Purely Hot (Photo: Coady Photography)
By Claire Novak
LEXINGTON, KY (Oct. 1, 2013) - She shipped into Keeneland late Friday, rolled down the lane with a solid work Sunday morning, and by Sunday afternoon had firmly established herself as ruler of Barn 43 -- at least in her own mind.
Never mind her old life as a $4,000 claimer. Purely Hot, gearing up for another run at champion female sprinter Groupie Doll in the Oct. 5 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. II), has blossomed for partners Mike Tuozzo and Dave Baal under the care of her young trainer, 24-year-old Nick Caruso. After galloping along through five straight wins from May to August at Presque Isle Downs, she ran the race of her life in the Sept. 9 Presque Isle Masters -- punching her ticket to Lexington when she gave the champ all she could handle before yielding late in the 6 1/2-furlong test.
Regular rider Harry Vega was aboard for that race and for the 5-year-old racemare's final pre-TCA move, her only breeze over the Lexington oval. Purely Hot posted fractions of :12 1/5, :24 2/5, :36 2/5, and galloped out five furlongs in 1:01. Vega has only ridden at Keeneland once before; he won the 2002 Phoenix Stakes (gr. III) aboard Xtra Heat.
Purely Hot, a 5-year-old Maryland-bred daughter of Pure Prize out of the Kissin Kris mare Wood Not, will be Caruso's first starter at Keeneland, and his first in a graded stakes. He's not alone; the racemare's owners have also never started a runner at the Lexington oval, or in a graded stakes event.
Tuozzo, 41, is the son of New York owner Anthony Tuozzo, who had horses with Mike Hushion in the Empire State. He grew up around the New York Racing Association circuit, and began buying horses of his own about 10 years ago after moving to Pennsylvania around 1999.
"I bought one privately, just a cheap horse, and then I dabbled in breeding when we retired her and made a couple babies," Tuozzo said. "After that, I started claiming a little bit more, switched trainers a couple of times, and ended up with Nick -- and I'm pretty happy with Nick."
Caruso is a native of Hummelstown, Pa. who took out his license late last fall. He picked up his horse-savvy ways while rodeoing with his grandpa as a youngster and attending races with his father, then walked hots at Penn National for John Zimmerman and was an assistant to Brannon Kulp before going out on his own. In January at Penn National, he and Tuozzo picked Purely Hot up for a $4,000 tag. The connections lost her to her previous owners for $8,000 in February, but then claimed her back for $10,000 in March. That was the last time she ran for a tag. Her combined winning margin in the five races prior to the Masters was 20 3/4 lengths; she has six wins overall and the Masters second in seven outings on the Tapeta at Presque Isle Downs.
"We gave her an opportunity to run on the surface and it showed her ability to perform," Tuozzo said. "We just took a shot and it turned out better than anybody even expected."
All we did was take her to Presqe Isle," Caruso said. "We didn't do anything other than take her there. Her whole mind changed. She thinks she's the best. We've watched her, she's turned the corner from being a nice horse to being a great horse because of her mind. She's very arrogant and cocky. She's proud of herself, and that makes a horse tough to beat."
Read more about Purely Hot at ESPN.com. The bay filly drew post 2 of 6 in the TCA, view entries here.
Trainer Michael Wilson and 'West Virginia Moonshine' the pony (Photo: Claire Novak)
Nick Caruso isn't the only youngster starting a horse in the TCA. Darley Flying Start ('11) grad Michael Wilson, 28, has Tanglewood Tale for the race, a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I).
Bred in Kentucky by Ron McCauley out of the Unbridled's Song mare Dreambride, this 4-year-old Tale of the Cat filly has won three in a row for Avanti Stable, including a Sept. 18 allowance event at Belmont Park. She tries Polytrack for the first time in her stakes debut.
"She's an interesting horse in that she's been winning in New York, but she doesn't necessarily like the New York tracks," Wilson said. "She tends to run over a surface, she doesn't have a long stride that gets into a deeper track, she's short-strided and I always thought if we could get her onto a little bit of a tighter, faster track, she'd improve."
