• Twilight Eclipse, back in good form following Dubai trip, ready for G1 Sword Dancer on Sunday
• Alpha, a two-time Grade 1 winner at the Spa, entered in $100,000 Alydar on Sunday
• Financial Mogul drops into Saturday allowance
• Blofeld, Signature Cat finish 1-2 in fast Thursday maiden special weight
• Saratoga to host five graded stakes on the flat next week; Tonalist, Wicked Strong, and Bayern top probables for G1 Travers
V. E. Day, winner of the $100,000 Curlin on July 25, broke from the three-eighths pole and gradually picked up the pace, completing the maintenance move at the five-eighths pole under exercise rider Kelvin Pahal.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens admitted he missed the beginning of the work due to backside traffic but was pleased with the breeze, which is expected to be V. E. Day's final major preparation ahead of a possible start in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 23.
"He was finishing good, so I was happy with that. I wouldn't have minded him going in 1:28 and change, something like that, but who knows," Jerkens said. "The track might have been on the deep side. When they harrow it during the rain, sometimes that makes it a little deep. I watched him when he turned for home down the backside and when [Pahal] asked him, he really took off. I was happy with that. It looked like he galloped out real strong, so he had to go a mile in 1:43, at least, or 1:42 and 3, something like that because he was galloping out every bit as strong as he was finishing."
Jerkens said V. E. Day, a son of English Channel, is "pretty much" confirmed for the Travers.
"We're still teetering with running him [in the Travers] or running him in the [Grade 3] Saranac [at 1 1/8 miles on the turf September 1] instead," Jerkens said. "We're leaning toward the Travers. We're like 75-25, I'd say, to run."
Jerkens added that Grade 1 TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial and Grade 2 Jim Dandy victor Wicked Strong is scheduled to breeze on the main track Saturday in preparation for the Travers.
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After a trip to Dubai to run on the World Cup card, trainers often don't know if the long journey will knock their horses out or if they will bounce back.
Tom Albertrani sent his world record-holding turf marathoner Twilight Eclipse to race in the Group 1, $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic in March and after a 12th-place finish returned and gave the 5-year-old Purim gelding a two-month rest.
Twilight Eclipse went back to racing in the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup on June 6 and finished fourth after making the lead. Albertrani knew the horse might be a little short for that race, so he was pleased when Twilight Eclipse ran a bang-up second, beaten a neck by Main Sequence, on July 6 in the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park.
To his thinking, Twilight Eclipse showed the travel didn't dull his interest, and the two starts since made a perfect set-up for the Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer on Sunday at Saratoga Race Course.
"Although we were beaten a neck [in the United Nations], naturally you're disappointed to get beat by a short margin, but I was really happy to see him come back and run back to some of his better races from last year off a long journey," Albertrani said. "Now the horse seems to be really training well since he's been here, and I feel pretty confident he's going to run a big one."
Twilight Eclipse set a world record for 1 ½ miles on the grass in March 2013 at Gulfstream Park, racing home in 2:22.63 on a very firm course in the Grade 2 Pan American Stakes.
The horse's reputation is that he needs hard ground, and the Saratoga Mellon turf course was listed as "good" Friday after rain, but Albertrani said he is "not concerned entirely.
"He's run well here on good ground in the past," he said. "I don't think it's going to be worse than good ground by Sunday, so I'm pretty optimistic that the turf course will hold well until then."
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Godolphin Racing's Alpha, whose biggest victories have come at Saratoga, returns from a six-month layoff in Sunday's $100,000 Alydar for older horses going 1 1/8 miles on the main track.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, the 5-year-old son of champion Bernardini has not raced since running fifth while trying turf for the first time in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida at on February 15 at Gulfstream Park, his lone start this year.
"We just freshened him up and pointed for up here because he loves it up here," McLaughlin said. "We're in now and he's doing great. He never went home, we just kept him training and freshened him."
Alpha won his career debut on closing day of the 2011 Saratoga meet, then came back in 2012 to take the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and dead-heat for first in the Grade 1 Travers with Golden Ticket.
Last year, Alpha was wide on both turns and outrun finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Whitney but rebounded to capture the Grade 1 Woodward by a head in front-running fashion four weeks later.
McLaughlin had Alpha entered twice at the meet for main track only in a pair of turf stakes, the Lure on August 2 and John's Call on August 6. He had hoped to find an allowance spot to prep for a title defense in the August 31 Woodward, but is unlikely to wheel him back in 13 days from the Alydar.
