Monday, July 25, 2011
Saratoga: Road to the Championships
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 25, 2011--
Rain, Rain, Come Again Some Other Day
We needed the rain. Not only generally in this area but especially the Saratoga turf courses.
At the beginning of any meet, grass courses are usually lush and lengthy, kind to horses coming off the pace, which of course is the nature of the turf race beast.
But that hasn’t been the trend thus far with the meet now four days old. Speed has been holding unusually well on the turf.
The grass courses are not biased, per se, they are not baked hard with dirt visible and kickback when horses become hard over sustained dry spells, usually after the course have experienced a lot of traffic.
In this context, the strong rain that fell early in the problem, resulting in an ALL race for early Pick 4 purposes when a turf race was rescheduled to the main track, was welcome indeed.
The course will rest for two days and the rainfall appeared to be of the soaking variety. The only thing that would have been better was if the rain held off until the Day 4 program was complete.
It didn’t make sense that Friend Or Foe would have wasted any bullets in an ungraded $75,000 stakes restricted to state-breds but this is the Spa, after all, and everyone wants to win here.
This is especially true those outfits closely associated with the New York-bred program, as prominent breeders Chester and Mary Broman are, of course, and they were represented in the Evan Shipman by Mine Over Matter, anyway.
Besides, Friend Or Foe is ready for bigger game. The classy runner that was beaten only three lengths in last year’s G1 Cigar Mile after beating elders in the always competitive Empire Classic, instead will be seen here in the storied Whitney on August 6.
This makes more sense, given his excellent prep return June 5 by winning the restricted open-class Easy Goer at Belmont Park in his 4-year-old debut. “There goes the conservative route,” said trainer John Kimmel, later assuring “my horse is ready.”
Friend Or Foe had better be when he meets, among others, the impressive Met Mile winner Tizway, who’s been pointing toward the Whitney very likely since minutes after crossing the Belmont finish line in front.
And I want to see whether Friend Or Foe is as effective at Saratoga as he obviously is on Long Island. He had a very rough trip in the 2010 Jim Dandy then was unable to replicate the same kind of effort in the Travers.
Tizway: America's Best Older Horse?
Currently ranked fourth in the NTRA behind sensational race mares Blind Luck and Harve de Grace, and a spot behind Hollywood Gold Cup winner First Dude, Tizway can leap frog all three if the can add a second Grade 1 to his Met Mile trophy.
Training very well here since the Metropolitan, the expectation is that his Whitney will determine his plans for the balance of 2011. A victory could convince his connections that the Breeders’ Cup Classic is the right tack. That an a $5-million purse.
If not, given his noted speed and proven class, he would appear to have the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile horses at his mercy. This is what’s called a good problem to have.
Mountain Lakes or Ocean Breezes?
After Dwyer winner Dominus and Preakness third Astrology had their maintenance breezes on the main track and training track respectively, the Asmussen camp was no closer to making a decision on the Jim Dandy or Haskell this weekend.
The former, in our opinion, is the best way to get to the Travers because of the race over the track. The Haskell, meanwhile, is a million-dollar Grade 1 that still can get you to the Travers while holding your feet a little closer to the conditioning fire which is, at once, the good news and the bad news.
Common sense dictates that Dominus, while impressive in the Dwyer but having things his own way, needs a serious test around two turns before tackling what’s left of the division’s best.
Given that Dominus worked on the main track and the fact Asmussen won the 2009 Jim Dandy with Kensei, we’ll take a short price he’ll advise the owners, who have a share of both horses, that the Jim Dandy is the best way to go. All will know soon enough.
Turf Division: Present and Would-Be Champions
If workouts are a measure, then defending champion Gio Ponti is getting good again. A fast closing second to Cape Blanco when trying to win his third straight G1 Man o’ War.
Gio Ponti turned in a sharp :59.22 move on the Oklahoma turf course and, if all goes well in a planned work next week, he‘ll return to Chicago for the Arlington Million, a race he won in 2009 and finished second in last year.
It’s tempting to think the 6-year-old has lost a step to age and maybe that’s so. But he remains highly competitive, is a sound defending champion, and deserves the respect that should be accorded the winner of six Grade 1s with six exacta finishes in his career.
But the new kid on the East Coast block, Get Stormy, is looking for respect and more as the winner of two Grade 1s this winter and spring. His stakes career really took off in Saratoga last year and he’ll test his championship aspirations when he tries to keep things rolling with a repeat score in Sunday’s Fourstardave.
After finishing third in the G1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, he came back to win the Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland and the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. Winning those two races will get the attention of Eclipse voters.
“He had a great spring,” said trainer Bush “and we hope to keep that going. He’s had a little breather and he runs well fresh, so hopefully we’re ready to rumble.”