. Bongard, a seven-furlong main track sprint for New York-bred juveniles, at Belmont at the Big A.
Trained by Linda Rice, El Grande O notched his first stakes victory on the heels of two runner-up efforts in stakes company this summer at Saratoga Race Course, including a head defeat to The Wine Steward last out in the Funny Cide presented by Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital on August 27.
Ridden to victory by Jose Ortiz, the dark bay son of Take Charge Indy brushed with a foe when breaking from post 3 while Detective Tom broke sharpest of all, but took back as El Grande O skipped to the front and marked splits of 22.76 seconds and 46.03 over the sloppy and sealed main track.
Detective Tom stalked in second into the turn with Aggelos the Great in third before El Grande O began to draw clear of the former with Bonne Chance putting in his bid from fourth on the outside of Aggelos the Great. El Grande O held a six-length advantage at the top of the stretch and drew clear with ease over Aggelos the Great, who passed a tiring Detective Tom on the inside to give chase down the lane after three-quarters in 1:10.79.
El Grande O was never threatened and was wrapped up within the final sixteenth by Ortiz, crossing the wire 8 1/4 lengths in front and stopping the clock in a final time of 1:23.89. Aggelos the Great was a clear second two lengths ahead of Bonne Chance with Skyler’s Starship rounding out the superfecta. Detective Tom and Ranger Blue completed the order of finish. Trust Fund was scratched.
Rice said she left the race tactics in the capable hands of Ortiz.
“I told Jose to just use his best judgement, and obviously he put him up on the front end and everything worked out well,” said Rice.
Ortiz said El Grande O was simply superior in a race where the other likely speed, Detective Tom, was making his dirt debut.
“He broke sharp. Obviously, he has speed. I went out there and he was the fastest in the race,” said Ortiz. “He proved that he was much the best today. I can’t take any credit – he was the best horse.
“I rode the six-horse [Detective Tom] first time out and I knew moving to dirt, especially on the slop, he wasn’t going to have as much speed,” Ortiz added. “Plus, my horse can rate, so I had that option. But I broke so clean and so smoothly, I just went up there and took control of the race.”
Rice said El Grande O will now likely be pointed to the $200,000 Sleepy Hollow, a one-turn mile for state-bred juveniles, on October 29 here.
“I think he can stretch out,” said Rice. “He certainly ran nicely today at seven [furlongs].”
El Grande O, a half-brother to graded stakes-placed Meal Ticket, is out of the stakes-placed Unbridled’s Song mare Rainbow’s Song. He banked $68,750 in victory, boosting his total purse earnings to $204,000 through a perfect in-the-money record of 6-2-3-1, returning $3.40 for a $2 win ticket.
Live racing resumes Thursday at Belmont at the Big A with a 10-race card. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
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