Jockey Jaime Torres reflects on New York foundation after G1 Preakness triumph
May 19, 2024
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Jockey Jaime Torres reflects on New York foundation after G1 Preakness triumph

by NYRA Press Office

  • Jockey Jaime Torres reflects on New York foundation after G1 Preakness triumph
  • G2 Black-Eyed Susan-winner Gun Song strong around two turns
  • G3 Vagrancy-winner Leave No Trace points to G1 Ballerina
  • Barksdale works for G1 Woody Stephens
  • West Saratoga likely to target G3 Matt Winn
  • Graded stakes-winner Bo Cruz under consideration for Belmont Stakes Racing Festival

At last year’s Saratoga Race Course meeting, then-apprentice jockey Jaime Torres was honored when he realized he was named to ride a second-time starter named Seize the Grey in a July maiden for legendary Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Torres piloted the son of Arrogate to an upset victory in the 6 1/2-furlong sprint and was elated to have won a race for a trainer of Lukas’ stature. The then 24-year-old could not have imagined that 10 months later, he would guide the same colt to a pacesetting triumph in Saturday’s Grade 1 Preakness at Pimlico Race Course.

“It means a lot. From the beginning, Wayne has been giving me a lot of opportunities, and I appreciate that,” said Torres, who is represented by agent Liz Morris. “It’s not just me – Keith Asmussen and other apprentices, too. Wayne means a lot and is very important to us. We just need someone to give us the opportunity, and he did.”

Torres guided Seize the Grey to a win in the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile on May 4 at Churchill Downs, marking both the rider and the horse’s first graded victory. Lukas was approached by several agents about replacing Torres with a more experienced rider for the Preakness, but Lukas held steady in his belief in Torres and named him once again for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

“I’m so happy,” said Torres. “I never thought this would happen. As soon as this race was coming closer, I was confident with him. Every race, he was getting better and better. I remember after the Pat Day Mile in the winner’s circle, Wayne said, ‘We are going to the Preakness.’ I said, ‘No way! I’m ready!’”

The trust Lukas instilled in Torres was rewarded handsomely Saturday when Seize the Grey led each step of the way to capture the prestigious 1 3/16-mile test for sophomores, galloping along comfortably throughout before digging in strongly in the final eighth of a mile to fend off the late bids of Kentucky Derby-winner Mystik Dan and Grade 2-winner Catching Freedom. Seize the Grey crossed the wire a cool 2 1/4 lengths in front in a final time of 1:56.82 over the muddy and sealed footing, awarding him a 100 Beyer Speed Figure.

“He has been showing he likes to be on the lead and fight to the wire. He came from the mile, so we knew he was going to break sharp,” said Torres. “I just helped him a little bit to be there, and as soon as we got the lead, he relaxed nice for me. He was playing with his ears and was moving his body very relaxed and perfect. When the horses came close to us, I still had a lot of horse because he saved his energy. He was very strong.”

The Preakness is the greatest example of how much Torres has already accomplished in his fledgling career. Just a few short years ago, Torres, a native of Puerto Rico, saw a horse race on TV for the first time. With horses always in his heart from a young age, he quickly decided in 2019 to visit Camarero Racetrack, where he fell in love with the sport. He went on to spend six months at the jockey school in Puerto Rico where he studied to become an exercise rider, and later moved to Florida to work for Saffie Joseph, Jr. at Gulfstream Park. From there, he honed his skills to become a jockey, and rode his first race in August 2022.

“Horses are my favorite animal, and when I was a kid in the car with my parents, they would point out horses as we drove by and I would say, ‘Where, where?’ They have always been in my heart,” said Torres. “I was watching racing one day and said, ‘I want to do that.’ I went to the track the next day, looked up all kinds of information, and that was it.”

Torres spent the first five months of his career riding at Gulfstream and decided last winter that New York’s riding colony offered a chance to compete and learn amongst a colony of riders that includes some of racing’s most celebrated Hall of Famers and Eclipse Award winners. He moved his tack to Aqueduct last January and was leading apprentice rider on the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit with a 411-37-50-50 record.

