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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

NOTES FROM THE SPA

By NYRA Press Staff – West Point Thoroughbreds, fresh off their 1,000th career victory as a syndicate, has even more to look forward to Saturday with three live contenders in $1 million stakes, including dual graded stakes winner First Captain, who will seek his first Grade 1 victory in the 10-furlong Jockey Club Gold Cup for 3-year-olds and up at Saratoga Race Course

In addition, Flightline looks to keep an undefeated record afloat in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar, while graded stakes winner Cavalry Charge will contest the Grade 3 Mint Million going one mile at Kentucky Downs.

West Point founder and CEO Terry Finley said Saturday’s lineup ranks at the peak of his 31 years of being involved in thoroughbred racing.

“This is Number One, no doubt,” Finley said. “A couple of people have come up to me and said, ‘You all deserve this.’ But you don’t deserve anything in this business. It’s a privilege and not a right. Racing has been so good to me and to my family. I’m okay with whatever happens.

“You can’t really plan for these types of weekends. We knew if things stayed on track early in the summer, we knew we could be looking at a very special weekend,” Finley added. “For the most part, it’s turned out to be great. We’re running 19 horses between [Thursday] and Sunday. It’s probably the biggest weekend in terms of numbers and certainly opportunity and chances to get lucky.”

In the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a “Win And You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, First Captain will make his first start at the Spa since finishing third in his sire Curlin’s namesake nine-furlong race last July. Out of action for the remainder of the year, he returned as a 4-year-old with vigor, defeating allowance company in February at Gulfstream Park before an uncharacteristic last-of-7 in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on April 9 at Aqueduct.

First Captain regrouped following the disappointing effort, and returned to the winner’s circle when stretching out to 1 3/16 miles for the Grade 3 Pimlico Special on May 20 for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, a four-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner. He enters Saturday’s test off a narrow defeat in the Grade 2 Suburban on July 9 at Belmont Park, finishing a nose behind returning rival Dynamic One.

Finley described the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which features six other graded stakes winners as, “an exceptionally intriguing race.”

“Horses that run well here are going to force their way into the Breeders’ Cup Classic picture. Any time you have that, it’s a positive thing,” Finley said. “I’m not sure there’s a total throw out in the race. I’m sure everyone is thinking the same way. Let’s get the mile and a quarter, run well, and we can figure what to do to get to Keeneland in November.”

First Captain, owned by West Point in partnership with Siena Farm, Woodford Racing and celebrity chef Bobby Flay, has acclimated to his surroundings at Saratoga well. Since arriving in late July, he has consistently registered weekly works, including a pair of bullets over the main track. He went a half-mile in 46.80 seconds on July 30 – the fastest of 98 recorded works at the distance – before going five-eighths in 58.80 on August 21.

“He has had a superb month up here. Horses do well up here it seems. Talking to my trainer, they say the environment, the air, the water, they just have a lot of things in their favor,” Finley said. “This horse in particular, of the horses we have up here, over the last seven weeks has just been really, really solid. He has a confidence about him that I think gives us a lot of confidence.”

Luis Saez has piloted First Captain in his last two starts, both of which garnered a career best 98 Beyer Speed Figure. He retains the mount from post 6 at 4-1 morning line odds.

Flightline, a winner of all four career starts by a combined 43 1/2-lengths, stretches out to 10 furlongs for the first time following another open-lengths stakes triumph last out in the Grade 1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan on June 11 at Belmont Park. The gifted 4-year-old son of Tapit will have his skills put to the test when he sees added ground as well as two turns for the first time in the Pacific Classic.

“I think he is [the most exciting horse in training],” Finley said. “I was talking with [Trainer] Roy Lerman, who for 20 years we’ve had great discussions with, early one morning at the coffee stand on the backstretch. He said, ‘The moment of truth is upon us for your horse.’

“If, in fact, he is a generational horse, it will be very obvious on Saturday night,” Finley added.  

Flightline, who has garnered triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in each start, is owned by Hronis Racing, Summer Wind Equine, Siena Farm and Woodford Racing, in addition to West Point.

Cavalry Charge, trained by Dallas Stewart, will seek his first victory since an upset wire-to-wire win in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds in February. The 5-year-old Honor Code gelding finished fifth last out in the Grade 1 Arlington Million at Churchill Downs.

