• Unbridled Forever breezes for G1 Alabama
• Veteran jockey Alex Solis inducted into Hall of Fame
• Empressive Humor to face winners for the first time in G2 Adirondack
• G1 Whitney winner Moreno returns to track
• CCA Oaks top four slated to meet again in G1 Alabama; fields forming for G2 Knob Creek Lake Placid, G1 Sword Dancer Invitational
• 'Travers Dead Heat' voted signature drink of Mid-Summer Derby
With regular exercise rider Kelvin Pahal up for the breeze, Wicked Strong galloped once around the track before breaking off from the half-mile pole and sailing around the turn and through the stretch. The 3-year-old son of Hard Spun maintained his powerful stride past the wire, galloping out five furlongs in 1:01 and 3/5, according to NYRA clockers.
"I thought it was good," said Jimmy Jerkens, who trains Wicked Strong for Centennial Farms. "I told [Kelvin] to start out easy, and that's the beauty of working over here at the Oklahoma [training track], they don't overdo it. I thought everything was perfect; it was just what we wanted. The time was just right, and he seemed to gallop out on his own, willingly. I thought it was a good work for two weeks after his last race and to set him up for a more serious work next week."
Following a pair of disappointing efforts in South Florida over the winter, Wicked Strong burst onto the 3-year-old landscape with a convincing win in the Grade 1 TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial on April 5 at Aqueduct Racetrack. After a pair of fourth-place finishes in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, Jerkens decided to outfit his ornery colt with blinkers in the Jim Dandy.
The equipment change paid immediate dividends. Wicked Strong was much keener early in the Jim Dandy; he pressed a solid early pace set by Legend and was still able to repel a challenge from Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, drawing off to win by 2 ¼ lengths.
"He's maintained [since the Jim Dandy]," said Jerkens. "He's gotten a little feistier since he's been up here, which colts tend to do. In a congested area like this, there's a lot of activity. It's not easy to take him out for a graze like it is [at Belmont]. There's a lot of noise, but in a good way; he has to get used to it. There's going to be a lot of noise on Travers Day. He's not going to be a perfect angel ever. I'm really happy with where we're at right now."
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Charles Fipke's Unbridled Forever tuned up for her run in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama on Friday, working a crisp five furlongs in 1:00.40 on the main track under exercise rider Pedro Valez.
Trained by Dallas Stewart, the 3-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song is coming off a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, a race in which Stopchargingmaria beat her by five lengths.
"She worked beautiful," Stewart said. "From her last race to now, she has gained weight which is a good sign. She came out of a hard race. It shows that she handled it and handled the race. She's handled the hard training we've given her - some good mile-and-a-half gallops. They have been strong on the end. Today's work was spectacular. It was very comfortable. It was perfect."
Rosie Napravnik will pick up the mount on Unbridled Forever for the Alabama.
Now Unbridled Forever will get an extra furlong for the 1 ¼-mile Alabama on August 16.
"The added distance will benefit her," Stewart said. "She'll probably run the same type of race. She'll be off the pace, strong finish. The extra furlong will probably be the difference."
* * *
As he walked to the podium to accept his induction into the Hall of Fame late Friday morning, jockey Alex Solis was greeted with a standing ovation from a packed house at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion.
Based this summer at Saratoga, Solis has won 4,991 races, 321 graded stakes and more than $256 million in purses in a career that began when he left his native Panama for Florida in 1982. Three years later, he moved to Southern California where he rose to prominence on the back of Snow Chief, winner of the Preakness and Champion Three-Year-Old Male of 1986.
"It's really amazing," said Solis. "I am honored to be here. It's something I never dreamed would happen in my life. I want to thank God for making me this size. If I had been a little taller, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant might have been in trouble."
Solis was introduced by fellow Hall of Famers Laffit Pincay Jr. and Chris McCarron, his rivals and friends from California. Like Solis, Pincay, who retired as the all-time leader in races won and now sits third with 9,530, is from Panama.
"I met Alex when he came to California from Miami about a hundred years ago," said Pincay. "He said he always wanted to meet me. He was always asking me questions. I felt like I was putting the rope around my neck because he kept winning and winning. It's a well-deserved honor and something that had been coming for a long time."
Over the course of his career Solis has won 83 Grade 1 stakes, the most recent coming in the Spinaway at Saratoga last summer with Sweet Reason. Others in New York included the 2011 Jockey Club Gold Cup, 2010 Forego, 2006 Acorn, 2004 Metropolitan and Carter handicaps and 2002 Manhattan.
"He's always been passionate about his occupation and always been passionate about the game," said McCarron. "I admire his work ethic, dedication and the way he rides and conducts himself. I'm privileged to call him my friend."
Solis delivered an emotional and heartfelt speech, thanking his family, friends, trainers, owners, trainers, agents and horses for helping him land thoroughbred racing's ultimate honor.
Friday's inductees were joined by 20 living Hall of Famers in jockeys Ron Turcotte, Eddie Maple, McCarron, Randy Romero, Earlie Fires, Angel Cordero, Jr., Pincay, John Velazquez, Jacinto Vasquez, Jose Santos, Manny Ycaza, Edgar Prado and Jorge Velasquez and trainers Bill Mott, John Veitch, D. Wayne Lukas, Roger Attfield, Janet Elliott and Shug McGaughey.
"I left Panama 30-some years ago with $700 and big dreams of being somebody," said Solis. "I am here today living something that you only dream about."
* * *
A professional winner of her debut at Saratoga on July 23, Empressive Humor will make her next start in Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Adirondack for 2-year-old fillies.
