July 16, 2024

Marzo makes good at 14-1 in Sycamore

Marzo won the Sycamore at Keeneland in his second start off the Mike Maker claim (Coady Photography)

Once a $1 million yearling but most recently claimed for $62,500, Marzo became the latest such recruit to prosper for trainer Mike Maker in Thursday’s $150,000 Sycamore (G3) at Keeneland. The 14-1 chance earned his first career stakes victory with an assist from jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.

While 6-5 favorite Focus Group and 4-1 second choice Nakamura were unhurried behind a slow pace, Marzo was well placed in third early. The Three Diamonds Farm colorbearer had the 92-1 pacesetter Changi in view through fractions of :25.56, :51.26, 1:17.09, 1:42.24, and 2:08.56 on the good turf. Santana swung out for the drive, Changi threw in the towel, and Marzo drove 1 1/4 lengths clear in 2:32.72.

Nakamura closed for second, 1 3/4 lengths to the good of the one-paced Postulation, and the stalker Midnight Tea Time tired to fourth. Zumurudee, Focus Group, My Boy Jack, Space Mountain, the troubled Blended Citizen, Changi, and the tailed-off Golden Dragon rounded out the order under the wire.

Marzo, who paid $31 to win, furnished a tidy dividend in just his second start for new connections. The four-year-old gelding was haltered from Brad Cox at Kentucky Downs August 31, when placing third in a 6 1/2-furlong dash. Entered for an $80,000 tag in a one-mile event at Churchill Downs September 6, he just missed by a head. Marzo appreciated the substantial hike in trip here and improved his scorecard to 16-4-4-3, $263,257.

Bred by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings in Kentucky, Marzo is by Medaglia d’Oro and out of the stakes-winning Smart Strike mare Spring Party. His dam is a half-sister to Grade 1 hero Emcee, Dubai Group 2 winner Surfer, and to Group 3-placed Baffled, the dam of multiple Grade 1 star and hot freshman sire Constitution and fellow Group/graded scorers Boynton and Jacaranda.

Marzo commanded attention with a page like that as a 2016 Keeneland September yearling, and the physicals presumably matched since he brought $1 million from Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier. The dark bay showed little in two dirt starts for Todd Pletcher as a juvenile. Offered at the Fasig-Tipton July Selected Horses of Racing Age Sale at three, he went to Marc Detampel for $35,000, joined Ben Colebrook, and tried turf. Marzo improved, eventually showing stakes quality when third in the 2018 Commonwealth Turf (G3), and he was also second in the off-the-turf Woodchopper in his one outing for Brendan Walsh.

Back to the Keeneland sales pavilion this January, Marzo sold for $140,000, and new owner Steve Landers Racing transferred him to Cox. He won a pair of allowances, one off the turf at Indiana Grand and one on the Arlington turf, before dropped in for the tag at Kentucky Downs.

Quotes from Keeneland

Winning trainer Mike Maker: “We claimed him with this idea: stretch him out with this race in mind if another horse, Bigger Picture, didn’t make it. With the purses in Kentucky, it was a no-lose situation. Hats off to Mr. (Kirk) Wycoff for picking him out.

“Yes, he gave us the impression he’d be forwardly placed. I was thinking we might be on the lead, but I left it up to Ricardo (Santana Jr.).”

Winning rider Ricardo Santana Jr.: “The horse broke really sharp. I stuck him behind the pace. The horse traveled really good. I was really happy with his position. At the three-eighths pole, he was pulling, saying ‘let me go.’ I let him go.”

Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano on runner-up Nakamura: “I handicapped the race and I was concerned a little bit because there was no pace. My horse is not fast out of the gate. I didn’t want to rush – it’s a mile and a half. Unfortunately, the way it set up was a disadvantage for my horse. I still give a lot of credit to my horse because he finished really well. I couldn’t catch the winner.”

Jose Ortiz, rider of Focus Group who was sixth as the favorite: “In three-turn races you save ground the first two turns and then the last one you can go wide. No excuses. I was following Javier (Castellano on runner-up Nakamura) and he finished second but I wasn’t able to keep up with his momentum at the three-eighths pole.”