“Since I’ve been training, that was one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever had,” said McLaughlin. “We won by 20 lengths in Dubai years ago with a horse named Key of Luck. Cigar ran 30 minutes later, we ran 1 ¼ miles on the dirt faster than Cigar did. That was the most impressive, or on the same level. It was like Questing went out in the morning and went 1 ¼ miles on her own.”
“It could help us trainers in America, because maybe they’ll leave more Hard Spuns here,” said McLaughlin. “Most of the Hard Spuns went to Europe because he’s a son of Danzig. For her, I think the dirt has been a big help because she pulls hard. And pulling on the turf doesn’t work, usually. But this was unbelievable.”
Questing, who drifted out in the stretch when she won the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks on July 21, took an erratic path through the stretch in Saturday’s race. McLaughlin said future instructions to jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. would likely be to not touch her with the whip “unless you have to.”
After speaking with Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford, McLaughlin said the Grade 2 Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies at Parx Racing on September 22 could be the next logical spot for Questing as they mull options in New York for multiple Grade 1 winner It’s Tricky and recent allowance winner Dance Card that could include the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational for fillies and mares on September 29 at Belmont Park.
* * *
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said Point of Entry emerged from his four-length win in Saturday’s Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational in good shape and likely will make his next start in the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational on September 29, with the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf being a long-range target.
The Sword Dancer was the fourth consecutive victory for Point of Entry, a 4-year-old son of Dynaformer and a half-brother to 2006 Grade 1 Alabama winner Pine Island. Considering the colt’s pedigree, McGaughey said he isn’t surprised Point of Entry, who cleared the first allowance condition in December, has improved with age.
“He’s a Dynaformer, and he has big horses,” said McGaughey, who trains the homebred for Phipps Stable. “You just have to be patient with them. He’s paying us back now [for our patience].”
The 1 ½-mile Joe Hirsch Turf Classic will be contested at Belmont Park, the site of Point of Entry’s triumph in the Grade 1 Man o’ War in July.
McGaughey added that the Phipps’ Sea Island emerged no worse for wear following her sixth in Saturday’s Alabama, in which she was bumped on the clubhouse turn.
“I think all the action on the first turn, her being lightly raced, her being ambitiously placed, and her being a Pulpit, when all that happened that’s all she wanted,” said McGaughey. “I don’t know exactly what happened – there was a lot of scrambling around – but she came back fine.”
* * *
Nonios, most recently second to Paynter in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, had his final serious work for Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Travers this morning, covering four furlongs in 47.50 seconds, handily, over Del Mar’s Polytrack surface.
The Pleasantly Perfect colt, owned by Green B. Smith, Jr., is scheduled to arrive at the Spa on Monday, said his Hall of Fame trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer.
“He had a nice blowout this morning,” said Hollendorfer by phone from San Diego, where he returned Sunday morning after saddling Via Villaggio to a third-place finish behind Questing in the Grade 1 Alabama. “We have a colt we think is doing well. We try not to bring our horses anywhere that we don’t think they have a good chance, and I don’t think we’re being frivolous or foolish with him.”
Hollendorfer said he was “thrilled” to have finished third in the Alabama, a race he won in 2010 with Blind Luck.
“Questing’s performance was quite something to see,” he said. “I don’t know what is it with that filly wandering in the stretch, but I told Kiaran [McLaughlin] it didn’t make any difference, so long as she won. We had a good laugh.”
* * *
Travers candidate Liaison put in his final timed workout Sunday in preparation for the “Mid-Summer Derby” on August 25. Under exercise rider Simon Harris, Liaison clocked five furlongs in 1:00.05 on the Saratoga main track, the eighth-fastest of 29 works at the distance.
“Out in 12 and change,” Baffert said, referring to the gallop-out time for the extra furlong.
Liaison, who won the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity as a 2-year-old, finished third in his most recent start, the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, behind Travers probables Alpha and Neck ‘n Neck.
Also working on the main track for Baffert was 3-year-old sprinter Gun Boat, who turned in his final work for the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwoods King’s Bishop at seven furlongs on Travers Day.
“He worked out of the gate,” Baffert said after Gun Boat drilled five furlongs in 58.47 seconds, second-best of 29 works at the distance. “I wanted to sharpen him up because he didn’t work well last time.”
