Robert V. LaPenta’s Sassicaia closed stoutly through the stretch drive, dramatically splitting rivals late to get up in the final jumps of Saturday’s $150,000 Toboggan (G3) at Aqueduct. A $1.6 million 2-year-old purchase making his graded stakes debut at age 5, the Rudy Rodriguez-trained horse took advantage of the Toboggan being rescheduled and redrawn due to a snowstorm the previous weekend – Sassicaia was the only member of the 10-horse field not originally entered and had to be supplemented to the 6-furlong race.
“With the week off I didn’t want to jinx myself supplementing him into this race but the horse was training so well,” Rodriguez said. “I have to give all the credit to John (Panagot), the managing partner, and Mr. LaPenta. He said ‘let’s take a chance and if we don’t like where we draw we’ll scratch him.’ But the horse gave us all the indication that he wanted to run. He loves the inner track, he’s run his best races on it and he was ready to fire and he showed it today.”
By Bernardini, Sassicaia provided Rodriguez with his third win on the card and was ridden by John Bisono. Off as the 6-1 third choice, he stopped the teletimer in 1:10.56 on the fast track.
Green Gatto, the even-money favorite following wins in the Fall Highweight (G3) and Gravesend, sped to the front at the break and showed the way on a short lead through fractions of :22.12 and :44.91 while Sassicaia rated toward the back of the field.
Bisono was forced to check and shift his mount toward outside nearing the conclusion of the far turn as Captain Serious took a bad step and stumbled badly, dislodging his jockey. Captain Serious appeared to escape serious injury, walking off the track, and his jockey, Aaron Gryder, got to his feet and boarded an ambulance for further evaluation at a local hospital.
Sassicaia regained his momentum after turning for home, but was still fifth and about five lengths back with a furlong remaining. Green Gatto was still clinging to the lead, but Mewannarose was ready to pounce after stalking the pacesetter in second from the start.
With a determined late burst, Sassicaia came flying between Mewannarose and Green Gatto to score by a neck.
“We knew there was going to be some pace in the beginning so I just let him get himself together,” said Bisono, a native of Queens, N.Y. who has spent most of his riding career in Puerto Rico before joining the Mid-Atlantic circuit.
“By the time we hit the half-mile, he started picking it up on his own, which was good,” the rider continued. “We had a little traffic there but we got clear. I knew he was looking to kick in and once he got a little clear, I knew I had a shot to get him to the wire. He didn’t hesitate too much to go (between horses).”
Mewannarose, a 46-1 outsider, edged Green Gatto by a half-length for second. Fabulous Kid came next in fourth and was followed by Heaven’s Runway, Alex the Terror, Dads Caps, Sam Sparkle and Sir Rockport.
Sassicaia needed five starts before breaking his maiden in November 2014 and dropped five more starts before capturing an entry-level allowance race at Delaware Park in late June. The bay horse concluded 2015 on an encouraging note, taking a December 26 allowance at Aqueduct, and has now won two straight.
Bred in Kentucky by Masaichiro Abe, Sassacaia is out of the Forestry mare Hishi Aspen. He counts Grade 1 winner Northern Aspen, a daughter of the blue-hen broodmare Fall Aspen, as his as his third maternal dam.
Sassacaia has now earned $274,160 from a 15-4-5-2 record.
Sassicaia (#3) photo courtesy of Joe Labozzetta/Adam Coglianese Photography