“He did it well in hand. He never extended himself,” said Wilkes. “He just floated around there, finished up down the lane good, galloped out good, pulled up happy, walked off the track happy. I’m happy.”
Wilkes expressed gratitude for how owner A. Stevens Miles, Jr. put no pressure on him to make the Triple Crown with Neck ‘n Neck and was content to focus on races in the second half of the year.
“It’s a grind to get here,” Wilkes said. “You have to keep them sound, healthy, happy, and on top of their game. It takes a good horseman to do that. Sometimes you get too caught up in [the Triple Crown]. That’s the good thing with Mr. Miles. The first thing he said to me was, ‘If you can’t make it, no problem. Don’t do it.’ So there was no pressure on me when my horse wasn’t quite ready. I was ready to back off and point for this.”
In the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, Neck ‘n Neck chased Alpha, who was unpressured on the lead, to finish second by two lengths. Wilkes believes Neck ‘n Neck could encounter a more favorable pace scenario in the 1 ¼-mile Travers.
“He can be wherever he wants, and that’s the good thing,” said Wilkes. “We have a smart rider in Leandro [Goncalves] who knows the horse and he understands him, and that’s good. It depends on how fast they go, but with Hansen coming it could change the pace scenario. I think we’ll see a little more pace than we did last time. It could be a different track, a different race. And it all depends on post position, too, as to what tactics you use.”
Before the race is drawn, Wilkes says he will focus on Neck ‘n Neck, not his possible competition.
“There’s only one horse I can control – my own,” said Wilkes. “If you start worrying about what other people are doing – I have no control – you only give yourself ulcers.”
Also on the worktab for the Travers was Five Sixteen, who breezed four furlongs in 49.05 seconds. In this two most recent starts, Five Sixteen was fifth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 9 and second to Street Life in the Curlin on July 27.
“He’s matured and he’s coming around the right way,” said Dominick Schettino, who trains Five Sixteen for MeB Racing Stables. “He’s physically going the right way.”
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Joining the field for the 1 ¼-mile Travers is Team Stallion Racing Corp. and McConnell Racing Stable’s Speightscity, who will be making his first start since finishing second to Alpha in the Grade 3 Withers on February 24 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
“We were going to run in the Bernardini [overnight stakes on Friday], which was a more realistic spot for us, but the race did not fill,” said trainer Gary Contessa. “I’ve never seen a horse win a race like the Travers, at 1 ¼ miles, off workouts. This horse hasn’t run since February, but back in February he was getting to Alpha at the end of the Withers. In my opinion, he was closing the gap a little but. Who knows? You have to be in it to win it.”
Sepightscity, a son of Speightstown, is 2-1-0 from seven starts with earnings of $109,860. He has been training steadily at Saratoga this summer, and most recently posted mile works in 1:39.25 on August 17 and 1:40.19 on August 13.
Irad Ortiz, Jr., will ride, said Contessa.
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Royal Delta put in her final serious work for Sunday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign Invitational this morning, breezing four furlongs in a bullet 48.95 seconds under exercise rider Rodolphe Brisset.
The move over the Oklahoma training track was the fastest of 18 at the distance.
“She worked early, went well,” said Royal Delta’s Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott. “She worked well, galloped out well, cooled out well. I’m pleased with the way she is preparing for the race.”
The daughter of Empire Maker, last year’s 3-year-old filly champion, enters the 1 1/8-mile Personal Ensign off a neck victory in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap over Tiz Miz Sue, who is also being pointed to Sunday’s race, as is fourth-place finisher Love and Pride.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Love and Pride breezed four furlongs this morning at Delaware Park in a bullet 47.70, fastest of 29 works at the distance.
Pletcher also will saddle R Gypsy Gold, third as the favorite in the Molly Pitcher on July 29 at Monmouth Park, in the Personal Ensign. The 4-year-old Bernardini filly tuned up for Sunday’s race this morning, breezing four furlongs in 48.95 over the main track.
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Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard said Monday morning he will run Ever So Lucky in the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwoods King’s Bishop on the Travers Day card. The seven-furlong race is expected to attract the top 3-year-old sprinters in the country, including Currency Swap and Trinniberg.
