Jersey-Bred Star Book ‘em Danno Ready for Prime Time

Jersey-Bred Star Book ‘em Danno Ready for Prime Time

Sometimes, you know that a horse is better than they look on paper. Take the New Jersey-bred Book’em Danno. He’s never won a graded stakes or any race longer than seven furlongs. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that this a horse that may be on the verge of stardom.

   He had a solid year at two, winning the Futurity at Aqueduct before closing things out with a second-place finish in the Nashua Stakes, also at Aqueduct. He was given a brief break by trainer Derek Ryan and has looked like an even better horse at three. He won the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs by 12 ½ lengths and Ryan then told the owners, Atlantic Six Racing LLC, that he wanted to race in the Saudi Derby.

   “The whole plan was to convince the owners to go to Saudi Arabia,” Ryan said. “When I first said it they looked at me like I had ten heads. That was the whole plan. I like to give him an easy race off a layoff, like he had in the Pasco. It wasn’t a hard race and it set him up perfectly for the next one.”

   With the blowout win in the Pasco, the owners signed on to Ryan’s plan. Book’em Danno ran the race of his life to finish second in the $5.6 million Saudi Derby, losing by a head. The race looks even better when you consider that it was won by the Japanese invader Forever Young, who lost by two noses in the Kentucky Derby after colliding with Sierra Leone in the stretch.

   “We should have beaten him,” Ryan said. “Irad (Ortiz Jr.) didn’t see him coming. And the jockey on the Japanese horse hit him 11 times. He got fined. Irad only hit our horse six times. That might have made a difference But he was so far out on the track, I’m not sure Irad saw him.”

   It was a game effort and a heart-breaking loss. But the time has come for Book’em Danno to step up, namely win a graded stakes race. On the Belmont Stakes under card, he’ll have that chance. The son of Bucchero has been entered in $500,000 Woody Stephens Stakes, a Grade I event run at seven furlongs. It is restricted to 3-year-olds.

   “I think he’s in a good spot,” Ryan said. “On the ThoroGraph sheets, he’s the fastest horse in there. After Fierceness, he has the fastest number of any 3-year-old in the country on the sheets. We’‘ll run in this and see where we’re at. With a bit of luck he’ll be tough. He had a super work the other day. I was a little behind on the works because of the weather. I never worked a horse that fast in my life (the five-furlong workout went in 58 1/5 at Monmouth) . I had to work him hard, but I never expected he’d go that fast. I think that work put us right where we need to be.”

   Ryan clearly is not one for hyperbole. Nor did he get carried away and catch a case of Derby Fever. He knows his horse and knows where he belongs. He was never tempted to run in the Derby or in any Derby preps, convinced that Book’em Danno would be better off in one-turn races at a mile or less.

   “He’s a gelding so there’s really no benefit to chasing the Derby,” Ryan said. “We really wanted to have him around for the big races this summer. If we had run him in the Kentucky Derby I don’t think we’d have him back yet and he wouldn’t be running this Saturday in the Woody Stephens.”

   Book’em Danno is out of Adorabella, an unraced daughter of Ghostzapper. Her first foal was Girl Trouble, also a stakes winner. When Book’em Danno won the Smoke Glacken S. she had achieved the rare feat of producing two stakes winners from her first two foals. She has since been sold to LC Racing for $550,000.

   “He’s out of a Kentucky mare that just didn’t make it to the races,” Ryan said. “The mare is now back in Kentucky. The mare’s first two foals are both stakes winner. So, she’s a legit mare. This is not your typical Jersey bred.”

   Ryan knows that the Woody Stephens is far from an easy spot. At 9-2, Danno is the second choice in the morning line among the 12 horses entered. Book’em Danno will have to deal with, among others Santa Anita Derby runner-up Imagination, Del Mar Futurity winner Prince of Monaco and Pat Day Mile runner-up Vlahos. He’s also concerned about the post position. Book’em Danno will break from the rail.

   “I’d be lying if I said the one hole didn’t bother me,” Ryan said. “But the good thing is that I got Irad. He really wanted to ride this horse back. It’s up to him. Not me. I’ll just tell him good luck. He is very easy to ride. I didn’t think there’d be so many horses in there, but it’s a Grade I, so it figured to get a good field and a large field.”

   After the Woody Stephens, Ryan will look at the Aug. 24 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial at Saratoga, but might find another race in between that and the Woody Stephens. He says if he ever runs the horse long it will be in a grass race and there are plenty of options to do so at Kentucky Downs.

   So Book’em Danno will never win a Triple Crown race and won’t be showing up in either the Haskell or Travers. Is he good enough to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint? That may be asking a lot. But he’ll have a chance Saturday to become the first Jersey-bred to win a Grade I stakes since Green Gratto won the Grade I Carter in 2017. And more importantly, he can prove what many people already expect, that he’s one of the fastest 3-year-olds in the country.

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