“A win’s a win,” McLaughlin said, echoing the sentiments he had shared immediately after Saturday’s race. “We’re happy, very happy. It’s a great win, and it’s a win, that’s the most important thing. Someone texted me that it was a ‘K Mac’ day yesterday; K. McLaughlin and K. McPeek, both from Lexington.”
Alpha exited a neck loss to Gemologist in Aqueduct Racetrack’s Grade 1 Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial in April with a laceration on his left foreleg, which became infected and delayed his departure for the Kentucky Derby, in which he finished 12th after getting hot in the paddock. Pointed for the Belmont Stakes, Alpha developed a temperature 10 days out and McLaughlin was forced to skip the race and change course again.
“He’s just done this in the last 90 days,” McLaughlin said pointing upward. “It’s been amazing. It worked out perfectly what we planned after [his] being sick. We shipped him up here on June 2, and this is what we wanted to do. It doesn’t always work that way, so it was great that it did. The plan came together. In the paddock yesterday, he never turned a hair, and that’s what we were worried a little bit about. At the gate he was great. So, he has matured and has done extremely well up here. He just didn’t do well in Kentucky. Getting sick before the Belmont is a blessing, looking back.”
McLaughlin reported that Alpha came out of the Travers “great” and that the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby on September 22 at Parx Racing and the Grade 1, $1 million TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational on September 29 at Belmont Park are both possibilities for the Bernardini colt’s next start.
“I spoke to Simon [Crisford, Godolphin Racing Manager] yesterday evening,” McLaughlin said. “He asked me, ‘What would be the most logical spot?’ And I said, ‘Well, the Pennsylvania Derby [at Parx Racing] is in one month, and it’s straight 3-year-olds for $1 million, the same day as Questing going there [for the Grade 1 Cotillion].’ It’s a likely choice. Then you have Jockey Club Gold Cup the next week. It’s older [horses], but that’s the other spot to talk about, with the Breeders’ Cup then the next stop.”
Since Alpha has thrived in Saratoga, McLaughlin said he would like to keep the colt at Greentree Training Center for the time being. This afternoon, the trainer will send out Godolphin’s multiple Grade 1 winning filly It’s Tricky in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Handicap, where she will face last year’s Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Royal Delta and four others. How would he feel about another dead heat?
“I’d take it,” McLaughlin said with a smile. “It’s a Grade 1, and we don’t mind sharing in those situations.”
* * *
Trainer Ken McPeek contentedly sat in his office Sunday morning, the blanket of roses awarded to the winner of the historic Grade 1 Travers proudly draped over the front of his desk.
Make that half the blanket.
Just as Kiaran McLaughlin did at his barn, McPeek proudly celebrated winning half the Travers after his 33-1 long shot Golden Ticket hit the wire at the exact same time as Alpha for the first dead heat in the race for 3-year-olds since 1874.
After a night of celebration, McPeek, who also finished fourth in the race with Atigun, put the achievement into perspective.
“I know it’s a cliché, but it’s the classic win-win situation,” said McPeek, who grew up in Lexington and played in midget football leagues in the mid-1970s with McLaughlin. “Kiaran’s path and my path are so different. He went to work with [Hall of Fame trainer Wayne] Lukas and had that experience and met so many people. I did it the hard way, at River Downs and Latonia, but I learned my lessons. It’s great to reach the mountain after having been down so low. I was living in a $50-a-week bungalow I split with somebody in 1985.”
Golden Ticket, owned by Magic City Thoroughbred Partners, wasn’t even being pointed to the Travers. Off a good second in an allowance in May at Churchill Downs, McPeek had plans to run the Speightstown colt in a Saratoga allowance, which didn’t draw enough entries. Then, the same thing happened with the Bernardini overnight stakes.
“We had been watching this horse train, and Danny Ramsey, who has a really good talent galloping for me, was telling me how good he was doing,” McPeek said. “He went 59 and change over the Oklahoma track and that was faster than I’ve had any horse work there. He went 59 there and that’s like 57 anywhere else.”
Golden Ticket was supplemented into the field as a separate entry from Atigun and shot through a hole along the rail turning for home when tiring leader Speightscity drifted out. He was a length in front, but Alpha caught up with him.
