• Bobby's Kitten tries to bounce back in G2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame
• Pletcher, Asmussen reflect upon careers of Ashado & Curlin, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Friday
• Unbridled Forever, Commanding Curve training toward starts in G1 Alabama, G1 Travers, respectively
• Silver Freak turns in devastating performance Wednesday in optional claimer, possible for G2 Bernard Baruch
• Chilean import Tricky Hat, winner of the John's Call, coming around for McGaughey
• Ribaudo looking at stakes for Quay following Wednesday optional claiming win
"He came out of the race well," Lukas said. "We've got to get a better trip and a different scenario, but the horse is doing super."
Lukas had bemoaned drawing the inside post for the Whitney and then Will Take Charge wound up traveling wide into the first turn, three wide on the far turn and five wide in the stretch.
"That didn't help us, and then he caught a lot of dirt," said Lukas. "He's got that big, white strip on his face, and you couldn't even tell what color he was when he pulled up. He took a lot of flack. But that's horse racing, and we have no control over some of it. The fact that we had to make it to the outside while the other two horses got the inside and got the first run made a big difference. But they won the race and we were third, so we'll see what happens next."
Lukas will unveil the intriguing 2-year-old filly Lady Zuzu in the 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight carded as the fourth race Friday. The Three Chimneys-owned daughter of Dynaformer out of the A. P. Indy mare Indy Pick is a half-sister to multiple graded stakes winner Optimizer and cost $1,225,000 as the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sales topper.
"That won't help her when the gate opens," Lukas said. "She's got to prove it. She cost a lot, but we might have got a lot for our money, too. We'll see. I don't know if she's [going to do well at] 5 ½ furlongs, but we've got to start her somewhere."
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After Bobby's Kitten impressively won the $500,000 Penn Mile on May 31 with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 95, trainer Chad Brown decided to try his 3-year-old speedster at 1 ¼ miles in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational on July 5 at Belmont Park.
Rating an uncharacteristic 5 ½ lengths back through a half-mile in 48.43 seconds, Bobby's Kitten moved to the leaders heading into the far turn but failed to respond in the drive.
With that, Brown decided to focus Bobby's Kitten on middle-distance turf races, and the colt appears set for the Grade 2, $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame on Friday at 1 1/16 miles.
"It was too far for him," Brown said of the Belmont Derby. "Once it was apparent the horse wasn't going to be effective at a mile and a quarter, [jockey] Javier [Castellano] took care of the horse and got him back. He's been training real well since, and I think this race fits him good."
At the start of his career, Bobby's Kitten was a headstrong front-runner, breaking his maiden in a powerful score at 1 1/6 miles last summer at Saratoga and then taking the Grade 3 Pilgrim in October at Belmont Park. He led the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf deep into the lane and finished third.
He wired the field in his 3-year-old debut at Tampa and then tried and failed in a move to the synthetic surface for the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. With that, Brown began working Bobby's Kitten behind horses in an attempt to get him to rate, and the Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred son of Kitten's Joy responded with his finest performance in the Penn Mile.
"We've breezed him behind horses; I think the horse has really improved a lot in that area, being able to rate a bit," Brown said. "He's been very cooperative in the morning. His last couple breezes have been with Javier. We worked him solo the last two works, and he did real well. I'm confident he can position this horse wherever he wants in this race.
"He's not just a flash-in-the-pan 2-year-old from last year. I think this horse is proven. I expect him to continue to develop and even get better as he gets older. Hopefully, he's a horse we have in the barn for a long time. That's a real factor in these mile turf races."
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Late Friday morning, thoroughbreds Ashado and Curlin will take their place among the racing legends set to be enshrined with the Class of 2014 in the Hall of Fame. On Thursday, their trainers reflected on the careers which landed them the sport's ultimate honor.
Owned in partnership by Starlight Stables, Paul Saylor and Johns Martin, Ashado won 12 of 21 career starts and banked $3,931,440 in purse earnings from 2003 to 2005, and was voted the Champion Three-Year-Old Female of 2004 and Champion Older Mare of 2005.
