Irad Ortiz Jr. brings Firenze Fire back to the winner’s circle after winning the Runhappy Stakes
Through a 33-race career, nine-time graded-stakes winner Firenze Fire has asserted his talent over seven different racetracks, but it’s no secret that the veteran son of Poseidon’s Warrior has an affinity for Belmont Park. He will seek an eighth triumph over Big Sandy on Sunday in the 13th running of the Grade 2, $250,000 John A. Nerud going seven furlongs for 4-year-olds and upward.
The John A. Nerud, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier to the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November at Del Mar, will be televised live on NBCSN as part of a show airing from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern.
The event is named in honor of the late Hall of Famer whose 44-year tenure as a trainer included campaigning fellow Hall of Fame inductees Dr. Fager, Gallant Man, and Ta Wee. Following his retirement in 1978, Nerud assisted John Gaines in developing the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, for whom he was marketing committee chairman in its early years. As an owner, Nerud campaigned 1985 Champion Turf Horse Cozzene as well as influential stallion Fappiano. Nerud passed away in August 2015 at the age of 102.
Mr. Amore Stable’s Firenze Fire, trained by Kelly Breen, brags a consistent 10-7-1-0 record at Belmont Park and lifetime earnings of nearly $2.5 million. The accomplished 6-year-old sprinter has won both of his starts this season, notching repeat stakes conquests over the local strip in the Grade 3 Runhappy on May 8 and Grade 2 True North on June 4. In the latter, Firenze Fire battled down the backstretch to the inside of multiple graded stakes-winner Flagstaff through swift opening fractions, but kicked clear of his foe to notch a 1 ½-length victory.
The True North came just minutes before the track was deluged with rainfall. Firenze Fire was beaten by double-digit lengths in his three starts over a track rated sloppy.
“That was heart attack material because by the time we got back to the test barn it was a downpour,” Breen’s assistant John Attfield said. “Someone was watching out for us that day.”
Owner Ron Lombardi expressed a similar sense of relief regarding the weather.
“It was unbelievable, that was great,” said Lombardi. “We would have run anyway, but at that point there wasn’t much you could do. What a godsend that the rain held off.”
Firenze Fire commenced his love affair with Big Sandy in his fourth career start when capturing the Grade 1 Champagne in October 2017 over subsequent Champion 2-Year-Old Good Magic. He has won at least one stakes race at Belmont Park for the past five seasons, registering a career-best 107 Beyer Speed Figure during his sophomore campaign when returning to Belmont with a nine-length romp in the 2018 Grade 3 Dwyer.
Following a successful 2019 campaign, which included a victory in the Runhappy at Belmont, Firenze Fire made his debut for Breen in the Grade 1 Runhappy Carter in June 2020, finishing a distant fourth prior to capturing the Grade 2 True North and the Grade 2 Vosburgh at Belmont three starts later.
After closing the curtain on his 5-year-old season when third in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector on December 19 at Gulfstream Park, Firenze Fire remained in training but did not start until capturing the Grade 3 Runhappy on May 8 two starts ago.
“One of the biggest advantages of this year was for the first time in his career, he had five months off. We gave him the winter off without running him, he was still training a little bit, but he’s come back great,” Attfield said.
Elsewhere, Firenze Fire has conveyed his aptitude against graded stakes company at Saratoga, Parx Racing and Laurel Park. Following last year’s Grade 2 Vosburgh triumph, he finished a good third to accomplished sprinters Whitmore and C Z Rocket in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint on November 6 at Keeneland.
With a start in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in mind, Lombardi is hopeful that Firenze Fire can maintain his winning form throughout this season. A start in this year’s Sprint would be a fifth straight Breeders’ Cup appearance for Firenze Fire.
“I think he’s at the top of his game at the moment,” Lombardi said. “He’s always had the MO where he comes out of the race unbelievably. After a race he’s eating, perky and he doesn’t miss a beat. The next morning he’s ready to go. Typically horses of his caliber wait more than four weeks, but he recovered so greatly. He didn’t miss a beat, but he did take some time off in the winter. He has two stakes under his belt so far this year and it will be his fifth year in a row going to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Firenze Fire’s name is influenced by the Italian word for the city of Florence, Italy.
“My daughter designs shoes and has them made in Italy,” Lombardi explained. “We were over there six years ago in Florence, and I needed to name the horse. At the time, Tom Hanks was filming the movie Inferno in Florence so that’s where the ‘fire’ comes from.”
Lombardi said owning a horse like Firenze Fire has been a dream come true for a lifelong racing fan.
“Especially being a homebred makes it that much more special,” Lombardi said. “It’s been great. It really is a dream come true. My dad owned a horse in 1948 had it for a year and a half. All my aunts and uncles every Saturday went to Monmouth.”
A Florida homebred, Firenze Fire is out of the Langfuhr mare My Every Wish, whose other progeny include stakes-placed Firenze Freedom as well as a full-brother to Firenze Fire in Just Leo, who is training towards a July debut.
Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. has been aboard for nine of Firenze Fire’s 14 lifetime victories and returns to the irons from the inside post.
Dual Grade 1-winner Mind Control will make his debut for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher seeking a return to winning form.
Owned by Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stable, Mind Control has gone winless in eight starts since capturing the Grade 3 Tom Fool last March at Aqueduct for former trainer Gregg Sacco.
Red Oak Stable racing manager Rick Sacco said he is hoping to see the son of Stay Thirsty recapture his previous form which earned him elusive Saratoga triumphs in the Grade 1 Hopeful in 2018 and the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial in 2019.
“We went through a few races where he didn’t win, and we knew there were no races for him at Monmouth,” Sacco said. “We just thought it was a change of scenery that would do him some good. Todd is on our team, and he has horses for us. My brother Gregg won him a couple of Grade 1 races and did a fantastic job, but we figured we would change things up, send the horse over to Todd and try to win a race with him. It’s a hard lens to look through to move a horse. We’re just trying to get him back on track. He’s sound and training super.”
Mind Control and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will vie for their sixth stakes triumph together from post 2.
Trainer Rob Atras earned his first overall graded stakes triumph when American Power won the Grade 3 Toboggan on January 30 at Aqueduct, and will seek his first Belmont graded stakes-triumph when saddling the son of Power Broker for the Nerud.
Owned by Sanford Goldfarb, Irwin Goldfarb and the Estate of Ira David, American Power replicated his winning form at seven furlongs when capturing the Caixa Eletronica on March 20 following the Toboggan. Last out, he finished third in the Grade 2 True North.
American Power has placed in six of seven starts since being claimed by Atras last July.
Breaking from post 3, American Power will be ridden by Joel Rosario.
Three Diamonds Farm’s Doubly Blessed will see a cutback in distance from 1 1/16 miles when seeking a sixth career win for trainer Mike Maker. The son of Empire Maker out of graded stakes winner Via Villaggio earned a career best 100 Beyer Speed Figure last out in an allowance optional claiming tilt on May 29 over a sloppy and sealed track at Belmont Park, which he won by 1 ½ lengths.
Jockey Luis Saez, who was aboard for his last out triumph, retains the mount from post 7.
Rounding out the field are Top Seed [post 4, Jose Ortiz], Wicked Trick [post 5, Jose Lezcano] and Three Technique [post 6, Manny Franco].
The John A. Nerud is carded as the finale on Sunday’s 10-race Independence Day program. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2021 Paulick Report.