10/18/2011 2:54PM

Keeneland: Sanagas has a standout performance under belt

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Tod Marks
Sanagas, with Rajiv Maragh riding, wins the John's Call.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The 17th running of the Grade 3 Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland on Thursday is not restricted to nonwinners of an unrestricted stakes in North America this year. It only came up that way.

Only three of the eight older turf marathoners in the $100,000 Sycamore have won so much as an allowance race this year, and of those, only Sanagas has a victory of consequence on this continent, that coming in impressive fashion in the restricted John’s Call early in the Saratoga meet. The others are Tahoe Lake, winner of a first-level allowance here last week, and Ashtar, winless in three North American starts after upsetting the Chilean Derby at 56-1 in February.

Sanagas, with Rajiv Maragh to ride, will break from post 6 in the Sycamore, which is run around three turns at 1 1/2 miles on the turf course. A German-bred 5-year-old gelding trained by Graham Motion, Sanagas looked terrific in the John’s Call before running a no-threat fourth as the 3-2 favorite in his lone subsequent start, the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park on Sept. 10.

Motion said Sanagas has trained well in the interim at his Fair Hill base in Maryland, from where the gelding was shipped out by van Monday evening. “He seems to have gotten back into good form,” said Motion.

Two other Sycamore starters actually finished ahead of Sanagas in the Bowling Green: Center Divider (post 4) was the runner-up at 8-1, and Bold Hawk (post 3) was third at 12-1. They both have shipped in from New York for trainers Chad Brown and Jimmy Toner, respectively.

Tahoe Lake, a Brazilian-bred trained by Ken McPeek, will be racing on just seven days’ rest after coming through as the favorite in a 1 1/16-mile turf allowance here Oct. 12. Manny Cruz rides from post 7.

“He just ran so well the other day, and we’ve been wanting to know whether he can handle the 1 1/2 miles,” said McPeek. “Plus it’s the old ‘strike while the iron’s hot’ deal. It sure worked for the Irish the other day,” a reference to Together, owned by the Coolmore group, winning the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on Saturday, a week after running second in the Grade 1 First Lady.

Motion and McPeek, who figure to vie for leading trainer as the 17-day meet winds to its Oct. 29 close, each has a second starter in the Sycamore. Motion also has Eagle Poise (post 2), while McPeek has another Brazilian-bred in Odds On (post 1). No horses are coupled in the wagering.

Ashtar (post 5) and Bim Bam (post 8) round out the Sycamore field.

The Sycamore has been used as an occasional springboard to the Breeders’ Cup, most notably two years ago, when Cloudy’s Knight won the Sycamore for Jonathan Sheppard and wheeled back to be defeated just a nose in the BC Marathon at Santa Anita. The 2010 Sycamore was the final career victory for Brass Hat, the now-retired 10-year-old gelding who will be paraded in the Keeneland paddock Thursday before the seventh race.

The Sycamore occupies the usual race-eight feature slot on an excellent Thursday program that also includes three allowances (races 4, 6, 7). First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.