A daughter of Saint Ballado, seven of Ashado's wins came in Grade 1 races, including the Spinaway at Saratoga in 2003 and Kentucky Oaks and Breeders' Cup Distaff in 2004. She won three times in five tries at the Spa, adding the 2003 Schuylerville and 2005 Go for Wand.
"It's quite an accomplishment for any horse or person to make it to that level, so we're proud of her for being able to do that," said her trainer, Todd Pletcher. "She was second in the Breeders' Cup as a 2-year-old, so she was one place away from being a champion three years in a row.
"She was very good at 2, very good at 3 and very good at 4, and I'm sure had she raced at 5 she would have been good then, too. She was very consistent, and for me, she was the first Kentucky Oaks winner, first Breeders' Cup winner, and now first Hall of Fame inductee. It's pretty cool that she's the first one to accomplish all that."
Late wine magnate Jess Jackson purchased Curlin following his impressive maiden victory at Gulfstream Park in February 2007 and moved him to the barn of trainer Steve Asmussen. The Smart Strike colt would go on to earn four Eclipse Awards in two years, including back-to-back Horse of the Year titles in 2007 and 2008.
Part of one of the best 3-year-old crops in recent memory, Curlin was third in the Kentucky Derby, won the Preakness and was second in the Belmont Stakes in 2007 before reeling off wins in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic over older horses. In 2008, he captured the $6 million Dubai World Cup, Stephen Foster, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup - all Grade 1 - and was second in the Grade 1 Man o' War on turf and fourth in the first Breeders' Cup Classic run on a synthetic surface.
He retired as North America's all-time leading earner with $10,501,800 in purses, winning 11 of 16 starts.
"I think how he responded to difficult situations is what separated him from anything I've ever been associated with," said Asmussen. "For him to get done what he did in the year that he did, against a very fast group of horses that put up tremendous numbers; to have only started your career in February, run in all three Triple Crown races and then beat older horses with everybody still being around in the Classic at the end of the year, you just don't do it.
"Not only did he do that, but he goes to Dubai the following year, wins the World Cup and then was one of the few horses to come back and still maintain a Grade 1 level. He built on what he did instead of chipping away at what he did."
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Charles Fipke's Unbridled Forever is scheduled to return to the work tab Friday morning, her first breeze since finishing second in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 20.
Trainer Dallas Stewart said the 3-year-old Unbridled's Song filly is still on course for the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama on August 16. Winner of the Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds in January, she ran third in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks, Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks and Grade 1 TVG Acorn prior to the CCA Oaks.
"She's doing very well," said Stewart. "She's put on weight since her race and I'm very happy with that. She ran solid. I think a mile and a quarter will be good for her. She's very healthy and she's training great."
On Saturday, Stewart expects to work Commanding Curve for the first time since his fourth-place finish in the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy on July 26. The Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 23 remains the next target.
"He's doing really well. The last two days have been really great for him," said Stewart. "He's eating well and taking the hard training good, just what we like to see."
Meanwhile, Stewart is pondering a surface switch for Golden Soul, the 2013 Kentucky Derby runner-up who most recently was last of eight in a 1 1/8-mile entry-level allowance at Saratoga on July 26. Also owned by Fipke, he is nominated to the $100,000 Alydar at nine furlongs on the main track August 17.
"I'm trying to talk to Chuck [Fipke] about maybe getting him on the grass," said Stewart. "He's galloping on the grass over here [at the Oklahoma training track]. He ran one time on the turf at Kentucky Downs but got injured, so I think we should give him another shot. I have to talk to Chuck to see what he thinks."
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Silver Freak lived up to his name in Saratoga's eighth race on Wednesday, an optional claiming event. The 5-year-old gelding spurted away from the field early, leading his opposition through strong fractions of 23.48 seconds for an opening quarter-mile and a half in 46.80. After three-quarters in a swift 1:10.05, Silver Freak continued his tour de force down the stretch, completing the one-mile distance in 1:33.58 - just .16 seconds off the track record.