“In New York, I learned everything. New York is where I’ve spent the most time in my career,” said Torres, who expects to ride full-time again this summer at Saratoga. “I had so many people helping me there. I went to Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga because there are so many great jockeys.”

Torres said competing in the New York circuit as an apprentice gave him the confidence and ability to ride against the same top riders in races like the Preakness.

“I learned so much from them – they’re all such humble, great people, and they want to help you to be better and better every day,” said Torres. “I give them all the credit for helping me.”

Torres added he never imagined he would be the level of rider he watched win Triple Crown races on his TV not so long ago.

“I was always going to work towards this, but I never thought it would happen this quickly,” Torres said, with a laugh.

Since his first mount in August 2022, Torres, who became a journeyman in October, has amassed 147 wins from more than 1,200 starts. While each win is special to Torres, Seize the Grey holds a special place in his heart and in his home, where he has a large photo of the colt framed on his wall that he kisses for good luck. Now, the photo will be of the two attaining racing immortality together in the Preakness.

“I can’t wait to kiss the picture again, but right now, I’m at the barn and I have him to kiss,” said Torres. “That’s even better.”


G2 Black-Eyed Susan-winner Gun Song strong around two turns

R. Lee Lewis’ Gun Song lived up to her post-time favoritism with an impressive 3 1/4-length score in Friday’s Grade 2, $300,000 Black-Eyed Susan, a nine-furlong test for sophomore fillies, at Pimlico Race Course.

Trained by Mark Hennig and ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, the Gun Runner chestnut stalked the early foot of Jeanne Marie who set an opening quarter-mile in 24.20 seconds over the fast main track. Gun Song continued to travel two-wide from second position within a half-length of the pacesetter before launching her bid in the second turn and surging to the front in the stretch to finish a 3 1/4-length winner over Corposo in a final time of 1:51.39.

Hennig confirmed Gun Song has returned to Belmont Park in good order and said that he will consider wheeling her back in three weeks for the nine-furlong Grade 1, $500,000 DK Horse Acorn on June 7, at Saratoga Race Course.

“She came out of it really well,” said Hennig. “We will give her a couple more days of rest. She got back Friday night and didn’t get back until about two in the morning. She seems to have great energy and everything. The Acorn is a possibility.

“We would certainly nominate and take a look. She’d be back in three weeks, but her races have been spaced pretty good this year, so she may be able to handle it,” Hennig added.

The Black-Eyed Susan score garnered a career-best 88 Beyer Speed Figure, much improved off her last-out 79 when fourth in her debut around two turns in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks on March 30 at its namesake track.

Hennig said that the better performance around two turns left no doubt about her willingness to travel beyond one-mile.

“I really liked the way she drew off down the stretch,” Hennig said. “She looked really comfortable the whole way.”

Out of the Mr. Greeley mare Nicole H, who won the 2011 Grade 2 Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct Racetrack, Gun Song graduated on debut in October at Belmont at the Big A. She has hit the board in all but the aforementioned Gulfstream Park Oaks, good for a lifetime record of 6-3-1-1 with $311,340 in earnings.

Hennig is also looking forward to more potential stakes action with Mashnee Stables’ graded stakes-placed Harry Hood. The 4-year-old First Samurai gelding was nailed at the wire to lose by a nose to the multiple group-placed Kertez in the 1 1/2-mile Grade 2 Pan American on March 30 at Gulfstream Park.

Hennig said he will consider running Harry Hood in the two-mile, Grade 2, $250,000 Belmont Gold Cup on Thursday June 6 Opening Day of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga Race Course. The race now offers the winner an automatic berth into the Group 1, AUD$8.4 million Lexus Melbourne Cup on November 5, 2024, at Flemington Racecourse in Victoria, Australia.

“I’m going to nominate Harry Hood to the two-mile race and see how that race stacks up,” said Hennig.

Harry Hood, a $50,000 claim out of a third in July at Saratoga Race Course when in the care of conditioner Chad Brown, was a distant eighth last-out in the 11-furlong Grade 2 Man o’ War over good turf on May 11 at Belmont at the Big A.

“He didn’t run well here the other day on soft turf. I think he needs it firm. Needs firm and the distance, I’m not sure about two miles, but nobody knows if they want to go two miles,” Hennig said, with a laugh.