Ever So Lucky, owned by Augustin Stable, will turn back in distance for the Foxwoods King’s Bishop off a third-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Curlin on July 27. The Indian Charlie colt has toggled between sprints and routes and was third in the Grade 3 Swale behind Trinniberg at the Foxwoods King’s Bishop distance in March at Gulfstream Park.
“I think we’re going to give it a shot,” Sheppard said. “We just like Saratoga. We like to run here. It’s a good distance for him. We wouldn’t ship up here for this, but he’s been here since the Curlin, and he likes it up here. We realize we’re in the deep water.”
Sheppard also said recent Hall of fame inductee John Velazquez wanted to retain the mount for the race, “and that’s a good impetus for us to do it.”
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Monday morning, Darley Stable’s impressive homebred Fortify continued preparations for the Grade 2, $300,000 Three Chimneys Hopeful on closing day, Monday, September 3.
The 2-year-old Distorted Humor colt breezed four furlongs in 51.17 on the Saratoga main track, his first workout since breaking his maiden on debut by 5 ½ lengths August 4 at the Spa.
“He went a little slow, but he’s fit,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “We would have liked him to go in 49. He went in 51, but he worked well. It was just a rider error, but it’s fine. He’s doing well. All systems are ‘go’ for the Hopeful. We might work him back in company. He was by himself and just went through the motions.”
In other Three Chimney Hopeful news, trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that stakes winner Shanghai Bobby and maiden winner Palace Malice are scheduled to breeze on Tuesday. Both colts are among those Pletcher is pointing toward the race.
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The top five finishers from a spirited edition of the $100,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial return at a new distance on Thursday in the Grade 1, $150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap.
Favored in the 2 3/8-mile race over national fences at 5-2 on the morning line is Left Unsaid, who closed to finish second in the Smithwick in his 2012 debut. Trained by Tom Voss, Left Unsaid – 2009’s NSA novice champion – will be ridden by Paddy Young. Voss will also saddle Dynaski, who finished 10th in the Smithwick, at 15-1.
Spy in the Sky will be shooting for a double at the Spa after his 25-1 victory on August 2 in the Smithwick for trainer Jimmy Day. Spy in the Sky, who won the 2009 edition of the Turf Writers, is 5-1 on the morning line under Danielle Hodsdon.
At 3-1 on the morning line is the Jonathan Sheppard-trained, Bill Pape-owned entry of Divine Fortune, fifth in the Smithwick; 2010 Turf Writers’ winner Sermon of Love, and Nationbuilder, third in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois.
Leading owner Irvin S. Naylor will be represented in the Turf Writers by a proven veteran and a newcomer to American racing, with the entry tabbed at 4-1. Decoy Daddy, a two-time graded stakes winner last year and an Eclipse Award finalist, finished fourth in the Smithwick, while Charminster, who has been racing in England, will be making his stateside debut.
Completing the field are Demonstrative, 5-1, a two-length victor in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice on July 26, and All Together, 6-1, third in the Smithwick.
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Willy Beamin, a winner of four straight, heads a field of eight New York-bred 3-year-olds entered in Wednesday’s $150,000 Albany at 1 1/8 miles.
After being claimed by trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. and owner James A. Riccio for $25,000 off a victory at Aqueduct in March, Willy Beamin rattled off three wins at Belmont Park, including a four-length score in the Mike Lee at seven furlongs on June 24 in his most recent start.
Alan Garcia picks up the mount aboard Willy Beamin, who drew post position 2 and was tabbed as the 9-5 favorite on the morning line.
Zivo, the 3-1 second choice, is the only entrant who has won over the Albany’s course and distance, having taken an entry-level allowance for New York-breds by a neck in the mud on July 29. Live for Today, the runner-up in that allowance, was installed at 5-1 on the morning line in the Albany.
Fox Rules, 4-1, invades from Finger Lakes off his 6 ½-length upset win in the New York Derby on July 21. In that race, Fox Rules dictated comfortable splits of 24.95 and 50.00 seconds before driving clear in the stretch.
