“He ran hard; he’s a little tired,” said Wilkes of Fort Larned, who in the Whitney earned a career-high 110 Beyer Speed Figure, the second-best Beyer for older males at more than a mile on dirt this year. “But he’s happy, although not as happy as I am. Really, I was expecting that kind of performance from him. I believe in him. He’s a very good horse. He ran the same type of race in the Cornhusker. In that race, he beat Successful Dan; yesterday, there were more good horses.”
“The 1 ¼ miles I don’t think will be a problem,” said Wilkes. “The only thing is, we have to go to California, which is Baffert territory.”
The next order of business for Wilkes and owner Janis Whitham is to figure out what path to take to Breeders’ Cup.
“The Woodward [Grade 1, September 1] is possible, but we have to think about how to get to the Classic and work backwards,” he said. “The main thing is, he’ll tell me. He’s been going since early in the year. We’ll see how he is, and he will tell us.”
* * *
Allen Jerkens was all smiles Sunday morning outside his barn, where Emma’s Encore was resting after giving the Hall of Fame trainer his first Grade 1 victory since Miss Shop took the Personal Ensign in 2007.
“It’s always nice when you go home and you know the next year there’s going to be a jockey statue in front of the clubhouse,” said the 83-year-old Jerkens, referring to the tradition of honoring the Spa’s Grade 1 winners by having their silks painted on the jockey statues surrounding the fountain by the entrance.
A bay daughter of Congrats who fetched only $2,000 as a yearling, Emma’s Encore arrived in Jerkens’ barn at Gulfstream Park over the winter, having finished off the board in three starts as a 2-year-old at Hoosier Park, Kentucky Downs and Keeneland.
“All I know is the van man said, ‘You have a horse coming in,’” recalled Jerkens. “She looked OK. We were in no position to turn anybody down, anyway. It’s like I said all my life, with any of them, you never know what’s going to happen.
“Some of the ones you expect to be good never run, and others surprise you. I didn’t think [multiple graded stakes winner] Devil His Due was much of a horse until he started running. And I didn’t think Miss Shop would amount to much, either, and she won a Grade 1. You take what you can get.”
In her first start for Jerkens on February 2, Emma’s Encore was off a step slow but came on to finish third in a $50,000 maiden claimer at Gulfstream; three weeks later she broke her maiden facing Florida-breds and next rallied from seventh to take an optional claimer on March 14.
“The second race she won in her life, she was shut off pretty good, but she still made it,” said Jerkens of Emma’s Encore, who earned her first graded stakes when she pulled off a 39-1 upset of the Grade 3 Victory Ride on July 7 at Belmont Park.
The Prioress was also Jerkens’ first win of the meet, but the trainer said he was not sure if Emma’s Encore would return for the Grade 1, $500,000 Test on August 25.
* * *
Trainer Steve Asmussen is hopeful that My Miss Aurelia, the undefeated 2011 champion 2-year-old filly, can pick up where she left off when she makes her long-awaited return to the races Wednesday as a supplemental entrant in the $100,000 Mandy’s Gold overnight stakes.
“Absolutely hoping for a similar outcome,” said Asmussen of My Miss Aurelia, who broke her maiden and won the Grade 2 Adirondack at the Spa, followed by victories in the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont Park and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. “I definitely think she is a worthy 2-year-old champion, and I’m anxious to have her back to the races.”
My Miss Aurelia, who was sidelined for the first part of her 3-year-old campaign with a minor shin injury, turned in an easy maintenance breeze Sunday, working four furlongs in 49.98 seconds on the Oklahoma training track.
Julien Leparoux will ride her in the Mandy’s Gold, which attracted a field of seven, including Srumdiddlyumptious, a winner of four of her past five starts, including back-to-back stakes scores at Monmouth and Penn National, as well as Ullapool, a solid second to the promising Book Review in an allowance July 20 at the Spa.
