In the meantime, Pletcher is preparing to cap the extraordinary meet he’s having with 2-year-olds as he brings back some of his more impressive maiden winners in Sunday’s Grade 1 Spinaway and Monday’s Grade 2 Three Chimneys Hopeful.
In the Three Chimneys Hopeful, Pletcher could have as many as four starters, all of whom breezed this morning for the seven-furlong feature on closing day.
Starlight Racing’s Lawn Man, a four-length winner on July 28, and Repole Stable’s Overanalyze, who won on August 9, breezed a half-mile in 48.65 over the main track while Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice, a second-out winner on August 4, went the same distance in 48.90. Shanghai Bobby, the Starlight Racing colt who is 2-for-2 including Belmont Park’s Track Barron Stakes, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.91, also on the main track.
“It’s great to win maiden races, but ideally, we’re hopefully developing them into stakes horses,” said Pletcher. “We’d like to continue along the lines of what we did with [Stonestreet’s Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes winner] Kauai Katie and build their maiden race into a more important race.”
Pletcher added that Stay Thirsty and Rule, both of whom breezed Sunday, remain on target for Saturday’s Grade 1 Woodward, and revealed that Repole Stable’s Caixa Eletronica would likely start in Saturday’s Grade 1 Forego, with Alma d’Oro possible for the seven-furlong race.
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One day after Royal Delta came up a half-length short of winning the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said the champion filly looked fine.
Sent off as the 3-5 favorite Sunday in the field of six, Royal Delta raced wide on the backstretch and far turn and didn’t begin to advance on leader and eventual winner Love and Pride until well inside the final furlong.
As he did immediately after the race, Mott praised the performance of It’s Tricky, who stumbled twice coming out of the gate and recovered well enough to threaten at the quarter pole before finishing third.
“The horse you could say ran the biggest race of all is It’s Tricky,” Mott said, “and if she had run her race, maybe it would have helped our situation. As it was, it wasn’t our day. We weren’t good enough on the day, under the conditions, to win. The winner beat us on the day. We gave her 10 pounds. I guess with the 10 pounds we needed things to go perfectly.”
There was no time to dwell at length on the race as Mott turned turn his attention Monday morning to his Grade 1 Woodward candidate To Honor and Serve, who breezed four furlongs in 49.83 seconds over the Oklahoma training track.
After reeling off four wins in five starts, including the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby and Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap, To Honor and Serve finished third to Shackleford in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap and fourth to Mucho Macho Man in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap, both times as the beaten favorite.
“He worked easy over a fairly deep track,” said Mott after the 4-year-old son of Bernardini posted the ninth fastest of 22 works at the distance on the training track. “That seemed to be an OK time.
“We’re disappointed in his race in the Suburban, but given my excuse of the heat [and] the weather, I think he’ll run better if we get a decent day.”
Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez will take over the mount on To Honor and Serve for the Woodward, to be run this Saturday at 1 1/8 miles.
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Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Godolphin Racing’s It’s Tricky suffered superficial cuts when she stumbled at the start of the Grade 1 Personal Ensign but was otherwise in fine shape following her third-place finish. She now will target the Grade 1 Beldame, the trainer added.
“She kind of scraped the front of her ankles with the way she broke,” said McLaughlin. “On the positive side, [jockey Eddie Castro] stayed on her. I think she earned a lot of respect running the way she did, and we will point for the Beldame. One turn, a mile and an eighth, at Belmont, where she’s undefeated.”
McLaughlin admitted his luck has otherwise been spectacular during the 2012 Saratoga meet, having won the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks and Grade 1 Alabama with Questing and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and Grade 1 Travers with Alpha. Questing and Alpha, who dead-heated for the Travers win with Golden Ticket, also race for Godolphin.
“Luckily, it was [It’s Tricky], already a multiple Grade 1 winner, [stumbling at the start] and not Alpha [in the Travers],” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin and Godolphin/Darley Stable have additional live runners in Emcee and Fortify, who are respectively targeting the Grade 1 Forego and the Grade 2 Three Chimneys Hopeful.
On Sunday, Emcee, third in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on August 5, breezed four furlongs in 48.02 at the Greentree Training Center.
“He galloped real strong,” said McLaughlin. “He ran great in the [Vanderbilt]. It would have been nice to win with [Sheikh Mohammed] here, but he ran great. Hopefully run he’ll run just as well next week.”