Atigun, forced to check when Street Life abruptly began to slow down because of a minor injury, found running room after going five wide on the far turn and finished a strong fourth.
“Atigun, he got stopped,” McPeek said. “He could have won that race. He had to go outside, but he ran a great race in his own right. Atigun cleaned up his feed tub and Golden Ticket didn’t. He’s a little tired.”
McPeek said Atigun might next take on his elders in the Grade 1 TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational, a 1 ¼-mile race September 29 at Belmont Park. Golden Ticket could show up next in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby on September 22 at Parx Racing.
* * *
From a traditional viewpoint, Saturday’s Grade 1 Foxwoods King’s Bishop was an ambitious spot for a New York-bred gelding making his first graded stakes appearance. Add to that the fact that Willy Beamin, who’d been claimed for $25,000 in March, was running back on just three days rest and the word “ambitious” would seem like an understatement.
At the end of seven furlongs, however, there was the 11-1 shot crossing the finish line in front of some of the top 3-year-old sprinters on the East coast.
“It was very cool,” said trainer Rick Dutrow, who watched the race from a Chinese restaurant in Greenvale, N.Y., where he recommends the shrimp and broccoli. “I talked with [brother and assistant trainer Chip Dutrow] up there [about how he came back] and so far, so good.”
The Foxwoods King’s Bishop wasn’t the first time Dutrow has wheeled back Willy Beamin, a 6 ¼-length victor in Wednesday’s Albany for state-breds, on short notice. The bay son of Suave, who has now won five straight for his new connections, won an optional claimer on June 20 at Belmont Park and four days later claimed his first stakes victory in the Mike Lee.
“There’s no way I could tell you the how or why of it,” said Dutrow. “So far, what we’ve done works. It makes no sense for me to try to figure it out. I’ve got too many other things to worry about.”
The trainer added that no decision had been made on Willy Beamin’s next start.
“I really have no idea,” he said, “but I’m sure there will be something.”
* * *
As the horse that gave him his first Grade 1 victory in last year’s Diana, Zagora will always hold a special place for trainer Chad Brown. A record-setting performance in Saturday’s Grade 2 Ballston Spa presented by Jose Cuervo only added to her legacy for the Mechanicville native.
“She’s definitely one of our barn favorites,” Brown said. “She tries hard. She’s quietly had an outstanding career, and when I really need her in the clutch, she shows up for me.”
Bred in France and trained by Brown for owner Martin Schwartz, the 5-year-old daughter of Green Tune has won nine of 20 races and $1,168,159 in purses. Third in the Diana on July 28, she likely will return to Grade 1 company in the $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster on October 7, run at 1 1/8 miles over the Polytrack at Keeneland.
In the Ballston Spa, Zagora was able to sit off a fast early pace and come charging down the middle of the inner turf course to win by 1 ½ lengths over Hungry Island in a time of 1:39.07, nearly a full second faster than Leroidesanimaux’s previous 1 1/16-mile track record of 1:39.92, set in 2005. Leroidesanimaux was trained by Brown’s mentor, late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel.
“Given how firm the turf was, it was a strong pace; it wasn’t a ridiculous pace,” Brown said. “She bore down on them and got them, and she caught a couple good horses in Tapitsfly and Summer Soiree, and held off a really nice horse. It was a solid race. There were some really nice horses in there. My filly showed up yesterday, and I’m proud of her.”
Zagora has four wins from six starts this year, including the Grade 3 Endeavor and Grade 3 Hillsborough to open the 2012 season at Tampa Bay Downs. She added the Grade 3 Gallorette on the Preakness undercard May 19 at Pimlico.
“When I heard [critics say] that I was giving her an easy schedule, I really didn’t see another schedule that made more sense to me, so I stuck to my plan,” Brown said. “The Diana was always the goal for this filly. She came out of Pimlico with a splint injury, and it just didn’t work out. Her breezes from the Diana to the Ballston Spa were spectacular. I went in there with a lot of confidence yesterday. I didn’t know she was going to smash the track record, but I knew she was sitting on her ‘A’ race.”
Meanwhile, Brown was pleased to report that Street Life, who ran last of 11 and was vanned off the track following Saturday’s Travers, was “happy and comfortable” the morning after suffering a soft tissue injury to his left front pastern during the race.
