Friday, August 08, 2008
WEST POINT FEATURES REMATCH OF STATE-BRED TURF SPECIALISTS
Sunday’s 29th running of the $100,000 West Point Handicap for older New York-bred males on the turf at nine furlongs will feature a rematch between the 1-2-3 finishers in last month’s Thunder Puddles Stakes, with an additional seven horses looking to crash the party.
Nyala Farm’s Banrock heads the Thunder Puddles contingent following his fast-closing 1 ¾-length score on good turf in July over Gimme Credit and Classic Pack. Three races back, Banrock took Kingston Handicap in similar style on yielding turf.
The question may be answered on Sunday if the weather cooperates, but rain in Saratoga is always a possibility.
Even if the turf is to Banrock’s liking, the pace scenario may not be to his advantage. The five-year-old son of Go for Gin has run his best races when he settles off the pace, but the West Point appears to be almost paceless. Bush isn’t too worried, though, and will defer to Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux when it comes to strategy.
“I leave that up to the jockey,” he said. “In turf racing, I’m not so sure that pace is all that important anyway, because, you know, horses seem to finish very strong even when it’s a slow pace.”
Gimme Credit, trained by Tim Hills, and last year’s West Point winner, Classic Pack, will look to turn the tables on Banrock. Hammock, who finished seventh in the Thunder Puddles, will also run on Sunday.
They will all have to catch Mission Approved, who looks like the lone speed in the West Point. The Gary Contessa-trained four-year-old has already proven dangerous when loose on the lead with his win in the Grade 3 Singspiel Stakes at Woodbine, but tired to finish last in the Grade 1 Man o’War Stakes that featured Red Rocks and Horse of the Year Curlin’s turf debut.
Key Event is a bit of a mystery horse, having not raced since July 2nd of last year at Philadelphia Park. He won an optional claimer that day by nearly five lengths in his first start since October of 2006.
“He had a tendon problem -- it wasn’t that serious, but tendons are tendons,” explained trainer Daniel H. Foster III. “The winter came. It was just circumstance. We couldn’t train him in the winter - there was no point - so we decided to just wait. He’s never been better [than he is now].”
The Backwards Stable homebred has run well when he has been healthy, with multiple stakes placings and a respectable showing in the Grade 3 Red Bank Stakes at Monmouth in ’06.
Even so, this seems like an ambitious spot for a comeback. But Foster doesn’t see it that way: “He’s eligible for an open two-other-than, but he’s not eligible for a New York-bred two-other-than. I figured that [the open two-other-than] could be harder than the New York-bred stake, so I entered him in this spot.”
Angel Penna, Jr. will send out Al Basha for Bembridge Farm. The gray four-year-old son of Aljabr won the Mohawk Handicap at Belmont in 2007 and returned this year to finish fourth, beaten less than two lengths, in his comeback against open company in an optional claimer at Belmont on July 16.
The field for Sunday’s $100,000-added West Point Handicap:
PP Horse Jockey Weight Trainer
1 Hammock Rajiv Maragh 114 Richard Schosberg
2 Extra Zip Channing Hill 114 Carlos Martin
3 Gimme Credit Edgar Prado 116 Timothy Hills
4 Mission Approved Eibar Coa 119 Gary Contessa
5 My Man Lars Javier Castellano 113 George Weaver
6 Classic Pack Jose Espinoza 115 Ramon Hernandez
7 Key Event E. Vaz 115 Daniel Foster III
8 Banrock Kent Desormeaux 119 Tom Bush
9 Al Basha Cornelio Velasquez 117 Angel Penna Jr.
10 Foreverness Robby Albarado 117 Gregory Sacco
Key Event was supplemented to the West Point.
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