• Mechanicville, N.Y. native Chad Brown savoring biggest day of training career
• Three-time Travers winner Castellano to ride Romansh in "Mid-Summer Derby"
• Robbie Davis still on Cloud 9 after first Spa training victory
An eager Palace Malice went first under exercise rider Jake Nelson, breezing through a half-mile in 48.21 seconds, the 17th fastest of 70 at the distance. A few moments later, Verrazano, with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the irons and working in company, went a half-mile in 48.65 seconds, ranking 25th of 70 at the distance.
Pletcher said he was very pleased with the way both Palace Malice, winner of the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in June and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 27 at Saratoga, and Verrazano, triumphant in the Grade 1 Haskell on July 28 at Monmouth Park, look six days out from the 1 ¼-mile "Mid-Summer Derby."
"Palace Malice is feeling good," Pletcher said of the Dogwood Stable color-bearer. "He's feeling great, actually, so we were happy to get him on the track. He seems to be thriving. The more he does, the better he gets. With both horses, it's rare that you go through these Triple Crown prep series, run in the Derby - and in Palace Malice's case, the Belmont - and seem to get bigger and stronger and better as you're doing it. I think the key to the really good ones is they're able to withstand those types of campaigns and flourish while doing it."
Verrazano, owned by the partnership of Let's Go Stable, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, worked in company with Capo Bastone, who is unraced since a seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens presented by NYRA Rewards on June 8 at Belmont Park.
"Verrazano always goes in company," said Pletcher. "He's a little different personality than the other horse. I thought he went very well. His gallop-out was very good. We kind of flip-flopped their gallop-outs from last week. Palace Malice last week was a little bit stronger, so we wanted to do a little more on the day with Verrazano. We got what we were looking for."
The Travers will be the colts' second race at 1 ¼ miles. While Palace Malice faded to 12th after a setting a torrid pace in the Kentucky Derby, he went on to prove victorious in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes. Following his 14th place finish in the Derby, Verrazano went on to win the Grade 3 Pegasus at 1 1/16 miles and the 1 1/8-mile Haskell.
"With the way the racetrack came up that day in the Haskell, I think any horse that could handle a mile and an eighth and finish up as strongly as he did that day can handle a mile and a quarter at Saratoga," said Pletcher of Verrazano. "That was a very deep, demanding track that day. I think a mile and a quarter shouldn't be an issue."
Pletcher noted that Verrazano, a son of More Than Ready, and Palace Malice, by Curlin, have similar pace-pressing running styles.
"Hopefully, [that won't create complications]," said Pletcher. "It will come down to post positions and Johnny [Velazquez] and Mike [Smith] are going to have to make decisions on where they want to be. Hopefully, they don't get in each other's way, but each of them will have to run their own race to try and win. We'll talk about strategies for each individual horse, and those guys will have to sort it out."
Pletcher said he and Ed Stanco of King of Prussia Stable haven't decided whether Grade 1 Alabama winner Princess of Sylmar will compete again in 2013, and, if she does, where she will make her next start.
"We just need to see how she comes back, how she trains, how her weight is, her disposition, attitude, and all the other things you evaluate horses with," said Pletcher. "She's run two very powerful races in four weeks time."
In her two starts prior to the Alabama, Princess of Sylmar posted a 38-1 upset in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks in May at Churchill Downs, and captured the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks in July at Saratoga.
If Pletcher and Stanco are content with how Princess of Sylmar exits the Alabama, she could make her next start in the Grade 1 Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies on September 21 at Parx Racing or the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational for fillies and mares on September 28 at Belmont Park.
"If we don't go in the Cotillion and she runs again, then the Beldame would be the next possibility," said Pletcher. "I don't think we're under any time crunch. We can give her a normal three days off and go back to the track, and play it by ear over the next couple of weeks."
Pletcher said Stanco intends to race Princess of Sylmar as a 4-year-old and maybe even as a 5-year-old.
"There are plenty of reasons to stop on a lot of these [horses] as you go along, so you hate to stop on one when there's not a reason to," said Pletcher. "At the same time, she's been running all year and there's a lot of races next year, and even possibly as a 5-year-old, so you don't want to get greedy. That's what we'll have to evaluate."
Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap winner Cross Traffic recorded his first published work since his victory on August 3, zipping four furlongs in 47.83 seconds in company with Forty Tales over the main track.
Cross Traffic, a 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song, is being pointed toward the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward, a 1 1/8-mile race on August 31.
"He's been showing us pretty good energy here since the Whitney," Pletcher said of Cross Traffic, who also finished second by a nose to Sahara Sky in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap this year. "I actually feel like he's training better coming out of it than he was going into it, so we're trying to make sure the Woodward is the right spot. Certainly, the way he worked this morning indicated that he's coming out of the Whitney in good shape."
Pletcher is trying to figure out the best path to take to get Cross Traffic to the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on November 2. There is a chance Cross Traffic could be held back for the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 28 at Belmont Park.
"So, that's the decision we have to make, whether to run back here or in the Jockey Club," Pletcher said. "Based on what we're seeing, it would be pretty hard not to run him back."
Forty Tales, winner of three straight stakes - the Grade 3 Derby Trial, the Grade 2 Woody Stephens, and the Grade 2 Amsterdam - is on track for a run in the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwoods King's Bishop at seven furlongs on August 24.
"It was an exceptional work for Forty Tales, who's not, generally, a very good work horse," Pletcher said. "Today, I thought he was really good."
