News & Barn notes

Trainer Anthony Margotta Jr. Lists Bel Pensiero As A Race-Day Decision For Sunday’s Smart N Classy Handicap

May 31, 2024

As much as trainer Anthony Margotta Jr. would like to put a three-year stakes drought behind him, and with an opportunity to possibly do just that with Bel Pensiero in Sunday’s $85,000 Smart N Classy Handicap at Monmouth Park, “it’s always the horse that comes first,” he said.

That’s why he will wait until the morning of the race to decide whether to send Bel Pensiero in the one-mile feature for Jersey-breds.

After being off eight months, Bel Pensiero returned with a sharp effort in the Spruce Fir Handicap, beaten a neck by multiple Jersey-bred stakes winner Mia’s Crusade.

But that race was May 18, making for a turnaround that may be a little too quick for Margotta’s liking.

“Our program is geared to developing stakes horses, and as frustrating as it was to get beat by a neck two weeks ago we know we have a lot to look forward to with this filly,” said Margotta, whose last stakes victory was with Orbs Baby Girl in the Penn Oaks in 2021. “I told our team we’re going to enter this race and we’ll decide Sunday morning whether to skip it and give her a little more time and then maybe find a prep race for the Jersey Girl Handicap (at a mile on the turf on July 6). Right now we’re 50-50 to run.”

The Smart N Classy drew a field of just six state-bred fillies and mares, but the quality isn’t lacking.

Mia’s Crusade, who has done her best running for trainer Chuck Spina in sprints, will look to stretch out again while seeking her fourth straight stakes victory. She held on gamely to beat Bel Pensiero off a seven-month layoff in the six-furlong Spruce Fir.

Beach Daze returns to the Jersey Shore from her Parx base after winning this race a year ago, drawing the rail for trainer Farrell Mann. The Eddie Owens-trained Riding Pretty was second to Beach Daze by a neck in last year’s Smart N Classy and then went on to be third in the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks.

Margotta, who started training in 1986, has had plenty of stakes success, with a pair of Grade 1 winners (Brunswick and Run Man Run) in addition to having won a Grade 2 and three Grade 3s.

So the recent 0-for-13, three-year stakes drought is a bit of an aberration.

But he insists he is not going to press to bring it to an end.

“She came off a long layoff and ran a real hard race and now coming back with her in two weeks could backfire,” Margotta said of Bel Pensiero. “So it’s a quick turnaround, which I am concerned about, and this not a black type race.

“I really want to run her in a lot of black type races at this point.”

Bel Pensiero, a 4-year-old daughter of Army Mule-Milaya by Eskendereya, has a 2-3-1 line from six Monmouth Park dirt starts and won her only Monmouth Park turf race. Overall, she has three wins and three seconds in 10 career starts for owners Hudson Stable LLC, Let It Ride Equine Racing Holdings and ARM Racing LLC.

“My partners and I own the mother – we own the entire family,” said Margotta. “Bel Pensiero is the first foal. We have a second foal named Molly’s Bullet, who is a full sister, and a New York-bred 2-year-old filly by Liam’s Map named Liam’s Lucky Lady.

“This race not being black type is not going to enhance the value of the family. If it was black type there would be no hesitation to run. But we have a couple of black type races coming up for her (the Jersey Girl and the Eleven North Handicap on Aug. 25) so we’ll see.”

Jockey Ramon Moya, who recently celebrated five years of sobriety after battling substance abuse addictions, is listed to ride Bel’s Pensiero again. Moya last won a stakes race in 2014, though he did not ride from 2016-2019.

The Smart N Classy is scheduled as the fifth race on the 12-race card. First race post time is 12:50 p.m.