Unraced since wrapping up the 2-year-old filly title with a front-running, three-length victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in November, My Miss Aurelia missed the early part of 2012 with a minor shin injury and returned to the worktab in May. Most recently, the Smart Strike filly breezed six furlongs in 1:13.03 on July 29 over the Oklahoma training track.
Julien Leparoux will ride My Miss Aurelia in Wednesday’s race, which also drew Well Kept, Srumdiddlyumptious, Delightful Quality, Ageless, Ullapool, and Xunlei.
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Upgrade, who will step up in class for the Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap on August 11, breezed five furlongs on the main track this morning in 1:01.20 with his trainer, Michelle Nihei, aboard.
The Fourstardave, a one-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up, will be Upgrade’s first start since he won the Grade 3, seven-furlong Jaipur by three-quarters of a length on June 8 at Belmont Park.
“We’ve been pointing him to this race all along,” said Nihei. “We’re confident it’s the right race for him. We just want to make sure he’s in the right company. We like 6 ½ [furlongs], seven, even 7 ½. I think a mile is the limit of how far that horse wants to go, but he’s doing so well right it’d be tough to find a race to say, ‘You know, let’s just wait until the next opportunity.’ He hasn’t run since the Jaipur, and he wasn’t easy to even work this morning.”
Upgrade, who raced for Chad Brown and Scott Volk earlier in his career, made his debut for Nihei in March, holding on to win a one-mile optional claimer in March at Gulfstream Park. He entered the Jaipur off a fifth in Belmont’s Grade 3 Fort Marcy in May, a race in which Boisterous defeated Desert Blanc by one length.
“[The Fourstardave] isn’t going to be a walkover; it’s going to be the toughest race he’s had ever, but I think he’s realistically competitive,” said Nihei.
Prince Will I Am, the 2010 Grade 1 Jamaica Handicap winner, is gearing up for a comeback race at Saratoga later in the meet. A three-time graded stakes winner who is unraced since finishing ninth in the 2011 Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap, Prince Will I Am breezed four furlongs on the main track in 49.48 on July 30.
“I was hoping we’d make the John’s Call [on August 3], but we didn’t make it in time,” said Nihei. “We’re crossing our fingers we can find an allowance or overnight stakes that is logistically reasonable for us to get to.”
While Nihei glowed about Prince William I Am’s progress, she also admitted she doesn’t know what to expect in his return race, considering the lengthy layoff.
“When he came to me in May of his 2-year-old year, he never left the barn,” said Nihei. “So even if there are some lines between races, he really never left training. He might have not raced for a while, he might have not worked for a while, but he’s always been at the racetrack. Sending him home was the right thing to do, but even Susan Atkins, his owner, said he needs to be on the racetrack. He looks for activity and wants to be part of something.”
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Trainer Bruce Brown issued an upbeat bulletin Saturday, the morning after Spring to the Sky earned a bullet for his five-furlong breeze in 59.08 seconds on the Oklahoma turf course in the lead up to next Friday’s Grade 2, $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame for 3-year-olds.
“He went in 59, did it nice, easy,” said Brown. “He came out of his last race very good and seems to be coming into this race in great shape.”
The 1 1/16-mile Hall of Fame will be the third start on turf for Spring to the Sky, who is by Langfuhr and is a grandson of Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Soaring Softly. He was fifth in the Grade 3 Hill Prince on June 16 at Belmont Park and third in the Duluth overnight stakes on July 22 at Saratoga Race Course.
“The first [turf race] wasn’t in the plans at all,” said Brown. “That race was one of those last-second things. I wasn’t training him to go long, and I wasn’t looking to run him in stakes company. He ran a big race. He got pressed but still hung in there. He had every right to fold up in that race. We got him up here early and trained him on the grass, and he has just gotten better and better.”
Brown added that even though Spring to the Sky began his career with three starts on the dirt, he and owner Anthony McCarthy suspected the colt would be best on the turf.
“We knew he had turf breeding, but a lot of times you try to avoid grass because it’s not as commercial and you have limited opportunities, depending on the weather and the season,” said Brown. “He’s good on the dirt, but he just floats on the turf.”
Brown noted how Spring to the Sky has become easier to rate as he has stretched out in distance and switched over to grass.
“He’s a very fast horse, so you don’t want to completely take that away from him, but the more we have run him on the grass and the more we have run him long he’s become more kind to rating,” he said. “He’ll go as fast as you want him to, but he’s gotten better.”
