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Edited NYRA Staff Release – Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter worked five-eighths in 1:01.13 Monday over the Oklahoma dirt training track, dominating his company, the 3-year-old maiden Flute Master [1:03.12].

Epicenter, a Not This Time sophomore, boasts a record of 8-4-3-0 for purse earnings in excess of $1.9 million. He is targeting the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy, a nine-furlong test for sophomores on July 30.

“Visually-impressive is what he is,” Asmussen said. “He’s an extremely talented horse and he’s doing well. His work Monday was as good of a work as I’ve seen from him, and I’ve seen some impressive works from him. It’s a good time to be doing well.”

Epicenter enjoyed a pair of Grade 2 wins over the winter at Fair Grounds, taking the Risen Star in February and the Louisiana Derby in March. He was sent to post as the 4-1 favorite in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby in May, finishing a close second when defeated just three-quarters of a length by Rich Strike. He enters the Jim Dandy from a rallying second in the Grade 1 Preakness on May 21 at Pimlico.

J. Kirk and Judy Robison’s Jackie’s Warrior, the reigning Eclipse Award-winning Male Sprinter, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.72 Sunday over the Oklahoma dirt training track in company with 3-year-old maiden winner Favorite Outlaw in preparation for a start in the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt on July 30.

He will also potentially start later this summer in the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego on August 27 as part of his path towards a return engagement in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November at Keeneland.

The 4-year-old Maclean’s Music colt is a perfect 3-for-3 this year, boasting wins in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap in April at Oaklawn, the Grade 1 Churchill Downs in May and a five-length romp last out in the Grade 2 True North on June 10 at Belmont.

“It’s so rare to have a Champion colt be back in training and not only that, his three runs this year have been visually impressive,” Asmussen said. “He had a nice work here on Sunday and we’re on target for the Vanderbilt.”

Jackie’s Warrior, bred in Kentucky by J & J Stables, is a perfect 4-for-4 at the Spa, including juvenile scores in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and Grade 1 Hopeful along with wins last summer in the Grade 2 Amsterdam ahead of a game neck score over eventual Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile-winner Life Is Good in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial.

“We want more of the same from him. He’s 4-for 4 here which is an unbelievable record,” Asmussen said. “His win here in the Allen Jerkens against Life Is Good was as good of a horse race as I’ve been involved with. It was wonderful to come out on the right side of that.”

Jackie’s Warrior made the first of seven sophomore starts on the Kentucky Derby trail, finishing third in the Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn before returning to one-turn races with aplomb with a head score in the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs. He followed with a good second when defeated a neck by Drain the Clock in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens at Belmont in a campaign that culminated with a win in the Grade 2 Gallant Bob in September at Parx ahead of a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November at Del Mar.

Asmussen will also be represented by multiple Grade 1-winner Clairiere in Sunday’s Grade 2 $200,000 Shuvee in a re-match with familiar foe Malathaat. Entries for the Shuvee will be taken on Thursday.


Joseph O’Brien looks to set sail with pair of juvenile runners

Trainer Joseph O’Brien will send out his first starter of the Saratoga meet when Peter Brant’s Alexis Zorba seeks a third-out graduation in Friday’s first race – a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight for juveniles over the Mellon turf.

Alexis Zorba has finished second in his two prior efforts in Ireland, both times finishing behind an eventual group stakes winner for Joseph’s father, trainer Aidan O’Brien. He was beaten 1 1/2 lengths on debut on April 8 over the all-weather surface at Dundalk in a race won by Blackbeard, who went on to capture the Group 3 Marble Hill at The Curragh and the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin at Chantilly.

In his second start, Alexis Zorba finished three lengths behind Little Big Bear, who came back to defeat a 24-horse field in the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot before capturing the Group 3 Anglesey on July 16 at The Curragh.

“He’s in good shape,” O’Brien said. “He’s had two runs in Ireland that obviously the form worked out well. The track is a question mark for him. It’s fantastic to have some horses for Peter. We’re hopeful that this will be a nice colt.”

Alexis Zorba, bred in Great Britain by Plantation Stud, is by Australian-bred Zoustar and out of the Exceed and Excel mare Rue Cambon – a half-sister to Grade 1-winning millionaire Gorella. She was purchased by Brant’s White Birch Farm and bloodstock agent Demi O’Byrne for over $440,000 at the 2021 Tattersalls October Sale.

Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez will pick up the mount aboard Alexis Zorba from post 4 as the 9-5 morning line favorite.

O’Brien will try to double up on juvenile turf maiden victories this week when sending out Reckoning Force in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight in the Saturday opener. 

A son of Air Force Blue, Fergus Galvin’s Reckoning Force is out of the Jazil mare Alasema, whose third dam Trolley Song produced influential sire Unbridled’s Song.

In his lone effort, Reckoning Force was third beaten 1 3/4 lengths in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden event on June 4 at Listowel.