Fortify, an impressive debut winner on August 4, on Monday sizzled four furlongs on the Saratoga main track in 46.11, the quickest of 69 workouts at the distance.
“He’s funny because he worked real well before [his debut],” said McLaughlin. “After he ran, we told [the exercise rider] to go easy, and he went in [51.17 on August 20]. And then he went in [46.11] today in company, but he wasn’t in company for very long. It was, ‘Whoa! What happened?’ Anyway, hopefully he’s good to go tomorrow and we’re ready to run. It was impressive to watch; a little scary because he was flying.”
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Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Cease worked a moderate half-mile on the main track in 49.04, breezing, Monday morning in preparation for the Grade 1 Woodward.
The work was overseen by trainer Al Stall, who had one eye on Hurricane Isaac, which was bearing down on his hometown of New Orleans.
“He went an easy half-mile by himself – 49 flat, last eighth [of a mile] in 11 4/5,” said Stall, who has had a strong Saratoga meet (six wins and 15 in-the-money finishes from 21 starters). “We didn’t need to do much with him. He had a hard work over the track last week in company.”
Cease, a 5-year-old gelded son of War Chant, has never competed in a Grade 1 race, but his credentials on dirt are strong. He has hit the board in six of his seven most recent dirt starts, with the only time out of the money being a fifth in the Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Marathon last November at Churchill Downs.
In April, he ran into the beastly Wise Dan in the Grade 3 Ben Ali on the Polytrack at Keeneland and then finished fifth in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap on turf in May at Churchill Downs. When Stall switched Cease back to dirt the first week of the Saratoga meet, he scored smartly at 1 1/8 miles, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 95.
“If you draw a line through the turf and Polytrack, and the 1 ¾ miles in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, he’s been pretty solid,” Stall said. “He broke his maiden on Polytrack and our home course is Keeneland; Claiborne has a barn there. It made sense to try that and Wise Dan freaked that day. [Jockey] Miguel Mena came back and said he strode better on dirt than Poly. We knew the [allowance] would be a huge purse up here [at Saratoga], so we kept that in mind.”
That success led Stall to take a shot at the Woodward.
“We know we’re stepping up, but he acts like it’s his home track,” Stall said. “This is where his best numbers and races are.”
Stall also expressed his happiness with Sign, a 2-year-old Pulpit filly who debuted an 11 ¾-length winner Sunday under jockey Rosie Napravnik
Sign, 10-1, left the gate towards the rear and after fighting her rider early, moved off the rail at the three-eighths pole and mowed down the leaders to easily pull away in the stretch, completing the six furlongs in 1:10.37.
“She showed us a good turn of foot,” said Stall, who likely will point Sign to the Grade 2 Pocahontas in October at Churchill Downs. “We said, ‘Let’s get her up here and get one race in her.’ I liked the way she turned for home and instead of getting a little wobbly, she leaned in and turned for home and whoosh!”
* * *
On the morning after Dullahan ran down Game On Dude to win Del Mar’s Grade 1 Pacific Classic by a half-length on Sunday, trainer Dale Romans discussed the numerous options he has with the 3-year-old Donegal Racing color-bearer.
All of Dullahan’s three career wins have come in Grade 1 races contested over Polytrack: the 2011 Breeders’ Futurity for 2-year-olds, the 2012 Blue Grass for 3-year-olds at Keeneland and the Pacific Classic over older horses. Dullahan has placed in a pair of graded stakes in two starts on the turf and is 0-0-2 in five starts on the dirt, including a third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby.
With that in mind, Romans said he and Donegal President Jerry Crawford have no specific plans for Dullahan’s next start, with much depending on what Breeders’ Cup race they select as a long-term target. Romans mentioned Belmont Park’s Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational for 3-year-olds and up at 1 ½ miles on September 29 and the Grade 1, $400,000 Jamaica for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on October 6 as options.
“I don’t know if we’ll run in the [Breeders’ Cup] Classic,” said Romans. “If it’s [my decision], I’ll try him on turf next, and decide if he wants to go a mile and a half. Either the Joe Hirsch or the Jamaica would be good, but if we want to get the mile and a half, the Joe Hirsch would be the one. There’s [the Presque Isle Mile on synthetic on September 7], but it’s only a mile.”
Romans also floated out long-range possibilities such as the Group 1, $10 million Dubai World Cup next March or giving Dullahan another chance to pick up a Grade 1 on the dirt.