Out of the Galileo mare Destiny Unbound, Harry Hood boasts a lifetime record of 12-2-2-3 with $195,556 in earnings.


G3 Vagrancy-winner Leave No Trace points to G1 Ballerina

WellSpring Stables' Grade 1-winner Leave No Trace stalked-and-pounced to a three-quarter length score in Saturday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Vagrancy, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for older fillies and mares, at Belmont at the Big A.

Trained by Phil Serpe and piloted by Jose Lezcano, the 4-year-old Outwork dark bay sat one length off Beguine who set a swift opening quarter-mile of 22.24 seconds over the fast main track. The early pacesetter continued to lead through a half-mile in 44.72 as Leave No Trace stalked from second position before finishing strongly in the stretch to score in 1:15.91, three-quarter lengths over the oncoming rush of the favored Big Pond.

Serpe confirmed that she came away from the effort in good order, and the long-term goal would be the seven-furlong Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina on August 24 at Saratoga Race Course, which offers a "Win and You're In" berth to the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in November at Del Mar.

“She’s good, she seems fine this morning,” Serpe said. “We’d like to concentrate on a race like the Ballerina at Saratoga, so we will figure out how to get her there. We will give it a couple days and see how she is, then figure that out.”

The Vagrancy score earned a career-best 89 Beyer Speed Figure, improving upon a last-out 88 in a local two-other-than allowance win at the same distance.

Leave No Trace posted a memorable juvenile campaign with three strong efforts at the Grade 1-level. She won Saratoga Race Course’s Spinaway before a third in Belmont Park’s Frizette and a second to Wonder Wheel in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Last year, she was 0-for-4 as a sophomore.

“It can be extremely difficult for good 2-year-olds to go on as 3-year-olds. An example is the majority of the horses she ran against at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies are retired now, including Wonder Wheel,” Serpe said regarding the return to good form.

Her past campaign raised questions after she was soundly beaten in four starts at a variety of distances and on all three surfaces. This year, she has relished a return to sprinting on the dirt and is now 4-for-4 lifetime in dirt sprints, with three coming under Lezcano.

“It’s just tough, we experimented with her going longer and had some soundness issues. Hopefully those things are sorted out and right now it comes down to we will keep her sprint distances on the dirt,” said Serpe. “Now that she is a 4-year-old and more mature, we are seeing an even better horse. Our long-term objective would be to run in the Ballerina.”

Out of the winning Good Journey mare Tanquerray, Leave No Trace, a $40,000 purchase at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern Fall Yearling Sale, is now 11-4-1-1 with $748,250 in earnings.


Barksdale works for G1 Woody Stephens

Cypress Creek Equine’s Barksdale is set to make his stakes debut in the Grade 1, $500,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun, a seven-furlong sprint for sophomores on Belmont Stakes Day June 8 at Saratoga Race Course.

Trained by Will Walden, the Street Sense dark bay graduated on debut in October traveling two turns at Horseshoe Indianapolis but followed with a pair of distant off-the-board efforts at Churchill Downs to complete his juvenile campaign.

“He’s a big, long two-turn bred type horse and I think I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole there,” Walden said. “He broke his maiden going two turns at Indiana and then we stretched him out in a tough allowance race – Bill Mott won it with a Constitution colt [Parchment Party] that was supposed to get on the Derby trail but had a setback; Catching Freedom was in there, and a few others that have turned out to be stakes quality. That being said – it didn’t turn out well. We wheeled him back quick in a one-turn mile and that also didn’t go well.”

Barksdale was subsequently gelded and has focused on sprint events this season, finished a pressing fifth in March at Turfway Park when entered for a $50,000 tag in an optional-claiming race won by the speedy Joe Shiesty, who blitzed to a 29-1 upset two starts later on turf in the William Walker on May 1 at Churchill Downs.

Barksdale has won both starts since in gate-to-wire fashion, taking a seven-furlong starter allowance on April 7 at Keeneland under Tyler Gaffalione and a 6 1/2-furlong optional-claimer at Aqueduct by four lengths with Dylan Davis at the helm on April 26 that registered a career-best 91 Beyer Speed Figure.

