Edited NYRA Staff Release – Lugan Knight registered a career-best 85 Beyer Speed Figure for his game half-length score in Saturday’s $150,000 Jerome, a one-turn mile for sophomores, at Aqueduct Racetrack. In victory, he secured the maximum allotment in the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying race which offered 10-4-3-2-1 points to the top-five finishers.
Trained by Michael McCarthy for George Yager’s BG Stables, the Kentucky homebred son of Goldencents outdueled graded-stakes placed Arctic Arrogance in a thrilling stretch drive to capture his stakes debut by a half-length on the stretch out. The top-five was rounded out by General Banker, Neural Network and Andiamo a Firenze.
“It was a great effort,” Yager said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but he was very game. It was a one-turn mile, so he was OK.”
Yager, known to his friends as ‘Big George’, formed his namesake BG Thoroughbred Farm in 2014 in partnership with trainer Hector Palma. Located in Hemet, California, the 51-acre farm includes training and lay-up facilities and is home to 40-50 broodmares and a number of stallions including Capital Account and Originaire.
The Los Angeles native, a graduate of Cal State Northridge, has also worked as an actor and producer, including a role in the 1997 film L.A. Confidential based on the novel by James Ellroy.
Upcoming Kentucky Derby qualifiers at the Big A include the nine-furlong Grade 3, $250,000 Withers on February 4 [20-8-6-4-2], the one-mile Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham [50-20-15-10-5] on March 4 and the nine-furlong Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino [100-40-30-20-10] on April 8.
Yager said he’s not sure if Lugan Knight will want to stretch out beyond the one-mile distance his sire – a dual Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile-winner – excelled at and will leave the race planning in his trainer’s capable hands.
“That’s up to Mike,” Yager said. “I’m very realistic. He may have his limitations as far as distance is concerned. I’ve been in this game awhile and I don’t get too carried away.”
Lugan Knight is out of the winning Speightstown mare Sly Roxy, while her second dam is multiple graded stakes-winner Roxy Gap, who banked $952,790 in a 19-race career that included 2012 Sovereign Awards in her native Canada for Champion Older Mare and Champion Female Sprinter. The versatile Roxy Gap was a graded winner on synthetic and turf and graded-stakes placed on dirt.
Sly Roxy graduated on debut in July 2017 at Saratoga Race Course, drawing off to a 5 1/2-length win in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight for the Hall of Fame duo of jockey Javier Castellano and trainer Mark Casse. She followed with a fifth-place effort in that year’s Grade 2 Adirondack, but failed to reach the heights of her talented dam.
“I bought her and she won first time out at Saratoga, but she lost her luster,” Yager said. “Since then, I’ve sold her – had I only known.”
Lugan Knight entered the Jerome from a trio of sprint efforts in Kentucky, graduating at second asking in October at Keeneland. He followed with a close third-place finish in an optional-claimer in November at Churchill Downs won by Victory Formation, who exited that effort to win the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park.
Lugan Knight successfully stretched out to one-mile in the Jerome, a cagey affair, as NYRA’s 2022 leading rider Dylan Davis allowed the colt to take command through moderate splits of 23.41 seconds and 47.70 over the good main track with Arctic Arrogance stalking from second.
Arctic Arrogance, who entered from a runner-up effort in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Remsen, loomed large into the turn but Lugan Knight continued to find more and staved off his rival to notch the win in a final time of 1:37.77.
Yager said he also has high hopes for the McCarthy-trained Friendlypersuasion, a sophomore daughter of Arrogate, who graduated at second asking in an off-the-turf tilt in August at Indiana Grand ahead of a prominent fifth in the Grade 3 Pocahontas in September at Churchill Downs.
She was last seen posting a 10 1/2-length score in a 1 1/16-mile optional-claimer on October 9 at Keeneland that registered a career-best 70 Beyer.
“She looked like she was going to be pretty good, but she got hurt,” Yager said. “She’ll be back in a couple months.”
Friendlypersuasion, bred in Kentucky by Bridlewood Farm, is out of the graded-stakes winning Indian Charlie mare Brazen Persuasion.
Law Professor earns career-best 98 BSF for Queens County romp
Twin Creeks Racing Stables’ Kentucky homebred Law Professor earned a career-high 98 Beyer Speed Figure for his 7 1/2-length score in Saturday’s $150,000 Queens County at Aqueduct Racetrack for conditioner Rob Atras.
“He came out of the race good and he ate up this morning,” said Atras. “So far, all good.”
Law Professor, a 5-year-old son of Constitution, pounced from just off the pace under the red-hot Manny Franco, who has won 10 races across the Friday and Saturday cards at the Big A, to take charge in the final turn and sprint clear down the stretch of the nine-furlong test for older horses. It was the dark bay gelding’s third career stakes victory, adding to a Grade 2 score in the off-the-turf 2021 Mathis Mile at Santa Anita Park and a victory over turf in the restricted Tapit in September at Kentucky Downs.
“I don’t want to say I expected it, because in this game you’ve got to roll with the ups and downs and can’t expect anything, but the way he had been training, we knew how much ability he has,” said Atras. “We were hoping for a performance like that.”
The Queens County was the first win for Law Professor since a determined half-length victory over firm turf in the aforementioned Tapit. He followed with a strong runner-up effort to multiple graded stakes-winner Life Is Good in the nine-furlong Grade 1 Woodward on October 1 here and then finished his 4-year-old campaign with a closing fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November at Keeneland.
