• Graded stakes possible for John's Call winner Hyper; Normandy Invasion back in training
• Laugh Out Loud favored over seven in De La Rose
• Hot Stones busting out for Levine, Valente
• Za Approval under consideration for G2 Fourstardave
• Tiger Bourbon to go next in turf sprint
Ridden by Paddy Young, the 7-year-old gelding - a full brother to 2008 Travers winner Colonel John - completed the 2 1/16 miles in 3:50.92 for his fourth win in eight starts since being transformed from a stakes-placed flat horse to a jumper.
"He's still a big baby, really, in relative terms to steeplechasing," said Young. "I'd like to think he can keep improving and get bigger and stronger and better. With steeplechasers, it's got to do with confidence. They've got to believe in themselves. Flat horses are the same, but these horses have to believe that if something goes wrong in a race they can get back up and do it. He was the utmost professional today."
Mr. Hot Stuff, who in 2009 was 15th in the Kentucky Derby and eighth in the Belmont Stakes, ran his last race on the flat in August, 2010. In 2011, under the tutelage of trainer Jack Fisher, the son of Tiznow was turned into a steeplechaser and he won two of four starts over the fences.
Unraced in 2012, Mr. Hot Stuff finished third in his first start this year, won the restricted Marcellus Frost Stakes in May and was fourth in his first graded stakes attempt in a jump race, the Grade 3 David L. Ferguson Memorial, in June.
"He has the talent and he used it today," said Fisher of Mr. Hot Stuff, who is owned by Mrs. S. K. Johnson. "He's taken to the jumps because he doesn't have to work that hard. Seriously. It's not as tough; he's not going down there in :23. It's just a nice easy gallop for him. Sometimes, doing this, if it's easy enough, they'll try again. He's a beautiful horse."
Sent off at 5-1, Mr. Hot Stuff returned $12 for a $2 win bet. Finishing 2 ½ lengths behind him were favored Italian Wedding, with entrymate Divine Fortune a neck back in third. Spy in the Sky, Brave Prospect, Hunt Ball and Meganisi completing the order of finish. Demonstrative was scratched.
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Hyper, winner of the 10th running of the John's Call on Wednesday, likely will make his next appearance this fall at Belmont Park, said trainer Chad Brown.
"The 1 5/8 miles was a question mark, but we thought we'd take a shot," said Brown of the 6-year-old son of Victory Gallop's victory. "More than likely, he'll go in a graded stakes, but I don't know where or when. He had a hard race at 1 5/8 miles, so he probably won't run back here this meet."
Hyper has been no worse than third in six starts this year, including a neck victory in a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer at Gulfstream Park.
Brown added that Normandy Invasion, second in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack and most recently fourth in the Kentucky Derby, was back in training. The colt missed several workouts with a foot abscess in July.
"He's been galloping for over a week, but I am not sure of the timetable," said Brown of the bay son of Tapit, who is owned by Fox Hill Farms. "After another week of galloping, I might let him breeze. Right now, I just want to get him to his first breeze and then go from there."
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Laugh Out Loud, a Group 2 winner in England who finished sixth in the Grade 1 Just a Game on June 8 at Belmont Park, returns to listed company on Saturday when she faces seven other fillies and mares as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the $100,000 De La Rose at a mile on the inner turf.
"It seems like a logical spot to put her back in a listed race," said Chad Brown, who took over the 4-year-old filly's training following her North American debut for owner Martin Schwartz. "The Just a Game didn't work out for her at all. They ran her off the plane and I wasn't involved with the process. Coming out of the race, she's been training very well."
Javier Castellano will ride Laugh Out Loud from post position 3.
Ruthenia, most recently third in the Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap at Monmouth Park, is the 3-1 second choice in the De La Rose. Trained by Christophe Clement, the 5-year-old mare will tote co-high weight of 123 pounds, including Jose Lezcano, when she leaves from post position 6.
Expected to attract support as well are Baffle Me, second to Samitar in the Fairy Garden overnight stakes on July 4 last time out, and Sweet Little Lion, winner of the Hollywood Wildcat Stakes at Calder Race Course, who is making her debut for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
Rounding out the field are Open Water, Assateague, Embarr, and Miss Montreal.
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The third time was the charm for Hot Stones, a green but impressive maiden winner on Wednesday for trainer Bruce Levine and local owner Roddy Valente.