Gun Boat remained in Saratoga at the barn of trainer John Terranova after his troubled effort in the Grade 2 Amsterdam on July 29. On that day, he fell to his face coming out of the gate and finished sixth.
Baffert will ship his Grade 1, $500,000 Test candidate Contested tomorrow to Saratoga. The Ghostzapper filly blazed six furlongs in 1:09.40 at Del Mar on Sunday.
Baffert assistant Jim Barnes will travel Contested, whose four-race winning streak was snapped when she finished last in the Grade 1 Mother Goose at 1 1/16 miles on June 23 at Belmont.
* * *
Shortleaf Stable’s Atigun was among the Grade 1 Travers contenders that worked out Sunday morning at Saratoga, breezing five furlongs in 59.67 seconds over the main track after the renovation break.
“He worked super,” said trainer Ken McPeek. “I was a little worried he went off a little fast, but for the most part it was a very good work. It looks like he’s cooling out happy.”
Notable about the work was that the 3-year-old son of Istan was wearing blinkers, a piece of equipment that he has not raced with.
“[Jockey] Mike Smith and I were talking about it yesterday, and he is concerned that the blinkers might make him rank, and he might be right,” McPeek said. “I don’t know, we’ll see. If he has a blinker on, it will either be a small one or none at all.”
Atigun was third to Union Rags and Paynter in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 9, and most recently checked in sixth, beaten seven lengths, in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy.
McPeek acknowledges that Atigun won’t be among the favorites for the 1 ¼ mile Travers but knows the distance won’t be a question mark.
“Our race has got to be well-timed, and he will have to run the race of his life, but it is certainly a distance he can handle,” the trainer said
McPeek added that Sonofasamurai, impressive winner of a turf maiden race at Saratoga on Saturday, will be pointed for the Grade 2, $200,000 With Anticipation on Thursday, August 30.
“He ran super and he is going to run in the With Anticipation,” McPeek said. “He didn’t run on any Lasix, and I think that means he can come back a little quicker. I have four colts which might run in there: Sonofasamurai, He’s So Fine, Java’s War, and Midas Dancer. The last two are in Kentucky still.”
* * *
Looking poised and relaxed, Stealcase turned in his final work for Saturday’s $1 million Travers with a five-furlong breeze on the main track Sunday morning.
Under regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan, the chestnut son of Lawyer Ron was timed in 1:00.74 by NYRA clockers
“He looked really slow,” said Norm Casse, son and assistant to trainer Mark Casse. “Then we saw the time and how well he went, and that’s usually a good indication that they worked really well. He looked like he was just going easy, and that was the plan.”
Sunday’s work came six days after a six-furlong breeze in 1:12.53, also on Saratoga’s main track for Stealcase, who most recently ran third to Paynter in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
“Last week, we worked him really hard and made him gallop out real strong,” Casse said. “It was a real strong work. We came back this weekend and we were really shooting for 1:01 or 1:02, but he worked really well.”
Bridgmohan, aboard for five of Stealcase’s nine career starts, will have the mount in the Travers. Stealcase is still seeking his first stakes victory, having run second in the Grade 3 Matt Winn and third in the Grade 3 Derby Trial this year, both at Churchill Downs.
“He’s definitely a lot more mature,” Casse said of Stealcase. “Shaun pointed out today that he didn’t turn a hair. Shaun knows the horse as well as any of us. He’s worked the horse his whole life, really. He said he’s maturing, so that could be a really good sign.”
* * *
Multiple Grade 1 winner Jackson Bend continues to mend following his eventful Saturday morning on the Oklahoma training track.
“He’s doing good. I was playing with him a little while ago,” said Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito. “He was trying to bite people all morning. He had a lot of well-wishers this morning. Rosie Napravnik came over to visit him, and he was trying to bite her. He’s a funny horse.”
Owned by Robert LaPenta and Fred Brei, Jackson Bend was involved in a collision with another horse, the 7-year-old Little Nick, on Saturday. Neither horse sustained any injuries in the incident, but Jackson Bend was shaken up.
“I hope everything works out good,” Zito said. “I walked him today. I’ll probably take him for a trail ride tomorrow, and then we’ll see if toward the end of the week we can get him back to the track. He had a little swelling on his left side; that’s where he fell. Other than that, he is fine and feeling real good.”