Third choice in a field of six, the chestnut daughter of Distorted Humor saved ground behind favored pacesetter Overspending into the stretch before swinging to the outside for a duel down the lane that ended with Empressive Humor a neck in front at the wire.
Trained by Steve Asmussen for owner-breeder Jerry Durant, Empressive Humor ran five furlongs in 58.31 seconds under jockey Rosie Napravnik. Joel Rosario takes the reins for the 6 ½-furlong Adirondack from outside post seven.
"She's a mature-minded, physically mature filly that did everything extremely right in her first race," said Asmussen. "She came out of it in very good shape."
In 2011, Asmussen won the Adirondack with My Miss Aurelia in her second start. She went on to win the Grade 1 Frizette and Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies en route to Champion Two-Year-Old Filly honors.
"It's a huge jump from a maiden race to a graded stake at Saratoga," said Asmussen, "but she has given us all indications that she deserves the opportunity."
* * *
Southern Equine Stable's Moreno returned to the main track Thursday for the first time since upsetting the Grade 1, $1.5 million Whitney on August 2.
The 4-year-old gelded son of Ghostzapper jogged two easy miles Thursday and Friday and likely will stay on that regimen leading up to an engagement in the Grade 1, $600,000 Woodward on August 30 at the Spa.
"He'll work seven days out [before the Woodward]," Guillot said.
After breaking tardily in the Whitney, Moreno rushed between horses to the lead under jockey Junior Alvarado and set measured fractions of 47.50 for the half-mile, 1:11.31 for six furlongs and 1:35.41 for the mile, always at least a length in front of the rest of the field. He repelled a challenge from Itsmyluckyday in the stretch and won by 1 ¼ lengths, getting the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.05.
The colorful Guillot said he has heard rumors that a "rabbit" might be employed to occupy Moreno in the Woodward, and he said he doesn't mind what the opposition plans.
"If they have to do that, it makes me feel great," he said. "Do they not realize where I come from? I've been hunting rabbit all my life. I've been skinning rabbit since I was a kid and eating a baloney sandwich with the same hand. Do you think a rabbit's going to hurt me? Come on."
* * *
The top four finishers from the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks are likely to return in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama on August 16.
Stopchargingmaria is probable to headline the Alabama field for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole. The dark bay or brown daughter of Tale of the Cat captured the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan on the Preakness undercard before taking the CCA Oaks by five lengths in her most recent outing. Pletcher may also be represented by Got Lucky, runner-up in the Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct, and most recently winner of a first-level allowance race at Saratoga.CCA Oaks runner-up Unbridled Forever is likely to be sent out by trainer Dallas Stewart. Owned by Charles E. Fipke, the bay filly has now placed in three consecutive Grade 1 races but has not entered the winner's circle since a victory in the Silverbulletday on January 18 at the Fair Grounds. Trainer Bill Mott is probable to saddle the third and fourth-place finishers from the CCA Oaks, Miss Besilu and America, and
Fortune Pearl rounds out the list of probables for the Alabama. The Mineshaft filly, trained by Graham Motion, finished third in the Black-Eyed Susan before taking the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks in her latest outing.
Daring Dancer, winner of the Grade 2 Lake George on July 23, and Grade 1 winner Minorette are among the horses pointing to the Grade 2, $300,000 Knob Creek Lake Placid for 3-year-old turf fillies going nine furlongs on August 16. Daring Dancer began the year taking the Grade 3 Appalachian at Keeneland in April and, following a dull effort in the Wonder Again at Belmont, stepped up to win the 1 1/16-mile Lake George by a head. Runner-up in the Wonder Again, Minorette came back to take the inaugural Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational by two lengths on July 5. Also expected in the Knob Creek Lake Placid are Crown Queen, a Spa allowance winner on July 30 and a half-sister to champion Royal Delta; Wonder Again winner and Belmont Oaks runner-up Sea Queen; and Xcellence, a Group 3 winner in her native France. Stellaris is also possible.
Flaxman Holdings' Main Sequence, winner of the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park in his first start since being transferred from England to the barn of Graham Motion, is among the probable starters set to run in the Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational on August 17. Also pointing toward the 1 ½-mile turf fixture is Grade 1 Man o' War winner Imagining for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, multiple graded stakes winner Amira's Prince for Hall of Famer Bill Mott, multiple graded stakes winner Tannery, world-record holder Twilight Eclipse, O'Prado Ole, Perfect Timber and War Dancer.
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Anna Englehart of Nove Restaurant outmixed nine other bartenders at the inaugural Knob Creek Travers Mixology Event to create this year's signature cocktail for the 145th running of the Travers Stakes, the Travers Dead Heat.
A perfectly blended combination of Knob Creek bourbon, fresh lemons and cranberry juice, the Travers Dead Heat will be unveiled at the Travers Draw Party at Druthers in downtown Saratoga Springs on Tuesday evening, August 19, and served at Saratoga Race Course on Travers Day, Saturday, August 23.
At the mixology event, held at the Hall of Springs in Saratoga State Park, a distinguished panel of four judges tasted their way through 10 cocktails, which were mixed on site by area bartenders from Boca Bistro, Chianti, Fasig-Tipton, Gaffney's, Harvey's, Nove, Prime at Saratoga National, Siro's, Seven Horse Pub, and Wheatfields.
After three rounds, the Travers Dead Heat was a narrow but clear winner, scoring the most points in three categories: taste, appearance and originality.
The rest of the field dead-heated for second.
The recipe for the Travers Dead Heat follows:
1.5 ounces Knob Creek Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
.75 ounces Cointreau or Triple Sec
Juice of one-half lemon
Lemon wheels, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled halfway with ice and shake well. Serve straight up with a floating lemon wheel or on the rocks with three lemon wheels, for garnish.