“He’s placed in his only run and we’re hoping he can run well,” O’Brien said.

Velazquez will ride Reckoning Force from post 10.

O’Brien, who has stalls at Saratoga for the first time, has enjoyed past success when shipping to the Spa, including last year when saddling State of Rest to a victory in the Grade 1 Saratoga Derby Invitational en route to Group 1 victories in Australia, France and England.

“Obviously, there’s some great prize money to be won up there and I have some owners that were interested and love to compete there,” O’Brien said.


Three Two Zone could target G1 Forego after allowance score

Following a triumphant Saratoga debut in a Sunday allowance optional claimer, Three Two Zone is likely to take a big jump up in class for the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego on August 27 at the Spa.

The 4-year-old son of Street Sense joined the stable of trainer Ray Handal in the spring, making his debut for the conditioner with an 8 1/2-length victory on May 21 at Belmont Park, garnering a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure.

He finished second, defeated a neck to stakes-winner Happy Farm next out, in a six-furlong optional-claimer ahead of his fourth lifetime win when capturing a seven-furlong optional-claimer at the Spa, defeating graded stakes-placed Sound Money and Gun It. The winning effort registered a 99 Beyer.

“He’s been a good boy,” Handal said. “We’ve never missed a beat with him and he seems like he’s enjoying himself. We’ve ran through our conditions now, so I think it’s on to stakes company.”

Handal said the Forego’s seven-furlong distance should be right up Three Two Zone’s alley.

“I think going to the Forego is the plan. He likes the distance. Seven-eighths seems to really suit him well,” Handal said. “He really leveled out nicely down the lane and it looked like he had more to give. I think we stick with that same distance and take a shot at the big dogs.”

Prior to racing for Handal, Three Two Zone was based at Parx Racing with Marya Montoya, but made his presence known on the NYRA circuit when shipping to Aqueduct early last year, capturing a third-out maiden score and an allowance optional claimer, both at six furlongs. He also finished second in an off-the-turf edition of the Paradise Creek at Belmont as well as running third in the Concern at Pimlico and the City of Laurel at Laurel Park.

Handal mentioned his longstanding relationship with Jay Alonzo, whose Alonzo Stables co-owns Three Two Zone with Michael Bagnoli and Jacqueline Bagnoli.

“I had seen him run in New York a couple times. As a young horse, he seemed precocious. He ran some big figs as a young horse as well,” Handal said. “Jay Alonzo wanted to get the horse on the New York circuit, so it’s been a long time in the making and I’m happy to have him. He had horses with [trainer] Tony Dutrow when I was working as his assistant, so I’ve known him for a long time.”

Three Two Zone, bred in Kentucky by Don Alberto Corporation, is out of the unraced Dansili mare Star Rating, whose dam Islington was a multiple Grade/Group 1 winner and captured the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

Constitutionlawyer finished third in his turf debut in a Saturday inner turf allowance optional claimer. Owned by Perrine Time Thoroughbreds and West Paces Racing, Constitutionlawyer finished 1 1/4 lengths behind Chad Brown-trained Credit Event and rounded out the trifecta at 20-1 odds.

Soundly beaten in the Grade 3 Withers on dirt at Aqueduct and Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks over synthetic at Turfway Park in his only two stakes attempts, Constitutionlawyer has given Handal confidence to keep trying turf in attempt to defat winners next out.

“I’m hoping it sets him up for bigger things,” Handal said. “But I think we’re going to try and knock that condition out once more and then maybe look at some 3-year-old stakes at Kentucky Downs or something like that. He looked pretty awesome in there. I think if we got the same trip as the winner, he might have won the race.”

Constitutionlawyer, by 2021 leading third crop sire Constitution, is out of the two-time winning Lawyer Ron mare Lawyer Brockmeyer. He was bought for $170,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.


Western River set for return to stakes action in $135K Curlin

September Farm, Union Park Thoroughbreds, Black Fern, Michael Motley, Tammy Motley and Storyteller Racing’s Western River found good form with a 5 1/4-length first-level allowance romp on June 18 at Churchill Downs and will now target a return to stakes company in the nine-furlong $135,000 Curlin on July 29 at Saratoga Race Course.

“He shipped in this morning. He’s doing very good and he won the condition pretty impressive. We’re very happy with him,” said trainer Rodolphe Brisset.

A son of Tapit, Western River finished fourth behind stablemate We the People in the Grade 3 Peter Pan over a good and sealed Belmont main track on May 14 and was just bested out of show honors by Electability. He broke his maiden at fifth asking in his start prior by 3 3/4 lengths in a 1 1/16-mile maiden in April at Oaklawn Park.

We the People, who was last seen finishing an even fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, will now look to regroup in the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby on August 6 at Mountaineer Racetrack with his eye on the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby in September at Parx Racing.