The 5-year-old son of Hear No Evil has been pointed toward a title defense of the Grade 1, $500,000 Forego on September 1, but those plans are now in question.
“It would be an amazing story, a miracle, if he could make the Forego,” Zito said. “We just have to take it one day at a time. We never say never.”
His usual contemplative self, Zito marveled at the circumstances surrounding yesterday’s events: A horse named Little Nick collides with his stable star; Little Nick is a half-brother to Little Mike, winner of Saturday’s Grade 1 Arlington Million; and in Saturday’s fifth race at Saratoga, Zito runs second to a horse trained by Anthony Quartarolo, who trains Little Nick.
“It just shows you that racing is so complicated,” Zito said. “That’s a good quote: Racing is so complicated, and it’s so intertwined. Like they say, it’s not an exact science and no one has any lock on it. No one can say, ‘This is this or this is that or this is this or this is that.’ You can’t say that.”
* * *
Dale Romans might have been a little tired after flying from Chicago back to Saratoga, but any fatigue Sunday morning was overshadowed by the afterglow of winning one of the most important races of his career.
On Saturday, the Romans-trained Little Mike stretched his speed to 1 ¼ miles and stunned a field of top turf runners to win the Grade 1 Arlington Million. Little Mike ran the distance in 2:02.44 under new rider Ramon Dominguez to win by 1 ½ lengths.
“One of the biggest wins of my career,” Romans said in his office at Saratoga. “He just keeps on cruising. I backed him down in distance in California [when third in the Grade 1 Shoemaker at a mile on June 30 at Betfair Hollywood Park], and it didn’t work out. His best race was a mile and an eighth at Churchill Downs, so I figured, why not a mile and a quarter?”
Romans also finished second in the Grade 1 Secretariat for 3-year-olds at Arlington with Finnegans Wake.
Another 3-year-old in the barn, Quick Wit, is still a long-shot possibility for the August 25 Travers. Quick Wit upset the $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame – a turf race that was moved to the main track – on August 10 last time out.
Quick Wit has won on turf and dirt, and Romans doesn’t appear compelled to make an early commitment.
“We’ll probably run back here on the turf [in the Grade 3 Saranac, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds on September 2], but we’ll keep the Travers option open until entry day to see how the field shapes up,” he said. “It looks like it could be a big field. If that’s the case, we won’t run.”
* * *
Trainer Steve Asmussen expressed satisfaction with My Miss Aurelia’s breeze on Sunday but said he’d like to give last year’s Champion Two-Year-Old Filly more time between her win in the Mandy’s Gold on August 8 and her next start, making her doubtful for the Grade 1 Test on August 25.
On Sunday, the 3-year-old daughter of Smart Strike breezed five furlongs on the training track in 1:02.99.
“With the way the first race went, [we want] a couple of works before we make a decision [on her next race],” said Asmussen. “She ran impressively [in the Mandy’s Gold], but she didn’t go back to her right lead. I’m extremely pleased with how she went this morning.”
My Miss Aurelia, who races for Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton, is unbeaten in five starts. The Mandy’s Gold was her first start since defeating Grace Hall in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last November.
Stonestreet’s Teen Pauline, who breezed six furlongs in 1:12.85 on the main track on Sunday, is under consideration for the Grade 1 Spinaway on September 2. The 2-year-old filly has made one start, winning by 4 ¾ lengths on July 25.
“She worked very well today,” said Asmussen. “A very impressive filly. With her work today, we asked something of her off of her maiden win, and it allows us an opportunity with the Spinaway in mind.”
Stonestreet also owns Grade 2 Adirondack heroine Kauai Katie and August 6 debut winner Dreaming of Julia. Todd Pletcher trains both Kauai Katie and Dreaming of Julia.
* * *
Repole Stable’s Stay Thirsty was one of a trio of Grade 1 Woodward candidates breezing this morning in preparation for the September 1 race, covering five furlongs in 1:00.46 over the main track.
“It was a good strong work and an extra-strong gallop out,” said trainer Todd Pletcher of Stay Thirsty, most recently fifth in the Grade 2 Suburban on July 7 at Belmont Park. “I think he’s back to his old self. He’ll have one more work, and we’re looking forward to the Woodward.”
