08/20/2009 12:00AM

Levine looks to end Spa win drought

Barbara D. Livingston
Rachel Alexandra, with exercise rider Dominic Terry, goes to the track Thursday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Perhaps if the rest of the year hadn't gone so well, the current cold streak trainer Bruce Levine is enduring this summer at Saratoga would be more troubling.

Through the first 20 days of the meet, Levine is winless with 34 starters, the most of any trainer who has yet to find the Saratoga's winner's circle. Meanwhile, a couple hundred miles to the south, Levine is atop the trainers' standings at Monmouth Park, with 31 wins from 97 starters.

"It's just the way it falls," Levine said Wednesday while sitting in his Saratoga barn office. "I got eight seconds, so it's not like they're running bad. I really don't let it get to me. I look at the overall."

Overall, Levine ranks 21st in the country in wins (86) and 19th in purse earnings with $2,958,242. He is the third-leading trainer on the New York Racing Association circuit this year, with 48 wins and $1,750,297 in purse earnings.

"I can't tell you it's been a good year - it's not last year - but I'm sure a lot of people would take it," Levine said.

The toughest beat Levine suffered at the meet was when Go Go Shoot got run down by Fabulous Strike in the .

"Go Go ran huge," Levine said. "That was big. I still got some irons in the fire. I'm going to keep swinging."

Levine did not have any runners Thursday, had just one for Friday, and has one Saturday in Marina Market, who makes his first start off the Levine claim in the third race.

Levine said he plans to run Driven by Success back in the Grade 1 Forego here Sept. 5. On Thursday, Driven by Success worked five furlongs in 1:02.69 over the Oklahoma training track.

Gio Ponti to choose between Hirsches

Gio Ponti, the leading turf horse in the country, will make one more start before the Breeders' Cup Turf on Nov. 7. What's less certain is which race that will be.

Trainer Christophe Clement said Thursday that the $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont on Oct. 3 or the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship at Santa Anita on Oct. 11 are the two choices. The Breeders' Cup will be run at Santa Anita.

Clement spent a few days at Belmont Park this week to check in on Gio Ponti, who on Aug. 8 won the Arlington Million, his fourth consecutive Grade 1 victory this year.

Clement said Gio Ponti jogged for eight days following the Arlington race and just began galloping earlier this week.

"He will not have a breeze for at least 10 days or two weeks," Clement said.

Clement said that Caribbean Sunset, runner-up in the Diana, would make her next start in the Grade 2, $200,000 Palomar at Del Mar on Sept. 9, and Rutherienne, third in the Diana, would make her next start in the Grade 2, $200,000 Ballston Spa here Aug. 29.

Elusive Heat will miss Victory Ride

Elusive Heat, who returned from a lengthy layoff with a sharp-looking victory in , will be forced to miss the Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes after developing an entrapped epiglottis, the same issue that befell Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird earlier this week.

Trainer Angel Penna Jr. said that Elusive Heat was scheduled to undergo a throat operation Thursday, but had to cancel it after the filly developed a 103-degree temperature. Now, the surgery has to be delayed until next week, Penna said.

"With the surgery, we still had a shot. With the temperature and the cancellation of the surgery, we have no shot," Penna said.

Elusive Heat, a daughter of Elusive Quality out of the champion mare Xtra Heat, has won 3 of 4 starts for owner Martin Schwartz.

Worstcasescenario eyes Matron, Frizette

Trainer Rick Violette said Worstcasescenario came out of her dominant victory in Wednesday's in good order and would likely be pointed to the Grade 2 Matron at Belmont on Sept. 19 or the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont on Oct. 10.

Violette said the Spinaway here on Sept. 6 was too close to the Adirondack and that the Frizette is a race he has always wanted to win.

Violette was hoping to record a sweep of the 2-year-old stakes this week, but could not enter Not Macho Any More in Thursday's Saratoga Special because the horse had to be treated for a case of hives.

"Medication-wise, we couldn't run," Violette said. "It's a shame because it looked like a pretty good spot."

Violette said he would split up Not Macho Any More and Bulls and Bears for their next starts. One will start in the Grade 1 Hopeful here, and the other will run in the Grade 3 Sapling at Monmouth Park on Sept. 5.

Marylou Whitney visits the Birds

Saratoga socialite Marylou Whitney seemed like a proud parent Thursday morning at the stakes barn as she visited Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird. Both are sons of the stallion Birdstone, whom Whitney campaigned with great success in 2004. At 2, Birdstone won the Champagne and at 3 he won the Belmont Stakes and Travers.

Both Mine That Bird and Summer Bird are pointing to the $1 million Travers on Aug. 29.

"They look wonderful, the size of Summer Bird - wow! - he's a big horse," Whitney said.

Whitney said that Mine That Bird more resembles Birdstone than Summer Bird.

Whitney still retains full ownership of Birdstone, who stands at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky.

Hold Me Back to run in Travers

Hold Me Back, who finished fifth as the favorite in the Virginia Derby on turf, will return to dirt in the $1 million Travers on Aug. 29, trainer Bill Mott confirmed Thursday.

Hold Me Back, a son of Giant's Causeway, has run on dirt twice - a well-beaten fifth in the Remsen and a 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Hold Me Back is owned by the WinStar Farm of Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt, which won the Travers last year with Colonel John.

Mott said Julien Leparoux would ride.

In other Travers news, Alan Garcia, the regular rider of Charitable Man, will ride Our Edge in the Travers. Ramon Dominguez has picked up the mount on Charitable Man.

Pending a decision on Rachel Alexandra and Kensei, the rest of the Travers field, with riders, includes Mine That Bird (Mike Smith), Summer Bird (Kent Desormeaux), Quality Road (John Velazquez), and Warrior's Reward (Calvin Borel).