Walden said the Turfway effort set Barksdale up perfectly for his recent success.

“Joe Shiesty is extremely fast. That was an allowance optional race and because of his two efforts prior at Churchill, I put him in for the $50,000 to make him starter eligible,” Walden said. “That day at Turfway he didn’t break sharply and Joe Shiesty went 43 and 4 for the half-mile and Barksdale ran into that pace. I thought he ran pretty valiantly to hold on for fifth. He was really tired after that race and got a lot out of it and it set him up for Keeneland and the drop in class.”

Walden said Barksdale has responded well to being gelded and a patient approach from the gate.

“He’s a big, heavy horse and carried a ton of extra weight. I think that [being gelded] helped him physically and mentally,” Walden said. “We learned don’t ask him out of the gate, just let him do his thing. If you press the button too early, you won’t have anything to finish up with whereas if you break, he’ll place himself forwardly in the race on his own. He just has a lot of natural speed.”

Barksdale had his first work back on Thursday at Keeneland, covering a half-mile in 49.40 in company with graded stakes-winner Manny Wah.

“We ran him back a little quicker than we typically would, and we usually give them 14 days after a race to work them, but I gave him 20 days,” Walden said. “The work was awesome. He worked in company with Manny Wah, who is a graded stakes winner here at Keeneland and I thought they both worked really well. He’ll have a five-eighths next week and then back down to a half in preparation for the Woody Stephens.

“He ran a big number last time and he ran a good number the time before that,” added Walden. “We’re excited about going back to seven-eighths and taking a shot against the big boys.”

Tyler Gaffalione will have the call on Barksdale in the Woody Stephens.

Walden could also be represented at the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival with Cypress Creek Equine’s Clear the Air in the Grade 1, $500,000 Jaipur presented by Resolute Racing on Belmont Stakes Day June 8 at Saratoga Race Course. The 5 1/2-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in November at Del Mar.

Clear the Air is entered in an allowance sprint Saturday at Churchill Downs but the 4-year-old Ransom the Moon colt has demonstrated an affinity for running well on short rest, winning a Turfway Park claimer [98 Beyer] on 15 day’s rest in December and a Keeneland turf allowance [92 Beyer] last out on April 21 on three week’s rest.

“As much as I don’t love wheeling back on quick rest this horse seems to thrive on it. He’s run a lot of big numbers off short rest,” Walden said. “It feels like he uses the first one as a tee up and then really brings it. I don’t know if that’s coincidence or if that works for him, but we’ll see how he runs here this weekend.”

Walden is also excited about a pair of talented turf fillies purchased at the Tattersalls December Mare Sale for Woodford Thoroughbreds in recent Grade 3 Soaring Softly winner Pipsy and Group 2-placed Olivia Maralda, who rallied to finish second in an allowance on April 20 in her stateside debut.

Pipsy, a Kodiac bay, was purchased for $929,489 after having won 2-of-3 starts for her former conditioner Ger Lyons in her native Ireland. She reared up at the break of the six-furlong Soaring Softly here in her U.S. debut and raced in last-of-10 before closing with an impressive turn of foot to best Kairyu by a half-length. The effort garnered an 82 Beyer.

Walden said Pipsy will look to stretch out next in the Listed $250,000 Tepin, a one-mile turf test for sophomore fillies on June 29 at Churchill Downs with an eye towards the one-mile Grade 3, $175,000 Lake George on July 20 at Saratoga Race Course.

"We’re just in a holding pattern right now but all signs point to her having come out of the race perfect and she’s back galloping at Keeneland," Walden said. "The plan is probably to go to the Tepin at a mile on June 28 at CD. If she handles the stretch out, the Lake George is the plan after that. WE have to take it one race at a time and if she doesn’t stretch out then we’ll have to cut her back, but I feel confident she will [stretch out]."

Olivia Maralda, a $961,949 purchase and also by Kodiac, was a close second in the 2022 Group 2 Debutante at The Curragh for trainer M.D. O’Callaghan. She was campaigned last year by Roger Varian, winning the seven-furlong Surrey at Epsom.

In her stateside debut with Flavien Prat aboard, Olivia Maralda rallied from eight-of-11 to finish second just three-quarter lengths back of Misread and a head in front of next-out winner Sacred Wish.

