Monday, September 03, 2012

SARATOGA RACE COURSE NOTES: Sunday, September 2, 2012

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott was all smiles Sunday morning as he reported that To Honor and Serve emerged from his victory in the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward in excellent shape.

“He looks great,” said Mott of To Honor and Serve, who won for the eighth time in 15 career starts, with six of those victories coming in graded stakes. “It was nice to see him come back.”

Mott, who trains To Honor and Serve for Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation, said the Breeders’ Cup on November 3 at Santa Anita would be the final major objective for the 4-year-old colt, who then will stand as a stallion at Gainesway Farm.

“Obviously, working backward, we want to go to California and we want to go to the Breeders’ Cup,” said Mott. “We’d have to decide whether we’d run in the [Dirt] Mile or the Classic. I think the connections, obviously, if at all possible and if we had a chance, would like to run in the Classic.”

While To Honor and Serve went into the 1 1/8-mile Woodward off an eight-week freshening, Mott said he would consider a race in between.

“Looking at the Belmont schedule for him, maybe we’d have a look at the Kelso [Handicap, one mile, September 29], although it’s going back from a Grade 1 to a Grade 2, and it’s a handicap, so we’d have to see what happens with the weights,” said Mott. “It’s on the list of things to think about.

“There’s nothing wrong with having a little momentum, a regular schedule [going into the Breeders’ Cup],” he said. “I mean, Cigar ran in the Woodward, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic and it wasn’t too much for him. But there aren’t many Cigars, I suppose.”

The mention of Cigar brought to Mott’s mind another of his many champions –

Theatrical, who died Friday at the age of 30. A winner of $2.9 million and 10 of his 22 career starts, including six Grade 1s, Theatrical went on to sire 81 stakes winners.

“He was probably one of the best horses I ever trained, or ever will train,” said Mott. “He was my first champion, my first Breeders’ Cup [1987 Turf] winner. He won six Grade 1 stakes my first year in New York, and I trained a ton of stakes winners by him. He bought my first home in New York, single-handedly. He was probably the most life-changing horse I ever had.”

* * *

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin reported Sunday morning that Emcee, who registered Godolphin Racing’s fourth Grade 1 win at Saratoga this summer when he captured yesterday’s Forego, emerged from the race in fine fettle. The 4-year-old Unbridled’s Song colt will either run in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational on Super Saturday, September 29 at Belmont Park, or train up to the Breeders’ Cup on November 3 at Santa Anita Park, McLaughlin said.

“Emcee came out of his race great,” McLaughlin said. “I’m very pleased with the way Alan [Garcia] rode him. The setup was great. When Shackleford didn’t run, it was just follow [Pacific Ocean], and it worked out perfectly for us.

“Looking back at the [Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, in which Emcee finished third on August 5], we went early because we were in the two hole and Shackleford was in the one hole. We thought we had to beat him. So, [the plan was] break and go. Going to the Breeders’ Cup, if we go in the Sprint, they’re most likely going to go 21 and 43 anyway, so we’ll be laying off of them.”

McLaughlin said the six-furlong Breeders’ Cup Sprint was the probable choice for Emcee, though the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile also would be considered.

“Most likely [we would look at the Sprint],” McLaughlin said. “I just sent an email to Simon [Crisford, Godolphin racing manager] that we have to discuss. The difference is that the mile is two turns at Santa Anita. If it was one turn, like at Belmont, we’d be talking more about it, but thinking about two turns, it changes a lot. We’re probably better sprinting. It’s just that [in the mile] we’d probably be on the lead, and is that where we want to be?”

The matter of a final prep for the Breeders’ Cup is also up in the air.

“The Vosburgh is a question mark,” McLaughlin said. “That’s another thing I’m going to talk to Simon about. Because he did run back in four weeks here, and he had a little gap before that, but we could do either. He’ll stay here, [to train at] Greentree.”

