• Orb progressing well toward Travers; McGaughey impressed with weekend stakes results
• Oxbow recuperating after suffering soft-tissue injury in Haskell; Travers still possible but unlikely
• Fort Larned turns in final breeze for G1 Whitney
• Csaba re-routed to Whitney
• Zito taking a shot with Fast Falcon in G1 Whitney, pointing Declan's Warrior to G1 Foxwoods King's Bishop
• McGaughey, Sciacca, to be guests of Parcells at NFL Hall of Fame induction Saturday
• Demonstrative, Divine Fortune meet in G1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase
• August 6 "Lunch with Funny Cide" at Old Friends at Cabin Creek
Pletcher was back in Saratoga on Monday morning after saddling Verrazano to a record-setting 9 ¾-length victory in Sunday's Grade 1, $1 million Haskell at Monmouth Park. On Saturday, Palace Malice followed up his impressive Belmont Stakes victory in June with an emphatic triumph in the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga.
"We're fortunate to have two such outstanding colts," Pletcher said. "You hate to run horses against each other from the same barn, but in this case I think it's the logical case for both horses and both owners. We'll see how they both come back and both train, but right now it certainly looks like they're likely to show up in the Travers."
Pletcher won the Travers with Flower Alley in 2005 and Stay Thirsty in 2011. Verrazano returned to Pletcher's Saratoga barn Monday morning.
"He shipped back great and looks really good this morning," Pletcher said. "It was a powerful performance. The Pegasus, with the misfortune of Itsmyluckyday getting hurt, kind of left everyone not knowing how well he ran. I think he put any questions about that to rest yesterday."
Pletcher won four stakes over the weekend, including the Grade 2, $200,000 Amsterdam with Forty Tales and the $100,000 Sir Cat with Winning Cause, both Sunday at Saratoga. Forty Tales is likely to come back in the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwood King's Bishop on the Travers undercard.
"It was a great weekend. We're blessed to have some pretty talented horses," Pletcher said. "[Forty Tales] has really found his niche. He's a tough little horse that keeps delivering one good performance after another.
"Winning Cause ran very well," he added. "We started him on the turf here last year because we thought he showed improvement when we breezed him over the turf. His first two starts, maybe he just needed a little time to get it together. That was a good effort for him yesterday."
One of the many horses Pletcher breezed on Monday was multiple Grade 1 winner Shanghai Bobby, the Two-Year-Old Male Champion of 2012 who was timed in 38.95 seconds for three furlongs by NYRA clockers on the main track.
Owned by Starlight Partners, Shanghai Bobby has been out of action since being diagnosed with a slight pelvic stress fracture following his fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 30. He returned to light training after a June 4 ultrasound exam of the area came back clean.
"It was his first work back, and it went very well," Pletcher said. "It was just an easy three-eighths. It was nice to get him back on the work tab. He went just nice and easy by himself, just getting him back into a routine. He did exactly what we were hoping he would do, and seemed to handle it well."
Shanghai Bobby won all five of his starts in 2012, including the Hopeful at Saratoga, the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park and the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. He is 0-for-2 this year, also finishing second in the Grade 2 Holy Bull.
"Now, we'll kind of start to pick it up gradually as we go along," Pletcher said. "Basically, he'll be on a weekly work schedule from here, but I don't see him making a race here at Saratoga."
* * *
Before Palace Malice won the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and Verrazano took the Grade 1 Haskell, Kentucky Derby winner Orb took another step toward the Grade 1 Travers when he worked a half-mile on Saturday at the training center in Fair Hill, Md. in 48 1/5 seconds.
The work was Orb's fourth since his third-place finish behind winner Palace Malice in the Belmont Stakes, and Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said he is pleased with the way the Malibu Moon colt is coming up to the "Mid-Summer Derby."
"It was foggy, so I didn't see too much, but I liked what I did see," he said. "It was very good, and he seemed to come out of it good."
