“He ate everything up and cooled out quickly,” McLaughlin noted. “I’ve already spoken to Simon [Crisford, Godolphin Racing Manager]; he called yesterday at 6:04 [p.m.], he was very happy, and we’re going to the Travers [Grade 1, $1 million, August 25]. Yesterday was a very important win, and we’re very happy, all of us.”
“It was a great run, everything went as planned,” McLaughlin said. “We weren’t sure – Plan A, from the one hole, was to break, be forwardly placed, and if nobody’s going too fast, [I told Dominguez], ‘I’d love to see you on the lead. If they go fast, then maybe we’ll sit in behind them.’ He broke great, that was a big plus. When I looked at the tote board to see the half in :49, I was liking that, and I liked three-quarters in 1:14.”
While Alpha employed front-running tactics over yesterday’s sloppy, sealed racetrack, McLaughlin said the Bernardini colt is certainly not guaranteed to set the pace in the 1 ¼-mile Travers.
“You have to take each race as a different race,” the trainer said. “Everybody says, ‘What about the Travers? You going to go to the lead?’ We don’t know. We don’t know what post we draw, if Hansen shows up, Paynter shows up, we’re probably not on the lead. But, we’ll deal with that when we get there. It was a nice situation yesterday. Sometimes a clean face helps. We liked our horse [first-time starter] North Slope yesterday, and he didn’t have a clean face when he came back [after finishing seventh]. He was very dirty, and Ramon said he was not liking the kickback. So, to be able to have a clean face on that racetrack was nice.”
McLaughlin said Alpha likely would work twice prior to the August 25 Travers.
“He’s not a big, heavy horse, we were trying to put on weight, so we didn’t have to train so hard [prior to the Jim Dandy],” McLaughlin said. “The :58 and change was an interesting work [five-furlong bullet work in 58.88 on July 14], but it was a great work. We won’t do so much [before the Travers]. The most we would work is twice. It’s four weeks, so we’d probably work on August 11th and the 18th, most likely. People thought about needing the race [in the Jim Dandy], with the time [not running since 12th in the May 5 Kentucky Derby], but he’s fit, and never really missed any time except the few days he had a temperature [before the June 9 Belmont Stakes]. He’s put on weight and he’s doing very well, that’s the main thing.”
McLaughlin added that multiple Grade 1 winner It’s Tricky came out of her half-mile breeze yesterday at Greentree Training Center in good shape as she eyes one of two Saratoga Grade 1s – the seven-furlong Ballerina on August 24, or the 1 1/8-mile Personal Ensign on August 26.
“She’s great,” McLaughlin said. “She liked working on the synthetic.”
* * *
Happy vibrations surrounded the barn of trainer Jimmy Toner Sunday morning as his big, gray turf star Winter Memories relaxed in her stall the morning after taking the Grade 1, $600,000 Diana, her most lucrative win to date.
The 4-year-old daughter of El Prado had failed to reach the speedy Tapitsfly in the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game last month at one mile on the grass at Belmont Park, but with a little give in the ground and an extra furlong to negotiate, she displayed her full talent with a blistering acceleration to the front turning for home in the Diana.
Applauded by the fans on her way to the track, Winter Memories was greeted with an even greater ovation when she returned to the winner’s circle.
“That was pretty neat,” said Toner, who plans to rest Winter Memories and then point toward a run in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational on September 29 at Belmont Park. “You feel the appreciation for a horse like that. We appreciate seeing the people pick up on that, and it makes it something special. This is her fan base.”
While the Flower Bowl and Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf remain prime objectives, Toner said he hadn’t been looking past the Diana.
“Yesterday was important,” he said. “She got beat last time, and I wanted to make sure she was legit and back on her game.”
* * *
Trainer Todd Pletcher has confirmed both WinStar Farm’s Rule and Mike Repole’s Caixa Eletronica for next Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap, with the former posting a five-furlong breeze on the Oklahoma training track on Sunday.
Working in company with 2-year-old maiden Palace Malice, Rule was clocked in 1:02.35.
“Rule is sort of an old, wiser horse who does what he has to do in the mornings,” said Pletcher. “It’s typical for him to not ‘wow’ you in the morning, but it seems like he’s doing well.”
Rule, winner of the Birdstone Stakes and third in the Grade 1 Woodward last year at Saratoga, has made one start this year, taking the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup by 1 ½ lengths over Flat Out on July 7.
Pletcher said it was the second time Rule had worked in company with Palace Malice, a juvenile Dogwood Stable color-bearer. Hailing from Curlin’s first crop, Palace Malice was second by a half-length to Carried Interest in a five-furlong race on July 5 at Belmont Park in his lone previous start.
“Both were looking for a similar five-eighths work,” said Pletcher. “We’ve got a race and two works [into Rule], so we’re good to go [for the Whitney].”
Pletcher had considered running the Caixa Eletronica in the Grade 1, six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on August 5 before deciding in favor of the 1 1/8-mile Whitney. After winning Belmont’s Grade 2 True North Handicap at six furlongs on June 9, Caixa Eletronica was fifth in the Grade 3 James Marvin at seven furlongs on the July 20 opening-day card at the Spa.