Brown said he will wait a few days for the swelling to go down before having an ultrasound test to further evaluate the damage.
“All the bony structures in his leg X-rayed perfect,” Brown said. “Hopefully, it’s not a career-ending injury. At this point it’s kind of up in the air. The pastern is somewhat of a complex structure with tendons and ligaments all in that area. We really want to zero in on where the damage is, if there is any, which we suspect there is. We just don’t know the extent of it, but we’re happy to report that the horse is happy, and it’s in no way a life-threatening situation. All the bones in his leg are in place and look good.”
Coming off a 1 ¾-length victory in the $100,000 Curlin at Saratoga on July 27, Street Life was the fourth betting choice in the Travers. Watching the race, Brown felt something was amiss around the three-eighths pole, when Street Life, running 10th of 11 under jockey Jose Lezcano, was passed by eventual third-place finisher Fast Falcon.
“I loved where he was down the backside, because he was in his normal position near the rear of the field, but he was in good contact to run them down,” Brown said. “The way the race was unfolding, I was OK with it. When he entered the turn and Fast Falcon ended up going around him, that’s when I was worried. That’s about the time Jose said when he went to his left lead, he just didn’t feel quite right.”
Brown praised Lezcano for his handling of Street Life, who he has ridden in five of his eight career starts. After crossing the wire, Lezcano pulled up the son of Street Sense and hopped off.
“As soon as Jose came off the horse, he came over to me before I could get to the horse and said, ‘Something just wasn’t quite right, boss,’” Brown said. “That’s how he put it to me. I’m happy he took care of the horse. He did the right thing. He knows the horse, and he wasn’t hitting the ground quite right. I feel bad for everyone involved with the horse, because I thought he had a really good chance. But, it could have been a lot worse.”
* * *
Trainer Todd Pletcher sent out Grade 1 Woodward candidates Stay Thirsty and Rule to work five furlongs this morning in company for Saturday’s $750,000 race, with the pair firing a bullet 1:00.03 over the main track.
The move was the fastest of 23 at the distance for the duo, both coming off disappointing efforts in their most recent starts. WinStar Farm’s Rule was ninth behind Fort Larned in the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap on August 4, while Repole Stable’s Stay Thirsty was fifth in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap on July 7 at Belmont Park.
“They both worked well; I’m happy with both of them,” said Pletcher. “It seemed Rule worked more along the lines of how he worked prior to [winning the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup] and the way he worked before he was third in the Woodward last year. It seems like he’s ready to go.”
The trainer added that Stay Thirsty, who is 3-1-0 in four starts at the Spa, including victories in last year’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy and Grade 1 Travers, worked “as well as he’s ever worked.”
Saratoga’s leading rider, Ramon Dominguez, will ride Rule in the Woodward, said Pletcher, with Javier Castellano aboard Stay Thirsty.
* * *
Multiple graded-stakes winner Mucho Macho Man turned in an easy maintenance drill Sunday morning on the main track in preparation for the Grade 1 Woodward.
With exercise rider Nick Petro up, Mucho Macho Man went five furlongs down the middle of the track in 1:02.84, which ranked 21st of 23 works in the morning at the distance.
Coming off a commanding 2 ½-length win in the Grade 2 Suburban, the 4-year-old son of Macho Uno will seek his first Grade 1 victory in the Woodward.
“We haven’t run him in a Grade 1 stakes since the  Belmont, but the last two races he’s run in were Grade 1-type fields, and he beat them,” said trainer Kathy Ritvo.
* * *
Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito was his usual philosophical self the morning after Fast Falcon finished a fast-closing third to the dead-heating tandem of Alpha and Golden Ticket in yesterday’s Travers.
“You can see [the photo finish] and the dead heat, and you see our horse, Fast Falcon, right in the picture,” said Zito. “The good thing is that he’ll be part of history. That was good.”
In the Travers, Fast Falcon left from the outside post and trailed in 11th through the first six furlongs of the race, had his momentum briefly stymied behind the faltering Street Life on the far turn, and closed with a rush down the center of the home stretch to miss by a neck.