The Albany field also includes I’ll Stake U, Smokin Candy, and Quiet Favorite, second, third, and sixth, respectively, in the New York Derby; and Pearl of Wisdom, who broke his maiden by 3 ¼ lengths on August 9 at Saratoga.
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When Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas wins a horse race, he does something with little fanfare that leaves a strong impression, and it was no different yesterday when his 2-year-old filly Broken Spell rallied to break her maiden in the fifth race on the turf at Saratoga.
Heading to the winner’s circle, Lukas spotted a young girl with her family and asked if she would like to join him in the post-race photo.
“I do it every time I win a race,” Lukas said Monday morning. “That’s been going on for years. What I do is I get a perfect stranger. I just walk up to somebody standing there with their family, a 5, 6 or 7-year-old, and say, ‘Let’s get our picture taken with this winning horse.’ And I take them there, and they get so excited.
“The beautiful thing is that they’re at the races and they see all the horses, but they don’t get that close to one. I take them back to the parents and say, ‘If you wait about 20 minutes, you can go by the photographer’s office and there will be a free copy of that on my account for you.’ It’s great for the photographer because they get my free one, and they get one for each grandparent and their Aunt Nelly and everybody else, so the photographers get a hell of a bonus out of it.”
Lukas said the little girl he brought down to the winner’s circle Sunday innocently asked him, “‘What do you do here?’ And I said, ‘I work here. I take care of the horses.’ And she said, ‘Oh, good. Can I touch him?’ And I said, ‘When he gets here, we’ll take the saddle off and you can touch him.’ She has no idea that I have ever won a race any other place or even knew anything about the horse.”
Lukas said he got in the habit of taking kids to the winner’s circle at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., and wishes more trainers would do it.
“It takes no time, it’s pleasant for me, and I think it develops a public relations thing that you couldn’t duplicate if you spent all night trying to think of something,” he said.
“I was standing there at the Derby this year, and this kid comes walking up and says, ‘Do you remember me?’ And his parents were standing back; he came by himself. We shook hands, and I said, ‘No, I don’t remember you. Should I?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah. We had our picture taken together last year. I have it up on my bulletin board.’
“You can’t produce that kind of PR,” Lukas said. “We need more of that. It’s so easy to do.”
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Grade 1 Prioress winner Emma’s Encore will bypass Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Test and will instead target the Grade 2, $200,000 Foxwoods Gallant Bloom on September 22 at Belmont Park, Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens said Monday.
Jerkens said he was uncomfortable running Emma’s Encore back in the Test off her wins in the Grade 3 Victory Ride on July 7 at Belmont and in the Prioress on August 4.
“The Test is back a little bit quick,” said Jerkens, who trains the 3-year-old filly for Brenda Mercer and Peter Berglar. “It’s hard to turn down a $500,000 race, but we’ll wait for the Gallant Bloom. She’s a nice filly, and I hope she’s around for a while.”
The seven-furlong Test is for 3-year-old fillies, while the 6 ½-furlong Foxwoods Gallant Bloom is open to fillies and mares 3-years-old and up.
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Old Friends at Cabin Creek, The Bobby Frankel Division, a non-profit facility for retired Thoroughbred racehorses in Greenfield Center, N.Y., will celebrate a pair of important anniversaries in 2012 for two of its more popular residents.
On Tuesday, August 21, Cabin Creek will fete Thunder Rumble on the 20th anniversary of his victories in the Jim Dandy and Travers. Trained by the late Richard O'Connell and ridden by Herb McCauley, Thunder Rumble became the first New York-bred in 125 years to win the “Mid-Summer Derby.” One week later, on Tuesday, August 28, Cabin Creek will honor Crusader Sword, who was also a two-time winner at Saratoga. Twenty-five years ago, in 1987, he won the Saratoga Special and the Hopeful, the track's biggest races for 2-year-olds, for late Hall of Fame trainer Mack Miller and Hall of Fame jockey Randy Romero.
Cabin Creek is open to the public during the Saratoga racing season on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., and Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. - noon. Among the other residents at Cabin Creek are two-time Whitney winner Commentator, (2005, 2008); and 1996 Travers and 1997 Whitney winner Will's Way.
For more information, contact JoAnn Pepper at (518) 698-2377.