08/04/2010 3:13PM

John's Call tough to replace for Voss

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Barbara D. Livingston
Always First will start from the rail in Friday's John's Call Stakes at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – John’s Call won not one, but two Grade 1 races at the age of 9, continued racing until age 10, retired with more than $1.5 million in earnings, had a stakes race named after him at Saratoga, and was rewarded by his trainer, Tom Voss, by being his stable pony, a job he thoroughly enjoyed.

For every summer after his retirement in 2001, John’s Call, instantly recognizable with his blazed face, came here and accompanied Voss’s trainees to and from the track each morning. But this summer, Voss has a new stable pony, and his barn has a heavy heart, because John’s Call, whose stakes race will be run Friday, had to be euthanized following a paddock accident this past winter in Maryland.

“He broke his leg in a field of snow during the winter time,” Voss recalled Wednesday morning at Saratoga. “We went out to get the horses, and they all came running in, but he just stood there. He never panicked. We went to get him, and you could see it was bad. I’d like to have another one like him.”

John’s Call had his biggest year in 2000, at age 9, when he won both the Turf Classic and the Sword Dancer. He won 16 times in 40 starts.

There is the potential for a Hollywood ending to this saga, because Voss is sending out Always First, a 9-year-old gelding, in the John’s Call. Always First finished fifth in this race last year as the favorite. This year, he has raced once, just missing in a $50,000 claiming race at Delaware on June 8.

“He’s fine. Just old,” Voss said. “He ran great last time at Delaware. You can’t find too many races like this. They don’t run them very often. A mile and a half, a mile and five-eighths, they’re great races. They finally write one, and it overfills.”

Sixteen were entered in the John’s Call, at 1 5/8 miles on turf. Always First drew the rail.

Loudonville sets up for Funny Feeling

If the race plays out on the track like it looks on paper, Friday’s $70,000 Loudonville Stakes could fall right into the lap of Funny Feeling.

Five of the six 3-year-old fillies entered in the six-furlong overnight stakes have done their best running on the lead. Funny Feeling won the Just Smashing Stakes at Monmouth and a first-level allowance race at Churchill from off the pace.

“That’s the way it looks to me,” Mike Maker, the trainer of Funny Feeling, said when told it looks like the race sets up well for his filly. “I hope we’re right.”

Funny Feeling comes out of a last-place finish in the Grade 1 Prioress at Belmont on an extremely hot afternoon.

“She didn’t handle the heat very well that day,” Maker said.

Funny Feeling shipped to Saratoga where on July 29 she worked five furlongs in a bullet 59.10 seconds over the Oklahoma training track.

“She’s doing fabulous,” said Maker, who has Alan Garcia to ride.

Trainer Todd Pletcher sends out both Nonna Mia and Zermatt in the Loudonville. Nonna Mia comes off a front-running first-level allowance win at Belmont, after running a disappointing fourth at Monmouth on May 30, her first start off a seven-month layoff.

“For whatever reason, we’ve had some horses at Monmouth who have not fired,” Pletcher said. “The surface is a bit different. Maybe she needed the race. Clearly her next start was a big improvement.”

Pletcher doesn’t believe Nonna Mia is a need-the-lead type, though he added “there’s a decent chance she’ll be on the lead.”

Stormandaprayer drops into the Loudonville off a fourth-place finish in the Prioress. She has the rail and could be the speed of the speed, under Rajiv Maragh. Lisa’s Booby Trap has gone 3 for 3 at Finger Lakes, winning all of her starts on the front end. Simply Spiteful completes the field.

Gio Ponti works for Arlington Million

Gio Ponti moved closer to a defense of his title in the Arlington Million, with a five-furlong workout in 1:03.50 on the turf course at the Oklahoma training track Wednesday morning.

With exercise rider Christophe Lorieul aboard, Gio Ponti arrived fashionably late at 10:30 a.m, after every other turf worker had finished. He worked alone and was shoved along by Lorieul after crossing under the wire in order to get a nice gallop out.

“Gio Ponti had an easy work, a slow work, something to stretch his legs,” trainer Christophe Clement said back at his barn. “He’s a bit lazy on his own. He will have another work next week. Most probably, we are aiming for the Million.”

The Arlington Million is Aug. 21 in Chicago. Clement also has had the Pacific Classic, on Aug. 28 at Del Mar, under consideration.

“I’m a surf-and-turf kind of guy,” he joked Monday.

But the Arlington Million is increasingly looking like the next start for Gio Ponti, who most recently won the Man o’ War on the turf at Belmont Park.

Also working on the turf was Court Vision, who went six furlongs in 1:15 for trainer Rick Dutrow, who said Court Vision would make his next start next month in the Woodbine Mile in Toronto.

Big Drama arrives for Vanderbilt

Big Drama, winner of the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap in his last start, arrived Wednesday morning at Saratoga where he will run in Sunday’s Grade 1, $250,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap.

Big Drama flew from south Florida to Newark and then vanned to Saratoga, arriving about 9:30 a.m.

Big Drama benefited from a lengthy break following a sixth-place finish in last year’s King’s Bishop, winning both of his starts this year. Both were at six furlongs, the same distance as the Vanderbilt.

“Mentally, he’s an older horse that’s for sure,” trainer David Fawkes said. “He did well at Calder. His first race, I don’t know if he was screwed down for that race. I don’t think he was screwed down for his second start either. He’s screwed down now.”

At 120 pounds, Big Drama will be the co-starting highweight along with Bribon and Gayego. Others pointing to the Vanderbilt include Mambo Meister (117), Majesticperfection (116), Smokey Fire (116), and Temecula Creek (113).

Horse runs for purse money only

The late-scratch epidemic that has plagued this meet took a strange twist Wednesday when a horse that was listed as a scratch actually got to race.

The German-bred Kidd, a first-time starter for owner John O’Connor and Maker, was announced as one of two scratches for the second race. However, Kidd was able to race after a problem regarding his foal papers was resolved. While he was allowed to run, no wagers were allowed on Kidd, who eventually finished last after sitting a nice trip down the backside.

According to Ted Hill, the Jockey Club Steward, Kidd’s foal papers needed to be corrected so that the markings on the papers matched the markings on the horse.

“By the time they got it all figured out, it was too late to allow him to run” for gambling purposes, Hill said.

Through the first 10 days of the meet, 12 horses were scratched either in the paddock or at the starting gate.

– additional reporting by David Grening