Pletcher also worked 2012 juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby in company with Graydar, winner this year of the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, who hasn't been out since taking the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap in March.
Both were recorded as traveling four furlongs in 49.02 seconds on the main track.
"Both were in a similar situation in terms of fitness level, so I thought it worked out really well," Pletcher said.
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Trainer Chad Brown was in excellent spirits Sunday morning, the day after enjoying the biggest day of his training career.
At 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Brown was at Saratoga to watch as his Big Blue Kitten rallied from 12th and last place to win the Grade 1, $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational, a length ahead of Twilight Eclipse. Less than two hours later, sitting in front of the TV in his barn office, Brown and his staff watched Real Solution duel with The Apache in the stretch and then get put up to first by disqualification to win the Grade 1 Arlington Million.
Two Grade 1s in the same day was a first for Brown, and they came in two of the most important grass races in the country.
"I'll tell you, it was incredible," Brown said. "Like I said, so much planning goes into these races. They're on a calendar, and you work backwards a long way out, often, and with horses, the best-laid plans rarely work out. But this time, we pointed to those two races and hit them both. It's a tremendous feeling."
Brown said he had been fielding congratulations throughout the night and into the morning, in person and via text message. Some people, however, didn't realize he had won the Million.
"I had a couple [texts] late, to be honest with you, that said, 'Great win in the Sword Dancer. I'm sorry; your horse ran great in the Million. Good job,'" Brown said. "I had an owner today tell me, came up to me just now, one of my clients, and he said, 'Hey, great win yesterday, but in the Million, tough beat.' Some people just walked away."
* * *
Godolphin Stable's Romansh will have a new rider when he makes his next start in the Grade 1 Travers.
Trainer Tom Albertrani has enlisted three-time Travers winner Javier Castellano to ride the 3-year-old Bernardini colt, who was placed first following the disqualification of his entrymate, Transparent, in the Curlin Stakes on July 26.
Castellano and Albertrani teamed up to take the 2006 Travers with Bernardini. Castellano, who entered Sunday's card with a meet-leading 40 victories, also won the race in 2010 with Afleet Express and 2011 with Stay Thirsty.
Jockey Junior Alvarado had ridden Romansh in each of his past three starts, including the Curlin, but is committed to Will Take Charge for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas in the Travers.
"We were shopping around for another rider, and Javier happened to be available," Albertrani said Sunday morning. "We've won it together before, so maybe we'll do it a second time."
Eddie Arcaro, Braulio Baeza, Jimmy McLaughlin and Pat Day, with four each, are the only riders to have more Travers wins than Castellano. He is also one of only five riders to win in back-to-back years, joining Charles Miller (1869-70), George Barbee (1874-75), Eric Guerin (1953-53) and Eddie Maple (1980-81).
Having Castellano ride Romansh for the first time in a big race is not a concern for Albertrani.
"Guys like him ... they don't always have to have a race under them to get a feel for them," he said. "They're pretty adaptable to the horse, and I think he'll make a nice fit. The horse isn't complicated, really, so we've just got to put him in a place and go from there and stay out of trouble."
Albertrani also reported that Twilight Eclipse emerged from his runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer in good shape, and would likely be pointed to the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park on September 28.
"He's very fresh, walking around on his toes this morning. He looked good," he said. "He ran great. We were pretty optimistic about him running a good race in there. It was nice to see him come back just the way we were expecting."
* * *
Robbie Davis won 277 races and nearly $11 million in purses at Saratoga Race Course during a 22-year riding career, including such stakes as the Hopeful, Saratoga Special, Saranac and Honorable Miss.
One of his most emotional wins came on Saturday, more than a decade after he was forced to retire because of knee problems. Sandyinthesun, a 6-year-old Say Florida Sandy gelding he co-owns with Thomas Ponterella, got his nose down on the wire to take the eighth race at odds of 23-1.
Sandyinthesun returned $49.20 on a $2 win bet, and was the first training victory at Saratoga for the 52-year-old Davis, who has four horses in training on his farm in nearby Middle Grove, N.Y.
"It's just unimaginable. You'd think it was the dang Travers or something," said Davis, who hugged and high-fived people in and out of the winner's circle. "Sandy's like one of our kids. We bought him as a yearling. He's part of the family. We've gone and taught him along the way, and he's just really responded well, so it's gotten really exciting."
The win was the third in 22 lifetime starts for Sandyinthesun, the first two coming with Davis' daughter, Jackie, in the irons. One of six children, Jackie Davis was riding Saturday at Suffolk Downs, while her brother, Dylan, had mounts at Ellis Park and Indiana Downs.
Junior Alvarado was aboard for Saturday's victory.
"The only way it would have been better is if Jackie was here," Davis said. "Junior rode a great race on him."
As a trainer, Davis won with two of 19 starters from 2011-12, and was 0-for-27 this year. He last posed for a winner's circle photo at Saratoga on August 24, 2002, after riding 46-1 long shot Atfirst Blush.
Sandyinthesun was making his second start at the meet, having run eighth in the John's Call stakes on July 31. He has run six times at the Spa, including his career debut on Sept. 4, 2011, and is responsible for all three of Davis' training wins.
"We've got a little farm outside of town here on Stone Church Road," Davis said. "We've got a couple of babies there. We hope to have one each year and not get too crazy or anything. This is what we do. We love being around the horses."