“Everybody came back good,” the Hall of Fame trainer said outside his barn. “I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck.
All four of Mott’s “Super Saturday” horses will be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup, with To Honor and Serve (fourth in the Grade 2 Kelso) and Ron the Greek (sixth in the Gold Cup) joining Flat Out in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 3 and Royal Delta looking to defend her title in the $2 million Ladies’ Classic on November 2.
Mott, who also won last year’s Classic with Drosselmeyer, has never started three horses in the 1 ¼-mile race.
“It’s hard enough to get one,” he said.
Declaring himself impressed by Royal Delta’s easy 9 ½-length victory, Mott characterized Flat Out’s win as “very professional” and was hopeful Ron the Greek could rebound over a Santa Anita track he likes.
“It didn’t surprise me whatsoever,” he said of Flat Out, who headed a game Stay Thirsty in the Gold Cup. “I thought he was sitting on a race that I thought the outcome could be that. I suppose I was little surprised in Ron the Greek, that he didn’t fire. Usually, he’s been so consistent for us, but he seemed to not really like the racetrack that much. That’s the only thing we can figure out right now.”
Despite To Honor and Serve’s poor performance, the Grade 1 Woodward winner is still headed to Santa Anita.
“He really didn’t try at all,” said Mott. “He broke a little sluggish, got bumped a little leaving the gate; he just put in a dull effort. He’s coming off a very big effort in Saratoga … maybe it just took a little more out of him than what we could see. He was eating well, feeling good, worked well. But he didn’t have it in the race yesterday.
“The only good thing is, I believe that – win, lose, or draw – it was the best way to get him to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.”
Mott plans to ship his horses the Sunday or Monday before the Breeders’ Cup. He went out early in 1987 with Theatrical, the horse that brought him his first Breeders’ Cup win, in the Turf at Hollywood Park, but that was, he said, because of Theatrical’s personality.
“It was just to get him settled in and make him feel at home,” Mott explained. “These horses are all very professional. Ron [the Greek] could probably fly the plane out there.”
* * *
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has November 3 circled on his calendar as Point of Entry will now target the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita after picking up his third straight Grade 1 victory in Saturday’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.
McGaughey said he was concerned when the turf came up yielding on Saturday but was impressed with how Point of Entry coped with the off going and other adversity in his 1 ¾-length win over European invader Treasure Beach.
“I did think [Treasure Beach] was the horse to beat when the turf came up that way,” said McGaughey. “But [the turf] will be hard out there [in California]. All things being equal, I’m looking forward to going. Five weeks in between [starts], he’ll be in good form after running on that soft ground. He’s a pretty durable horse.
“I think he won yesterday not on his best race with the pace scenario and the way the turf was. The tactics of Treasure Beach, I think, fooled us a little bit. That horse opened up around the turn and floated us way out there. He was able to overcome all of that and still win pretty impressively, I thought.”
A win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf would make Point of Entry, a Phipps Stable homebred who owns additional Grade 1 wins in this year’s Man o’ War and Sword Dancer Invitational, a strong contender for Champion Turf Male and Horse of the Year, McGaughey said.
“I think that should be looked at,” said McGaughey. “We’ll see how he does in the Breeders’ Cup, but I think with his winning streak and how dominant he has been in some of his races that an Eclipse Award should be in his sight if he makes a decent effort out there.”
McGaughey said he has no definite plans for when he’ll send Point of Entry to Santa Anita, but mentioned that in the past he has given his turf horses a workout over that venue’s turf course prior to the Breeders’ Cup.
“The two times I’ve had some luck out there both horses had worked,” said McGaughey. “Lure, a long time ago, worked over the turf course [before he won the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Mile], and Dancing Forever, who finished third [in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Turf], had worked over the course, so that’s going to be in my mind.”
McGaughey said he will regroup with both Hymn Book, eighth in the Grade 1 TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational, and Hit It Rich, seventh in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational.
“I was disappointed in [Hymn Book’s] effort,” said McGaughey, who trains both runners for Stuart S. Janney III. “I thought he was coming into the race really well. I thought he would like the track. Maybe it was heavier than I thought it was. Maybe I need to drop him down a notch or two. He seems to be OK. I’ll sort of wait and see if there will be some sort of two-turn race at Aqueduct and see what he does there.
“I don’t think [Hit It Rich] handled the turf at all. None of the American horses did, I guess, because European horses were 1-2-3-4. With Point of Entry, I didn’t know if he would like it or not like it, but with Hit It Rich I felt like she might not like it with her running style. Javier [Castellano] said she was running along, was very relaxed and going along fine, but when he said, ‘Let’s go on’ along the backside and maybe open up a little bit and maybe make those other horses commit some, she didn’t open up. I realize she was jumping into another league, so if she comes out of the race fine I’ll just point her for the Long Island [Grade 3, Aqueduct Racetrack, November 10].”