McGaughey said he was impressed by the performances of the Todd Pletcher-trained Palace Malice and Verrazano.
"I thought Verrazano ran great," he said. "The races were good."
* * *
Preakness winner Oxbow emerged from his fourth-place finish in Sunday's Haskell with a soft-tissue injury, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas reported Monday morning.
Oxbow returned on Monday to Lukas' barn at the Oklahoma training track, where his progress will be closely monitored. He was pulled up shortly after crossing the wire in the Haskell.
"The X-rays were all perfectly clean," Lukas said. "It's what you guys would call an ankle sprain, it looks like. I was more concerned with a condylar [fracture] or something like that but, boy, he had a pretty set of X-rays. It's amazing. For a horse with that many [starts], they were really clean."
Ridden by Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, Oxbow led through fractions of 23.90 and 48.22 seconds, going six furlongs in 1:12.43 before dropping back. He managed to hang on for fourth, a head in front of Pick of the Litter.
"He just wasn't traveling comfortably," Lukas said. "Gary overreacted probably a little bit, but the good thing is we X-rayed him from top to bottom and everything's clean. [Stevens] thought at the half-mile that he was starting to get uncomfortable, and he just kind of held him from there."
Lukas was unsure of the timetable for Oxbow's return, leaving his status for the Travers uncertain. Sixth in the Kentucky Derby, he finished second to Palace Malice in the Belmont Stakes.
"You never know," Lukas said. "Horses react differently to different situations. After seeing everything yesterday, I felt comfortable in that I didn't rule out the Travers, but that's probably the reality of it. I would say the fall and looking toward the Breeders' Cup seems reasonable."
Lukas expects to be represented in the Travers by Grade 2 winner Will Take Charge, who ran second to Palace Malice in Saturday's Jim Dandy.
* * *
Trying to become only the second horse to win the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap Invitational in back-to-back years, Fort Larned indicated his readiness for Saturday's 86th edition with a bullet five-furlong breeze Monday morning.
NYRA clockers caught the 5-year-old bay son of E Dubai going five-eighths in 1:00.71 on the main track under regular rider Brian Hernandez, Jr., the fastest of 31 works at the distance.
"Everything went good; we're very happy," said Ian Wilkes, who trains Fort Larned for owner Janis Whitham. "It was just how he did it. It was a little crisp work, just the right way. I put a horse out there in front for him. I didn't want to hurt the other horse ... but I wanted something for him to look at."
Discovery, who won three consecutive Whitneys from 1934-36 when it was contested at 1 ¼ miles, is the only horse to win the race in successive years. Hall of Famer Kelso (1961, 1963, 1965) and New York-bred Commentator (2005, 2008) are the only other horses to win the Whitney more than once.
Fort Larned won the 2012 Whitney, run at 1 1/8 miles since 1955, in 1:47.76, beating Ron the Greek by 1 ¼ lengths.
"It would be special," Wilkes said. "I'm fortunate enough to train a few horses for Marylou Whitney, which would make it even more special."
This year, Fort Larned stumbled and lost his rider in his debut, the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap in March, then was fifth, beaten 10 ½ lengths, in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on April 13.
Given a freshening, Fort Larned came back to wire the field in Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap on June 15 at Churchill Downs, his most recent race.
"I feel good," Wilkes said. "I think he's a more mature horse right now; he's more battle-tested. He's run some huge races against some of the best competition."
The post-position draw for the Whitney will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. in the Saratoga paddock. Also expected to be entered are Alpha, Cross Traffic, Csaba, Fast Falcon, Mucho Macho Man and Successful Dan.
* * *
Csaba, a 4-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, was a late addition to the probable field for Whitney Handicap on Saturday by trainer Phil Gleaves.
The multiple graded stakes winner, who has scored in five of his past seven starts, was being pointed toward Friday's Birdstone overnight stakes, and Gleaves elected to go to the Whitney when that race drew only three entries.
