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Azeri wows 'em with blazing work
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Azeri, the two-time defending champion older filly or mare, turned heads Thursday morning with a brilliant six-furlong workout in 1:11.66 over the Oklahoma training track. Azeri, winner of the Go for Wand in her last start, is pointing to the Grade 1 $400,000 Personal Ensign Handicap here Aug. 27.
The New York Racing Association clockers timed her in fractions of 12.40 seconds, 24.20, 35.80, and caught her galloping out seven furlongs in 1:26.60.
"She was something else," said trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "That's mind-boggling after the harrow break. Usually, I breeze her early in the morning, but today I elected to go later because I wanted to see her all the way around."
Lukas said he heard from several people how tremendous Azeri worked.
"Nick [Zito] told me that's a world record on that track," Lukas said. "One clocker said he's never seen anything like it."
Only 12 fillies and mares were nominated to the Personal Ensign. Among those expected to run are Nevermore, Roar Emotion, Storm Flag Flying, and Summer Wind Dancer. Possible starters include Sightseek, La Reason, and Board Elligible.
Roses in May to Kentucky Cup?
Roses in May worked four furlongs in 48.09 seconds Thursday morning over the main track, his first breeze since winning a stirring stretch battle with Perfect Drift in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap on Aug. 7.
"He worked real good. It was perfect," said trainer Dale Romans, who watched the work from the stands alongside owner Ken Ramsey. "He galloped out as good as he worked. We didn't want him to do too much, just wanted to stretch his legs some, and it looked like he did that."
Romans said he and Ramsey have not made a definite decision on the next race for Roses in May. The leading candidate, however, is the $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park on Sept. 18. That race is six weeks from the Whitney and six weeks to the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park.
Other potential next starts for Roses in May are the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 2, or the Grade 2, $750,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup, also Oct. 2.
Romans said Kitten's Joy, winner of the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park last weekend, could make his next start in the Grade 2, $200,000 Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park on Sept. 26.
Medallist breezes toward King's Bishop
Medallist, who finished fifth in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, will turn back in distance and likely make his next start in the Grade 1 King's Bishop at seven furlongs Aug. 28.
On Friday, Medallist breezed five furlongs in 59.87 seconds under jockey Jorge Chavez. The move was a bit faster than trainer Allen Jerkens was looking for.
"I wanted him to go slower today and faster closer to the race, but Chavez said somebody came up to him and made him go faster," Jerkens said.
Jerkens also worked Bowman's Band seven furlongs in 1:27.05 and said Bowman's Band is now likely to run in Sunday's $250,000 Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap.
"He might go," Jerkens said. "It looks like the big horse [Funny Cide] is at his best right now; he'll be tough."
Jerkens said Passing Shot, who won last year's Personal Ensign Handicap, will not be ready in time to defend her title. Passing Shot has only recently resumed training after a bruised foot forced her to miss the Go for Wand. Jerkens will point her to the Grade 1 Ruffian at Belmont on Sept. 18.
Clever Electrician sneaks by Uncle Camie
Clever Electrician was up in time to win Thursday's $66,600 John Morrissey for male sprinters by one length over Uncle Camie.
Clever Electrican, ridden by Ramon Dominguez, stalked pacesetter Uncle Camie before taking the lead in the final yards of the 6 1/2-furlong race.
Clever Electrician ($5.30) covered the distance in 1:15.92 over a fast track.
Bruce Levine, who won with Mumbles earlier on the card, trains Clever Electrician for Gumpster Stable.
McLaughlin duo points to Fourstardave
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who won last year's Fourstardave Handicap with Trademark, has two horses under consideration for this year's Fourstardave on Aug. 28.
McLaughlin nominated five horses to the 1 1/16-mile turf race, but Millennium Dragon and L'Oiseau d'Argent are the only ones he is considering running. On Thursday, McLaughlin said there was a better chance that L'Oiseau d'Argent would represent him in the Grade 2 Fourstardave.
"That could change after I work him and Millennium Dragon this weekend," McLaughlin said.
L'Oiseau d'Argent is coming off a three-length win in course-record time in an allowance race here Aug. 5. A 5-year-old, he covered the mile distance in 1:33.42 over a firm course.
Millennium Dragon, who finished second as the favorite in the Grade 3 Poker at Belmont on July 10, was forced to miss the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch here on July 30 because of a minor hock injury.
"The hock filled up a little, but it's perfect now," McLaughlin said. "We missed some time with him, so I'll work him over the weekend and see how fit he is and what the right thing is to do."
McLaughlin has a couple of other candidates for upcoming stakes at Saratoga.
Binya, fifth in the Grade 2 New York Handicap at Belmont last month, is possible to run in the $200,000-added Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup on Aug. 30. Binya worked five furlongs in 1:02.90 on the soft Oklahoma turf on Wednesday.
McLaughlin said Binya didn't care for the soft course in the New York Handicap, in which she was beaten 10 lengths.
Roar Emotion, second behind Summer Wind Dancer in the Delaware Handicap last month, is a possibility for the Grade 1 Personal Ensign on Aug. 27, according to McLaughlin.
"If three or four of the big ones - Azeri, Sightseek, Storm Flag Flying, and Summer Wind Dancer - run, we might pass," McLaughlin said.
Bending Strings, also trained by McLaughlin, was nominated to the Grade 1 Ballerina on Aug. 29, but will instead run in the Grade 1 Gazelle at Belmont on Sept. 11. Bending Strings finished second to Society Selection in the Grade 1 Test here last month.
Sabellina still perfect on turf
On Thursday morning, trainer Joe Aquilino was still savoring his first Saratoga stakes win, which came in Wednesday's Yaddo Handicap for New York-breds with Sabellina.
With her win in the Yaddo, Sabellina has won four races in a row and is undefeated in four grass races. The Yaddo was Sabellina's second win in the last 10 days at Saratoga.
Because of the closeness of those two starts, Aquilino said Sabellina would get a freshening.
"We'll give her a little break and have her ready for Belmont," Aquilino said. "We'll look at [New York] Showcase Day."
Aquilino is referring to the $150,000 Ticonderoga Handicap at Belmont on Oct. 23.
A 3-year-old filly, Sabellina is co-owned by Jay Lieberman and Mark Scharfman, who bought her for $35,000 on Aquilino's recommendation before her first start in May. At the time of the sale, Aquilino was training Sabellina for William Valentino, the son of Sabellina's breeder, John Valentino, who died a few years ago.
- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson