Open mind key for Derby dreamers

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Majority owner Mark Schwartz is pinching himself at the notion of maybe having a Kentucky Derby-bound contender in Brooklyn Strong, while trainer Daniel Velazquez says he is about to ‘explode on the scene’.

The gelded son of multiple graded-stakes winner Wicked Strong won the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct last weekend, earning himself ten Kentucky Derby qualifying points in the process.

Having been snapped up by Schwartz as a $5,000 purchase at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale as a two-year-old in training, the 67-year-old owner could have never have imagined he’d be dreaming of the ‘Run for the Roses’ so soon.

Schwartz has owned horses for the last seven years and Brooklyn Strong’s breeding — Riviera Chic, the dam, is by Medaglia d’Oro – as well as an impressive breeze time was enough to catch his eye.

“You’ve got to pinch me. It’s like you’re dreaming, it really is,” said Schwartz. “I never thought I would be in this position.

“I’m not a rich guy,” Schwartz added when talking of his shock at the $5,000 fee the horse went under the hammer for. “I would have gone higher — not tremendously, but I would have gone higher.”

Velazquez, 36, knows plenty about the racing game. His father, Alfredo, has trained at Gulfstream for decades with some success, though never quite managed to find himself a Kentucky Derby horse.

Brooklyn Strong’s Remsen win gave Velazquez Jr a first graded-stakes triumph, leaving his team elated. The trainer accepted an offer to take a 33 per-cent stake in the gelding after Schwartz had made the purchase.

Velazquez insists his father taught him a thing or two in regards to training, while he makes a point of treating any two-year-old that comes into his yard the same, irrespective of the price tag attached.

“My father always told me it’s good to have a little more skin in the game,” he said. “He’s got good bloodlines. What’s the worst that could happen for $5,000?

“I don’t care if the owner paid $1m or $5,000. I take the horses and I train them all the same,” he added. “We work and progress and I see who is beating who in the morning. This horse just kept beating everybody in the morning.”

Brooklyn Strong came out of the Remsen well and is likely to be aimed at either the Withers on February 6th or the Gotham a month later, both at Aqueduct and both offering further qualifying points on the possible road to the Kentucky Derby.

While last weekend’s win was a statement of sorts, the trainer believes there is plenty more to come.

“He has a boatload of talent. Nobody has seen it yet,” Velazquez said. “He’s about to explode on the scene.”

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