“The turf race was the owner’s idea and I had never run at Kentucky Downs, so I was a little hesitant, but he was training very well, so we went there and it all worked out,” said Atras. “After that, we started talking about the Woodward and we knew we probably couldn’t beat Life Is Good, but it was a big pot and it looked like on paper we could be second. He didn’t run a bad race in the Breeders’ Cup, and maybe a mile isn’t his best distance.”
Atras said he was concerned about waiting an extra week to run Law Professor after the Queens County, which was originally slated for December 31, was re-scheduled to January 7 due to dense fog.
“That’s always a concern. We had him there and he was ready to run and then they canceled it. I said, ‘Oh my God, I can’t wait another week to run this horse,’” Atras said, with a laugh. “He can be a little tough in the mornings to train and he was just really ready to run.”
Law Professor has been named on the reserve list of invitees to the Grade 1, $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on January 28 at Gulfstream Park. Atras said he is still considering other options if he does not make a trip to the Hallandale Beach oval.
“We don’t have any other spot in mind at the moment,” Atras said. “We’re on the reserve list and it is a little quick back, but I’m not going to say yes or no to it just yet.”
Atras also recently sent out Michael Dubb and Gandharvi’s graded stakes-winner Battle Bling to a game runner-up effort to Falconet in the Ladies on New Year’s Day at the Big A. The daughter of Vancouver was defeated just two lengths, signaling a return to good form after an uncharacteristic off-the-board finish two starts back in the Grade 3 Go for Wand on December 3 at Aqueduct.
Atras said it was good to see a strong performance from the 5-year-old dark bay, who has finished first or second in nine-of-11 starts since being haltered for $62,500 out of an optional claimer last December at the Big A.
“She came out of the race good,” said Atras. “She ran a big race and I’m kind of relieved because she threw in a clunker the race before, which she has never done before. I don’t know what happened there. She didn’t have anything wrong with her bloodwork and had been doing everything normal. It’s just that day, she was flat in the paddock. She seemed more herself [before the Ladies]. I was happy.”
Battle Bling made the grade in November when scoring a gritty neck victory over Nostalgic in the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm, notching the third stakes triumph of her career and second in-a-row after a tidy 1 1/4-length score in the October 1 Twixt at Laurel Park.
Atras said he is still considering a next start for the six-time winner.
“I don’t know where she’ll go next yet,” said Atras. “We’ve got her back galloping and so far, everything is good. There’s a race coming up at a mile that we’ll take a look at, and she’s run good out of town, too.”
Atras’ recent stakes successes have come on the heels of a productive Aqueduct fall meet, where he finished third in the trainers standings with a record of 51-13-8-9. The 39-year-old native of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba has already posted impressive numbers just four days into the Aqueduct winter meet, hitting the board with 8-of-9 starters for a record of 9-4-3-1 as of Sunday morning.
“We were real quiet at Saratoga and had a little bit of a tough meet there,” Atras said. “We came back here and were still quiet and couldn’t get the horses in the right spots. Now, it seems like they have been and a lot of them have been claimed, but they’ve been winning.”
Today’s Flavor notches third consecutive victory with impressive allowance score
Reddam Racing’s New York-bred Today’s Flavor earned his third victory in-a-row with an open-lengths state-bred optional claiming win on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack for trainer George Weaver.
A 5-year-old gelded son of Laoban, Today’s Flavor scored the prominent 3 1/2-length victory in Race 4 under regular pilot Manny Franco, overcoming a bumpy start to duel with Foolish Ghost for the first quarter-mile before taking the lead at the half-mile call of the six-furlong sprint. The effort garnered a career-best 93 Beyer Speed Figure.
“He came out of the race very well,” said Blair Golen, Weaver’s Belmont-based assistant. “He ate up, is acting well and is happy. I was happy because the last two times he ran, he’s never really had a big challenger. Foolish Ghost went with him and challenged him and it didn’t bother him.”
Today’s Flavor’s win came on the heels of a state-bred first-level allowance victory, his first start against winners after a dominant 8 1/2-length maiden score in his first start for Weaver on November 27 after making his first four outings for conditioner Doug O’Neill. Weaver had considered sending Today’s Flavor out for his stakes debut in Sunday’s Say Florida Sandy, but opted for the allowance on Saturday.
“George talked to the owners and they decided to go for the allowance,” said Golen. “You’ve got some tough horses in the stake and he’s been doing so well, so he just went there. There’s some stakes coming up, so we’ll see, and he’s eligible for some open company. There’s a lot of options for him.”
Today’s Flavor, who was bred in the Empire State by Joseph Calvo, has now banked over $166,730 in total purses through a career record of 7-3-3-0.
The Weaver barn will hope to see R.A. Hill Stable’s Sweetest Princess make a successful stakes debut in Saturday’s $100,000 Busanda, a nine-furlong test for sophomore fillies that awards 20-8-6-4-2 qualifying points towards the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks to the top-five finishers, respectively.
The New York-bred daughter of Cairo Prince was last seen graduating at fourth asking in a one-mile state-bred maiden special weight on November 18 at the Big A. Bred by Fred W. Hertrich, III and John D. Fielding, Sweetest Princess has found her best stride on dirt after making her first three outings over the grass.
“She breezed well the last two breezes and we’re very happy with her,” said Golen. “We might as well take a shot. She’s wintered very well and I don’t mind her at the mile and an eighth.”
Sweetest Princess breezed a half-mile in 48.87 seconds Saturday over the Belmont Park training track in company with Mean Mongol [49.22].
“Her last work was excellent,” said Golen. “She’s a cool filly.”
A $60,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Preferred New York-bred Yearling Sale, Sweetest Princess is the first named foal out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Sweet Cause, a half-sister to graded stakes-placed mare Stormy Sky.