* * *
The morning after the Grade 1, $400,000 Vosburgh Invitational, winner The Lumber Guy was said to be in fine fettle, while trainer Mike Hushion was feeling weary.
“I’m exhausted,” said Hushion. “He came back fine.”
The toll on Hushion may have been emotional. Although he had been confident in his colt leading up to Saturday’s six-furlong race, he was feeling jittery by the time the horse got to the paddock.
“Typically of me, and I think I’m not the only one, the last couple of days I tend to get cold feet,” Hushion said. “By the time I’m putting the saddle on, they can’t win. I think I learned that from [Allen] Jerkens, actually. I was a little concerned about the track because when Johnny [Velazquez] came out he said it seems like the horses love it or hate it and that wasn’t what I wanted to hear.”
The Lumber Guy handled the track fine as he posted a 1 ¼-length victory over eight others in the six-furlong race. One of only two 3-year-olds in the field, The Lumber Guy beat an accomplished group including Grade 1 winners Sean Avery – with whom he was coupled in the wagering – and Poseidon’s Warrior. For Hushion, the turning point in his attitude about the Vosburgh was easy to pinpoint.
“Just before they came around the bend turning for home, when he loomed up there I said, ‘Well, this is going to be the telling time,’” the trainer said. “Then I got blocked a second, for about four jumps, and then I saw he was in front and I felt pretty good. It didn’t look like anything could get to him.”
Now The Lumber Guy is Breeders’ Cup bound, though Hushion said that he and owner Barry Schwartz have not yet decided whether the New York-bred son of Grand Slam will run in the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint at six furlongs or the $1 million Dirt Mile
“We talked about [the races] again; we’re going to keep talking,” said Hushion, whose only previous Breeders’ Cup starter, Noteasybeingreen, finished 10th in the Juvenile in 1998 at Churchill Downs. “One consideration is that the [Dirt Mile] is two turns out there, which I’d like him to do, but I’d like him to do what he’s already proved he can do around one turn this time. So, we’ll see. We’ll see what the competition looks like. My best guess would be I’d go five to six days before; I’m not interested in going out there for a couple weeks. We’ll let him gallop over the track.”
* * *
Up until the moment Jersey Town took the lead in Saturday’s Grade 2 Kelso, trainer Barclay Tagg wasn’t sure he had made the right decision in sending the 6-year-old in the one-mile race instead of the Grade 1 Vosburgh at six furlongs.
Looking ahead to the Breeders’ Cup, however, the choice is clear.
“He’ll go in the [$1 million] Dirt Mile,” said Tagg. “I was really going back and forth between the Vosburgh and the Kelso, and I think in a mile you have a bit more maneuverability. I thought the top two horses in the Kelso were Billy [Mott’s] horse [To Honor and Serve] and Shackleford. I love Billy’s horse and I’ve watched him do some marvelous things. I’ve never felt I had anything that could come close to him, but he can be a little inconsistent. And I thought if he’s inconsistent, then I just have Shackleford to worry about, and maybe I should go in the Kelso. I was weighing it back and forth, back and forth, and I didn’t know whether I had made the right choice until he made the lead. But, it worked out well.”
Jersey Town, whose last victory prior to the Kelso came in the 2010 Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct, likely will head to Santa Anita as “late as possible,” said Tagg.
“We’ll try to keep him as fit and happy and healthy as we can, get him out there, and see what happens,” said Tagg, who has had five Breeders’ Cup starters, with his best finishes a pair of fourth-place efforts in 2007 at Monmouth Park from Tale of Ekati in the Juvenile and Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Mile. “I don’t know what I’m going to run into out there.
“He might not even like the track; you never know,” he added. “And then what do you do? Do you get him out there early and try and get him used to the track? And then what happens, a lot of times, is if they don’t like the track they just get worse and worse and worse. And if they do like it, you didn’t need to get out there early. So I prefer to go in at the last possible second.”
* * *
Owner Mike Repole visited Stay Thirsty at trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn Sunday morning, compelled to be with his 4-year-old colt after a head-bobbing defeat at the finish line by Flat Out in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational.
After making the pace the entire way in the 1 ¼-mile race, and repelling numerous challengers, Stay Thirsty was caught in the final strides by Flat Out, who won in a time of 2:01.44.
“I watched the race 47 times hoping that Stay Thirsty would win one of them,” Repole said. “But he lost every one.
Repole also finished second on the “Super Saturday” card with his 7-year-old Caixa Eletronica, who rallied from last to fall 1 ¼ lengths short of winner The Lumber Guy in the Grade 1, $400,000 Vosburgh Invitational.
“Caixa ran a 107 Beyer [Speed Figure] and Stay Thirsty ran a 109 Beyer. Fantastic,” Repole said. “And we came in second both races. I would say it’s equivalent to bowling 295 in two games and losing to a guy who bowled 298 and 300.”
