Monday, July 28, 2008
SARATOGA NOTES, Sunday, July 27, 2008
Saturday’s Whitney Day card produced a total handle of $25,017,332, the third-highest, non-Travers Day total in Saratoga Race Course history.
Additionally, the $500,000 guaranteed all-stakes Pick 4 resulted in a total pool of $734,523.
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Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito gave every credit to Commentator after the 7-year-old gelding won his second Grade 1 Whitney Handicap by 4 ¾ lengths over Student Council and Grasshopper. Zito was thrilled that the New York-bred, owned by Tracy Farmer, can now be counted alongside multiple Whitney winner Kelso.
With Commentator’s Whitney victory, part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” series, he is now guaranteed entry in the Grade 1, $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on October 25. Among the races Zito is considering for Commentator is the $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap for older horses running nine furlongs at Suffolk Downs on September 20.
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Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard reported this morning that Augustin Stables’ Forever Together came out of the Grade 1 Diana Handicap in good shape after defeating Dynaforce by three-quarters of a length. It was the first graded stakes turf win for the 4-year-old roan filly, who has dramatically improved since she switched surfaces.
“She seemed to do remarkably well,” Sheppard said. “She didn’t seem too distressed at all. It’s amazing what she has done. She goes from finishing fourth in an allowance race at Gulfstream to winning a Grade 1 race.”
Sheppard is now trying to establish a schedule for Forever Together, who earned an automatic bid into the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf on October 24 at Santa Anita. Two races under consideration are the Grade 1, $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational at 10 furlongs on September 27 at Belmont Park and the Grade 1, $1 million E.P. Taylor Stakes, also at a mile and a quarter, on October 4 at Woodbine.
“Regarding future plans, we haven’t completely finalized anything,” Sheppard said. “We are still trying to map out a campaign for her. We are looking at one or two races before the Breeders’ Cup.”
Last year, Forever Together won the Grade 2 Forward Gal Stakes and finished second in the Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes on the dirt but could not sustain that form.
In her first start on grass, Forever Together won an overnight stakes race at Arlington Park, and in the Grade 1 Just A Game Stakes at Belmont rallied to a third-place finish behind Ventura and Lady of Venice.
“I thought it was time to try something different,” Sheppard said. “She trained very well over the Keeneland Polytrack. Since Arlington was not that far away, we took a shot at the overnight stake. I knew it was a big jump for her in going into the Just a Game. Turning for home in that race, I knew we had something good. She ran very well.”
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Hall of Fame trainer Robert Frankel was still amazed with the way Ginger Punch managed to defend her Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap title by muscling her way between horses after being boxed in at the top of the stretch.
“I was nervous watching the race live,” Frankel said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought I was dead. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t like to be that excited. She’s fine and everything was all right this morning.”
Ginger Punch, who will be defending her title in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, formerly the Distaff, at Santa Anita on October 24, will “probably” run in the Grade 1, $600,000 Beldame Stakes for fillies and mares at nine furlongs at Belmont on September 27, said the trainer.
Frankel said he would also look at the Grade 1, $400,000 Personal Ensign on August 22 at Saratoga, a race which is under consideration for Stronach Stables’ Spring Waltz, the Grade 2 Rampart winner who was scratched from the Go for Wand.
“Who knows? I could change my mind and run [Ginger Punch] in the Personal Ensign,” said Frankel. “There’s good money. I think she [Spring Waltz] could have won that race yesterday. She’s a nice filly.”
Frankel said Juddmonte Farms’ First Defence, second in the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt to Abraaj, may run in Grade 1, $250,000 Forego Handicap on August 30.
“I thought he ran okay,” Frankel said. “He lost position down the backside in the first eight of a mile. I don’t know if he would have won the race, but I think it did cost him a length or two when he checked out. If he gets the lead, he can go from there.”
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Trainer Steve Asmussen did not suggest any future plans for Millennium Farms’ multiple Grade 1 winner Student Council after he finished second to Commentator in the Grade 1 Whitney.
“I was pleased with his effort,” Asmussen said. “He ran hard and well. We’ll evaluate him and discuss it with the owners and see what is best for him. I think he is an elite horse.”
Copper State, also owned by Millennium Farms, followed with another strong second-place finish in a graded stakes in the Grade 1 Go For Wand.
“I think this was a big jump forward for our mare; she got beat by a champion,” Asmussen said. “This establishes who she is. She’s solid. Now, we just want to get that effort in a spot where she can win.”
Grasshopper, who returned to the site of his near-upset in last year's Grade 1 Travers against Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense to finish third to Commentator in Saturday’s Whitney, looked good Sunday morning, said trainer Neil Howard.
“He came out good,” said Howard. “Nothing is definite yet (for the future). We’re going to wait a little while, make sure he’s doing well in the next couple weeks.”
When asked if the Grade 1 Woodward here on August 30th was
a possibility, Howard replied, “Sure. We’ll keep all our options open and kind of get a feel of what everyone else is doing and then make a decision. But not right away, though.”
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Hall of Fame trainer Billy Mott was pleased with how Dynaforce, second-place finisher in the Grade 1 Diana, came out of Saturday’s affair.
“She looks pretty nice, she looks good,” said Mott. “We would like to make the Flower Bowl (Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park on September 27th). Whether we do something in between, we don’t know.”
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The Christophe Clement-trained duo of Rutherienne and Vacare, third- and fourth-place finishers in the Diana, respectively, appear no worse for wear.
“Both fillies came back in good order,” Clement said. “The horses looked good to me this morning, they cleaned up good and they look okay.
“I will keep them both eligible for the Ballston Spa (Grade 2 here at Saratoga on August 21st), and maybe Vacare will also be eligible for the Palomar at Del Mar.”
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Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt winner Abraaj, was happy with how his horse ran and how well he exited Saturday’s race, which automatically qualified him for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on Saturday, October 25.
“He came out of the race great,” McLaughlin said. “We were very happy with the race at the finish. At the beginning, we were worried when, at the three-eighths pole, he kind of went back.”
Nothing is definitely etched on Abraaj’s schedule, but the Grade 1 Forego Handicap here on August 30th is a possibility.
“We’ll look at the Forego, but we also have Lucky Island pointed to that race for the same owner (Shadwell Stable),” McLaughlin said. “So, we'll discuss it with Rick Nichols and Sheikh Hamdan and decide if we want to run one or both. We’ll see who’s doing better of the two.”
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Sammarco, third-place finisher in the Vanderbilt, also came out in good order. Trainer Mike Hushion has not decided on future plans.
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