“True retirement is altering your occupation a little bit and still doing what you love,” said Nafzger, who stepped down from full-time training in 2006 but still conditions several horses for his longtime clients. “All these years, they owned and bred and raced. To ‘end’ our career together with an Alabama win for Mr. Smith, 80-something years old, and a Travers win for Mr. Tafel, 80-something years old – that’s a blessing. That’s what I call a miracle.”
“I’m a more spontaneous type,” he said. “You can’t thank everyone because that would take an hour and a half. But there’s still a lot to be said.”
* * *
Speaking of Street Sense, trainer Bobby Ribaudo is hopeful that jockey Calvin Borel will return to Saratoga Race Course on August 16 to be reunited with Grand Couturier as he seeks a repeat victory in the Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational at a mile and one-half on the turf
“Usually, Calvin takes some time off this time of year, but I spoke with his agent and we’ll see if we can get him back here,” said Ribaudo.
On Wednesday, Grand Couturier worked an easy half mile in 48.88 on the turf in preparation for the race, in which he will face Grade 1 Man o’War winner Red Rocks, who breezed a half-mile Saturday morning in 51.06 on the main track.
“We’ll do something more serious with Grand Couturier on Wednesday, and proceed from there,” said Ribaudo.
* * *
Aboard his pony, Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens reported that Honorable Miss winner Any Limit came out of Friday’s race in good shape.
“She walked good,” he said.
Jerkens brought six two-year-olds with him to Saratoga, and Saturday morning sent out two of them for a bullet work on the main track.
All the Bases, a son of Grand Slam, and Daimon’s Glory, a son of Honor and Glory, zipped three furlongs in 35.01, fastest of 17 moves at the distance.
“Neither are ready yet – maybe by the end of the meet,” said Jerkens. “They need to be okayed from the gate. Daimon’s Glory is pretty fit, though.”
* * *
Trainer Howie Tesher, who will send out Baron von Tap in the Oceanport Handicap at Monmouth tomorrow, has nine horses stabled at Clare Court including a two-year-old son of Tale of the Cat for Louisville University men’s basketball coach, Rick Pitino.
“Her name is Sweet Ober Melissa, and how she got her name is kind of interesting,” said Tesher. “Rick is good friends with another friend of mine, the entertainer Steve Alaimo. Years ago, Steve wrote a song with Greg Allman of the Allman Brothers about a girlfriend of his named Roberta, who everyone called ‘Ober,’ I don’t know why.
“Well, the name didn’t work in the song, so Greg changed it from Roberta to Melissa, and the song became known as ‘Sweet Melissa.’ He didn’t think the song would do as well as it did. Well, Rick bought this filly last year at the Fasig-Tipton sales across the street, and wanted to name it Sweet Melissa, only the name was taken. So he wound up naming it ‘Sweet Ober Melissa.’”
The filly, 0-2, should make an appearance in the second half of the meet, said Tesher.
“I hope her ending is better than his ending – they broke up,” he said.
* * *
Stephanie Smith’s Irish-bred Luck Money made his United States debut a winning one at Saratoga on Friday, taking the $80,000 Majestic Light Stakes by a half-length under John Velazquez to defeat highly regarded Mott-trainee Prussian in 1:35.23 for the turf mile. Longshot Russian Sage finished a head behind Prussian to garner third place honors.
It should have come as no surprise that Luck Money would come out running, as he earned more than $1.4 million in Ireland and England as a two-year-old.
“It’s a little too early to make any decisions yet [about where he will run next],” said Pletcher. “But, we were pleased with the way he ran and the way he came out of it.” Luck Money is a son of Indian Ridge out of Dundel, by Machiavellian. His greatest success in Europe was a win in the seven-furlong Goffs Million at The Curragh in Ireland.
* * *
Veteran jockey Richard Migliore was part of an incredible comeback at Saratoga in 1994 when Thunder Rumble won the 77th Saratoga Cup Handicap. The “Mig” could play a major role in another comeback story on Sunday when he rides Elusive Fort in the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap.
Thunder Rumble won the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and Grade 1 Travers in 1992, but was then forced to miss almost two years of racing after undergoing ankle surgery. He ran several times as a five-year-old in California without a win, but then took an allowance race at Belmont one month before the Saratoga Cup to restore his winning ways.
On August 7, 1994, Thunder Rumble’s return to glory was complete when he came back to the spot of his Jim Dandy and Travers victories to score in the now defunct Saratoga Cup by four lengths.
What made the son of Thunder Puddle’s comeback even more poignant and amazing was that his trainer, Richie O’Connell, had recovered from physical problems of his own. O’Connell had suffered near fatal injuries after falling in his home, and for months questions about Thunder Rumble’s return were mirrored by questions about O’Connell’s own future.
But Migliore wasn’t concerned. He knew his horse was back on his game when he came back East.
“The horse was doing so good,” said Migliore. “When he got up [to Saratoga] he just blossomed. He got so good, and I remember thinking that there was no way he could lose that day. Going into the day, I was so confident. I was so relaxed about it that I actually took like an hour and a half nap, got up, took a shower and rode him and he won just the way I thought he would.”
Elusive Fort and Migliore will look to bounce back in similar style in the Fourstardave.
For Migliore the race will be part of his attempt to return to his once prominent position atop the New York jockey standings. Migliore rode on the East coast for 26 years before moving his tack to Southern California in 2006 after the quality of his mounts began to decrease because of time missed by injuries.
Adding to this story is the fact that Migliore was Fourstardave’s regular rider towards the end of his career, which included victories at Saratoga for eight straight years.
“Well, you know, I got a big kick out of winning it four years ago with another South African-bred horse, Trademark, because Fourstardave was special to me as he is special to this town,” said Migliore. “But now coming back, just being back here in New York a week, it would really be huge. It would really kind of stamp my coming back and it’s something I’m looking forward to.”
Raja Malek’s Elusive Fort, a former champion in his native South Africa, has had physical setbacks of his own. The son of Fort Wood almost died from African Horse Sickness, a disease with a mortality rate said to be somewhere between 70-90 percent.
Like Thunder Rumble, though, he was able to return despite having the odds stacked against him, and has had some success since being transferred to the U.S. including a Grade 2 placing at Gulfstream Park.
“The horse physically looks really good,” Migliore said. “I’ve watched him train all week. . . If the horse runs to how he looks and what he’s capable of he has a good chance.”
Retired jockey Jean Cruguet was chatting with friends Saturday morning on the backstretch at Saratoga, where he was to participate in a special autograph session honoring the 35th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown year. His visit will be brief – on Monday morning, the rider of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew will head back to his home in Versailles, Kentucky, where he cares for his wife, Denise, who is paralyzed after having suffered a stroke in 2003.
“She was sad – she cried when I told her I was coming to Saratoga,” said the 69-year-old Cruguet.
Denise Cruguet was a trainer and one of the pioneering women in racing in her native France, where she and Jean met in the early 1960’s. In 1965, the couple came to the United States, where they were married. Over the next 25 years, Cruguet would go on to achieve success both in the United States and in France before retiring to train horses in Kentucky.
Five years ago, Cruguet returned home and found Denise, now 78, lying on the floor. Unwilling to place her in a nursing home, he became her full-time caregiver and rarely leaves her side.
“I had to arrange care for her this weekend – I am anxious to get back to her,” he said of Denise, whom he describes as his “soulmate.” “She has meant everything to me.”