“They went 46 and change for the half-mile and they were pretty spread out. The winner was five lengths off it and got a perfect trip,” Walden said. “We were proud of her effort that day. She had a lot of traffic in the lane and didn’t really get free until about 10 jumps before the wire and she made a big move to get up for second. That was first off a long layoff so I’m really excited about how she’s doing."

Olivia Maralda is likely to make her next start in the Grade 1, $300,000 Gamely, a nine-furlong turf test for 3-year-olds and up on May 27 at Santa Anita Park.

“She’s been everywhere but she travels well – she’s a well-mannered filly,” Walden said. “It would really improve her residual value going forward to get that Grade 1 win or placing. She’s doing really good. She came out of the Keeneland race in good order and is training better now than she was going into it.”

Walden said Olivia Maralda’s calm demeanor is advantageous as she looks to stretch out in distance.

“Olivia Maralda is not a filly that’s going to lock onto the bit and be really aggressive,” Walden said. “She’s really bred to go short and has tactical speed to do so, but her mentality and the way she places herself in a race and relaxes really allows her to stretch out a little bit further than pedigree would suggest.”


West Saratoga likely to target G3 Matt Winn

Harry Veruchi’s Grade 3-winner West Saratoga, a last-out 12th in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, breezed a half-mile in 50.20 Saturday over sloppy going at The Thoroughbred Center in his first breeze back since the ‘Run for the Roses.’

Trainer Larry Demeritte said the Exaggerator colt, winner of the Grade 3 Iroquois in September at Churchill Downs, is likely to make his next start in the Grade 3, $400,000 Matt Winn on June 9 at the Louisville oval rather than continue to the third leg of the Triple Crown in the Grade 1, $2 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.

“We’re thinking of running in the Matt Winn unless something changes,” Demeritte said. “He had an off track, but he breezed good. He’s come back good. We were either going to go to the Belmont or Matt Winn, but I think we’d like to stay closer to home right now. I’d really like to run him in the Travers down the road."

West Saratoga, who hit the board in Derby preps when third in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay and second Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway, has banked $460,140 through an 11-2-5-1 record. He was purchased for $11,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.


Graded stakes-winner Bo Cruz under consideration for Belmont Stakes Racing Festival

Bo Cruz, who cut back in distance last-out to win the seven-furlong Grade 3 Commonwealth at Keeneland, will be nominated to both the Grade 1, $1 million Hill 'n' Dale Metropolitan Handicap and the 6 1/2-furlong Grade 2, $350,000 True North presented by F. W. Webb on Belmont Stakes Day June 8 at Saratoga Race Course.

Trained by Al Stall, Jr. for owners Roger Cettina, Brian Pagano, Patrick Grippo, Peter Martine and Bruno De Julio, Bo Cruz was scratched from the Grade 1 Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day but returned to the work tab Saturday at the Louisville oval to cover a half-mile in 48.60 seconds.

"It's a possibility," said Stall, regarding the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival. "We shortened him up and like the way he ran around one turn, so we'll stick with that for a little while.

"He worked by himself on a wet-fast racetrack," added Stall. "Hopefully, we can get him back in a routine and a rhythm."

The Creative Cause colt, a $45,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, boasts a record of 7-3-1-2 for purse earnings of $340,550. He was a gate-to-wire winner of a 1 1/16-mile optional-claimer last year on Kentucky Derby Day and followed with a pacesetting third in the nine-furlong Matt Winn.

Bo Cruz was a game third in his seasonal debut traveling one mile and 70 yards in February at Fair Grounds and proved tough last out when 2 1/2-lenghths the best in the Commonwealth.

"He's a good gate horse. He breaks so sharp, he sometimes outbreaks himself," Stall said. "He broke on his feet and that was it. There was a scratch at the gate that day [Here Mi Song] and he might have shown a little speed, so we might have got a little lucky."

Stall noted Bo Cruz is also being considered for races at Churchill Downs, including the Listed $275,000 Aristides going six furlongs on June 1 and the Listed $300,000 Hanshin at one mile on June 30.

"We're going to play it by ear for now and see who is going where," Stall said.

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