This weekend’s events, Grade 1s all, the Whitney and Test Stakes from Saratoga and the Clement Hirsch from Del Mar, are prizes worth winning, not only in and of themselves but barometers as to how the connections of the top horses plot their course to a possible championship at season’s end.
Clearly, there is much at stake. Tizway, rated the top older horse in the country in this week’s NTRA poll behind only the remarkable female duo of Blind Luck and Harve De Grace, won the second fastest running of the storied Metropolitan Mile in his last start on Memorial Day.
But what of the Whitney’s nine furlongs, and what will the future hold for a six-year-old who remains brilliant at his age, indeed perhaps even better than ever? Saturday’s Whitney is pivotal for him, determining whether 007 Jim Bond goes for the whole enchilada or give the country’s best milers a real run for their money.
Turbulent Descent, herself a brilliant middle-distance sprinter/miler, has been pointed toward the Test Stakes for as long as her trainer Mike Puype can remember. He sounded like a man who couldn’t remember thinking when he wasn't thinking about Saratoga’s prized 7 furlongs for sophomore fillies.
Time was when the Test was regarded as a terrific way to get to the 10-furlong Alabama. But today’s version isn’t your father’s Test Stakes; it’s a race coveted by the connections of this country’s fastest fillies. And if horsemen want to go on to the Alabama, they can still have at it.
Bond felt redeemed by Tizway’s remarkable Met Mile. “We were thrilled,” Bond said. “It was our first Grade 1 in a long time ad I really like this horse. I was very excited. I think I got it right.” But Saturday’s nine furlongs, and beyond?
“He trains on the Oklahoma training track. It’s our home base. We’re using the same training pattern we used for the Met. We put a horse alongside him for the last three furlongs of his workout, and we did that again.
“I can train him now. He’s gotten over his tendon and shoulder problems. When you can train [horses] every day, when you can do that, I believe it moves a horse way up. Saturday will be a barometer. Either we go on to the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Classic or go to the [Dirt] Mile.”
As for his position in the polls, Bond’s not too concerned at this point. “What matters is who’s in front in November. I can sit here all day and tell you he’s number one, but those are two great fillies that gave us great entertainment.”
Mike Puype, the second leading trainer at Del Mar, is going surf to dirt in the Test with Turbulent Descent, who’s seeking her third Grade 1 win from eight career starts. He’s coming in very confident and seems to be taking it all in stride, although shipping could be an issue.
“I don’t have a personal agenda. [We’re coming] because we don’t have a real program for three-year-old fillies. At Del Mar, you better be long on the grass. If you have a top quality horse, you have to go out and find [the races]. Without question, the best program is in New York. The Test is a very prestigious race, it‘s been on my mind from the get-go.”
The last time he shipped East with Turbulent Descent, he lost the Acorn to It’s Tricky, who flattered herself and Turbulent Descent by winning the Coaching Club American Oaks on Saratoga’s opening weekend.
“When I first saw It’s Tricky, I knew we were in a big race. When we moved to her [approaching the stretch in the Acorn], I thought she would swallow her but [It’s Tricky] had a lot left.” And, now, shipping into Saratoga?
“Whenever you go West to East it’s always taxing from acclimatizing and a dehydration standpoint. But seven furlongs is her optimum distance. As long as she likes the Saratoga racetrack and has energy for her best, I’m very confident with how she’s doing.”
Sherman, meanwhile, will stay at home to find out what he needs to know about the future for the ultra consistent Ultra Blend who will be stretching her talents out in the Hirsch. “I have no qualms about stretching her out,” Sherman said of his one dimensional mare.
“She’s not at all a very versatile mare so I hope this race sets up a little better for her on the front end. But she never knows the company she’s in. When she runs with Cal-breds she runs big, when she runs in open company, she runs big.
“I have to find out if she fits in the Breeders’ Cup. Tyler Baze, who has been working her recently, will replace David Flores. “But she’s just such a cool horse.,I wish I was still riding. I’d like to ride her myself.”
** Edit to post regarding Clement Hirsch made on 8/4/11.