Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Maracuja Brings Sakkos A Graded Stakes Winner With His Fourth Starter

John Sakkos can count on one hand the number of horses that have carried the colors of his Beach Haven Thoroughbreds stable into the starting gate. The answer is four — one for as many years as he’s been in the industry.

If Thoroughbred racing has taught fans and participants anything, it’s that the size of Sakkos’ stable and the age of his operation should hardly warrant him a trip to the winner’s circle at the highest level of play.

But that’s exactly what has happened.

When 3-year-old Maracuja crossed the wire a head in front of the previously undefeated Malathaat during the July 24 Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, the filly became the fourth winner from four to race for Sakkos and brought home his first, coveted G1 win.

“The reality hit the next morning when my wife (Tracy) and I woke up, looked at each other, and said, ‘Did we really win a Grade 1?’” said Sakkos. “We were all crazy excited. My wife even lost her voice. It was a natural high and when you think of our short career in racing history, it was just great.”

Beach Haven Thoroughbreds was born out of the friendship of Sakkos and his partner, Ara Aprahamian, who named their still fledgling operation after the island of Beach Haven, a small hamlet in New Jersey and favorite vacation spot of the pair and their families. A longtime fan of racing who had dabbled in partnerships since the early 2000s, Aprahamian — who runs a pharmaceutical company — approached Sakkos about forming a small racing syndicate of their own. Sakkos, who also has a professional background in the medical field, said he more or less agreed to the proposition on a whim.

“The joke between us is that I got involved in horses purely by accident,” joked Sakkos.

While Sakkos traces his ancestral roots to Greece, where his family were traditionally farmers, his limited experience with horses came from the occasional encounter as a child while visiting his grandparents’ farm. Horse racing, he admits, was outside of his educational purview.

With that in mind, the plan from the start was to keep Beach Haven small. Partners were pulled from a ring of close friends looking to share in the action without overcommitting to the often-exorbitant expenses that come with campaigning Thoroughbreds.

Tracy Sakkos and Maracuja. Photo courtesy the Sakkos family

 

Beach Haven’s first runner was Uncle Benny, a Declaration of War colt purchased for $185,000. The colt — who was named for Aprahamian’s late uncle — proved a competent turf runner, notching a stakes victory next in the six-furlong Futurity on the grass at Belmont Park in 2018 before running second in that year’s G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

Next on the roster came Sassy Agnes, a New York-bred daughter of Central Banker who earned three consecutive stakes wins in 2018 when she took the Lady Finger and Shesastonecoldfox Stakes followed by the Key Cent Stakes for trainer Linda Rice. Rice would also take over of Newly Minted, another daughter of Central Banker, who herself banked four stakes wins on the way to amassing a 6-3-1 record from 12 starts and $516,738 in purses.

It’s a strike rate even the most experience horseman would envy.

While Newly Minted was burning up the tracks on the New York circuit, Sakkos and his partners went to $200,000 — more than they’d ever spent previously — to secure Maracuja, a daughter of Honor Code. Trained by Rob Atras, the filly impressed early, and plans were made to debut her talent in the summer of 2020 at Saratoga.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic raging on the racing calendar upended, the decision was made to start the filly at three. The filly broke her maiden in February at Aqueduct before taking second in the G3 Gazelle next out. That race would be a springboard to the G1 Kentucky Oaks, where she finished off the board. Three months later she would redeem herself in the CCA Oaks, defeating the Oaks victress at odds of 14-1 and stamping herself one to watch for the G1 Alabama at the Spa.

“Rob didn’t want to push her which I’m glad he didn’t,” said Sakkos. “We’re very proud but she’s getting better and better with every race. Newly Minted did well, and ‘Sassy’ also did well, but she has done the best so far. She’s it. It’s all credit to Rob and his wife Brittney and his team. We were just lucky enough to buy her.”

With the pandemic still looming and with it, economic uncertainty, Sakkos said Maracuja will likely remain the only Beach Haven runner for the time being.

“With everything going on, we didn’t mind keeping it all close. I still think we’re not totally out of the woods yet unfortunately, so we’re just enjoying the moment and focusing on Maracuja,” said Sakkos. “She loves the attention, she loves her carrots, and after the races I go back to the barn and give her a big hug and a kiss. She has a great personality and everyone at the barn loves her, but when it comes down to being on the track, she changes gears.

“Seeing the way Rob and his team, especially Mario, her groom, and Christian, the [exercise rider] and the love they give to their animals is just phenomenal. Mario, Maracuja’s groom, has totally spoiled her. She’s not happy when he’s not there and he never left her side at the Oaks. They’re attached at the hip.”

Win or lose, Sakkos said the most important thing now is that he’s able to enjoy the ride with is partners and family.

“I still think there is a lot more for me to learn. I’m becoming more familiar with things, asking a lot of questions,” said Sakkos. “But I have a way to go to catch up with those folks that have so much more experience in this industry than I do. We enjoy it and our kids enjoy it. It’s been a great hobby and so fun when the family can participate. It’s all about the animals for us.”

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Maracuja Brings Sakkos A Graded Stakes Winner With His Fourth Starter appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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