“I’m not going to give up on the dirt; I’ve got to get him a big win on the dirt somewhere,” said Romans. “Maybe at Churchill because he likes that track.
“I know how to get [to Dubai]. I know how to win that one,” added Romans, who took the 2005 Dubai World Cup with Roses in May. “That’s a long ways off, but it will be here before you know it. If everything went perfectly, you’d run one time, then Breeders’ Cup, a little break, one time, and then over there [in Dubai].”
Before he stresses too much over plotting a course for Dullahan, Romans said he wants to fully enjoy how Dullahan joined Best Pal (1991), General Challenge (1999), and Came Home (2002) as the only 3-year-olds to win the Pacific Classic in the race’s 22-year history.
“I thought he was going to get a piece of it, but I didn’t know if he could run down [Game On Dude],” said Romans. “Anytime a plan comes together, it’s good. We do a lot of things that don’t work out, so you’ve got to relish the ones that do. That was a little risky, going against older horses, but he does love synthetic. If you’re going to go out there, you might as well go for a big pot and a place where you can run on synthetic.”
With the Pacific Classic win, Romans has captured six Grade 1 stakes in 2012 at five different tracks in four different states. He’ll attempt to land his first Grade 1 at Saratoga in 2012 in the Forego with Shackleford, who breezed four furlongs on the main track in 50.97 seconds on Monday.
Shackleford, winner of the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap in May, is looking to make amends after finishing eighth in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap in the mud on August 5.
“He just went really easy, just to let him stretch his legs a little bit,” said Romans of Shackleford, who is owned by Michael Lauffer, W.D. Cubbedge, and Phillips Racing Partnership. “He went good, came back good, and looked happy. It’s hard to get him to go that slow. You have to trick him [to make him think] he’s galloping. You just ease him into it, let him get a little closer all the time, and let him think he’s galloping. He’s done enough. It’s not a matter of fitness. Just keep him sharp. As long he comes back good tomorrow [we’ll run in the Forego]. He walked good this morning after the work. If everything goes well tomorrow, we’ll be in the entries [for the Forego].”
Romans also confirmed Grade 2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame winner Quick Wit for Sunday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Saranac for 3-year-olds on the turf.
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When it comes to Jackson Bend’s potential title defense in Saturday’s Grade 1 Forego, Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito is taking things as they come. On Monday morning, Jackson Bend – who nine days ago was run into by another horse on the Oklahoma training track – breezed a half-mile at Oklahoma in 49.77. The son of Hear No Evil was ridden by Maxine Correa and easily outdistanced his maiden workmate, Todd Cole, who finished in 50.90.
“The horse that worked with Jackson, Todd Cole, he’s a claiming horse,” Zito said. “He’s not in Jackson’s league. When Jackson went by him, Max Correa said Jackson was looking around; he had no competition. So, she just dangled the reins a little bit and he went on his business and galloped out good when he heard other horses. I was basically happy because I didn’t want to do too much, and I didn’t want to do too little.”
After Jackson Bend collided with the Anthony Quartarolo-trained Little Nick, Zito counts himself lucky to have gotten the Grade 1 Carter Handicap winner this far and said he won’t make a final decision on whether or not to run until closer to the race.
“Nine days ago, obviously, we never would have dreamed that he was working today,” Zito said. “Fitness-wise he’s there, and basically what I’m telling people now is that this is day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute to minute. Tomorrow, I’ll ultrasound him again. Not today. Check his ribs, check everything again. Even though we got a [clean] bill of health, we’ll do all the things again.
“Even if we enter, everybody knows, [owner Robert LaPenta] knows, the horse is the main deal. His partner Fred Brei – I was just on the phone with him – knows the main thing. So even if we enter, it’s not a guarantee we’re running. As long as he trains good, and he’s doing good, I’ll give it a shot.”
Zito is quick to credit Jackson Bend’s agility and toughness to bounce back from the incident and said he knows these setbacks are a part of racing.
“I’ve had a lot of tough horses, but this guy…I think [it’s because] he’s so agile. You see when he walks, he walks that way. So agile. I definitely never had one like that. One thing about racing…you never when it’s your turn, it’s not your turn, and that’s it. We take precautions every day; it doesn’t matter. You see what happens in racing. Every day there’s something new. Street Life stopped in front of [Fast Falcon] in the Travers, he got hurt. Yesterday, It’s Tricky falls on her face [in the Personal Ensign]. It’s racing.”
