Rice Wins Second Straight Aqueduct Winter Meet Title

Trainer Linda Rice notched 40 wins for her second consecutive winter meet crown, while jockey Manny Franco posted 64 victories to win his third consecutive winter meet title at Aqueduct Racetrack. Drawing Away Stable bested all owners with 19 wins for the abbreviated winter meet that ran from Dec. 12 through March 15.

Originally scheduled to run through March 29, the New York Racing Association suspended racing on March 19 due to changing circumstances in the racing community relative to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 28, NYRA announced that live racing at Aqueduct was canceled for the remainder of the winter and spring meets with the building set to serve as a temporary hospital site during the fight against the coronavirus.

Originally scheduled for 59 days, the abbreviated 50-day Aqueduct winter meet lost the final two weekends (six racing days) of the meet when live racing was suspended. Live racing was canceled at the Big A on Dec. 19 due to extremely low wind-chill values and on Feb. 7 and Feb. 27 due to dangerously high winds.

Rice, whose previous meet title was the 2019 Aqueduct winter stand when she saddled 45 winners, again finished atop the standings, posting a 40-33-31 record in 196 starts for an outstanding winning percentage of 20.41% while her starters finished top-three more than 53% of the time, totaling earnings of more than $2.14 million.

“It’s exciting to win another title,” said Rice of the title defense. “I was pleased to finally come away with a win last year and it’s great to build on that success.”

Rice boosted her NYRA-meet title totals to seven with previous successes including the 2009 Saratoga Race Course meet (20 wins), 2011 Aqueduct spring meet (tie of nine wins), 2011 Belmont Park spring/summer meet (tie of 25 wins), 2012 Aqueduct spring meet (13 wins), 2017 Aqueduct spring meet (tie of 12 wins), and last year’s Big A winter meet (45 wins).

Rice attributes the significant NYRA-circuit success to a stable hyper-focused on New York racing.

“I changed my business model five years ago to stay in New York year-round and not divide my stable between New York and Florida,” said Rice. “I think that’s certainly helped us to gain more ground on the New York circuit. New York has really good purses and we’ve concentrated on racing here for the most part.”

Rice bested fellow longtime New York-based trainer Rudy Rodriguez for the top spot, with Rodriguez doubling the win total from third-place finisher Rob Atras (16 wins) by going 32-31-26 with 167 starters in his second-place finish.

Among Rice’s meet highlights was Max Player winning the Feb. 1 Withers Stakes (G3), a prep race for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) that garnered 10 points toward the Run for the Roses. Montauk Traffic also won the Feb. 8 Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, and Scilly Cay earned a winner’s circle trip in the Jan. 12 Rego Park Stakes, providing Rice her 2,000th career win.

Originally published on Bloodhorse.com Apr. 1.

Photo by Coglianese