"We were pointing toward the Birdstone, but it is what it is, and it didn't fill," said Gleaves, who is based at Calder Race Course. "We've come up here with a horse that is ready to run, so we'll go in the Whitney."
Csaba, third last out in the Grade 3 Salvatore Mile at Monmouth, has experience over the Saratoga main track at the Whitney distance of 1 1/8 miles. Last year, he was beaten a nose by Quick Wit in an off-the-turf running of the Grade 2 Hall of Fame. Csaba set the fractions throughout the race only to be caught at the end.
Gleaves had entertained thoughts of running in the Whitney even before the cancelation of the Birdstone.
"I had it in the back of my mind that if it was a small field we would go in the Whitney," he said. "It's going to be a field of high-quality animals. We're going to see where Csaba fits."
* * *
Although Richard C. Pell's Fast Falcon hasn't yet won a stakes in 10 tries, Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito remains undaunted and plans to run the 4-year-old in the Whitney.
"There's no law that says he can't post an upset," said Zito of Fast Falcon, who has finished second or third in four graded stakes. "This is a track that's famous for all of this. That's why we're running. Right? As an old jockey agent told me once, two jockey agents, 'If you don't run, you can't even lose.' You like that one? 'If you don't run, you can't even lose.'"
Fast Falcon, third by a neck in last year's Grade 1 Travers, is entering the Whitney off thirds in Belmont Park's Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap on June 7 and Grade 2 Suburban Handicap on July 6.
"He just needs to drop his head, come with a run, and, hopefully, it sets up for him," said Zito. "You can have 50 races run, and if you get just one lucky break it makes up for all of them. We take a lot of chances. Running in a Grade 1 is an opportunity."
Zito expressed disappointment with Declan's Warrior's fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Amsterdam on Sunday but still plans to run the colt back in the Grade 1 Foxwoods King's Bishop on August 24.
In the Amsterdam, Declan's Warrior trailed the field in seventh and made a belated run to finish fifth, beaten 3 ¾ lengths.
"He was hanging out with Joel [Rosario, aboard eventual winner Forty Tales], and the next thing you know Joel had six lengths on him," said Zito, who trains Fast Falcon for his wife's Lucky Shamrock Stables. "I would have taken him out as wide as I can so he could see daylight, and maybe he would have came. He stood there for a minute and wasn't making up any ground, and then he took off again. He was fifth by [3 ¾ lengths]. It's kind of a tough situation. Seven furlongs is probably a little better [than the Amsterdam's 6 ½-furlong distance], but I thought he was going to close a little better."
* * *
Saratoga Race Course will be missing two well-known trainers on Saturday, August 3, as both Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey and Gary Sciacca will be in Canton, Ohio as guests of former NFL coach Bill Parcells for his enshrinement into the NFL Hall of Fame.
Parcells, a resident of Saratoga Springs who races horses as August Dawn Stable, spent 19 seasons as a head coach in the NFL, 14 of them winning years. He led the New York Giants to victories in Super Bowls XXI and XXV and the New England Patriots to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXI. Parcells, 71, was the first to lead four different teams into the playoffs. He retired in 2006, having coached the Dallas Cowboys to two playoff appearances in his four years there.
"I'm excited about it; excited for him," said McGaughey, who met Parcells while he was coaching the New England Patriots. "It's an opportunity I'll probably never get again. The guy has been a good friend, and he was nice enough to invite me. I'm going to head over there and see what it's all about. It's a huge honor, no matter what sport it is."
Parcells will not be on hand to watch his Saratoga Snacks, a winner of six of eight starts, in Thursday afternoon's John Morrissey, where he is the 7-5 morning-line favorite. Sciacca, who trains the 4-year-old, will leave on Friday for the weekend's ceremonies.
"I'll make the jacket dinner that night, where they give him the gold jacket, and get to meet everybody, and then I'll go to his party on Saturday," said Sciacca. "I'm looking forward to it."