It’s precisely because the sport can be so fickle that Zito says he won’t run Jackson Bend until he and his entire team are satisfied that the horse is 100 percent.
“There isn’t one person that works on him medically that hasn’t given me clearance,” Zito said. “They have to keep doing that the rest of the week. I just have to make sure that when I lead him over there – if I do Saturday, and I hope I do – that everybody’s happy with the way he is. So it’s just a normal race. I don’t what them saying ‘Well, he got hit, he got banged into.’
“The horse’s welfare is No. 1 and that goes from the LaPenta family to all the people that work around us. I know that I have his blessing, and Mr. Brei, who’s like a father to Jackson. He bred him. I mean, do they want to run? Of course. That’s what they’re in the game for. So, day by day, but I’ll be glad to run him. Glad. I think you know me by now, I’ve got no problem running in the big races, no matter what price, or what situation. Right or wrong?”
* * *
Top Tier Lass, a seven-length maiden winner on July 30 at Saratoga, heads a trio of Todd Pletcher trainees in Wednesday’s feature, the $100,000 P.G. Johnson for juvenile fillies at 1 1/16 miles over the inner turf course.
Carried four-wide around the turn while contesting the pace in that 5 ½-furlong turf maiden contest, Top Tier Lass easily cleared her competitors and romped home under a hand ride. The daughter of Street Boss was made the 2-1 favorite in the P.G. Johnson and will leave from the rail with Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Pletcher will also send out stakes winner Tara from the Cape, who took the August 2 Thomas (Tuck) Greene Memorial Stakes on the turf at Delaware Park after breaking her maiden on June 9 over Woodbine’s all-weather surface. Ramon Dominguez will ride the Leroidesanimaux filly, 4-1 on the morning line, from post 9. Pletcher also has Skyfall (12-1) who gets the services of Julien Leparoux from post 4.
Chad Brown will send out the intriguing Irish-bred Watsdachances who makes her first start since a maiden victory on April 29 at Ireland’s Navan Racecourse. Javier Castellano will ride the Diamond Green filly from post 6 at 4-1 on the morning line.
Almost an Angel, Oscar Party, Incredible Journey, Broken Spell, Da Mi Basia Mille and Go Kitten Go complete the field. Sweet Shirley Mae and Over the Counter were entered for the main track only.
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Trainer James Bond has won a lot of big races at Saratoga, but Sunday’s maiden victory with Mr Cowboy ranks among the most memorable.
“There are miracles in this world, and I think he was a miracle,” said Bond the morning after the chestnut gelding’s 1 ½-length victory under Ramon Dominguez.
When Mr Cowboy was foaled three years ago at Cabin Creek Farm – which also is a retirement home for several former racehorses, including Bond’s 1996 Travers winner, Will’s Way – the little son of Stonesider appeared to be stillborn. Thinking quickly, farm owner JoAnn Pepper performed some impromptu human-to-equine resuscitation, and after several heart-wrenching minutes, the foal began to breathe. Weak and unable to get to his feet, he was hand-fed and monitored around the clock until he finally stood up and began walking four days later.
“A lot of people would have just said, ‘He’s not going to make it, I’m sorry,’” said Bond. “But the biggest miracle is he got to be with Mark and JoAnn. They believed in him and they never gave up.”
Pepper and her husband, Mark, initially had no plans to race the youngster. Mr Cowboy apparently had other ideas and grew into a strapping chestnut with the look of a racehorse. Forming a partnership called “Team Cowboy,” the Peppers sold shares to two dozen local individual investors and sent the horse last spring to trainer Bill Allyn. In November at Aqueduct Racetrack, Mr Cowboy finished ninth at 64-1 and then was transferred to Bond. After an inauspicious start for Bond April, when he ducked into the rail and lost his rider, Mr Cowboy began to mature, hitting the board in three subsequent starts prior to his maiden win.
The Saratoga winner’s circle was jammed with Mr Cowboy’s owners, all of whom appeared ecstatic. Happiest of all may have been Bond.
“It was unbelievable to see all those people, who are so respectful of the horse and his time,” said Bond. “I hope they all had as much fun as I did, because they sure seemed to. Their hearts are really in it. They really love the horse.”
“I was looking for a spot in a Grade 1 in three days, but I couldn’t find one,” joked Bond.