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Bert is 'Smooth' in Damon Runyon; Kelli romps in East View

A rainy day in New York -- and a sloppy, sealed Aqueduct main track -- was a welcome sight to both Smooth Bert and Kelli Got Frosty on Sunday. The mud-loving juveniles respectively captured the Damon Runyon and East View, a pair of $80,000 stakes restricted to New York-bred juveniles.

Bona Venture Stables' Smooth Bert took the Damon Runyon by three parts of a length over Notacatbutallama. The dark bay son of Smooth Jazz has competed five times now, with four of those coming over tracks listed from good to muddy-sealed to sloppy-sealed.

Jockey Mike Luzzi settled Smooth Bert into midpack of the one-mile contest while In Harm's Way drew off to lead by as much as five lengths on the backstretch. The pacesetter set splits of :23 1/5, :46 3/5 and 1:12 1/5, and appeared an easy winner rounding the turn, but both Smooth Bert and Notacatbutallama were just beginning their runs.

Notacatbutallama got the jump on Smooth Bert, overtaking In Harm's Way on the outside, and headed for home in his first try on the main track. The turf runner maintained his momentum, but Smooth Bert kept plugging away, eventually passing Notacatbutallama to his inside and stopping the clock in 1:39 3/5.

"Just by going on what (trainer) Leah (Gyarmati) and her assistant, Herbie, said, he's very talented, but he's still kind of green," Luzzi remarked. "He really doesn't know what he's doing yet. He kind of lost focus, then Rajiv (Maragh aboard Notacatbutallama) went by me and he kind of gained his focus back and went back to running. Very talented horse, and I think he'll improve."

Smooth Bert was making his second stakes try in the Damon Runyon. The juvenile broke his maiden at Belmont Park on October 4 by 4 3/4 lengths and returned just 16 days later at that same venue to be fifth in his black-type debut, the Bertram F. Bongard. His scorecard now reads 5-2-1-1 and the colt has banked $104,430 in lifetime earnings.

"I knew he could handle (an off track). The first time at Saratoga at five furlongs was way too short, but he still handled the slop and came running and finished third," Gyarmati said.

"He's a neat horse. He can probably do anything once he figures it all out. The longer, the better, and he has some speed if you want him to use it. He's very athletic. He looks like a five-year-old, but he's not clumsy. He's not one of those big horses where it takes a lot for him to get into himself. Right from the beginning, he's been athletic."

"I was a little worried turning for home when I thought we were going to be a bad third, but he kicked in and took off. (Luzzi) rode him perfectly. He let him get his feet under him and let him relax, but kept him where he stayed involved."

Smooth Bert is out of the winning Devil His Due mare Little Bertie, and his third dam is responsible for producing multiple Grade 1 queen Stop Traffic.

Two races later, Kelli Got Frosty stole the show in the East View when romping by 9 1/2 lengths under Cornelio Velazquez. The Frost Giant filly easily took command of the race and was never challenged, separating herself from the rest of the field in a final time of 1:39 for the one mile.

"There wasn't much speed in the race; I tried running in behind the speed, but it was a slow pace and she made the lead easy," Velazquez explained. "I had the best horse; she galloped and won easy. She's a nice filly and she loves the mud."

Kelli Got Frosty was the heavy 2-5 favorite following a half-length score in the Fifth Avenue division of the New York Stallion Stakes series on November 11. Just like Smooth Bert, the dark bay miss is no stranger to sloppy conditions, dominating her maiden win by 14 lengths over a muddy, sealed, off-the-turf contest on October 4 at Belmont.

Trainer Rudy Rodriguez sent Kelli Got Frosty out to make her racing debut in the Lady Finger on September 3 at Finger Lakes prior to her maiden win, and also saddled her to a third-place run in the Joseph A. Gimma, which was won by the same filly who captured the Lady Finger. The East View victress improved her mark to 5-3-0-1 and has now accumulated $175,944 in lifetime earnings.

"I'm very happy with the way she's coming along," Rodriguez said. "I'm thankful to the owners for giving me the opportunity to train her, and she's a very nice filly. I think she'll be fine going two turns. I think the longer she goes, she'll get more comfortable. We really liked her from Day 1, and she has not disappointed us yet."

Campaigned by Lee Sacks, Aubrey Flanagan, Gary Tolchin and breeder Andrew Cohen, Kelli Got Frosty is out of the unraced Jump Start mare Nick's Honor and comes from the same female line as Grade 1 diva Rightly So.

Rodriguez and Velazquez teamed up earlier on the card for an open two-year-old stakes, the $71,250 Traskwood, which went to Pick Six Racing's Vyjack. The Into Mischief gelding was the prohibitive 1-2 favorite against just three rivals and romped by 5 3/4 lengths on the wire while finishing seven furlongs in 1:24 1/5.

Vyjack is now two-for-two in his career, having taken his maiden debut by 1 3/4 lengths on November 10 over the track, and more than doubled his earnings to $82,200. The bay is out of the unraced Stravinsky mare Life Happened, making him a half-brother to last year's Grade 2 Peter Pan third and Grade 3 Lexington runner-up Prime Cut. Life Happened is herself a half-sister to multiple Grade 3 victor Disco Rico, and a little farther back one can find noted Grade 1-winning sire Smoke Glacken in this female family.

The stakes action got underway Sunday in the $78,400 Raymond Earl for three-year olds, which saw John D. Gunther's homebred Last Gunfighter prevail by 4 3/4 lengths under Maragh. The First Samurai colt scored his third straight win after breaking his maiden in October at Belmont Park and taking an optional claimer at Aqueduct on November 21.

Last Gunfighter was making his stakes bow in the Raymond Earl and ran a mile in 1:38 for trainer Chad Brown, who just took over from conditioner Helen Pitts in time for the dark bay to earn his initial victory. Prior to that, Last Gunfighter ran either second or third in four races at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park, and now boasts a 7-3-2-2 mark to go along with $160,405 in career earnings.

The Kentucky-bred colt is out of the winning Sir Cat mare Saratoga Cat and comes from the same female line as Grade 2 scorers Costly Shoes and Diabolo, the latter of whom finished third in the 1975 runnings of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

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