Also working for the 1 1/8-mile Woodward were fourth-place Suburban finisher To Honor and Serve, who breezed five furlongs in 1:00.91 over the Oklahoma training track, and Suburban winner Mucho Macho Man, who breezed five furlongs on the main track in 1:00.98 with stablemate Silver Menace.
“Mucho Macho Man is doing great,” said owner Dean Reeves. “It was a good, solid work, and we’re excited about the Woodward.”
In other notable works, Dr. Chit breezed four furlongs in 47.65 for the Grade 1 Foxwoods King’s Bishop on the Travers undercard; Island Bound (4f, 48.04) and Nicole H (4f, 47.95) worked for possible starts in Friday’s Grade 1 Ballerina; Book Review (5f, 1:00.91) and Gypsy Robin (5f, 59.17) prepped for the Grade 1 Test on Travers Day, and Zagora went five furlongs in 59.23 on the turf training course for Saturday’s Grade 2 Ballston Spa.
* * *
Grade 1 winner Zo Impressive was resting comfortably in her stall Sunday morning, the day after suffering a condylar fracture in her right front leg running fourth behind Questing in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes.
Trainer Tom Albertrani said the gray daughter of Hard Spun will be sent this week to the Rood & Riddle Equine Center in Lexington, Ky., for surgery to repair the damage, after which a decision will be made on her racing future.
“She’s actually getting around the stall pretty good,” Albertrani said. “She’s just in a pressure bandage right now. It’s amazing. She had a good night. She’s standing square in her stall and she’s got her head out. She doesn’t seem stressed out at all about it.
“We’ll ship her to Kentucky in the next couple of days. She’s got a condylar fracture, but fortunately it didn’t go spiraling up the leg. It kind of just displaced right off the bottom. We’ll see how surgery goes and go from there.”
Zo Impressive has been first or second in six of her seven lifetime starts, winning the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont Park on June 23. She was runner-up to Alabama winner Questing in the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 21.
“She’s got a good nature about her,” Albertrani said. “If you look at her, she acts like there’s nothing wrong with her. She ought to be a good patient. It should hopefully be a simple procedure and she comes out of it OK. We’ll see what the next steps are.”
Meanwhile, Albertrani was pleased with the effort of Brilliant Speed, who ran third, beaten 6 ½ lengths, by Point of Entry in Saturday’s Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational.
“He came out of the race good,” Albertrani said. “It looked like [jockey Javier Castellano] had a lot more horse. I was hoping he would kind of give him just a little bit more rein. I thought he might have wanted to be a bit closer, but he ran well. We had no excuse.”
Since moving back to the turf, Brilliant Speed has placed in three Grade 1 stakes. He ran fifth, beaten just two lengths, in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan and most recently finished sixth behind Turbo Compressor in the Grade 1 United Nations.
“He kind of made up for the United Nations,” Albertrani said. “That was really his only bad one during the year. He’s always two lengths here, three lengths there. In all of his starts, he’s been right there. We’ll try them again somewhere. One of these days, he’s going to break through.”
* * *
Risky Rachel will attempt to pick up her fourth career stakes victory when she competes in Monday’s $100,000 Union Avenue, a 6 ½-furlong race for New York-bred fillies and mares.
Since being transferred to the barn of Juan “Manny” Coronel, Risky Rachel has posted a record of 2-2-0 from five starts, including wins in the Broadway at Aqueduct Racetrack and the Putthepowdertoit at Belmont Park. Following an off-the-board effort on turf, she rebounded with seconds in Belmont’s Chaldea on July 8 and Saratoga’s Fleet Indian on August 1.
Javier Castellano will ride Risky Rachel, a 5-year-old who carries the colors of Sanford Bacon, from post position 6. Risky Rachel was installed as the 6-5 favorite on the morning line.
The 2-1 second choice is Willet, who is seeking her fourth straight win as she makes her first start since winning an optional claimer at Aqueduct in December. The Union Avenue will be her stakes debut
Willet will depart from post 2 with Ramon Dominguez aboard. She is trained by James Iselin, who owns her in partnership with Charlotte Assoulin and Eli Gindi.
The Union Avenue field also includes Funky Munky Mama (12-1), Final Mesa (10-1), Lady Vi (15-1), Paper Plane (10-1), and Superior Sarah (6-1).