“It should set up well,” Finley said. “It’s not the hardest million dollar race I’ve seen but it is very, very competitive and he has been a real work horse for us. Dallas has done a marvelous job of keeping him sound and in the game. We’re looking forward to him running as well.”

Finley said he is encouraging his partners to enjoy the moment.

“We’re not going to be nervous just to be nervous. The anticipation is great, but us being nervous doesn’t do anything,” Finley said. “I tell myself, the partners and the team to just savor every minute of this.”

***

Boppy O earns 70 BSF for G3 With Anticipation score

John Oxley and Breeze Easy’s Boppy O garnered a career-best 70 Beyer Speed Figure for his determined neck score in Wednesday’s Grade 3, $175,000 With Anticipation for juveniles traveling 1 1/16 miles on the lawn at Saratoga Race Course.

“He came back great and ate good last night,” said Shane Tripp, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse. “We’re real pleased with him.”

Boppy O made his turf debut in the With Anticipation and rebounded from a distant 10th-place finish in the Grade 3 Sanford over the Spa main track on July 16. He earned his second lifetime win from three starts, adding to a debut maiden score by 1 1/2 lengths sprinting five furlongs in May at Gulfstream Park.

In the With Anticipation, Boppy O was piloted by Dylan Davis from just off the pace and stuck his head in front at the three-quarters call, digging in down the stretch under urging to hold off a late bid from Battle of Normandy and provide his sire, Bolt d’Oro, with his first graded winner. The win was also the first graded score at the Spa for Davis, who rode Our Flash Drive and Make Mischief to stakes victories for Casse this summer in the De La Rose and Yaddo, respectively.

Boppy O is a half-brother to the Casse-trained graded stakes winner Pappacap, who has earned three Grade 1 placings on dirt in addition to a victory in last year’s Grade 2 Best Pal. Boppy O is the second foal out of the Scat Daddy mare Pappascat to score a win on the turf.

“He didn’t run that good in the Sanford and then we worked him on the grass and he worked awfully good,” said Tripp. “I don’t think it was completely a shock. We’re really fortunate.”

Oxley, a longtime friend and client of Casse, said he was pleased the Hall of Famer recommended the colt at last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale where he was purchased for $190,000 by Oxley and Breeze Easy.

“We’ve been together 25 years and Mark picked him out,” said Oxley. “We bought him with Breeze Easy, 50/50. We were delighted to get him and Mark thought he was a very nice looking yearling and well bred. A half-brother to Pappacap. His half-brother was dirt, but he is by Bolt d’Oro, so he’s got some breeding for turf.”

The With Anticipation is one of more than a half-dozen graded victories at Saratoga for Oxley, who said each victory at the Spa is special.

“I remember many [wins here],” Oxley said. “We won the Spinaway here with Pretty City Dancer, a dead-heat by the way, and we won the Hopeful here with Sky Mesa, that was [in] 2002. They all come back. You remember the good ones. The losers I dismiss.”

*** 

Fresu ships in to ride G3-winner Meraas in U.S. debut on Saturday

Maitha Salem Mohammed Belobaida Alsuwaidi’s Group 3-winning sprinter Meraas and his Group 1-winning rider Antonio Fresu will make their North American debuts on Saturday at Saratoga in Race 7, a six-furlong optional-claimer for 3-year-olds and upward.

“I’m really looking forward to riding for the first time in the U.S. Obviously, Saratoga has a lot of history and it’s a beautiful track. I’m looking forward to seeing it,” said Fresu, who captured last year’s Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan Racecourse from the outermost post 13 aboard Zenden.

Trained by Chad Summers, Meraas, who sports a ledger of 14-5-1-1, was last seen taking the Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint in rein to Fresu in February at Meydan for former conditioner Musabbeh Al Mheiri.

The 5-year-old Oasis Dream gelding was a vet scratch the week of the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen in March and subsequently shipped stateside. Summers, who won the Dubai Golden Shaheen in successive years in 2017-18 with New York-bred multi-millionaire Mind Your Biscuits, said Meraas was freshened before returning to training.

“He came in the end of March and we wanted to give him some time, so he was at Paragon Farm in Kentucky for a few months,” Summers said. “He came up to Belmont and our plan was always to bring him back in an allowance race and go on from there to see what path he’ll take us on.”

Meraas made his first 12 starts on either grass [10] or synthetic [2] for conditioner Mark Johnston, but found rejuvenated form when trying the Meydan dirt, besting a field of 11 by 4 3/4-lengths in December while under top weight ahead of his Group 3 score.

