Antonio Fresu To Make North American Debut With Familiar Partner Meraas - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Antonio Fresu To Make North American Debut With Familiar Partner Meraas

Zenden and jockey Antonio Fresu winning the 2021 Dubai Golden Shaheen

Maitha Salem Mohammed Belobaida Alsuwaidi's Group 3-winning sprinter Meraas and his Group 1-winning rider Antonio Fresu will make their North American debuts on Saturday at Saratoga in Race 7, a six-furlong optional-claimer for 3-year-olds and upward.

“I'm really looking forward to riding for the first time in the U.S. Obviously, Saratoga has a lot of history and it's a beautiful track. I'm looking forward to seeing it,” said Fresu, who captured last year's Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan Racecourse from the outermost post 13 aboard Zenden.

Trained by Chad Summers, Meraas, who sports a ledger of 14-5-1-1, was last seen taking the Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint in rein to Fresu in February at Meydan for former conditioner Musabbeh Al Mheiri.

The 5-year-old Oasis Dream gelding was a vet scratch the week of the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen in March and subsequently shipped stateside. Summers, who won the Dubai Golden Shaheen in successive years in 2017-18 with New York-bred multi-millionaire Mind Your Biscuits, said Meraas was freshened before returning to training.

“He came in the end of March and we wanted to give him some time, so he was at Paragon Farm in Kentucky for a few months,” Summers said. “He came up to Belmont and our plan was always to bring him back in an allowance race and go on from there to see what path he'll take us on.”

Meraas made his first 12 starts on either grass [10] or synthetic [2] for conditioner Mark Johnston, but found rejuvenated form when trying the Meydan dirt, besting a field of 11 by 4 3/4-lengths in December while under top weight ahead of his Group 3 score.

Meraas has breezed five times this summer over the Saratoga main track with a trio of bullet breezes under exercise rider Alfonso Camacho, including a three-eighths effort in 35.20 on July 15; a half-mile in 46.07 on August 5; and five-eighths in 1:00.69 on August 14.

“Antonio is a great rider and not only did he ride him both races in Dubai, but he was the regular rider of him in the morning. He told us when we worked him to not ask him. He said, 'he'll do everything on his own, just drop your hands,'” Summers said. “The first time he breezed it didn't look like he was going very fast and then you look at your watch and it was 35 and change. It's continued from there. He went 46 flat and it doesn't look like he's moving. He has this long stride and just motors. We've never really ridden him. We haven't gone in company or had a jockey work him because I was afraid he'd go too fast. That's all just him.”

Summers said Meraas demonstrated encouraging dirt form in his two starts in Dubai.

“When he ran first time out in the Handicap in December, he was carrying 137 pounds. He broke and went about his business and won so impressively,” Summers said. “He came back in the Group 3 and it was the same thing – he kept finding more and beat a nice field. It gives you some excitement to what he could be over here.”

Meraas, listed at 6-1 on the morning line, will exit the outermost post 10 Saturday in a field led by Juddmonte's impressive allowance winner Elite Power [post 6, Joel Rosario, 5-2 ML], a 4-year-old Curlin colt, for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

“There are a lot of nice horses in there. Bill Mott's horse is really nice,” Summers said. “It's a deep, quality field and we haven't been out since February. This is Saratoga. It's a very deep field. We'll look to get through this race and see where we're at and weigh our options. But Saturday will go a long way to showing us who he is and what he is at and where we need to point to next. All the credit to the family for gifting us this horse and the opportunity to run in America.”

In addition to Elite Power, a $900,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase out of the multiple graded-stakes winning Vindication mare Broadway's Alibi, a strong field competing for the $120,000 purse includes graded stakes-placed Greeley and Ben [post 1, Junior Alvarado] and stakes winners Amundson [post 3, Jose Ortiz] and Foolish Ghost [post 4, Kendrick Carmouche]. Also entered is the stakes-placed Hoist the Gold [post 8, Jose Gomez], who graduated via disqualification last September at Churchill Downs when eventual dual Grade 1-winner Cyberknife was demoted.

But despite the strong field, Summers is buoyed by the strong morning efforts from Meraas and the presence of his familiar rider.

“It gives you confidence to know he's handled this dirt,” Summers said. “Antonio knows the horse and I don't want to have any excuses going into this race. I want to give this horse his best chance to win and Antonio is a Group 1-winning jockey making his American debut, so hopefully he can provide that.”

Fresu, a 30-year-old native of Sardinia, Italy, said he welcomes the opportunity.

“I'm really happy to be joining with Meraas again. I had a good feeling with him in Dubai during the winter,” said Fresu, who is represented in Dubai by Michael Adolphson. “I thought he would have a very good chance in the Golden Shaheen, but unfortunately he didn't run. I've seen his workouts in the U.S. and he's been doing well. I know he hasn't run in a long time, but I think he'll be pretty fit for Saturday. I think he will have a chance.”

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