A 3-year-old Bustin Stones filly, Hot Stones was entered main track only twice earlier in the meet, but scratched when the races stayed on turf. Sent off as the 4-5 favorite in her second career start, she won by 4 ¼ lengths under a hand ride from jockey Joel Rosario.
"That was impressive," Valente said Thursday morning.
A native of nearby Loudonville, N.Y., Valente owns the New York-bred Hot Stones with Charles Casale and Darlene Bilinski.
"I still think she ran green. She was taking dirt in her face and dropped back, and [Rosario] was scrubbing on her," Valente said. "Once she saw the outside, she just drew away. She's got some learning to do, but she's just going to get better with racing.
"She trains like a good horse. You always get excited about one like that, because you don't get excited about a lot of them. But, she showed a lot of ability in the morning."
Levine believes Hot Stones to be a stakes-caliber filly but has no plans to rush her along.
"She's the best Bustin Stones I've got," Levine said. "I think she'll be a stakes horse down the road with a little more experience. We'll let her run through her conditions and get some seasoning. I think late fall you'll see [her in a stakes]. I think there's still more in the tank."
Seeing the Bustin Stones progeny do well is particularly meaningful for Valente and Levine. Valente owned and Levine trained the New York-bred son of City Zip, whose career was cut short by injury after winning all six lifetime starts, including the Grade 1 Carter and Grade 2 General George handicaps as a 4-year-old in 2008.
Bustin Stones, who stands for $2,500 live foal at Waldorf Farms in North Chatham, had seven winners from 17 runners in 2012 as a first-crop sire, with purse earnings of $294,307. This year, has 11 winners from 22 runners and purses of $551,772.
"They're all precocious, kind of like him," Levine said. "The important thing is, the offspring are all sound. I was very hesitant because he was so unsound, but all the offspring are very, very sound. They all get starts and they make the races. It's good to see that. That's a big factor, especially today, to get a stallion to throw sound horses."
Levine is considering a 3-year-old Bustin Stones filly, Keep Bustin, for the $100,000 By The Light overnight New York-bred stakes on August 8. Keep Bustin has three wins and two seconds in seven starts this year and was third in an allowance optional claimer on June 19 at Belmont Park in her most recent effort.
"There's a two-other-than and a stake; we'll see which one goes and we'll be in one of the two of them," Levine said. "She's doing good. We'll keep our fingers crossed."
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Trainer Christophe Clement said Thursday said Za Approval will breeze at Saratoga in the next few days to determine whether the 5-year-old will compete in the Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap on August 10.
"We'll speak to owner [Charlotte Weber] about it," said Clement. "The main thing will be how the horse trains. He's going to breeze either tomorrow, Monday, or Saturday, I don't know. We'll see what's going on with the weather. If he works well and comes out of it in good shape, we'll go to the race. If not, we'll go somewhere else."
Za Approval, winner of the Grade 3 Appleton in March at Gulfstream Park and Grade 3 Red Bank in June at Monmouth Park, was second to Obviously by 3 ¼ lengths in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on June 29 at Betfair Hollywood Park in his most recent start.
In addition to Ruthenia in the $100,000 De La Rose on Saturday, Clement added that he plans to run Mystical Star in the $100,000 Waya on Monday and Bella Castani in the $100,000 restricted Auntie Mame on August 10.
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Tiger Bourbon, a promising maiden turf winner July 12 at Belmont Park, worked four furlongs in 48.05 seconds Thursday, 11th best of 35 horses, breezing on the main track in company for trainer Eddie Kenneally.
Owned by Bourbon Lane and Michael McMahon, the 2-year-old son of Big Brown out of the stakes-placed Tejano mare Tigresa is shopping for a turf sprint stakes after being considered for the Grade 2 Saratoga Special on dirt August 11.
Tiger Bourbon won his debut in a gritty effort between horses by a half-length, running six furlongs on the grass in 1:09.93.
"We like him a lot," said Kenneally assistant George Scott. "He's improved a lot since his first run, and he's grown. We couldn't be happier with the progress he's made. We want to run him at Saratoga on the grass and we want to stick to the grass. He's our nicest prospect, for sure.
"We think him being by Big Brown, and the way he gets across the surface, we think he's a grass horse. He did very well to win first time out because he wasn't a horse we had really drilled. He came naturally. He wanted to run, and he fought hard. His character is he's a real fighter; that's why we love him."