“Caixa Eletronica is going to run in the Whitney, but since he is running back in two weeks he will not breeze,” said Pletcher. “He’s 2-for-2 at a mile and an eighth, he’s won a $1 million race [the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic] at a mile and an eighth, and we felt like the six furlongs here may not set up like the six furlongs at Belmont [in the True North]. I think it’s a little harder to make that deep-closing move here.”
Pletcher said Palace Malice’s second start will come in a 6 ½-furlong maiden race on Whitney Day.
“We would have preferred to run him a little farther first-time out, but he was ready to go so we opted to run him five furlongs [at Belmont],” said Pletcher. “The obvious choice after that is to try to stretch him out, so we’re waiting on the [6 ½-furlong maiden race].”
Also on the worktab for Pletcher was Repole’s Stay Thirsty, who breezed four furlongs on the Oklahoma training track in 49.22. The 2011 Travers winner will make his next start in the Grade 1 Woodward on September 1, Pletcher said.
Pletcher added that Blue Heaven Farm’s Maple Forest has been pointed toward the Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares on August 3.
“We entered her in a stake at Monmouth today and it didn’t fill, so we’ll call an audible and try that,” said Pletcher.
* * *
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who turned 59-years-old today, professed himself satisfied after Ron the Greek and Flat Out worked this morning in preparation for Saturday’s Grade 1 Whitney.
Going out on the Oklahoma training track after the first renovation break, Flat Out covered five furlongs in 1:02.33 under Neil Poznansky, while Ron the Greek breezed four furlongs in 49.02 with Rodolphe Brisset aboard.
“Ron the Greek had some company early; actually, he had some company with some other horses that weren’t ours,” said Mott of the 5-year-old son of Full Mandate, who this year has won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster and Grade 1 Santa Anita handicaps. “There were so many horses working, he kind of got caught up, but it worked out all right. Everyone was trying to get the track at its best.”
Mott has an additional Whitney candidate in Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap winner To Honor and Serve, but remained noncommittal about whether he would enter the colt.
“I’ll never tell,” he said
* * *
Hymn Book, who rallied from last to finish second behind Mucho Macho Man in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap last time out, turned in his final serious work for the Grade 1 Whitney this morning, going an easy half-mile in 50.22 after the first renovation break on the Oklahoma training track.
“It was fine,” reported Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. “He went fine, I’ve got no complaints. It’s a go.”
A 6-year-old gelded son of Arch, Hymn Book will be making his second career appearance at the Spa, having finished sixth in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap on the turf in 2011.
McGaughey added that with Point of Entry targeting the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational on August 18 and Boisterous being pointed to the Grade 1 Arlington Million on the same day in Chicago, he would look for an allowance spot for Air Support with the next objective the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park.
“I’m going to work him tomorrow and make up my mind,” he said of Air Support, most recently second to Turbo Compressor in the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap. “We’ll see what happens. There’s an allowance race I’m thinking about. The places he’s run have been tough races. I’d like to try to get him to a spot where it looks like he could win a race. He hasn’t won in a year [Grade 2 Virginia Derby].”
* * *
Newly arrived trainer Eoin Harty said he was pleased with the progress of Endorsement, the 5-year-old son of Distorted Humor who is pointing to Saturday’s Grade 1 Whitney.
“He loves it here. He’s really, really training good here,” Harty said. “I hadn’t seen him in a week, and I saw him this morning and he’s really in top shape. After a work like he did here last weekend, to be acting like he’s acting is a real positive sign.”
On July 23, the Casner Racing color-bearer breezed five furlongs over Saratoga’s main track in a bullet 58.86 seconds, galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.26. He is tentatively scheduled to put in his final pre-Whitney work Monday morning, but the time and track are dependent on the weather.
Harty wasn’t pleased with Endorsement’s behavior prior to his last start, the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park on July 7, when he acted up in the paddock and the starting gate before finishing last of seven, beaten 37 lengths.
It was, by far, the poorest performance for Endorsement, winner of the Grade 3 Texas Mile and third by a length in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special this year. He has been off the board just twice in 10 career starts, with four wins and three seconds.
“If I didn’t have a reason why he ran so poorly, I’d say I wouldn’t have even considered this race,” Harty said. “But, he had a genuine reason for running so badly, and his races up to the Suburban were good races. He showed improvement in each race, so if you throw out the Suburban, he deserves a shot.”
Harty, who had a six-hour delay on his flight from California to Saratoga, planned to school Endorsement in the paddock during today’s seventh race.
Joel Rosario will be aboard Endorsement for the first time in the Whitney, replacing Martin Garcia, who rode the chestnut in his past two races. Formerly based on the West Coast, Rosario entered Sunday’s card with seven wins in his first full summer at Saratoga.
“I’ve used Joel and I’ve watched him ride out in California, and he’s an excellent rider out there,” Harty said. “I’ve watched him since he’s been back here, and he seems to be doing extremely well. He’s a good front-end rider, and he seems to be getting better at that. That’s how I want to run this horse.”