Saez sweeps Woodhaven, Park Avenue stakes

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Luis Saez was the seventh leading rider on the New York Racing Association circuit in 2015 with 115 wins, eight of those coming in stakes.

Saturday, on his third day back in New York after spending the first 3 1/2 months of 2016 in Florida, Saez rode three winners and swept both stakes races at Aqueduct.

In the $100,000 Woodhaven Stakes, Saez guided 6-5 favorite Highland Sky from last to first to run down the pacesetting Mighty Mo to win by a neck. Thirty-six minutes later, in the $100,000 Park Avenue division of the New York Stallion Stakes, Saez maneuvered Libreta out of a pace battle, and then came on to run down pacesetting She’s All Ready to win by one length.

Earlier on the card, Saez won a New York-bred allowance with Mark My Style.

“I’m excited to be here winning,” Saez said.

Saez, 24, had ridden both Highland Sky and Libreta to second-place finishes in their most recent starts at Gulfstream Park.

For Highland Sky, a slow break from the gate compromised him when he finished second in the Cutler Bay Stakes on March 26. Saturday, Highland Sky was last early on, but Saez made an aggressive, wide early move to advance into contention down the backstretch as Mighty Mo got loose on the lead through six furlongs in 1:14.26.

Mighty Mo, under Junior Alvarado, turned aside a challenge from pace-prompting Too Discreet, but Highland Sky kept coming, edging past Mighty Mo in deep stretch. Mighty Mo finished second by 1 3/4 lengths over Unbridled Daddy.

“I got to move a little early because I saw the front horse and he looked very comfortable and I was way back so I had to do something to be closer,” Saez said. “He made a big move from behind.”

Highland Sky, a son of Sky Mesa owned by Joyce Young and Gerald McManis and trained by Barclay Tagg, covered the 1 1/16 miles over firm turf in 1:43.69 and returned $4.40 as the favorite.

“He’s so much more mature mentally now than he was before,” said Robin Smullen, assistant to Tagg. “I really didn’t think he would like this course that much because the turns are so tight here. He had to move a little early. I’m really looking forward to Belmont.”

Smullen said Highland Sky would be pointed to the Grade 3, $200,000 Pennine Ridge at 1 1/8 miles on June 4 leading to the $1.25 million Belmont Derby at 1 1/4 miles on July 9.

Libreta, who had faced open company in her first four starts, was running in a race restricted to progeny of New York-based stallions for the first time. She broke alertly and was initially part of a four-horse scrum that included She’s All Ready, Behrnik’s Bank, and Wonderment.

Saez eased Libreta just off that pace and he stalked the speed from an up close fourth through a half-mile in 46.77 seconds.

Approaching the quarter pole, Saez got Libreta off the rail and though She’s All Ready was not showing signs of stopping, Libreta collared her in deep stretch and was able to win by a length. She’s All Ready, who was making her first start since Oct. 24, finished second by 2 3/4 lengths over Frosty Margarita.

“We tried to break and be in the race and see where we were,” Saez said. “If she was in front comfortably we’d take it, but if not we could come from behind. I had a lot of horse. We came to the three-sixteenths I wasn’t sure if we could beat the other horse but I rode her hard and we got there.”

Libreta, owned by Godolphin Stable and trained by Tom Albertrani, covered 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:18.58 and returned $28.40.

Following Frosty Margarita in the order of finish were Gregorian Gold, Madame Maybry, Behrnik’s Bank, and Wonderment.