Asmussen added that 3-year-old Macho Macho came out of his upset victory over Hansen in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby on Saturday tired but in good shape. The trainer said he would take his time before making any decision about running back in the Grade 1, $1 million Travers on August 25 at the Spa.
“He ran hard yesterday,” Asmussen said. “He’s scheduled to be back [at Saratoga] this afternoon. You want to give the race [the West Virginia Derby] the respect it deserves, from an effort standpoint. They didn’t come home fast the last eighth of a mile [13.23 seconds], but when he got to Hansen in 1:11 and change, he’d done some work there. He’s been knocking on the door and to get through at the right time, I was very proud of him. He earned it. It puts him in position with the 3-year-old races to finish out the year and for us to use our heads and take advantage of his ability.”
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With Point of Entry and Boisterous respectively targeting the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational and Grade 1 Arlington Million on August 18, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey was hoping to find a different spot for three-time graded stakes winner Air Support, who will head postward as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in Monday’s ninth race, a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer on the turf.
Air Support enters Monday’s race off a pair of seconds behind front-running Turbo Compressor in the Colonial Turf Cup on June 16 at Colonial Downs and the Grade 1 United Nations on July 7 at Monmouth Park.
“I was looking for a place to run him, and I thought [Monday’s race] was a decent spot,” said McGaughey. “His last two races were very good. I think he’ll have more pace to run at [on Monday]. The one horse [Freud’s Honor] that you knew was going to [challenge Turbo Compressor for the early lead in the United Nations], the rider [Angel Serpa] took back. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s disappointing when you have a horse that runs that good and you finish second. It’s the way it goes.”
Air Support, owned by Stuart S. Janney, III, seeks his first win since taking the 2011 Grade 2 Virginia Derby. Alex Solis has the assignment.
McGaughey’s next graded stakes foray will come in Saturday’s Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap with Janney’s Data Link, who sizzled four furlongs in 46.36, breezing, on the Oklahoma training track on Sunday.
Data Link earned his first stakes win in April when he captured Keeneland’s Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile, then was fifth 22 days later in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. He took advantage of a fast pace in his most recent start, the Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes on June 10, to prevail by one length over fellow Fourstardave contender Get Stormy.
“[The Fourstardave is] going to be a solid race, but he’s a solid horse,” said McGaughey. “It will be the kind of race where whoever gets the best trip will probably win. They’ll be cooking in this race, too, with Wise Dan, Get Stormy, and some others.”
McGaughey said Janney’s Hymn Book exited his fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Whitney in good shape and could make his next start in the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational on September 29 at Belmont Park.
“The winner [Fort Larned] is a pretty good horse,” said McGaughey. “He was four [lengths] in front at the eighth pole. I have to say I was a little disappointed in Hymn Book’s performance, but still he was fourth, defeated only three lengths. The horse who won it is obviously an up-and-coming handicap horse, and the horses who finished second and third [Ron the Greek and Flat Out] were proven horses. We were wide, but that was my strategy.”
Hymn Book, who won the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in February, overcame a stumble at the break to finish second to Mucho Macho Man in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap on July 7 at Belmont Park.
“I don’t know if [Hymn Book] reacted coming off his race in the Suburban, coming back in a month,” said McGaughey. “Maybe he needs a little more time between races. We’ll just have to see. Sitting here right now, everything being equal, I’ll point him toward the [Jockey Club] Gold Cup and take one big chance with him. He likes Belmont. That will give him plenty of time between races, and we’ll just see from there.
“I do think he’s good enough [to win Grade 1 races],” continued McGaughey. “I’m not saying he’s good enough to win every time we go over there, but I do think he’s good enough where if he does fire he can win one of those races. Last year in the Suburban he was second to Flat Out, who freaked that day, and this year he was second to Mucho Macho Man, who ran huge. He needs to find a race he can run a 104 [Beyer Speed Figure] and the others 100 instead of a race where the winner runs a 110.”
* * *
Royal Delta, last year’s champion 3-year-old filly, breezed five furlongs in 1:02.56 Sunday morning over the Oklahoma training track in preparation for her next start, the Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign on August 26.
