Racing Spotlight: C Z Rocket, Tyler Gaffalione, and Kelly Breen
Racing Spotlight is a weekly series that highlights a horse, jockey, and trainer with insightful information to keep our players be informed.
This week, we highlight C Z Rocket, who has won four stakes and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) since being claimed last year; Tyler Gaffalione, who has been an elite rider since he won the 2015 Eclipse Award for apprentice jockey; and Kelly Breen, who will open Friday’s Monmouth Park meet looking to defend his training title.
Horse spotlight: C Z Rocket
C Z Rocket will stretch out to prove he is the real deal in the Steve Sexton Mile (G3) at Lone Star Park on Memorial Day. In his previous eight starts, the bay gelding has recorded seven wins and a second. Jockey Florent Geroux will be in the irons for a third consecutive start.
His second-place finish came in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, a race that ignited a rivalry with winner Whitmore, who earned the Eclipse Award for champion male sprinter. In 2021, C Z Rocket edged Whitmore in both the Hot Springs S. and Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) at Oaklawn Park.
At Lone Star, his competition will come from By My Standards, a 2019 Kentucky Derby (G1) participant with four Grade 2 wins and a second in last year’s Whitney S. (G1) at Saratoga. He comes into the Steve Sexton Mile from a win in the Oaklawn Mile S., which was run the same day as the Count Fleet.
Last year, C Z Rocket was claimed for $40,000 on April 30, and he immediately went on a five-win streak for new trainer Peter Miller. The seven-year-old has amassed more than $1.3 million in purse earnings.
The Steve Sexton Mile is the feature on Lone Star Million Day, a card with five stakes worth $1.1 million.
Jockey spotlight: Tyler Gaffalione
Gaffalione is in the elite group of seven North American jockeys who have surpassed 100 wins in 2021. He ranks fourth by wins and ninth by purse earnings, with more than $5.5 million. Those earnings are bolstered by seven graded stakes, including the Jenny Wiley S. (G1) aboard Juliet Foxtrot.
Voted the Jockeys’ Guild Jockey of the Week for May 17-23, Gaffalione led the nation with 10 wins, including Sconsin's victory in the Winning Colors S. (G3). He increased his lead in the jockey standings at Churchill Downs, where he has won at a 20% win clip this meet.
Gaffalione finished 2020 ranked second among all North American jockeys by wins, with 271. He has finished five of his six full years of riding with more than 200 wins.
“It has been a good start to 2021. I feel strong, both mentally and physically,” Gaffalione said. “I was pleased with my tally of 271 winners last season, but I am hoping I can beat that this year.”
The 26-year-old was born in Florida, and his father and grandfather were jockeys. His grandfather rode in the 1984 Kentucky Derby. Gaffalione has ridden in the last five editions the Derby, and he piloted War of Will to victory in the 2019 Preakness S. (G1).
In addition to the 2015 Eclipse Award for outstanding apprentice jockey, Gaffalione has won leading rider titles at Gulfstream Park, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and Kentucky Downs.
Trainer Spotlight: Kelly Breen
Monmouth Park opens Friday, and Breen will look to defend his 2020 training title, which was his third at the Oceanport, New Jersey oval.
He will face competition from Hall of Fame trainers Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Jerry Hollendorfer, and Chad Brown.
Last year at Monmouth, Breen won at a 27% rate and finished in the trifecta with 56% of his entries.
He has 40 horses stabled at Monmouth, including 15 two-year-olds, and he expects a few more freshmen to join his barn soon.
“The 2-year-old program at Monmouth Park has always been exceptional, so we hope to be a factor in that later in the summer,” he said.
He said his stable also includes a variety of horses, from $5,000 claimers to multiple graded stakes winners.
Breen, 52, grew up 20 miles north of the track and frequented the races with his parents. He became an assistant trainer when he was 18.
“I’m a Jersey guy. I grew up here," he said. "We have more of a presence in New York than we’ve had in a while, but Monmouth Park is still home.”
On opening day, he will send out It’s A Gamble in the Jersey Derby, and on Sunday, he entered Tracy’s Ann’s Legacy in the Politely S.
Breen won the 2011 Belmont S. (G1) with longshot Ruler On Ice. He earned his other two Monmouth titles in 2005 and 2006.