“He’s such a tremendous horse,” said trainer Steve Asmussen of Curlin, who finished second to Red Rocks in his first test on the turf July 12 in the Grade 1 Man o’War at Belmont Park in his last start. “The remarkable thing about him is, when you watch him come back, you can’t tell whether he’s jogged, galloped or breezed. He’s got an air about him, he sure does.”
“Everything is up in the air,” said Asmussen.
When Pyro came up a half-length short to Macho Again in Sunday’s Grade 2, Jim Dandy, it was the third second-place finish in a stake for Asmussen over the weekend, having sent out the runner-up to Ginger Punch in Saturday’s Grade 1 Go for Wand with Copper State and the runner-up in the Grade 1 Whitney behind Commentator with Student Council.
“That’s three seconds in very nice races this week, which is kind of the theme of it,” said Amussen.
“I’m disappointed Pyro didn’t win,” he added. “He ran hard. It could have unfolded for him a lot differently. He was shuffled back further than he wanted to be early and it’s so hard to make up ground here. The track was playing pretty funny right then. Had it rained more, or not rained at all, it might have been a little more favorable. With that being said, he ran second to a nice horse and he needs to run back better.”
Pyro could get that chance in the Grade 1, $1 million Travers presented by Shadwell Farm here on Saturday, August 23.
“The Travers is definitely there, it’s on the calendar,” said Asmussen. “It would be nice if it came around and he was doing good for it.”
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West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again and trainer Dallas Stewart are now looking ahead at the Travers after the colt made a powerful stretch run to win yesterday’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy over favored Pyro.
“It’s amazing,” Stewart said about earning his first stakes win after 11 years of being on his own. “I’ve been knocking at the door for a while. Now, we’re looking ahead at the Travers. Physically, he looks great. Mentally, he looks good. He rested well last night.”
Since the spring, Stewart has watched the gray colt develop to win the Derby Trial, finish second to Big Brown in the Preakness and run fifth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. In the Jim Dandy, Macho Again faced Belmont winner Da’Tara, Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Tale of Ekati, multiple Grade 1 placing and Grade 2 winner Pyro, and Grade 2 winners Anak Nakal and Mint Lane, as well as recent Iowa Derby winner Tiz Now Tiz Then.
“This was no easy spot for Macho Again,” Stewart said. “This was a giant step for him. He beat a lot of nice horses in this race.”
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Despite disappointing performances in Sunday’s Jim Dandy, Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito said both Da’Tara and Anak Nakal would continue to be pointed toward the $1 million Travers presented by Shadwell Farm on August 23.
“If they have a good month, we’ll just regroup,” said Zito. “You know me.”
In analyzing Belmont Stakes winner Da’ Tara’s last-place finish behind Macho Again, Zito said he felt the early speed duel with Mint Lane could have been avoided.
“[Da’ Tara] doesn’t need to be on the lead, if you look at his races,” said Zito of the Belmont Stakes winner. “He likes to be there and he likes to mix it up. That was a little disappointing. What Alan (Garcia) should have done, and I love Alan, but he should have let (Eibar) Coa go and sit off him, instead of having Coa sitting off him. It was a terrible situation. My horse can run a distance of ground, he proved it, but you can’t run 46 and run a distance of ground.”
Zito said he expected a better finish from Anak Nakal, who was fifth, considering the way the race unfolded.
“He should have been right there,” said Zito. “Maybe he was slipping and sliding. You know, when you seal the track and then unseal it – and I’m happy they opened it up – on the other hand, maybe that particular horse, he didn’t like it.”
Zito will be sending out two other 3-year-olds – Cool Coal Man and Truth Rules – against Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown in Sunday’s Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, and did not rule out a start in the Travers for either.
“It’s 20 days between – let’s see what happens,” he said.
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In the race before the Jim Dandy on Sunday, owner William S. Farish, trainer Neil Howard and Mambo in Seattle won the nine-furlong Henry Walton Stakes for three-year-olds who have never won a graded race this year.
Mambo in Seattle spotted the field as much as eight lengths early in the race before making a rally and fighting off You and I Forever to win by a neck. Could the Travers be next?
“We have a lot of optimism about him,” Howard said. “We got a little bit of a late start on him, but he has kept moving forward. We were glad to get this next step up in him without going into the Jim Dandy. I’ll have to talk to Mr. Farish (about the Travers).”
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Back in 1999, England-based trainer Philip Mitchell came to Saratoga and won the Saratoga Breeders’ Cup with Running Stag.
Mitchell made a lot of friends in his forays to Saratoga and Belmont Park and wants them to know that his son, Jack, is among the top apprentice riders in England.
Jack Mitchell will be riding Wednesday at “Glorious Goodwood” and Saratoga Racing fans can watch and wager on the Goodwood races from the comfortable confines of Bunbury’s Pub in the backyard of Saratoga Race Course, with a full bar featuring authentic British brews and traditional English pub-style décor.