News & Barn notes

Venti Valentine Making Rare Start Outside Of New York In Sunday’s $100,000 Serena’s Song Stakes

May 10, 2024

It isn’t often that Venti Valentine races outside of New York or its state-bred races any more, but breeder and co-owner Dan Zanatta has been around the sport long enough to know that horses have a way of telling you things.

What his 5-year-old mare made very clear to Zanatta following her work on April 27 is that she was ready to run. That’s how the daughter of Firing Line, a winner of $753,600 over her 19-race career, wound up as one of eight fillies and mares entered in Sunday’s $100,000 Serena’s Song Stakes at Monmouth Park.

The 20th running of the Serena’s Song, at a mile and 70 yards, carries the added bonus of free entry and start fees to the $500,000, Grade 3 Molly Pitcher Stakes on the NYRA Bets Haskell Stakes undercard July 20.

“We’ve been breezing her since her last start (on March 24) and her first work back was just ok,” said Zanatta, who heads up NY Final Furlong Racing Stable and owns Venti Valentine with his father-in-law, Steve Weston (Parkland Thoroughbreds). “Her second work back was very good. After her third work, (trainer) Jorge Abreu turned to me after she galloped out and said `we’ve got to find a race for her.’ ”

The original plan, said Zanatta, was to wait until the $200,000 Critical Eye Handicap on June 9 during the Belmont Stakes Festival at Saratoga.

Venti Valentine had other ideas.

“Jorge told us she is ready to run now. So we’re taking a shot. We’ll see what happens,” said Weston. “We can still make the Critical Eye after this.”

Zanatta’s NY Final Furlong outfit is almost exclusively a breeding operation that sells what it breeds. Venti Valentine is the exception to that.

“It isn’t often we keep one. We breed to sell,” said Zanatta. “She was a beautiful foal and everyone was telling me I had to keep her because she could be a New York-bred stakes caliber horse. It turned out to be very fortuitous that we did.”

After winning her first two career starts in 2021, Venti Valentine was second, beaten a neck, by Nest in the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes on the way to being named New York Champion 2-Year-Old Filly.

“That’s when we all said `wow, this is a serious racehorse,’ ” said Zanatta.

Venti Valentine, who has faced New York breds in 10 of her past 12 starts, has been a consistent money earner ever since, banking $228,750 in 2021, $295,500 in 2022, $197,350 last year and $32,000 through two starts this season. Zanatta said she will be sold as a broodmare in November.

There won’t be any regrets when the owners finally part ways with her since she has given them more than they ever dreamed, with a 6-4-5 line from those 19 career starts. Venti Valentine has finished second in two different Grade 2 races.

“She has been consistent her whole career,” said Weston. “She had one awful race (in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks). It wasn’t her fault. She was chasing Echo Zulu through fast early fractions. Other than that race she has been great.”

Paco Lopez has the call, with the Serena’s Song Stakes going as the eighth race on the 10-race card.