Harlem Rocker, working in company with Understatement, went five furlongs in 59.72 seconds. Understatement, a winner in just three career starts for WinStar Farm, also finished in 59.72 seconds.
The Canadian-bred Harlem Rocker, who has won four of five career starts, is likely to run against Grade 1 Belmont winner Da’Tara, Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Tale of Ekati, Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John, Grade 2 Jim Dandy winner Macho Again, Grade 2 Louisiana Derby winner and Jim Dandy runner up Pyro, Grade 2 Swaps winner Tres Borrachos, recent Saratoga stakes winner Mambo in Seattle, You and I Forever, and Acai, who worked five furlongs on the main track this morning in 1:01.12.
Earlier this year, Harlem Rocker extended his unbeaten streak to three races in Belmont Park’s Grade 3 Withers, where he defeated J Be K, the likely favorite in next Saturday’s Grade 1, $250,000 Net Jets King’s Bishop Stakes for three-year-olds at seven furlongs.
After the Withers, Harlem Rocker had been considered for the Preakness; however, Pletcher and Stronach opted to bring the roan colt to Canada for the Queen’s Plate series and he won the Prince of Wales Stakes at a mile and three-sixteenths.
“It will be an interesting Travers,” Pletcher said. “It is a pretty wide open race. Who knows what would have happened if we went into the Preakness? But I feel we have arrived here in pretty good shape.”
* * *
Trainer Barclay Tagg reported Sunday morning that everything was “well” with Tale of Ekati, one of the leading contenders for the Travers. The son of Tale of the Cat, who was fourth in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, worked six furlongs on the main track Saturday in 1:13.60 in preparation for the 1¼-mile “Mid-summer Derby” for three-year-olds.
“I knew he was short going into the Jim Dandy,” said Tagg. “I was going to run him in the Haskell, get another work into him. I was planning on running Big Truck in the Jim Dandy, but after I decided not to, they asked me if I would run Tale of Ekati, and I thought, he could use a race and it will help move him forward a little bit and it will give me four weeks until the Travers. It was all a last-minute thing. Since then, he’s been doing really, really well.”
Big Truck, who upset Juvenile Champion War Pass in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby, will make his first start since finishing 18th in the Kentucky Derby in Wednesday’s $150,000 Albany for New York-breds. He worked Saturday in a bullet 59.67, handily. It was the fastest of 37 works at the distance on the main track.
* * *
Trainer Larry Jones and Proud Spell, courageous winner of the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama, hit the road at 6:10 a.m. Sunday, leaving Saratoga Race Course and heading back to the Mid-Atlantic to contemplate what lies ahead for the three-year-old daughter of Proud Citizen.
“All things are good with her,” said Jones, who is based at Delaware Park. “I don’t know what our next objective is. The Alabama had been our main objective, so right now, I don’t know. We’ll sit down in a day or two and start thinking about it.”
Jones celebrated Proud Spell’s head victory over Music Note Saturday evening by picking up dinner to go from Boston Market and heading back to his motel room.
“We were over at the barn for some time, letting her graze and letting her set outside to cool out, it was a beautiful evening,” said Jones. “Then, I started making charts for today. Gotta get back to business.”
Jones is the recipient of the New York Turf Writers’ Red Smith “Good Guy” Award, but will be unable to attend the 85th Annual Awards dinner on Monday evening.
“I am truly appreciative of the award,” he said.
* * *
Marc Keller’s Grand Couturier came out of his eventful Grade 1 Sword Dancer win in good order according to trainer Bobby Ribaudo. Grand Couturier joined Majesty’s Prince (1983-’84); El Senor (1989-’90) and With Anticipation (2001-’02) as the only horses to win consecutive runnings of the Sword Dancer.
“He’s feeling real good and he’s pretty fresh,” Ribaudo said. “He looks really good.”
Ribaudo already has a game plan for the five-year-old English-bred son of Grand Lodge.
“Everybody says the same thing, ‘We’ll give it a few days, we’ll check it out,’” Ribaudo said. “But, we have very few choices with a horse like him because of logistics and what not and because of the grass. So, the [Grade 1 Joe Hirsch] Turf Classic at Belmont (September 27th) would, naturally, be the first priority. And, if he still runs good there, the Breeders’ Cup would certainly be the next.”