In his career - which has taken him to nine different tracks in the U.S. and Dubai - Alpha has four wins from five races at Saratoga and purses of $1,245,000; he is 2-2-0 with $557,667 in earnings in 15 other starts, including a win the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct in 2012.
"He's been a pleasure," said McLaughlin. "He's such a nice horse to be around. We hope he can win again up here because this will be his last go-around. It is neat that he's a horse that's been sound and running and won two Grade 1s up here. Hopefully he can get lucky and win again on Sunday."
In the Alydar, McLaughlin will also start Farhaan, a 5-year-old son of 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil. Owned by Shadwell Stable, Farhaan won the Stymie at Aqueduct in February and most recently was fifth in the Grade 3 Ben Ali on Keeneland's all-weather track April 19.
"He's doing very well," McLaughlin said. "It's tough to place him, so this is a good spot for him, also. If they go too fast early, he'll come running."
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Winless since breaking his maiden last summer at Saratoga, graded stakes placed Financial Mogul will make his return to the Spa on Saturday in a seven-furlong allowance for 3-year-olds and up on the main track.
Trained by Rick Violette for Klaravich Stable and William H. Lawrence, the Street Boss colt will carry jockey Manuel Franco and 117 pounds from post 10 in the 13-horse field.
"I don't know if he's a come-from-behind sprinter, and we were thinking of trying the turf," Violette said. "Right now we'll just kind of hopefully get his career restarted. It's an awfully bulky field. It looks like there's some speed in there, which will help. We'll kind of get things going and see where we go after that."
The race will be the first for Financial Mogul outside of graded stakes company since taking a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga by 5 ½ lengths on August 31, 2013. Most recently, he was never in contention finishing 12th of 13 in the seven-furlong Grade 2 Woody Stephens on June 7 at Belmont Park.
"He did have some significant bleeding issues, and we got that arrested," Violette said, "but his race on Belmont day was pretty disappointing. We just kind of regrouped and we'll start over. No question he's been running against some serious horses, but when you're beaten 20 lengths it doesn't matter."
Financial Mogul was fourth in the Grade 2 Futurity and second in the Grade 2 Nashua to end his 2-year-old campaign. He began this year running sixth in the Grade 2 Holy Bull and fourth in the Grade 3 Gotham. He was sixth in the Grade 3 Bay Shore prior to the Woody Stephens.
"[This race] is a confidence-builder if he wins. We'll see what he has to show us," Violette said. "At some point, you also get realistic. Maybe they were flashes in the pan, the encouraging races. We need to really kind of find out what he is and then decide. I hope it is a confidence-builder, but he has to show that."
Meanwhile, multiple graded stakes winner Samraat remains in Violette's barn under stall rest while recuperating from July 25 surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right front shin that ended his 3-year-old campaign.
"He looks good, but it'll be months," Violette said. "He'll be [back] next year; there's no hurry. Whatever works for him, works."
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The fifth-race maiden special weight on Thursday only had five horses, but four of them came with vaunted reputations as being very fast in talk around the backstretch.
Trainer Eric Guillot, who won the Grade 1 Whitney earlier in the meet with Moreno, sent out a rocket in Signature Cat but Blofeld, from trainer Todd Pletcher, ran him down at the sixteenth pole to win by a length.
Signature Cat ran the opening quarter-mile of the five-furlong race in a torrid 22.11 seconds and the half in 45.44. Blofeld came home in 57.83 seconds.
Pletcher was very pleased with the effort, considering Blofeld's professionalism.
"He was a little green, but once he got straightened away, he finished up well," Pletcher said. "He's a horse that had trained very well, and we anticipated he would run well first time out, but you can't simulate race conditions in the morning. You can prepare them to the best of their ability, but there's no way to duplicate a race scenario. Well, I suppose there is, but we don't. So, I was proud of him putting it all together and get it done.
"Eric Guillot's horse was very fast, and I heard that the Scat Daddy colt [El Kabeir] had been training well, so you kind of anticipate or expect those types of races when you're at Saratoga."
Pletcher said the Grade 1 Hopeful on closing day of the meet probably comes up too soon for Blofeld, but the Grade 1 Champagne or Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont Park this fall are likely.