“He is doing really good. We were keeping all our options open, but we made the decision to go for the West Virginia Derby,” said Brisset. “We want to try and use the West Virginia Derby as a prep for the Pennsylvania Derby.”

Brisset noted that he will take his time in selecting a next start for stakes-placed Cibolian after he ran an even fourth in the Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup on three week’s rest in June. He had entered the Gold Cup from a close fourth-place effort in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap in May at Churchill Downs.

“He came out of the race well. We just feel like some extra time will be good for him,” Brisset said. “We’ll look for something at Woodbine with him.”


Robin Sparkles returns to New York circuit in G3 Caress

Michael Shrader’s Robin Sparkles will be back on the New York circuit Sunday when she races in the Grade 3, $200,000 Caress, a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint for older fillies and mares at Saratoga Race Course.

Robin Sparkles, a 5-year-old Elusive Quality mare, has made quite the name for herself as a New York-bred, compiling a 15-8-2-3 record with more than $420,000 in earnings. Trainer Bruce Brown said his filly’s success has been a huge uplifter for the barn.

“It’s always good to have a horse like that in the barn. She always tries and is always right there,” Brown said. “Those types of horses are few and far between, so whenever you have one in your barn you really need to appreciate it. It’s good for the mentality of the whole barn and picks everybody’s heads up.”

Bruce Brown said that Robin Sparkles being a New York-bred makes it special to win, but her style also presents difficulties.

“With her, it’s a little bittersweet because she’s a turf sprinting New York-bred, which takes the New York-bred part out of it with no restricted New York-bred races like that, but it’s always good to have a good New York-bred,” Brown said, “We might be able to try and get her against New York-breds on the dirt in the future, but during turf season it’s definitely her favorite surface.”

Robin Sparkles finished third in both the Caress and the Smart N Fancy last year at Saratoga. Her lone Saratoga win came in her second career start back in 2020 when she wired the field in a maiden claiming turf event. This year she did not return to the track until May and has made her lone two starts at Monmouth, capturing the off-the-turf Politely at five furlongs in May and finishing third last month in the Goldwood at 5 1/2-furlongs over firm turf, finishing 3 1/2-lengths behind the victorious Bout Time.

Robin Sparkles will face Bout Time again on Sunday, but Brown said strategy is not expected to change with the speedy mare, who will be piloted by Hall of Famer Javier Castellano.

“You can’t really take her out of her game. The biggest thing is that Javier Castellano is going to ride her and him being able to slow her down a little bit,” said Brown. “At Monmouth, they run out of that weird chute so she was always rolling to get position out of the chute so you don’t get shuffled back. Hopefully here, with a straightaway down the backside, if she breaks well she can get there without using herself as much.”

Brown said the addition of Castellano, who sports a ledger of 10-3-1-1 at the meet heading into Wednesday’s card, will benefit Robin Sparkles.

“Just shipping around with her, we’ve had to get jockeys wherever we were, but now being here there’s so many good riders and you can’t do much better than Javier, especially in a big race,” said Brown.

Brown also noted that given his filly goes back and forth to the farm between starts, he hasn’t breezed Robin Sparkles extensively.

“We’re just trying to keep her happy and fresh,” Brown said. “We’ve been doing a lot of good, strong gallops with her.”

Bred in New York by Hibiscus Stables, Robin Sparkles is out of the Dehere mare My Sparky.


Early look at Saratoga Race Course Week 3 stakes probables

Wednesday, July 27

G2 Honorable Miss

Probable: Amadevil (David Wolochuck), Kimari (Wesley Ward), Li’l Tootsie (Tom Amoss)

Possible: Bella Sofia (Rudy Rodriguez)

Thursday, July 28

$200,000 Birdstone

Probable: Brooklyn Strong (Victor Barboza, Jr.), Lone Rock (Robertino Diodoro)

Possible: Fearless (Todd Pletcher)

Friday, July 29

$135K Curlin

Probable: Creative Minister (Kenny McPeek), Ethereal Road (D. Wayne Lukas), Skippylongstocking (Saffie Joseph, Jr.), Western River (Rodolphe Brisset), Wolfe County (McPeek)

Saturday, July 30

G2 Jim Dandy

Probable: Early Voting (Chad Brown), Epicenter (Steve Asmussen), Tawny Port (Brad Cox), Zandon (C. Brown)

G1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap

Probable: Jackie’s Warrior (Asmussen)

Sunday, July 31

G2 Amsterdam

Probable: Gunite (Asmussen), Highly Respected (C. Brown), Hoist the Gold (Dallas Stewart), Pappacap (Mark Casse), Pinehurst (John Terranova), Wit (Todd Pletcher)

Possible: Corniche (Pletcher), Lightening Larry (Jorge Delgado)

G2 Bowling Green

Probable: Arklow (Cox), Rockemperor (C. Brown), Soldier Rising (Christophe Clement)

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