Meraas has breezed five times this summer over the Saratoga main track with a trio of bullet breezes under exercise rider Alfonso Camacho, including a three-eighths effort in 35.20 on July 15; a half-mile in 46.07 on August 5; and five-eighths in 1:00.69 on August 14.

“Antonio is a great rider and not only did he ride him both races in Dubai, but he was the regular rider of him in the morning. He told us when we worked him to not ask him. He said, ‘he’ll do everything on his own, just drop your hands,'” Summers said. “The first time he breezed it didn’t look like he was going very fast and then you look at your watch and it was 35 and change. It’s continued from there. He went 46 flat and it doesn’t look like he’s moving. He has this long stride and just motors. We’ve never really ridden him. We haven’t gone in company or had a jockey work him because I was afraid he’d go too fast. That’s all just him.”

Summers said Meraas demonstrated encouraging dirt form in his two starts in Dubai.

“When he ran first time out in the Handicap in December, he was carrying 137 pounds. He broke and went about his business and won so impressively,” Summers said. “He came back in the Group 3 and it was the same thing – he kept finding more and beat a nice field. It gives you some excitement to what he could be over here.”

Meraas, listed at 6-1 on the morning line, will exit the outermost post 10 Saturday in a field led by Juddmonte’s impressive allowance winner Elite Power [post 6, Joel Rosario, 5-2 ML], a 4-year-old Curlin colt, for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

“There are a lot of nice horses in there. Bill Mott’s horse is really nice,” Summers said. “It’s a deep, quality field and we haven’t been out since February. This is Saratoga. It’s a very deep field. We’ll look to get through this race and see where we’re at and weigh our options. But Saturday will go a long way to showing us who he is and what he is at and where we need to point to next. All the credit to the family for gifting us this horse and the opportunity to run in America.”

In addition to Elite Power, a $900,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase out of the multiple graded-stakes winning Vindication mare Broadway’s Alibi, a strong field competing for the $120,000 purse includes graded stakes-placed Greeley and Ben [post 1, Junior Alvarado] and stakes winners Amundson [post 3, Jose Ortiz] and Foolish Ghost [post 4, Kendrick Carmouche]. Also entered is the stakes-placed Hoist the Gold [post 8, Jose Gomez], who graduated via disqualification last September at Churchill Downs when eventual dual Grade 1-winner Cyberknife was demoted.

But despite the strong field, Summers is buoyed by the strong morning efforts from Meraas and the presence of his familiar rider.

“It gives you confidence to know he’s handled this dirt,” Summers said. “Antonio knows the horse and I don’t want to have any excuses going into this race. I want to give this horse his best chance to win and Antonio is a Group 1-winning jockey making his American debut, so hopefully he can provide that.”

Fresu, a 30-year-old native of Sardinia, Italy, said he welcomes the opportunity.

“I’m really happy to be joining with Meraas again. I had a good feeling with him in Dubai during the winter,” said Fresu, who is represented in Dubai by Michael Adolphson. “I thought he would have a very good chance in the Golden Shaheen, but unfortunately he didn’t run. I’ve seen his workouts in the U.S. and he’s been doing well. I know he hasn’t run in a long time, but I think he’ll be pretty fit for Saturday. I think he will have a chance.”

***

Rookie Report: Fly Right, full-brother to GSW Sail By, debuts Saturday for Gyarmati

Trainer Leah Gyarmati will send out Treadway Racing Stable’s well-bred Fly Right for his career debut in Race 1 on Saturday, a maiden special weight for juveniles going 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf at Saratoga.

The bay colt is a full-brother to graded stakes winner Sail By, who captured last year’s Grade 2 Miss Grillo at Belmont Park. By Astern and out of the Johar mare Fly By, Fly Right has worked three times over the Oklahoma training turf course in preparation for his debut. He registered a pair of half-mile turf breezes in late July before an easy five-eighths move in 1:03.31 on August 7 over the Oklahoma turf.

“He’s training really well,” Gyarmati said. “I had him over on the turf for a few breezes. He seemed to really love it, which he figures to. He’s like twice the size that she [Sail By] is. I’m excited about running him.”

Gyarmati said Fly Right and Sail By are “very different horses”.

“They have completely different look to them and their personalities are much different,” Gyarmati said. “They’re both nice horses to be around in the barn. He’s a little more of a handful and a little quirky, but he’s a boy. He’s training really well.”

Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano will pilot Fly Right from post 2 at morning line odds of 12-1.

Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher will unleash another well-bred juvenile in Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Ari Gold, by Medaglia d’Oro.

The bay colt is out of the Distorted Humor mare Satirical – a three-quarters sister to 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide. Other prominent members of the family include multiple graded stakes winning millionaire Rule and graded stakes-winner Matrooh. Ari Gold was fetched by his owner for $220,000 at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, where he was consigned by Claiborne Farm.

Ari Gold breezed a half-mile from the gate in 48.19 seconds on August 26, six days following a sharp five furlong move in 59.66 over the main track.

Three-time meet leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. will pilot Ari Gold from post 3 as the 2-1 morning line favorite.

***

G1-placed Runninsonofagun honors late owner with graded placings at Saratoga

The Estate of Scott Zimmerman’s Runninsonofagun has shown up in nearly all of his races, boasting an 8-for-9 in-the-money record with over $233,000 in earnings for trainer John Toscano, Jr. The bay colt’s record includes graded stakes placings in his last three outings, topped by a third-place effort at odds of 41-1 on Saturday in the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens at Saratoga Race Course.

“He’s taken every step. He’s just gotten better and better with us and he’s a late foal, so we kind of thought he’d get better through the summer. Since he came up here, he’s blossomed,” said Toscano, Jr.’s son and assistant, John Toscano, III.

A gelded son of Gun Runner, Runninsonofagun started his career with a third on debut in November at Churchill Downs before winning a maiden claimer at Aqueduct Racetrack in December, an effort in which he was haltered by his current connections for $40,000. After another win in an optional claimer, his conditioner decided to give the $16,000 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale graduate a chance in the Grade 3 Gotham, checking in a non-threatening sixth behind the victorious Morello.

“You don’t expect to claim a Gun Runner. I call him the ‘Ugly Duckling’ because he was a $16,000 2-year-old but he’s just blossomed,” said Toscano, III. “In his first start, he didn’t break good, but he was rushed up between horses and he kind of had horse but then flattened out down the lane. He ran sneaky good. Bill Morey claimed him that day for $30,000 and then took him to New York and ran him for 40. There was a three-way shake and we got lucky.”

Runninsonofagun bounced back well in his next outing, shipping to Parx Racing to pick up an optional claiming score by 4 3/4 lengths before earning his first placing at stakes level in Belmont’s Gold Fever 2 3/4 lengths behind New York-Bred Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Senbei. He followed with a second to Charge It in the Grade 3 Dwyer in July at Belmont.

“The Gotham I thought was a reach at the time, but we said we’d try,” said Toscano, III. “After that, we took a step back at Parx and won there and then he got better and better.”

Runninsonofagun now boasts two graded placings at Saratoga, finishing a closing third in the Grade 2 Amsterdam on July 31 at odds of 56-1 and defeating an assortment of accomplished rivals that include multiple Grade 1-placed Pappacap and 2021 Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Corniche. He added blinkers in his next start to finish just four lengths back of the well-regarded Jack Christopher in his Grade 1 debut in the Allen Jerkens.

“To get a Grade 1 placing at Saratoga with a horse we claimed for $40,000 is special,” Toscano, III said. “He gives his best. He was always a good training horse, so we always had high expectations for him. He’s never disappointed us.”

Runninsonofagun’s accomplishments this summer are even more meaningful to Toscano, III and his father after the gelding’s owner, Scott Zimmerman, who died unexpectedly in June. A longtime family friend, Zimmerman loved horse racing and was involved in the industry for many years. His wife, Karen, now races Runninsonofagun under the name The Estate of Scott Zimmerman.

“This horse was one of his owner’s favorites. It was devastating for us. He used to come to the barn and wouldn’t say anything. He’d run to the stall and bring peppermints. He’d go see the horse first and then he’d come see us second,” Toscano, III said, with a laugh.

The next stop for Runninsonofagun will likely be the Grade 3 Gallant Bob sprinting six furlongs on September 24 at Parx, and Toscano, III said he is sure the gutsy gelding has someone looking out for him each time he steps on the racetrack.

“He’s got his whole career ahead of him, and I think he’s got a little help from Scotty,” said Toscano, III. “Every time he runs, I say, ‘Scotty, help us out here. Give us a push, Scotty.’”

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