Thursday, August 15, 2013

Saratoga Race Course Notes

• Golden Soul breezes for G1 Travers
• Declan's Warrior fires bullet for G1 Foxwoods King's Bishop
• Fort Larned works for G1 Woodward
• Mentor Cane on course for G1 Foxwoods King's Bishop
• Rocco enjoying success at Spa
• Pace picking up for Antonucci
• Plans for Java's War up in air
• Stroll victor Balance the Books could await G1 Jamaica

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Dallas Stewart sounded an upbeat note Thursday morning after Golden Soul worked five furlongs in 1:01.40, breezing, over the Oklahoma training track in preparation for the Grade 1, $1 million Travers Stakes on August 24.

"He worked this morning, and he worked great," Stewart said. "Did it easy, galloped out really good, was on his toes coming home. So, he seems pretty much ready. I'm happy with the way he cooled out and the way he's coming up to the race."

The Charles Fipke homebred son of Perfect Soul rallied from 15th place to be second in the Kentucky Derby, and subsequently finished ninth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes and then last of seven in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.

Stewart said that when Golden Soul's blood work came back good, his appetite was strong and he showed good energy on the racetrack in the mornings after the Haskell, he sent the horse back into training.

"We're paying attention more when they come out of a bad race to see if anything has come apart that you don't feel good about," Stewart said. "But, at this point, everybody on my staff, my vet, we all feel good about the way he's trained for the last three weeks, especially the last week. He looks like he's come up a level in his training, his energy.

"I know he's good enough to win it if we have him ready," Stewart said. "You can't go in there half trained up. You've got to cowboy up and train this son of a gun, and the horse has to prove it to you. We have to be ready and make sure the horse is prepared in a way he's supposed to be prepared, and he's tested every morning with hard training. If he's not capable, we need to do something else.

"If he goes out there and goes [five furlongs] in 1:03, you're going to wonder," he added. "If he works in a minute and he doesn't eat up for three or four days, and he's not on the bit galloping, and he's not looking right, you've got some problems. But he's passed all of the good tests we've laid out for him."

Also working for the Travers was Curlin stakes winner Romansh, who covered five furlongs in 1:01.66 on the main track for trainer Tom Albertrani.

* * *

With Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the irons, Declan's Warrior fired a bullet five-furlong work in 59.52 seconds on the main track Thursday morning in preparation for the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwoods King's Bishop on August 24.

"I was very happy, very excited," said Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, who trains the Majestic Warrior 3-year-old for his wife Kim's Lucky Shamrock Stable. "Johnny worked him, which is also a plus. We've won a lot of big races together. It's like a golden rule in our barn; if Todd [Pletcher] doesn't have anything in the race, we try to get him. He fit him perfectly and the horse worked terrific for him. It was a delight to watch today. He was gliding out there."

Most recently a closing fifth in the Grade 2 Amsterdam, beaten 3 ¾ lengths by winner Forty Tales, Declan's Warrior is 4-2-0 from seven career starts. The Foxwoods King's Bishop will be his fourth start at seven furlongs; he won the Grade 3 Bay Shore and the Gygistar overnight stakes on May 22 at Belmont Park at the distance, as well as finishing second to Forty Tales in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens presented by NYRA Rewards on June 8 at Belmont.

"Seven-eighths is his distance; hopefully it works for him," said Zito. "I'm sure the race will have plenty of speed, it usually does."

* * *

Trainer Ian Wilkes declared Fort Larned on course for the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward on August 31 after the 5-year-old breezed four furlongs on the main track in 48.20 seconds on Friday.

Fort Larned was fifth in the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap on August 3. The Janis Whitman homebred won the Whitney in 2012.

"Everything was good," said Wilkes. "He went well and we're very pleased. It was just a maintenance half, and the Woodward is still our target."

Like the Whitney, the Woodward is a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up. The connections of the top two finishers, Cross Traffic and Successful Dan, are expected back in the Woodward.

* * *

Mentor Cane remains on course for the Grade 1 Foxwoods King's Bishop, trainer John Shirreffs said on Thursday.

The 3-year-old Mizzen Mast colt returned to the work tab this week for the first time since finishing fourth in his stakes debut, the Grade 2 Amsterdam at Saratoga on July 28. On Sunday, he went a half-mile in 49.77 seconds over the Oklahoma training track with Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado aboard.

"He worked very well," Shirreffs said of the colt, owned by Jerry and Ann Moss. "[Prado] put him behind a horse and he went by on the inside, so he was very happy with him."

In the Amsterdam, Mentor Cane raced on the lead early before bearing out around the turn and coming well wide into the stretch. Running down the middle of the track, he wound up beaten only 2 ½ lengths by closer Forty Tales.

"It was very unusual because he has lugged in before, but he's never gone out," Shirreffs said. "Edgar said he was coming into the turn and he said, 'I'll just take him out a little bit in case he tries to get in.' I think when he took him out, the horse grabbed the outside of the bit and just decided he was going to Union Avenue.

"[In the King's Bishop], I hope there will be somebody in front of him," he added. "I think with somebody in front of him, his focus will be on something other than what he's going to do with the bit."

Shirreffs is still looking for a spot for Eblouissante, a half-sister to Zenyatta who lost for the first time in three lifetime starts when sixth in the Grade 3 Shuvee Handicap at Saratoga on July 20 after acting up in the starting gate.

"She's good. She's been galloping and going to the gate, and she's doing fine," Shirreffs said. "It took about 10 days [to recover] because she was banged up a little and sore, but everything has smoothed out. The timing of the condition book will determine what we do. Obviously, I'd like to run her up here before we leave."

* * *

Having arrived with modest expectations, jockey Joe Rocco, Jr. has enjoyed his first full summer of riding at Saratoga.