Guillot, meantime, was happy with Signature Cat but would have liked the victory.
"It's not his fault because everybody said their horse was the best one in that race," he said. "They were hyping Pletcher's horse like was the flying Pegasus. I had the best horse, if I didn't go 11 [seconds] and 11 [for the first quarter-mile], you know what I mean? He ran an 85 Beyer [Speed Figure], pretty good for a baby. He ran really good; best horse. He just went too fast early."
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Saratoga Race Course will host five graded stakes on the flat next week, beginning with the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign, a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares, on Friday. The Personal Ensign is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" race in the Distaff Division.
Multiple graded stakes winner Princess of Sylmar, who captured a pair of Grade 1 races at Saratoga last summer, looks for her third straight Grade 1 win at the Spa in the Personal Ensign, having won last year's Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama. Trained by Todd Pletcher for King of Prussia Stable, the 4-year-old Majestic Warrior filly has been second in each of her starts this year, the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps and the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap.
Close Hatches edged Princess of Sylmar by a head in the Ogden Phipps to run her win streak to three races, all in graded stakes, including the Grade 1 Apple Blossom in April. Belle Gallantey has picked up half of her eight career wins this year, most recently going gate to wire to beat Princess of Sylmar by 2 ¾ lengths in Delaware. Also expected for the Personal Ensign are multiple graded stakes winner Fiftyshadesofhay, Grade 2 Molly Pitcher winner Majestic River, and Grade 3 winners Antipathy and Stanwyck.
The field is taking shape for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers, to be run for the 145th time on Saturday, August 23. Sharing the card with the 1 ¼-mile Mid-Summer Derby for 3-year-olds will be the Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One King's Bishop for 3-year-old sprinters at seven furlongs; the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina for female sprinters 3 and up, also at seven-eighths; and the Grade 2, $250,000 Ballston Spa for fillies and mare 3 and up going 1 1/16 miles on turf.
Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist returns from a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy in the Travers, where he will renew his rivalry with Jim Dandy winner Wicked Strong, who won the Grade 1 TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial and dead-heated with Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome for third in the Belmont.
Bayern is coming into the Travers off victories in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational and Grade 2 Woody Stephens, while Mr Speaker won the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational on grass at the Travers' 1 ¼-mile distance in his most recent start. Canadian classic winner Coltimus Prime will be making his third start in the U.S. after taking the second leg of his country's Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes on July 29 at Fort Erie.
Also eyeing the Travers are Grade 3 Dwyer winner Kid Cruz, third in the Jim Dandy; V.E. Day, Charge Now and Viva Majorca, first, second and fourth, respectively, in the 1 1/8-mile Curlin at Saratoga on July 25; Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve; and Ulbanbator, second in the Grade 3 Matt Winn and third in the Dwyer. Maiden winner C J's Awesome is possible.
Coup de Grace and C. Zee, the top two finishers from the Grade 2 Amsterdam on July 26, are expected to meet again in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One King's Bishop, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds. Their competition likely will include lightly raced but promising colts Fast Anna and The Big Beast, as well as Myositis Dan, Noble Cornerstone, Noble Moon, and Wildcat Red. Indexical is possible.
The Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina is expected to attract many of the top female sprinters on the East Coast. The seven-furlong Ballerina for 3-year-olds and up is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" race in the Filly & Mare Sprint division. The probables comprise Better Lucky, Geeky Gorgeous, Grace Hall, Heart Stealer, Hot Stones, La Verdad, My Miss Aurelia, My Wandy's Girl, and Voodoo Tales, and Willet. Artemis Agrotera is possible. Better Lucky, Grace Hall, and champion My Miss Aurelia were first, second, and third, respectively in the restricted Shine Again Stakes, which was contested July 21 over the Ballerina's course and distance.
Grade 1 winner Centre Court is expected to go after her second graded stakes victory at Saratoga in the Ballston Spa. The 5-year-old Smart Strike mare, trained by George "Rusty" Arnold, captured the Grade 2 Lake George and was second in the Grade 3 Lake Placid in 2012, won the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley in 2013 and the Grade 2 Honey Fox in 2013 and 2014. Also looking at the Ballston Spa are Grade 2 winner Assateague, who is 2-for-4 lifetime at Saratoga; Grade 3 winner Strathnaver; Filimbi, winner of the Spa's De La Rose Stakes on August 2; and Ready Signal.