January 22, 2022

Saranac sees Rice, Voodoo Song record a quartet of wins

Voodoo Song and jockey Jose Lezcano capture the Saranac Stakes (G3) at Saratoga on Saturday, September 2, 2017 (c) NYRA/Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography

by Teresa Genaro

Heading into the final two days of the 2017 Saratoga race meet, 13 trainers have won seven or more races. After Saturday’s Saranac Stakes (G3), Linda Rice has won that many with just two horses.

On opening weekend at Saratoga, Voodoo Song ran on the Saturday card pretty much by accident. Scheduled to run in an allowance race at Belmont Park on his trainer Mike Hushion’s final day of training before retirement, he was put on the also-eligible list and didn’t make it into the race.

Owner Barry Schwartz then transferred him to the barn of Linda Rice, who told Schwartz that she wanted to enter him at Saratoga in a $40,000 claimer for non-winners of two lifetime.

“He said to me, ‘We thought better of him.’ I said, ‘Well, for me right now, that’s where he looks like he belongs, and I don’t think anyone will claim him,’’ Rice related after the Saranac.

She was right on both counts. Voodoo Song won by 5 1/4 lengths, and no one dropped a claim slip.

Four days later, he added another win on August 23 in an allowance by three-quarters of a length. And then the plan went awry again.

“My intent was to run him in (another allowance race),” said Rice, but when it looked like her horse might once again not get in, she opted for the Saranac.

“It’s a horse for course thing,” she said. “The course, the firm turf, really works for this horse. He might not like Belmont, and we got everything we want right now, so we might as well just do it.”

“So we threw him in a stakes,” Schwartz said. “I was going to go home, but I said, ‘OK, I’ll stay.’”

Opening up a five-length lead in the Saranac, Voodoo Song and Jose Lezcano were first challenged heading into the far turn, when favored Bricks and Mortar took a serious run at them. But although he looked beaten, Voodoo Song kicked in again and had enough left to hold off a late charge by Yoshida, winning by a neck.

“This is just tremendous,” Sheryl Schwartz said. “It’s unbelievable.”

The Stonewall farm homebred is by English Channel out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Mystic Chant. He’s undefeated in five starts on turf and four since being transferred to Rice. He hasn’t lost since Lezcano became his regular rider, and it’s fair to say that he’s exceeded his owner’s expectations.

“We just hoped he’d win a race,” said Barry, raptly watching the replay with Sheryl in the winner’s circle. “I didn’t expect (to win four races) in a million years.”

“This is when I got up out of the box,” she said, pointing to her horse coming around the turn. “I just went crazy.”

“I just love grass horses,” Barry added. “I breed for grass all the time. I’ve bred this mare so many times to good stallions and been disappointed. I’ve got her in the Keeneland November sale.”

“She’s not going,” Sheryl stated firmly.

In addition to Voodoo Song’s four wins during the Saratoga meet, Rice has won three times with the City Zip gelding New York’s Finest. City Zip was also trained by Rice, sweeping the 2000 editions of the Sanford (G2), Saratoga Special (G2) and Hopeful (G1).

In 2008, Rice trained her own superfecta in the Mechanicville Stakes, saddling the first four finishers. She’s currently third in the Saratoga trainer standings.

The way things are going, next year Rice might want to take a run at Novelty’s record, who won five races in 2010 at Saratoga in 28 days.

“My job,” she said, “is to find races they can win.”