Exercise rider Rodolphe Brisset was aboard for the move, Royal Delta’s first since her neck victory over Tiz Miz Sue in the Grade 2 Delaware Handi cap on July 21.
“She was a little anxious, a little buzzed going inwith it being the first work, but I was happy with it,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. “She’s training good, she’s eating good, she’s moving good … it’s all good.”
In addition to the Delaware Handicap, the 4-year-old Empire Maker filly won the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs and also finished second in the Grade 3 Sabin Stakes at Gulfstream Park and ninth in the Dubai World Cup.
Last year at Saratoga, Royal Delta won the Grade 1 TVG Alabama and finished third in the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks.
* * *
A pair of graded stakes winners continued their preparations for upcoming stakes with both Stay Thirsty and In Lingerie working four furlongs on the main track for trainer Todd Pletcher on Sunday.
Third in the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks in her most recent start on July 21, In Lingerie was timed in 48.59 seconds with 2011 Travers and Jim Dandy winner Stay Thirsty checking in at 49.10 seconds, according to NYRA clockers.
“Both worked well and are on schedule for their respective races,” Pletcher said.
Winless in two starts this year, finishing off the board in the Grade 2 Suburban on July 7, Stay Thirsty is being pointed to the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward on September 1.
In Lingerie, who captured the Grade 3 Bourbonette and Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan prior to the Coaching Club, will make her next start in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama for 3-year-old fillies on August 18.
Pletcher, who has saddled eight 2-year-old winners at the meet thus far, plans to work four of his juveniles on Monday: Kauai Katie and Can’t Explain, who are under consideration for Sunday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Adirondack for fillies, and Drum Roll and Shanghai Bobby, each targeting the Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special the same day.
Pletcher said Dogwood Stable’s 2-year-old Palace Malice emerged from his 3 ½-length maiden victory on Saturday in good order, and may come back in the Grade 2, $300,000 Three Chimneys Hopeful on closing day, September 3.
“He seemed to come out of it well,” Pletcher said. “[Dogwood owner] Mr. [Cot] Campbell and I spoke briefly after the race about possibly the Hopeful if things go according to plan.”
Pletcher added the Three Chimneys Hopeful is also possible for Let’s Go Stable’s Jocosity, a 7 ½-length maiden winner on Friday.
Meanwhile, Pletcher will take his time picking the next spot for Dominus, who returned from nearly a year-long layoff to capture Saturday’s finale, a seven-furlong optional claiming allowance, by 4 ¼ lengths.
“So far, he came out of the race well,” Pletcher said. “We’ll give it a few days and see.”
Plans are also up in the air for Rule and Caixa Eletronica, who ran last and next-to-last, respectively, of nine horses in Saturday’s Grade 1 Whitney.
“I’m not sure where either one would run, but I would say they’re doubtful for the Woodward,” Pletcher said. “Both came out of the race in good order. Nothing really unfolded as we thought it might. I thought Caixa Eletronica was in a really good spot at the three-eighths pole and then just kind of flattened out a little bit. Rule was never really able to get into the position we hoped for and flattened out as well. We’ll regroup with both.”
Apprentice rider Keiber Coa suffered a fractured bone in his left hand after being unseated in the sixth race on Saturday, according to his agent, Cory Moran.
Coa, 19, the son of retired jockey Eibar Coa, fell to the Saratoga inner turf course when his mount, Riverdance Rock, unexpectedly veered sharply outside at the top of the stretch.
He was transported to Saratoga Hospital, where the fracture was diagnosed and placed in a cast for five to six weeks. Moran indicated that Coa will visit an orthopedist in New Jersey on Monday.
Coa has 13 victories in his young career, which commenced in late 2011 at Gulfstream Park. His first win came at Santa Anita Park on March 10. Saturday’s sixth race was the first time Coa had ridden at Saratoga.
Riverdance Rock, a 3-year-old gelding trained by Timothy Hills, was uninjured in the incident.