"He ran a fantastic race," Brian Lynch, who trains Silver Freak for Rajendra Maharajh, by telephone. "We got fortunate he got loose on the lead. I thought [Joe's Blazing Aaron] might go with him, but when that one didn't challenge us we were left alone on the lead. He's a very dangerous horse when left alone."
Silver Freak has a habit of running freakishly well. The son of Badge of Silver turned in a similarly devastating performance over the winter at Gulfstream Park, running 1 1/16 miles in 1:39.24 after getting an uncontested lead. After two subsequent disappointing performances as the odds-on favorite - one at Gulfstream and one at Woodbine - Silver Freak rebounded on Wednesday at 5-1.
"He struggles with Woodbine; I think it's the one turn and the long stretch," said Lynch. "One of his best attributes is that he runs turns so well. He gains a little ground on the turn, and he gets a little bit of a breather as [the field] has to chase him."
The electrifying turfer may get another crack at two-turn racing at Saratoga in the Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap on August 30, according to Lynch.
"There's always a possibility he'll be back [for the Bernard Baruch]," said Lynch. "He's back up at Woodbine now and he looks very well. We'll nominate to the race and see what happens."
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Tricky Hat became a two-time stakes winner when he got his nose down at the perfect time to take the restricted John's Call on Wednesday, but it's taken patient handling by Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey to get the gelding to where he is today.
Bred in Chile, Tricky Hat won a single race in his native country before he was purchased by owners Andrew Rosen, Robert Trussell, and Gainesway Stable and sent to the United States. He had one win and a pair of third-place finishes in his first six starts for McGaughey before he won an optional claimer at Saratoga and the Laurel Turf Cup a year ago.
Following the Laurel Turf Cup, Tricky Hat was third in an off-the-turf edition of Keeneland's Sycamore last fall, second in an allowance and fifth in the Grade 2 Elkhorn in April at Keeneland, and last of 14 in the Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes in June prior to his victory in the John's Call.
Tricky Hat is by Hat Trick, making him a grandson of Sunday Silence, the nemesis of McGaughey's protégé Easy Goer. McGaughey said a combination of Tricky Hat's temperament and a slow acclimation process forced him to bide his time with the 5-year-old.
"He's a little fiery," said McGaughey. "They bought him in Argentina, and he was already a gelding. It took him a long, long time to adapt. I'm talking a year and a half to two years before he even got to looking right. He was a lot nastier then than he is now. I kept training him, and he got healthier. He's good now."
McGaughey said he will consider the Laurel Turf Cup, the Grade 3 Sycamore at Keeneland, or possibly a race over the all-weather surface at Woodbine for Tricky Hat.
On Friday, McGaughey will send out first-time starter Co, a granddaughter of Hall of Famer and top broodmare Serena's Song, in race 4, a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight on the turf for 2-year-old fillies.
Co hails from a family that has been successful on both the dirt and the turf, and her sire, Candy Ride, has sired runners who have succeeded on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces.
"I worked her only once on the grass, but she worked fine," said McGaughey. "I think the Candy Rides have been better on the turf and synthetic than they have been on the dirt, so that was a little bit of my thinking. She was at Fair Hill and she trained on the Tapeta, and she liked that. I think she'll run on the dirt, though. She worked real well out of the gate on a wet-fast track, so if it rains, that wouldn't hurt her, either."
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With a sensational turn of foot through the lane in a 5 ½-furlong turf optional claimer on Wednesday, 4-year-old Tapit filly Quay showed she might be ready to tackle stakes company for owner Marc Keller and trainer Bobby Ribaudo.
Trailing the field of eight through a half-mile in 45.39 seconds, Quay took a few taps from jockey Jose Ortiz and took off along the rail to win by three-quarters of a length in a time of 1:02.48. She got the final half-furlong in a blazing 5.78 seconds.
Quay won for the third time in 11 starts, with four seconds and a third and earnings of $202,390.
"She tries all the time," Ribaudo said. "Her best distance is the one turn. Probably six or seven [furlongs] might be a little better for her, but she's run well at 5 ½ like she did yesterday. Her title now is 'Come-From-Behind Sprinter.' You hope she stays sound and her mind stays good. We're keeping our eyes open for stakes races now."