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Fort Erie 2016: Cups Runneth Over

English Holiday
Photo: Michael Burns Photography

A trio of $30,000 cup races involving the best thoroughbreds on the grounds at Fort Erie Race Track highlight the Tuesday program, with first race post time beginning at 4:15 pm.

Horses competing in the Andy Passero and Bob Summers Memorial Cup races, the former for fillies/mares, the latter for colts/geldings, both held at 6 1/2 furlongs, and the Molson Cup, for fillies/mares going 1 1/16-miles on the turf, require horses to have raced twice at Fort Erie this year to be eligible to compete for the top prize.

However, with racing limited to just two days a week, trainers have been in a tight spot to get their horses into the starting gate twice. Some horses competing in the Cup races on Tuesday have been raced at unfamiliar distances, raced against the opposite sex, or returning on short rest, just to get the required second start to become eligible.

Trainer Nick Gonzalez Jr., who struck twice on Cup day last year with, Two Brews To Go in the Andy Passero and English Holiday in the Molson Cup, brings both runners back for an opportunity to repeat.

Two Brews To Go, Fort Erie's Top Female Sprinter and Horse of the Year in 2015, when she won four races at the Fort, has won only once from five starts this year, with three starts against the colts, including her lone victory. "Races for the girls weren't filling, so I had to put her in against the males so I could get races into her." said Gonzalez. The young trainer, following in the footsteps of his trainer parents, Nick Sr.and Martha, added "There are a couple of tough opponents in here. I feel it's a far tougher group than last years field. She came out of her last race well, and we are hoping to repeat."

English Holiday, Fort Erie's Turf Female of the Year in 2015, also has one victory this season. Gonzalez had this to say about his turf champion. "It's been a tough luck year as far as getting her into the right races, but she's in great shape, and I feel her most recent prep, a solid fourth-place effort against the boys, has put her in a nice position to defend her title."

Jockey Bryce Alderson will have the mount on both runners. Alderson was teamed with Two Brews To Go last year in the Andy Passero, and together they rallied to win by three-quarters of a length at odds of 49-1.

The 27-year old Gonzalez, who was practically raised in his parent's barn on the Fort Erie backstretch, did not have a runner in the 2015 edition of the Bob Summers Memorial, but this year, the young conditioner will saddle recent acquisition, Lord of Greatness, for the race. Before being claimed last month, the 10-year old horse had spent his entire career racing at Woodbine. Lord of Greatness has had two starts for Gonzalez, both over the Fort Erie turf course. "They (owners) claimed him with intentions of running him in this race and now here we are." Gonzalez said. "He's an old horse, but when he shows up, he's as tough as anybody. The old boy knows how to win races (18 lifetime wins). He was winning races before I was training."

Trainer John Simms has a top contender for the Passero in Sandys Huricane. The 5-year old mare, who looks to better her 4th-place finish in this race last year, began this season in Tampa Bay and went winless in her first four races, including a start at Woodbine. However, since returning to Fort Erie, she has reeled off three wins from four starts, including two against males. "She didn't like the Tampa Bay track at all, and as a trainer, I'm not keen on the polytrack surface, but I gave her the start at Woodbine as a tightener to get her ready for Fort Erie" said Simms, a native of Newfoundland who served on the Toronto police force for over 26 years. The trainer added, "I had to run her against the boys because races for her weren't filling. She loves this track, Fort Erie is her bread and butter. She's coming along nicely and doing well, so why not shoot for the Cup."

Fort Erie's current leading owner, Bermuda Blue Farm, will send the recently claimed Runaway Brenda, haltered three starts back by last year's top Fort Erie trainer and co-leader atop this years standings, Tony Adamo, out for another shot in the Molson Cup. In 2015, racing for different connections, the mare looked like a sure winner in deep stretch until she was passed by eventual winner English Holiday. After two disappointing efforts to kick-off 2016, she now appears to be rounding back into top form under Adamo's care. "There's a couple of horse's in the Molson Cup who are going to be tough to beat, but I'm optimistic about her chances" said Adamo.

Adamo, who was born in Kenmore, NY, a suburb of the city of Buffalo, which sits across the Niagara River from Fort Erie, saddled Whitcomb Hill to victory in the 2015 Bob Summers Memorial. This year for the race, he sends out Creative Thunder for his top client, the aformentioned Bermuda Blue Farm. "I ran him Sunday (Aug 14th) to get him eligible and he got beat by a horse who shipped down from Woodbine that is far better than anything we've seen at Fort Erie." said Adamo. Creative Thunder's second-place finish marked the fourth consecutive time the horse has been runner-up. Adamo added, "If he bounces out of that race okay, he'll be in there".

An additional Bermuda Blue Farm - Tony Adamo Cup contender is, Call Her Karma, a supplemental entry to the Passero. The 5-year old mare  has won three races in 2016 and one-third of her twenty-one lifetime starts. She was claimed out of her last start where she was tons the best in winning by 7 1/2-lengths. A repeat of that effort could have her getting her picture taken on Tuesday. "She'll be tough." the trainer said. "It's going to come down to the pace. Call Her Karma is kind of like that middle horse who could mess it up for either the front-runner or the deep closer."