Stay Thirsty scored victories last year as a 3-year-old in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga Race Course; he lost the Belmont Stakes by three-quarters of a length to Ruler On Ice and now the Jockey Club Gold Cup by a head. Reversing those two narrow decisions could have greatly enhanced people’s opinion of Stay Thirsty, Repole said. Still, he said, the colt’s performance Saturday definitively stamped his high quality.
“As far as Stay Thirsty, I’ve had a lot of luck in this game, and I’m so appreciative, but in racing, that was obviously the most disappointing finish I’ve ever had, and more about the horse than me. For this horse, it’s always kind of been, ‘He’s a good horse. He’s a great horse. He’s not that good.’ But I think yesterday, in defeat, I think that second was more impressive than his Travers Grade 1 win, and he probably enhanced his reputation off the loss more than he did winning the Travers. So, it’s obviously a tough second for me.
“Yesterday, he did all the dirty work,” Repole added. “He had to fight off Ruler On Ice; he had to fight off San Pablo; he had to fight off Fort Larned. At the end, he gave it all and couldn’t beat that fourth one, Flat Out. Flat Out is a deserving winner, but I think Stay Thirsty ran the best race yesterday.”
Repole, who said he picks the races for his horses, said he is unsure whether Stay Thirsty will go on to the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 3 at Santa Anita or be retired to stand as a stallion.
“He’s going to tell us whether he wants to go to the Classic,” Repole said. “This, quite possibly, could have been his last race. I have no problem with it. He’ll probably have a work two Sundays from now, and he’ll tell us.
“If you have a stallion farm in Kentucky, you’re interested in Stay Thirsty. Great pedigree, great conformation, and great ability. He checks all the boxes. So, there will be stallion plans sometime this week.”
As for Caixa Eletronica, who has had a strong year from six furlongs to the $1 million, 1 1/8-mile Charles Town Classic, a trip to the Breeders’ Cup is a possibility. The son of Arromanches would have to be supplemented for $200,000.
“If he goes to the Breeders’ Cup, we’re thinking either the six-furlong Sprint, or a mile and three-quarters [in the Marathon]. We haven’t decided yet,” Repole said, laughing.
* * *
While it was not a winning performance, trainer Dale Romans was pleased with what he saw from stable star Shackleford, who ran second in yesterday’s Grade 2, $400,000 Kelso Handicap by 3 ½ lengths.
“I wanted to see Shackleford go ahead and win, but I was happy with his performance because he did show enough to know that he’s back and fresh again,” Romans said. “The Met Mile was a tough race and took a lot out of him, to beat Caleb’s Posse. But I think he’s back, and it will really help him move forward for the Breeders’ Cup.”
It’s been an up-and-down year for the 2011 Preakness winner, starting with seventh and third-place finishes in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park and the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct, respectively.
Shackleford shined during the month of May, winning the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Sprint and, in arguably the best performance of his career, taking a loaded edition of the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park by a nose over Caleb’s Posse, with multiple-Grade 1 winner To Honor and Serve checking in third.
Given two months off following that grueling effort, the 4-year-old son of Forestry returned in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt in early August at Saratoga Race Course. Drawing the rail for his first attempt at six furlongs and his first try over a muddy track, Shackleford never factored and finished eighth.
The Kelso marked his first race in nearly two months, and sets him up for his final start, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on November 3 at Santa Anita Park.
Another Romans horse likely headed to the Breeders’ Cup is Little Mike, who prompted the pace before fading badly to finish fifth by 28 ½ lengths in yesterday’s 1 ½-mile Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.
“Little Mike just did not handle that ground at all,” Romans said. “But he came out of it good, and looks good, so we’ll regroup and head west.”
While five of his 11 victories have been at the mile distance, Little Mike’s two Grade 1 wins came in the 1 1/8-mile Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and the 1 ¼-mile Arlington Million. Romans expressed some concern in dropping him back in distance for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, but seemed to be leaning in that direction.
“We’re going to take Little Mike home and figure out what might be next,” Romans said. “We might try to back up and go to the [Breeders’ Cup] Mile if we can get him to put in a couple of sharp works and show me that he’s going to be quick enough to handle it.
Romans’ other entrant in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, the 3-year-old Finnegans Wake, was outrun early and finished fourth by 14 ½ lengths.
“Finnegans Wake didn’t handle the course very well, but he was a little up against it going against older horses for the first time going a mile and a half,” Romans said. “His best races are ahead of him. He’s going to get better with age.”
Another of Romans’ 3-year-old contingent, Dullahan, worked five furlongs in 1:00.44 over the Belmont Park main track in preparation for a start in next Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Jamaica.
“Dullahan worked super this morning; really good,” said Romans. “All systems are go for the Jamaica, he is ready to roll.”
Owned by Donegal Racing, Dullahan will be looking for back-to-back Grade 1 scores, most recently defeating top older horse Game On Dude in Del Mar’s $1 million Pacific Classic.