The 31-year-old Rocco entered Thursday's card with 12 wins from 79 mounts and $795,587 in earnings, having picked up a pair of victories on Wednesday to move into a tie for sixth in the jockey standings with Irad Ortiz, Jr.

One-third of Rocco's wins have come in stakes, led by the Grade 1 Prioress on July 27 aboard Lighthouse Bay. He also won the $100,000 Troy on Hogy, the $100,000 Auntie Mame with Summer of Fun, and the $100,000 Evan Shipman on Bigger Is Bettor.

"It's been great," Rocco said. "I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to ride some really nice horses when I came up here. I'm very glad it all panned out. It's been above my expectations."

Rocco has had two multiple-win days, picking up two on Wednesday and three on August 10. His 12 victories have come for 11 different trainers.

"Joe is a good rider, a smart rider," said trainer Ian Wilkes, who teamed with Rocco to win with Elusive Act on Monday. "He's a horseman's rider. He understands the horse and doesn't just get on the horse and go around in a circle."

Rocco, who began riding in 1999, has won 11 stakes in 2013, a single-year high, with seven of those coming in graded stakes, including the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park on Tiz Miz Sue.

The leading rider at Delaware Park in 2011, Rocco earned his 1,000th career win on January 24 aboard Rustler Hustler at Gulfstream Park.

"I put him on a few horses down at Gulfstream and in the Mid-Atlantic region before, so I was kind of familiar with him," said trainer George Weaver, for whom Rocco won the Prioress and Auntie Mame. "I think he's a really good communicator, and I think he's got a lot of talent on a horse. He's kind of a natural. He's a young guy that's just going to become more and more popular. I'm sure that better and better horses are going to be there for him to ride in the future.

"Certainly, winning some stakes races and holding his own against this colony has brought him more opportunities," he added. "You try to win races and get noticed, and he's done that. I'm glad for him. He deserves it. He works hard. He put me in the winner's circle a couple of times, in a couple of big races. It's a great thing for him."

* * *

After going winless through the first 16 days of the meet, the summer is starting to heat up for trainer Jena Antonucci.

Antonucci won with two of her three starters on Wednesday and was second with the other, continuing the momentum that began on August 7, when Wisdom of Oz supplied her first career Saratoga victory.

In her first full year on the NYRA circuit and second summer in Saratoga, Antonucci entered Thursday with three wins and a second in nine starts following an 0-for-20 start.

"It's very special," Antonucci said Thursday. "The other day when we got our first win, it was very special in a different way. This meet is probably the nicest meet in the world, and everybody's bringing their 'A' game. Everybody has been busting their butt to get this done. We've been knocking on the door, so it was like, 'Come on guys, get over the hump.' It's phenomenal to have the door open."

Both of Antonucci's wins on Wednesday came with horses that were entered for Main Track Only and got to run when the races where moved off the turf. Howaboutwe, who is co-owned by the trainer, took the second race, and Currency Union was a rallying winner of the seventh.

High Inflation, another Main Track Only entrant, was in striking position in Wednesday's finale but lost ground in the stretch, only to regroup and get up for second. For the meet, Antonucci has three wins, two seconds, two thirds and purses of $166,299 with 29 starters.

"Howaboutwe is a homebred; he grew up in our backyard in Florida," Antonucci said. "My grandmother and family were here yesterday, so it was cool for them to be here for such a great day. He's obviously near and dear to us, having watched him grow up and get it done, especially second time out.

"Currency Union we purchased several months ago, and she's just evolved and developed and is becoming a nice, honest-trying filly. High Inflation is tried and true, also. All our efforts yesterday were strong, honest efforts. That's all you can ask for."

* * *

Trainer Barclay Tagg said Thursday morning that he has no concrete plans for Java's War, who was sent on Wednesday to his barn by owner Charles Fipke. The War Pass colt, winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 13 at Keeneland, most recently finished fourth in the Grade 2 Swaps at Betfair Hollywood Park and had been under consideration for the Grade 1, $1 million Travers on August 24.

"I'm not sure yet what we're going to do; he only came into my barn yesterday," said Tagg. "I'm going to fool around with him for a few days before I make any decision. The Travers is remotely possible. We'll just have to see, and of course, discuss anything with Mr. Fipke first."

The well-traveled Java's War is 3-1-1 from nine career starts, including a maiden win at Ellis Park and a victory in the Sunday Silence stakes at Louisiana Downs as a 2-year-old. This year, in addition to the Blue Grass and Swaps, Java's War finished second to Verrazano in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and 13th in the Kentucky Derby.

* * *

Stroll Stakes winner Balance the Books could wait until the Grade 1 Jamaica on October 5 at Belmont Park to make his next appearance, trainer Chad Brown said Thursday morning.

Javier Castellano guided Balance the Books to a rail-skimming neck victory over Hardest Core in the 1 1/8 mile race, giving Castellano his 33rd winner of the meet and Brown his 14th.

"[The Jamaica] is a little ways away, so I have a bunch of time," Brown said. "I don't know if I want to wait that long on him, but it depends on if there's anything between now and then that makes sense to me. If not, I'm not afraid to train him up to the race. He's not a real big, heavy horse; he doesn't take a lot of training. He's very lightly made, so he might be OK."

Winner of the Grade 2 With Anticipation and the Grade 3 Bourbon, Balance the Books has been no worse than third in six starts on turf.

"He's a real competitive horse. That's his biggest asset, I'd say," Brown said of the Lemon Drop Kid colt, who was purchased for $160,000 by Klaravich Stables out of the 2012 Keeneland April 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale.

"He breezed so well at Keeneland that day, I was thinking when I bought him that if he panned out he could be a [Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes] horse next year," Brown said. "And he just wasn't good enough or I didn't have him ready enough, but he won't be on it [synthetic] anymore."

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