The Danny Acorn-trained Devoted Wildcat, who returned to the races last month following a 9-month layoff is certainly one to watch out for on Cup day. The seven-year old bay gelding has made 48 career starts with 11 wins, including a victory last out, his second start this year. "I claimed him after his second start last year at Woodbine, brought him to Fort Erie and he had six starts for me with 3 wins and 3 seconds, including runner-up in the Bob Summers where he blew the break. The reason for his late beginning this year was because races for him weren't filling. It wasn't until mid-July that I was finally able to get him to the races" said Acorn. The veteran trainer of over 20 years also mentioned, "As a 3-year old, Devoted Wildcat won the OBS Sprint Cup Stakes. He's a nice horse, has plenty of back class having raced and won at several major tracks in the United States."

Another horse that bares close scrutiny on Tuesday is, Tom Joy, from the Richie Davis barn. A winner of a pair of races from five starts in 2015, Tom Joy is winless in three starts this year. However, to his credit, the 7-year old gelding was a close runner-up in his previous two outings. "I'm fortunate to have him back this year, and the horse is lucky to be alive and to be racing" Davis said. "He colicked real bad last winter requiring major surgery to be performed. There were no guarantees that he would return, but to his credit, he made it back. And for him to be competing at the level I'm putting him at is pretty remarkable." Davis is no stranger to winning Cup races at Fort Erie. The native of Toronto has saddled horses in five previous Cup races, winning four. Davis, who has been training at Fort Erie since 2006 said, "I'm happy with the way Tom Joy is going into the Cup race. This will be his fourth start of the year. I think this will be his best start. He has plenty of gusto still and I feel he is good enough to keep with this group."

A horse that could surprise on Cup day is the Larry Cappuccitti-trained Vincenzo The Bull. The 5-year old gray has done most of his racing at Woodbine, but without much success. However, he's without doubt a different racehorse when he shows up at Fort Erie, where he has recorded two wins and a second-place finish from five starts. He led all the way in his recent back-to-back victories on the turf, so the caveat is, he must find a way to successfully transfer his winning grass form to the main track when he competes in the Bob Summers Memorial. Trainer Cappuccitti is optimistic. "The poly was not his thing. His breeding, (Holy Bull) throws dirt and turf runners. He ran second at Fort Erie last year on the dirt. Both surfaces seem to be the same to him, so dirt/turf it is. I really don't mind him on the dirt."

These are just a handful of the top Fort Erie equines you'll see racing on Tuesday. If you can make it to the track, come on out and support live racing. If not, fire up your laptop, your tablet or I-pad. Maybe even find a sports book. But make time to watch these outstanding contests, because the Cup races are very exciting and always highly competitive.

Note: Beginning in September, post time for Sundays and Tuesdays will be 1:50 pm, except for the final two race cards (October 16th and 18th) which will commence at 1:30 pm.



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                                                                              MEET THE TRACKMAN




Hi, my name is Nick Costa a.k.a. Trackman. As for my "nickname" of Trackman, it came about the following way: When people, either friends or family would inquire as to where I was going, my reply was always the same, "I'm going to the track man." I was born and raised in Niagara Falls, New York, about a 30 minute drive from the racetrack, in Fort Erie, Canada.  I was five years old the first time I attended the races. My father, who was a regular at the track, took me to Fort Erie. My first recollections were of just running up and down the stairs to and from our grandstand seats and the walking ring. Of course, after viewing the horses, I would run back up the stairs, and tell my father who to bet. He would look at me quizzically, and then proceed to place a $2 dollar wager on my selection for me. Through the years, with continuous trips to Fort Erie, and also to Woodbine and the now defunct Greenwood, my father would take the time to explain all the information in the Daily Racing Form. After I learned the basics of handicapping, I never met a racing Form I didn't like. If I had spent as much time on my studies as I did reading the Form, I probably could be sitting on the Supreme Court. Those early horse playing days have  lasted into my adulthood, as I still play the races today on a regular basis. But now I have added a couple of new dimensions. First, I officially became a licensed thoroughbred race horse owner back in 2000, fulfilling a dream come true. Fort Erie, where I mostly play the races and race my horses, is still my favorite track. It's my home track, where I fell in love with everything about the sport. In addition to the tracks mentioned that I visited with my father, I have graced the grounds of Churchill
Downs (Derby 134 and several Breeders' Cups), Saratoga, Mountaineer, Gulfstream Park, Sam Houston Race Track, Presque Isle, Monmouth Park and Belmont Park. Second, I started to write a few years ago when I started my own blog, called Triple Crown Chase.

The blog was established to provide some personal insight about the horses and trainers who compete against one another in the 3 yr old prep races leading up to the Kentucky Derby. I preview and review the preps races and extend coverage to include the Preakness and Belmont. Last year, my blog previewed the Canadian Triple Crown races for the first time. The second leg, The Prince Of Wales Stakes, is run at my home track of Fort Erie. I am honored and thrilled to be on board with Horse Racing Nation and I want to thank everyone for their support.

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