Taking care of Tanglewood Tale at Keeneland (Photo: Claire Novak)
Claimed at Saratoga for $25,000 last September from Crossed Sabres Farm and trainer Dale Romans (she was a $60,000 weanling purchase by Crossed Sabres from the 2009 Keeneland November breeding stock sale when consigned by Paramount), Tanglewood Tale has a 4-2-4 record from 17 starts. She is the first Keeneland starter for Wilson, a California native who came up with Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, did a stint with Doug O'Neill, and spent time working for another Hall of Famer, Bob Baffert, before graduating from the Darley program and going out on his own last fall with a New York-based string. Read more about Wilson here.
"The first year has definitely been a learning curve," Wilson said. "Learning how to train over the tracks, figuring out the differences between the East Coast tracks and California racing... it was a humbling experience, let's just say that. But things started to come together at Saratoga and since then we've been doing very well."
Wilson said the Breeders' Cup could be a consideration for Tanglewood Tale should she take the huge jump in class that would be required to win over runners like Groupie Doll, Judy the Beauty, and Purely Hot. Tanglewood Tale breaks from post 4 of 6 in the six-furlong sprint (entries here).
"I would definitely talk to the owners to see if that's something they're interested in considering, because I think it would be a tremendous opportunity for her," Wilson said. "I know we're facing some of the best sprinters in the country, but she's a filly on the improve and I haven't hit the ceiling with her yet."
Riding high off a record-setting training title at Arlington Park (his 11th at the Chicagoland oval), having recently completed a history making 10-for-15 streak at Kentucky Downs' 5-day meet, and enjoying a career-best year in which his runners have earned more than $4.9 million, trainer Wayne Catalano is gearing up for a big meet at Keeneland.
The trainer has Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners' Battlefield Angel in the Darley Alcibiades (gr. I) and William Stiritz's Hogy in the Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix (gr. III) on Friday's Opening Day card (that one is cross-entered in Saturday's grade I Shadwell Turf Mile), with Susan Moulton's Solitary Ranger in the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) on Saturday and Poker Player in the Bourbon (gr. IIIT) for Gary and Mary West on Sunday.
"Everything came together at the right time," said Catalano, who brought about 40 horses to the Lexington oval. "We got some good results from very good clients giving us some chances with some very good horses. All my staff performed very well. The results showed. I think the roll will continue (at Keeneland). We're set up to do pretty good."
For more on Solitary Ranger, who drew post 6 in an oversubscribed Futurity field (view entries), check out the newest installment of Novak at the Track.
Keeneland has launched a free Race Day App and Fall Stars microsite to bring fans closer to the action as the Oct. 4-26 season gets underway.
The Race Day App, downloadable from iTunes or Google, offers helpful tools like a betting calculator, expert tips, entries and real-time results, and more. Fans can use an interactive map with search and filter capabilities to
navigate their way through Keeneland and notify friends of their
The Fall Stars microsite delivers information for the opening Fall Stars Weekend, including entries for each of the nine graded stakes, seven of them Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" events. The site will continue to track Breeders' Cup-bound horses through the World Championships on Nov. 1-2 at Santa Anita.
Follow the Keeneland fall meet via the track's Facebook Page and on Twitter (@keeneland, @keenelandracing) -- fans are encouraged to use the #fallstars hashtag to stay on top of all the action. And, as always, stay tuned to the Blood-Horse Facebook and Twitter accounts (@bloodhorse) for coast-to-coast racing coverage.
As a thank you to fans, Keeneland will offer "Track Packs" on Wednesdays and Thursdays during the meet. Simply 'like' Keeneland's Facebook Page, print the Track Pack coupon, and bring it to any of the track's admission gates for free general admission. For just $10, fans can purchase a reserved grandstand seat, a race-day program, and receive a Keeneland hat -- a $28 value.
The Oct. 4 Opening Day program attracted 117 entries in the body of 10 races. The Darley Alcibiades for 2-year-old fillies attracted 13 entrants; the Phoenix Stakes for sprinters drew 14 with one horse on the also-eligible list. View the overnight here
, check out the entries on Equibase
, and read Tom LaMarra's preview of the racing season
. The Keeneland Files
return Sunday, Oct. 6.