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Trainer George Weaver may not be able to compete over the long haul for the Saratoga training title against the horse-laden, powerhouse outfits of Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, but he has begun the premier race meet in the country on fire.
The 41-year-old Louisville native, who maintains homes in Saratoga Springs and Weston, Fla., has six victories and three third-place finishers from just 21 starters, and he has run horses on all but two of the first 13 days of the meet.
Last year, Weaver won seven times from 52 starters at the Spa.
“We don’t have the numbers to keep up with those guys, and they’re very good trainers,” said Weaver, who has 40 horses on the grounds – 26 in his barn near the Oklahoma training track and 14 in stalls at the barn of Roy Lerman – along with another 20 down at Belmont Park. “There’s safety in numbers in this game.”
After going 0-for-2 on opening day, Weaver struck in the Willard Straight Stakes on July 21 with Fiddlers Patriot and won a maiden special weight race on the turf with Sam’s Buck. He had two winners again on July 27, as Citizen Wells won an off-the-turf optional claimer and Lemon Splendor won at nine furlongs in another optional claimer on dirt. Two days later, Junior Officer scored in a seven-furlong sprint, and on Friday, Ultimate Class dropped in class to score by four lengths in a $20,000 claiming race at a mile on the grass.
Weaver has no runners in Saturday but returns with three Sunday.
“They’ve all got reasonable chances,” Weaver said. “They’re all turf maidens. We’ll see what they can do.
Weaver, naturally, hopes to keep the good times rolling.
“We won the stakes race early in the meet, a couple allowance races and a few claiming races; you get up here and hope to get lucky and hope things work out for you,” he said.
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Making his first start outside Florida in Friday’s Grade 2 Hall of Fame is Csaba (prounounced “CHA-bah”), a Kitten’s Joy colt named after Hungarian artist Csaba Markus.
Trained by Phil Gleaves for Bruce Hollander and Cary Shapoff, Csaba enters Friday’s race off an 8 ¼-length victory July 21 in the El Kaiser on the main track at Calder Race Course. That followed a second-place finish in the inaugural Mambo Meister on May 25, in which he was disqualified to third in the off-the-turf race.
“It would have been great to win the first running of the Mambo Meister,” said Gleaves, who trained the multiple graded stakes winner. “He got into a lot of trouble in the race, but he was closing fast and came up just short behind Empire Builder.”
Although Csaba has been entered in eight grass races, he’s only gotten to run in two, with the other six coming off the turf. In the Grade 3 Palm Beach on March 11 at Gulfstream Park, he was third to Howe Great and Dullahan, and in the Dania Beach in December he was fifth, beaten 2 ½ lengths, after leading to the sixteenth pole.
“You would think that with his pedigree – Kitten’s Joy out of a War Chant mare – it screams turf, so we’re going to give him a shot again on the grass,” said Gleaves. “In the Palm Beach, he was behind two very nice horses, which made us think he can run with these horses.”
Csaba, who was sixth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth behind Union Rags after stumbling badly at the start, had also been under consideration for last month’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy and the Curlin, said Gleaves.
“He’s a real nice hors; we’ve always thought highly of him,” he said. “Unfortunately, he stumbled at the start of the Fountain of Youth, so we were no wiser after the race than before. Had his last race [El Kaiser] not filled, we would probably have run him here on the dirt. He can run on either surface.”
Julien Leparoux will have the mount, said Gleaves.
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Hall of Famer Bill Mott’s entry of Starformer and Imperial Pippin is favored at 3-1 over ten other turf marathoners in Monday’s $100,000, 1 ½-mile Richmor Aviation Waya for fillies and mares. A front-running winner of the Grade 3, 1 3/8-mile Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park last time out, Starformer’s other victory this year also came at 1 3/8 miles in an optional claimer in February at Gulfstream Park. Among those lining up for the Waya are Bubbly Jane (9-2) and Sikara (5-1), second and third in the Robert G. Dick, Bizzy Caroline (5-1), winner of the Grade 3 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs, and Indian Pond (6-1), most recently fourth in the Grade 2 Dance Smartly at Woodbine. Captivating Lass, Pinch Pie, Naples Bay, Kissable, Sky Willow and Traffic Sister round out the field, with Lady Cohina entered main track only for trainer Christophe Clement.