A Test is Passed as Jersey Bred Book'em Danno Emerges as a Star in Saratoga

By Bill Finley
   Bred in New Jersey by Gregory Kilka and Bright View Farm, Book’em Danno showed from the very start that he was better than the average Jersey-bred. He won four of his first five races before running second in the Saudi Derby. The gelding was beaten that day by Forever Young, who would go on to finish a close third in the Kentucky Derby. But Book’em Danno was still in search of that signature victory on his record, the type of win that would prove he is a legitimate, Grade I, top class horses.
   On Saturday at Saratoga during the Belmont Stakes undercard, he would have that chance. The owners, a collection of friends  from Jersey who race under the name of Atlantic Six Racing, and trainer Derek Ryan had decided to send the son of Bucchero to Saratoga for the Grade I Woody Stephens Stakes. There, he would meet some of the fastest 3-year sprinters in the country in horses like Prince of Monaco, Nash and Valentine Candy.
   Could he handle the assignment? It was anyone’s guess. But in the 1:21.30 it took him to get from the start to the finish line he answered every question as he beat Prince of Monaco by a half-length. So how good is he? Very good. And what about his future? It’s very bright.
   “It’s hard to explain,” said co-owner Jay Briscione. “That was the first time we even ran a horse in Saratoga and we ran in a Grade I stakes and we won it. I tell everybody, this is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to us besides our wives and families. I can say that for all the guys. It’s been such an incredible experience. Given how well he ran in Saudi Arabia and how well Forever Young ran coming back in the Derby, running a race like the one he ran Saturday justified how good a horse he is.”
   Breaking from post one under Irad Ortiz Jr., Book’em Danno broke a step slowly but Ortiz quickly got him into the race. He was sitting comfortably in fifth as a pair of longshots were setting blazing fractions. Near the quarter-pole Book ‘em Danno had taken the lead and opened up by four lengths with an eighth of a mile to go. Prince of Monaco, the 8-5 favorite closed and cut the winning margin to a half-length but it never looked at any point that he would get by Danno.
   "When I started moving, he started finding really well on the turn,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “He started responding really, really good on the turn so that helped a lot. Turning for home, I was still in a hold, then I asked him, and he gave me a good kick at the end. That was great. He is a nice horse.” 
   The margin of victory was a half-length and Book ‘em Danno covered the seven furlongs in 1:21.30 to earn a 100 Beyer figure. It was the first Grade I win by a Jersey-bred since Green Gratto won the 2017 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct.
   “I am biased a little bit, but I think he proved he’s the best 3-year-old in the business right now,” Ryan said. “I know he hasn’t gone up against those horses who go two turns, but he’s the most consistent one out there. He really should be 7-for-7. This race didn’t change my opinion about him. I know what he had. He’s just a (expletive) race horse.”
   Ryan worked Book’em Danno at Monmouth nine days prior to the Woody Stephens. He went in 58.20 from the gate and the trainer said the work made a huge difference and had him on go.
   The trainer said he will definitely point to the $500,000 Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Stakes on Aug. 24 at Saratoga and might find a race for him beforehand.
   One thing he will not do is to take on the heavyweights of the division in two-turn stakes like The Haskell and the Travers. After making the decision to pass the Derby the team decided to stick to the sprint division.
   “The Derby wasn’t the right time or place for him,” Ryan said. “The Derby is a great race, but it wasn’t a good fit for him. The Derby never became an issue. We had a plan and we stuck to it. I’m not sure about the Breeders’ Cup either. One of my main goals is to get him back to Saudi Arabia next year.”
   Ryan said another reason why he wants to keep Book ‘em Danno sprinting is that his half-sister, the stakes winner Girl Trouble, who is by Fast Anna, struggled when sent beyond seven furlongs.
   Briscione said he hoped other small time owners and breeders have been following this horse. He was bought privately from the breeders, and Briscione declined to the state the price. But it couldn’t have been much. Stallion Bucchero now stands for $7,500 and the dam, Adorabella never raced. At the other end of the spectrum, runner-up Prince of Monaco, who is trained by Bob Baffert, cost $950,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale.
   “The fact that we could get a horse like this should make people want to stay in the business,” Briscione said. “People should want to get into the business because there’s the possibility of getting a horse like this without having to spend $1 million. What we’ve accomplished has been incredible. It’s made believers out of us.” 
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