“A great race. We’re very, very proud, very happy, very elated,” said Zito, who trains Fast Falcon for Richard C. Pell. “The bittersweet thing is you know he could have won it. The horse who got hurt stopped in front of him, Street Life. Eddie [Fountaine of the New York Post] just reminded me that was the third [close loss] we had in the Travers. We had Albert the Great [in 2000], we had Fly Down [in 2010], and now we have this one.”
While Zito was pleased with Fast Falcon’s performance, he said the outcome of the race might have been different had some of the circumstances been different.
“There are three factors,” said Zito. “Post position. [Fast Falcon] draws 11. Maybe he draws seven. You already save some ground, right? Then, the horse, Street Life, stops in front of him. And then [speed horse] Hansen wasn’t in there.”
The trainer added that he would love to have a rematch with Alpha, preferably in the Grade 1 TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 29 at Belmont Park.
“I think if Alpha were to show up in the Gold Cup, we would give it a whirl, just to see if we’re better than him, to keep pace with him, see how good we are,” said Zito. “That’s the way I like to do things. I’m not going for this Derby or Indiana or that. That doesn’t do no good for us. This is what we like to do, right?”
Zito also lauded Fred J. Brei’s Fort Loudon for finishing second by a half-length in the Foxwoods King’s Bishop but felt that race also could have turned out differently if winning trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. didn’t have Willy Beamin make a three-day turnaround off his victory in Wednesday’s Albany, a 1 1/8-mile race for New York-breds.
“I don’t know why I always have to be in the middle of something,” said Zito. “Yesterday, I finished second in the King’s Bishop, and [Dutrow] runs the horse back in three days. I don’t know. Here’s the odds. They tell you, ‘OK, Nick, you’re going to beat Currency Swap, Doctor Chit, Trinniberg, etc., etc., but you’re going to lose.’ I would say, ‘How much do you want to bet?’ We lost. That’s racing. That’s what makes it so incredible. Things you see every day that you don’t see in any other sport.”
Zito added that he felt like Robert LaPenta’s Spin Out never got to put forward his best effort when eighth in the Foxwoods King’s Bishop.
‘I’m very grateful about how [Fast Falcon, Fort Loudon, and Spin Out] ran yesterday,” said Zito. “They all came back good, ran good, every single one of them. Even Spin Out was in trouble in the King’s Bishop. He had no chance to show what he had. They all ran good.”
Jackson Bend, also trained by Zito for LaPenta, remains tentatively on target for a title defense in next Saturday’s Grade 1 Forego, two weeks after he collided with a horse while galloping on the Oklahoma training track. Zito said the 5-year-old will breeze tomorrow, his first work since the incident.
“Like I say, that would be a miracle [if Jackson Bend won the Forego],” said Zito. “There would be a lot of people believing in God, including me. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’ll see what happens. He’s fit. The workout he had [on August 16] was amazing. It was [four furlongs in 49.33 seconds], but it was in a gallop. He’s really ready. He likes it up here.”
* * *
Opus A looks to rebound from a fourth-place finish in the Fleet Indian on Monday as she takes on a field of six other New York-bred fillies and mares in the $100,000 Saratoga Dew at 1 1/8 miles.
Trained by Rick Violette, the 5-year-old daughter of Read the Footnotes had been no worse than third in five starts at a mile or more this year before cutting back to seven furlongs in the Fleet Indian, in which she was beaten nine lengths after dueling three wide for the early lead.
“Perhaps it was good to get a race over the track, but I don’t think I’ll be running her at seven furlongs anytime in the near future,” said Violette of Opus A, who drew the rail under high weight of 124 pounds. Alan Garcia will ride the 2-1 morning-line favorite.
Second choice at 5-2 on the morning line is Harbor Mist, who was 2-for-2 at the Spa last year and was most recently third in open company in the Summer Guest on August 17. Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado will ride the 3-year-old Rockport Harbor filly from post position 7.
The Saratoga Dew also drew Great Gracie Dane, seventh in the Irish Linnet on July 27; Go Unbridled, fifth in the Fleet Indian; Fiftyfour Forever, the Bouwerie runner-up who was second and third in two starts at the Spa this year; Ginger Snapit, and Alykela.