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Updated on 09/17/2011 12:03PM
Empire Maker rarin' to run
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - "Run the sucker.'
That's what trainer Bobby Frankel had to say Saturday morning after Empire Maker worked a sensational six furlongs in 1:12.03 over a fast Saratoga main track in preparation for next Sunday's Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy. The Jim Dandy will be Empire Maker's first start since he won the June 7 Belmont Stakes and will be his prep for the $1 million Travers here on Aug. 23. A year ago, Frankel won both those races with Medaglia d'Oro.
Empire Maker was one of several equine stars on the Saturday work tab as 276 horses were credited with timed workouts on the main and Oklahoma training tracks on a beautiful morning at the Spa.
Empire Maker, who finished second to Funny Cide as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, worked shortly after the renovation break and went in company with Special Rate, a 3-year-old half-brother to Sightseek and Tates Creek. Empire Maker, wearing blinkers under Aaron Gryder, started five lengths behind Special Rate, who worked under Jerry Bailey.
In the stretch, Empire Maker came up the rail, through a wide hole left by Bailey. The two finished their work on even terms at the mile pole.
Frankel said he wanted a strong work for Empire Maker because he hadn't had one in 10 days and the horse had been starting to get too playful.
"He's starting to mess around too much, he needs to pay attention, you don't want him too fresh,' Frankel said. "He acts like a kid if you give him too much time off.'
In addition to Empire Maker, those considered definite for the Jim Dandy are Congrats, Nacheezmo, Strong Hope, and Tafaseel. Possible starters include During, Saint Liam, and Wild and Wicked.
Shortly after Empire Maker finished his breeze, Peace Rules came barreling through the stretch under Javier Castellano. Peace Rules, the Blue Grass and Louisiana Derby winner, was credited with a five-furlong move in 1:00.06, though some private clockers caught him a little faster.
Peace Rules, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness, is being pointed to next Sunday's $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth.
"[Castellano] was really happy with him. He said he galloped out very strong,' Frankel said. "He's really doing good. He's more relaxed here than he was at Belmont.'
Volponi works toward Whitney
Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi was working at the same time as Empire Maker and Peace Rules, and was credited with a four-furlong move in 47.85 seconds under Jose Santos. Volponi, who has finished second in the Brooklyn and Suburban, will make his next start in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap.
Santos said Volponi spotted a pair of Allen Jerkens-trained maidens breezing several lengths in front of him and was able to run them down. "He went real good, he finished well,' Santos said. "When he spotted those two horses, he wanted to go.'
Forced to postpone the work a few days due to poor weather, trainer Phil Johnson said he told Santos "to purposely finish up good with him. He had to go to the half-mile pole till he got him pulled up.'
As of Saturday, there were four definites for the Whitney: Volponi, Medaglia d'Oro, Proud Citizen, and Saarland. Harlan's Holiday and Northern Rock are possible.
If he runs, Harlan's Holiday will need a new rider as John Velazquez will ride Saarland. Edgar Prado, who rode Harlan's Holiday as a 3-year-old, will ride Proud Citizen.
Pletcher unveils a talented baby
Trainer Todd Pletcher has shown off many talented 2-year-olds this year, but he may have unveiled his best baby on Saturday when Value Plus, a $1.1 million son of Unbridled's Song, won his maiden at first asking by 8 3/4 lengths. He covered 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.88.
"He's kind of trained pretty special all along,' said Pletcher, who trains Value Plus for Aaron and Marie Jones. "We thought he was going to be ready a little sooner but he had a bruised foot. He kind of reminds you of his father when he was a 2-year-old; he's big, but he's fast.'
Pletcher did not say where Value Plus would run next, but the Grade 1 Hopeful on Aug. 30 cannot be out of the question.
Sky Mesa drills for Haskell
Sky Mesa worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds on Saturday in preparation for his second start of the season, which is expected to come in the Haskell Invitational on Aug. 3.
"I thought this was a very good work," said Donna Ward, wife of trainer John Ward. "Sometimes I get after myself for letting this horse work too fast. He doesn't really need that."
Sky Mesa suffered the first defeat of his career when he finished third behind Strong Hope and Nacheezmo making his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 2 Dwyer.
"I thought he ran a good race for his first start in nine months," Donna Ward said. "Naturally we would have loved to have had a prep before the Dwyer but it didn't come up. He might have pulled the trigger a little too early, then took a breather and closed the gap again at the end."
Edgar Prado has been aboard Sky Mesa in all four career starts but informed the Wards on Saturday that he has opted to ride Peace Rules in the Haskell.
"We've offered the mount to Richard Migliore," John Ward said shortly after learning of Prado's decision.
Migliore could also have a tough decision to make next Sunday as the regular rider for Tafaseel, who is still under consideration for the Jim Dandy here the same afternoon. Tafaseel, an impressive winner of his two U.S. starts this season, is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.
"I'm flattered to be in a position to get an offer to ride such a high-profile horse like Sky Mesa," Migliore said. "But Kiaran's been good to me over the years and if he runs here and wants me that's where I'm going to ride."
Apparent 8-1 shot pays $10.40
Handicappers who bet on Congress Park in Saturday's opener could not have been happy cashing a $10.80 mutuel. Congress Park was 8-1 with a minute to post but was 5-1 when he crossed the finish. The win price was further reduced when the stewards declared Tennessee Burbin, the second choice in the race, a nonstarter because "an assistant starter was trying to control him at the break,' according to steward Dave Hicks.
Tennessee Burbin broke in a tangle and was never involved in the race. A total of $478,338 in wagers involving Tennessee Burbin had to be refunded, including $71,699 ontrack.
In the sixth race, Savoy Special reared in the gate and had to be scratched. A total of $577,350 was refunded, $115,406 ontrack.
Gustave Rodriguuez, an assistant starter, was injured when Savoy Special reared up. Rodriguuez was taken to Saratoga Hospital for precautionary X-rays of his lower limbs.
* Mineshaft, impressive winner of the Suburban Handicap earlier this month, worked an easy half-mile on Saturday. Mineshaft is not scheduled to make his next start until the Grade 1 Woodward on Sept. 6.