McLaughlin also confirmed plans for Godolphin’s other stakes runners, all of whom are scheduled for fall races ahead of the Breeders’ Cup. Alpha, winner of the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and co-winner with Golden Ticket in last weekend’s Grade 1 Travers dead heat, will head next to Parx Racing for the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby on September 22. Questing, who annexed the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks and Grade 1 Alabama this Spa season, will run in the Grade 1 Cotillion at Parx on the same day. It’s Tricky will join Emcee at Belmont Park on Super Saturday for a start in the Grade 1, $400,000 Beldame Invitational at 1 1/8 miles. While Alpha is scheduled for a start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Breeders’ Cup races for the fillies remain in flux, as McLaughlin would like to keep them separate at year’s end.

“It’s Tricky will run in the Beldame, and then we have to talk about seven-eighths [in the Filly and Mare Sprint] or the [1 1/8-mile Ladies Classic] because of Questing,” reasoned

McLaughlin. “We’ll see how she does. If [Questing] wins impressively again, it might alter It’s Tricky’s course. We’ll see; we have races still to go.”

* * *

Following an eventful Saturday afternoon, all was quiet late Sunday morning at trainer Todd Pletcher’s corner of the Saratoga backstretch.

On Saturday, the 45-year-old Pletcher won his 22nd juvenile race of the meet when first-time starter Micromanage took the fifth; he captured the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap with Dominus, making his turf debut; and clinched his third straight Saratoga training title, and ninth overall.

Pletcher also finished fifth in the Bernard Baruch with Queen’splatekitten; fifth and sixth in the Grade 1 Woodward with Stay Thirsty and Rule, respectively, and was fourth in the Grade 1 Forego with Caixa Eletronica.

Entering the final two days of the 40-day meet, Pletcher led all trainers with 35 victories, just three away from matching the record he set last summer, and eight in front of runner-up Chad Brown. Pletcher also is the runaway leader with purse earnings of $3,214,869 at the meet.

“We always say our success here depends greatly on how well our 2-year-olds do, and this year was a perfect example of that,” Pletcher said. “We started off the meet horribly, going 1-for-22. We finished up well and hope to cap it off with some more good races in the next couple days.”

Pletcher will saddle Corail in today’s Grade 1 Spinaway for 2-year-old fillies. On Monday, he has entered Bubbly Jane in the Grade 3, $150,000 Glens Falls, and the trio of Lawn Man, Overanalyze and Shanghai Bobby in the Grade 2, $300,000 Three Chimneys Hopeful for juvenile males.

“You can always expect that when you come up here, it’s going to be very competitive and hard to win races,” Pletcher said. “We have an appreciation of how hard it is to win here, and anytime you do, you’re grateful and look forward to trying again next year.”

Pletcher reported that all his stakes runners emerged from their races in good order. Making just his second start since last August, Dominus, now 2-for-2 for Pletcher, won the Grade 2 Dwyer in 2011 for previous trainer Steve Asmussen.

“We haven’t really discussed any future plans. I would say he’s got a lot of options in front of him now,” Pletcher said. “I guess anytime you’re successful on the turf in a race like that, and it seemed like he won authoritatively, you’d kind of be thinking about turf. At the same time, he’s an accomplished horse on the dirt. We’ll just kind of wait and see how he comes out of it and how some of these races shape up and talk to the connections about not so much what the next race plan is, but what the overall game plan is.”

Owned by Mike Repole, Stay Thirsty had won three of four career starts at Saratoga, with one second, prior to the Woodward, in which jockey Javier Castellano lost his whip at the eighth pole and wound up beaten just 4 ¼ lengths for it all.

“I was a little disappointed,” Pletcher said. “It seemed like he broke just a little sluggishly and put himself into a good spot tracking To Honor and Serve and Mucho Macho Man and just needed rousing. Watching the replay a couple times, and considering the tight quarters he was in, it might have been helpful if Javier had his stick and could have encouraged him through there.

“It didn’t cost him the win, but it might have cost him third or fourth. I have to talk to Mike and see what’s up next for him. When you break it down, it wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t quite what we expected based on how well he trained.”

* * *

Scratched by trainer Dale Romans from the Grade 1, $500,000 Forego on Saturday because of a persistent cough, Shackleford now will be pointed toward a run in the Grade 2, $400,000 Kelso Handicap, a one-mile race September 29 at Belmont Park.

On Sunday morning, Romans sent his barn star out to the Saratoga main track for an easy jog. The cough bothering Shackleford wasn’t enough to keep him stall-bound, but Romans wasn’t about to throw his two-time Grade 1 winner into a top sprint at less than 100 percent.

“You just don’t run a coughing horse,” Romans said. “There’s something going on, but we took him out for a light jog.”

Shackleford, who captured the 2011 Preakness Stakes, won the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap this year on Kentucky Derby Day and used that victory as a springboard to his sensational score in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap on May 28 at Belmont Park.

He arrived at Saratoga this summer as one of the top-ranked horses in the country, but in his first outing at the Spa he finished last in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap over a muddy track. Romans said the inside post and course conditions bothered Shackleford that day and called the race a toss.

The cough cost him his opportunity at redemption. Still, the trainer said he wasn’t all that disappointed.

“No, not really,” Romans said. “We’ve had him now since he was a young 2-year-old and he’s missed one race. He never missed a day of training I was pointing for; he’d never missed a race. Nothing. He shows up every time.”

Shackleford now will return to his base at Churchill Downs and prepare for the Kelso and then a run in the Breeders’ Cup, likely the final races of his career.

“What we want to do is win the Breeders’ Cup,” Romans said.

Asked if the Kelso would lead to a run in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Romans preferred to keep his options open.

“Still not sure, but that’s the most obvious spot,” he said. “Not that we won’t do something that’s not obvious. We’ll figure it out.”

* * *

Grazing in the courtyard outside the barn of trainer Kathy Ritvo, Mucho Macho Man looked none the worse for wear following his dramatic runner-up finish as the favorite in Saturday’s $750,000 Woodward.

Making his first Grade 1 start since the 2011 Belmont Stakes, the multiple graded stakes winner shook off some early traffic trouble to come up a neck shy of winner To Honor and Serve following a thrilling stretch run.

“He’s doing very good. You can’t win them all,” Ritvo said. “He ran a good race. He’s just over there chilling, eating grass. We didn’t get a perfect trip yesterday, but he came back great and that’s the most important thing. He didn’t give up. He tried really hard.”

Boxed in along the rail by Stay Thirsty in the early part of the race, Mucho Macho Man swung out to take on front-running To Honor and Serve at the top of the stretch but could not get by the winner.

“Whatever anybody was going to do, they were going to do. It’s race riding,” Ritvo said. “I think he’s going to learn a lot from the race. When he finally got off the rail, he started running.”

Ritvo said the Grade 1 TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 29 at Belmont Park remains an option for Mucho Macho Man, who is being pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Santa Anita.

“He ran a great race; a winning race,” owner Dean Reeves said. “He just didn’t get the trip. We’ll try them again somewhere.”

* * *

Go Unbridled, winner of Monday’s Saratoga Dew Stakes, will make her turf debut in next Sunday’s $150,000 John Hettinger for New York-bred fillies and mares at Belmont Park, Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens said on Sunday.

In 2011, Go Unbridled was a Main Track Only entrant for the John Hettinger and won after it was taken off the turf. Her first two breezes following the 2011 Hettinger came over the Belmont inner turf course.

“We were going to [try her on grass] one time,” said Jerkens, who trains the 5-year-old for Howard T. Whitbred. “We were dirt only [in last year’s Hettinger], and we’ve worked her a few times on grass and she worked OK. You can’t really tell until you run them, though.

Jerkens said Go Unbridled exited her 6 ½-length win in the Saratoga Dew in good shape but that he has no way of knowing whether she’ll handle the 13-day turnaround until she actually tries it.

“You never know with horses,” said Jerkens. “Sometimes [the turnaround] doesn’t affect them at all and they recuperate. You can never tell. Horses a kid you a lot. Sometimes they look like they feel good, and then when you run them they get extra nervous like you shouldn’t have done it, but then it’s too late.”

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