By Rab Hagin
A huge weekend for FREUD: In Belmont’s Grade 2 Kelso Handicap on Saturday, September 23, his top-weighted son SHARP AZTECA ($1,136,740) romped by four lengths; 24 hours later, his daughter FOURSTAR CROOK ($649,050) shattered Belmont’s 1 1/8-mile John Hettinger stakes record, winning by 3½ lengths in 1:46.05 on turf. Both were already graded winners in 2017, both were top-weighted or co-top-weighted, and both were odds-on. They were among six winners by Freud within the five-day span of September 20-24.
Sharp Azteca, conceived in New York, foaled in Kentucky, bred by a Texan, and owned by Floridian Ivan Rodriguez, was top-weighted and 1-to-2 in the $300,000 Kelso mile, in which he went gate to wire and was geared down late to clock 1:34.12 on Belmont’s main track. Four of his five rivals also were graded winners – three at a mile – and another had placed second in the $1-million Group 2 Godolphin Mile in Dubai in March, edging Sharp Azteca, who had prematurely been sent to the front. All that glittering competition proved to be inconsequential.
A “very confident” winning jockey Paco Lopez reported that Sharp Azteca was “very comfortable,” is “very good,” and “now he relaxes…and he’s pretty quick anytime you ask him.” Lopez also pointed out that Sharp Azteca, whom he had piloted to a track record-setting victory in the two-turn 1 1/16-mile (1:40.19) graded Monmouth Cup on July 30, has “become very easy to ride.”
Winning trainer Jorge Navarro reported that, “We’re going to see how he comes out…and then hopefully we’ll get there (for the $1-million Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar, November 3).”
Fourstar Crook, who has won nine races and had her winning streak ended at eight a month earlier when she placed second in Saratoga’s Yaddo Stakes behind a Grade 1 runner-up and near-millionaire to whom she was conceding seven pounds, has won the $125,000 Hettinger two years in a row. Owned by Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables LLC and Gary Aisquith, she is the third daughter of Freud to win the Hettinger, following graded winner HESSONITE ($879,644) in 2012 and EFFIE TRINKET ($585,320) in 2013. In the 2017 Hettinger, Fourstar Crook was co-top-weighted with another 2017 graded turf winner among a total of nine starters and cruised along in sixth place until she was three-eighths of a mile from the finish – and almost 20 lengths behind the leader. Then she closed with a vengeance to knock nearly two seconds off the Hettinger stakes record. Winning trainer Chad Brown was stunned.
“We were concerned…but she’s something else,” remarked Brown. “She’s amazed me; she has a big strong kick, and she got there in plenty of time. We’ll think about wheeling her back in the E. P. Taylor (Grade 1, $500,000-guaranteed, Woodbine, 1¼ miles on turf, October 15) and then calling it a year.”
Winning jockey Javier Castellano “didn’t expect” the field to spread out so much, but added: “I’m very fortunate to be the pilot (of Fourstar Crook), because no matter what you do, she always shows up.”
Freud, whose 2017 Northern Hemisphere progeny earnings exceed $4.3-million, remains the only North American-based stallion outside of Kentucky with 2017 North American graded winners on dirt and turf.
Winning at Meadowlands about an hour after Sharp Azteca’s Kelso victory was another son of Freud, Joseph Forrest’s PAPA FREUD ($148,800), who led at all calls and turned back three challengers while beating 11 rivals going a mile on turf. Winning Belmont’s $60,000 maiden special Saturday nightcap immediately following the Kelso was Freud’s 2-year-old ZIGMUND, who broke from the 11th post as the favorite among 12 in his turf debut at six furlongs and scored “ridden out” by two lengths in 1:09.10. Zigmund races for Zilla Racing Stables, which had purchased the colt for $85,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s 2016 Saratoga sale of New York-bred preferred yearlings, and is Freud’s sixth Northern Hemisphere 2-year-old winner of 2017 – topping all New York sires in number of 2017 juvenile winners. Freud’s recent maiden-breaking daughters are DEPUTY’S DAUGHTER, who won by 2¼ lengths going 5½ furlongs at Finger Lakes on September 20 for trainer and co-owner Rafael Jose Rohena and co-owner Emily Schoeneman, and I’M LISTENING, who won a six-furlong Delaware Park maiden special on September 21. I’m Listening, a semi-homebred 3-year-old filly campaigned by her trainer’s Mary E. Eppler Racing Stable, Inc., Frederic N. Ornitz, and co-breeder George L. Schwartz, was a May foal and the youngest in her victorious outing, which followed her third-place debut among nine at Monmouth by 25 days.
Among Freud’s earlier 2-year-old winners of 2017, Robert D. Rosenthal’s and Bradford H. Bernstein’s homebred Saratoga debut winner, BERNING ROSE, placed second among eight in her second start, Belmont’s $150,000 Joseph A. Gimma Stakes at seven furlongs on September 20, beating the third-place favorite. Foaled April 29, 2015, Berning Rose was the youngest starter in the Gimma. Another Freud juvenile, Oak Bluff Stable’s homebred and unbeaten Laurel Futurity winner, THERAPIST, is under consideration for Belmont’s graded $200,000 Pilgrim Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on turf on September 30 or Belmont’s $100,000 Awad Stakes at a mile on turf on October 28 – according to NYRA’s press office.