* * *
Trainer George "Rusty" Arnold said his top turf filly Centre Court showed no signs of injury following her last-place finish Saturday in the Grade 1, $600,000 Diana Stakes on the inner turf course.
Centre Court won the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley this past April at Keeneland, the Grade 2 Honey Fox in March at Gulfstream Park and three graded stakes last year. The 4-year-old Smart Strike filly rated in the Diana under jockey Julien Leparoux and then tackled leader and eventual winner Laughing on the backstretch in the 1 1/8-mile race. Instead of unleashing her routine late punch, Centre Court faded in the drive and was beaten by 3 ½ lengths.
"We haven't found any problem with her," Arnold said. "She came back well, and we'll move forward from there. I was very disappointed. She didn't run up to my expectations and didn't run up to her ability."
Arnold said the pace dynamic of the Diana did not favor Centre Court, who normally is not asked to provide significant pace pressure to a leader.
"The way it set up, it went her way," Arnold said of Laughing. "The race was kind of a funny-run race the way it came up for all the horses except her - not that she didn't run a great race, because she did - and she was sitting on a good race."
Centre Court took seven weeks off after her win in the Jenny Wiley and finished fourth as the beaten favorite in the Grade 1 Just a Game over yielding ground June 8 at Belmont. In that race she was bottled up and checked, according to the chart callers, but she did not rebound in the Diana.
"Something has gone a little bit wrong, and I've got to find out what it is," Arnold said. "It's not glaring. I've got to get her back to the racetrack, let her train and see what I find."
Arnold said Centre Court would get back on the track in the next couple days, and, if all goes well, she will be pointed toward the Grade 2, $250,000 Ketel One Ballston Spa at 1 1/16 miles on the grass August 24, Travers Day.
* * *
Jacqueline Ohrstrom's Demonstrative and Bill Pape's Divine Fortune, who finished a neck apart in their most recent meeting, will clash again Thursday in the Grade 1, $100,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase.
A field of eight was entered for the 2 1/16-mile Smithwick, the featured jump contest on Saratoga's first Steeplechase Thursday doubleheader. Kicking off the race program will be a $65,000 optional allowance hurdle that drew a full field of 12 with two also-eligibles.
Demonstrative, 8-5 favorite on the morning line, and Divine Fortune met most recently in the Grade 1, $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois in Nashville on May 11. With his characteristic late charge, Demonstrative edged ahead late in the three-mile race to best Divine Fortune, who battled gamely to the finish.
The undisputed current leaders in the battle for this year's steeplechase Eclipse Award, Demonstrative and Divine Fortune both have strong Saratoga credentials. Trained by Richard Valentine, Demonstrative won two Saratoga stakes last year, the Jonathan Kiser Novice and the Grade 1, $150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup. Regular jockey Robbie Walsh will be aboard Demonstrative for the Smithwick.
Divine Fortune, a member of Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard's stable, won the Smithwick in 2010 and 2011 before a fifth-place finish last year.
Now 10, the Royal Anthem gelding bred by Pape and Sheppard started the 2013 season with an easy victory in the Sandhills Cup allowance hurdle in North Carolina on April 6. Darren Nagle, who became Divine Fortune's regular jockey last fall, will be in the saddle.
Sheppard also entered his Italian Wedding, with the entry at 9-5 on the morning line.
Rounding out the field are Hunt Ball, Maganisi, Spy in the Sky, Mr. Hot Stuff and Brave Prospect.
* * *
Old Friends at Cabin Creek in Greenfield Center will host a lunch with Funny Cide, the 2003 winner of the Kentucky Derby, on Tuesday, August 6 from 12:30-3 p.m. On hand for the event will be the New York-bred gelding's owner, Jack Knowlton, trainer Barclay Tagg, and assistant Robin Smullen, and jockey Jose Santos. Lunch will be catered by Five Point Deli, with a suggested donation of $20 to benefit the retired race horses at the farm. For information, visit http://www.oldfriendsatcabincreek.com or call (518) 698-2377.