By winning the Sword Dancer, Grand Couturier automatically qualified for the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita on October 25.
Grand Couturier now has a race record of six wins and five thirds from sixteen career starts in Europe and the U.S. He has earned $860,100.
* * *
Nine-year-old Better Talk Now isn’t feeling his age after running second in the Sword Dancer.
“[He’s] very good. I actually just got done walking him,” said trainer Graham Motion. “He’s really pretty full of himself, so he’s doing well.”
The Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational may feature a Sword Dancer rematch.
“[Better Talk Now’s next race will] probably be the Joe Hirsch at Belmont I would think,” Motion said. “That’s the logical thing.”
The multiple Grade 1 winner upped his earnings to $4.2 million with yesterday’s second place check in the Sword Dancer, a race he won all the way back in 2004.
* * *
Desert Key, speedy leading contender for the Grade 1 NetJets King’s Bishop Stakes on August 23rd, drilled six furlongs in 1:14.80 Saturday morning on Saratoga’s “fast” main track.
Daniel Chauarriga, trainer Jimmy Jerkens’ assistant, says that Desert Key is working well and coming into the race in good form.
Desert Key is a three-year-old son of E Dubai out of Storm Key, by Storm Cat. He is owned by Centennial Farms and has a race record of 2-2-0 from five career starts. He is coming off a close second place finish to Kodiak Kowboy in the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes here on July 28th. He absorbed extreme pace pressure that day through fractions of 21 3/5 and 44 to lose by a head.
* * *
Coming off her flawless performance in the Grade 1 Test Stakes here at Saratoga two weeks ago, Indian Blessing had a sharp workout Saturday morning over the main track that went in 47.98 second, breezing, with exercise rider Simon Harris aboard.
“She is amazing,” said Tonja Terranova, who has been assisting trainer Bob Baffert on the East Coast. “Bob told us to go out there and do the half-miles like we have been doing all along. She left the quarter-pole in 24 and change. Once she switched her lead, she was on cruise control.”
Indian Blessing carried a five-race winning streak to start her career, which included her debut at Saratoga, the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes at Belmont and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Monmouth Park.
After back-to-back losses in the Grade 2 Fair Ground Oaks and the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont, Indian Blessing came back to win the Grade 1 Prioress rather easily.
“Bob has been happy with everything,” Terranova added. “We have basically kept her on schedule since the Acorn. We gave her two weeks to breeze and we gave her a few days of play just in case it rained. She has been tremendous.”
* * *
It didn’t take that much time or that many starts for Elizabeth Gray to find the winners’ circle at Saratoga.
With just her second start as a trainer, Gray won Saturday’s second race – a maiden race for two-year-old fillies – with Obsequious.
“This is awesome,” said Gray, a former exercise rider. “For me, it’s good, and it’s always good here.”
Gray had been an assistant for Dale Romans for the last 13 years. During that time, she handled Roses in May, who won the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap (2004) and the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup (2005), as well as Kitten’s Joy, the 2004 Eclipse Champion Male Turf Horse.
Gray recently stepped away from the racetrack to become a dog groomer for a brief time. The 46-year-old currently has 10 horses stabled at Belmont Park and she shares stall space with Hall of Fame trainer Robert Frankel when needed.
“I think it’s self explanatory – I missed it,” Gray gave her reason on coming back to horse racing. “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Since I’ve been doing this for 20-something years, I figured why not (go out on my own)?”
Obsequious, a two-year-old filly by Fusaichi Pegasus owned by Frank O’Connor and Andrew Farm, led throughout with Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado for a 1¾-length victory over Abundantia.
“I wasn’t shocked; she was ready,” Gray said about Obsequious’s race. “She has never done anything wrong and she has never missed a beat. She breezes and gallops good. She’s great in the gate.”
Gray is hoping to come back next week with Sort of Tricky, a four-year-old New York-bred filly who had been previously trained by Romans. Last year in her debut at Saratoga, Sort of Tricky came away with an 8¾-length victory.
Sort of Tricky has not raced since January 25 when she finished sixth as a 4-5 favorite in an allowance race for New York-breds at Aqueduct.
“She went to the farm and had some time off,” Gray said. “She has been training good and we expect her to run good.”