09/22/2015 11:33AM

Little Brown Jug: Alagna has Artspeak fresh for the stretch

Ken Weingartner/USTA Photo
Artspeak is coming off a 1:48 2/5 win at Mohawk Racetrack.

There are two big days in Delaware, Ohio, home of the Little Brown Jug. Of course Thursday, September 24 is race day, but as important to those who have watched and witnessed this spectacle for years is the Saturday prior. It’s the Saturday that lays out the fields and defines post position, a key instrument towards making it to the winner’s circle. While Artspeak has not had the kind of season some expected of him, the fortunes of the son of Western Ideal took a turn for the better when he landed the inside slot in the second of two $108,320 divisions of the first heat.

Trainer Tony Alagna and the racing world had been expecting Artspeak to be at the top of the 3-year-old crop this year coming off a brilliant freshman campaign that saw him capture eight of 10 races and earn $742,185. With but four triumphs in a dozen starts in 2015 it’s been a grind thus far, but Alagna, buoyed by the draw and the recent form of Artspeak, may find his horse doing the talking during the fall championship season.

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“The six to seven weeks in a row of eliminations and final with the North America Cup, Hempt and Meadowlands Pace definitely took something out of him,” said Alagna. “He’s more like a thoroughbred. He’s not big and rugged like Captaintreacherous.”

Indeed Alagna was referring to his past champion and a horse that held up well despite racing hard week-in and week-out.

The races started to space out a little better after that seven week run and Artspeak showed some life finishing second in the Cane Pace from well back. He also placed a solid fourth in the Battle of the Brandywine on August 22 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. “I thought he raced real well at Pocono,” said Alagna. “He left the gate in 25 4/5.”

The freshening of Artspeak was complete when he ventured north of the border to prepare for the September 12 Simcoe. A 1:50 1/5 qualifier on September 4 at Mohawk caught the eye of a few sharpies and the colt responded with a career best 1:48 2/5 victory in the Simcoe.

“He’s definitely put on some weight over the last month,” said Alagna.

While happy with how Artspeak has trained for the Jug after a blowout at The Red Mile on Monday, Alagna has two other sophomores in the lineup on Thursday with a chance of making noise.

“With the way the draw works out there’s strength in numbers,” said Alagna.

Messenger Stakes winner Revenge Shark drew post seven in the same second division and will get Brett Miller back in the bike. A near 10-1 shot in his Messenger upset, the trainer was not as surprised as the bettors with the victory. “We thought he’d be good over the half mile track and that’s why we nominated him to the Messenger,” said Alagna. “Yannick (Gingras) gave him a great drive but In The Arsenal and Dudes The Man may not have been at their best that night.”

Revenge Shark’s half-mile track ability could help him get to the final though there is an obstacle in the middle by the name of Wiggle It Jiggleit.

“He’s done it in every way,” said Alagna of the horse to beat in this year’s Jug. Wiggle It  Jiggleit landed post five in search of his 17th win of the season for driver Montrell Teague.

The Somebeachsomewhere-sired gelding Trading Up landed post five for Alagna in the first division of the Jug first heat and race 12 on the program. “We paid him into a lot of races and had high expectations,” said Alagna of Trading Up. “Two starts back he got locked in. He won a division of the Liberty Bell at Harrah’s easily beating My Hero Ron and I knew they were sending that horse to the Jug.”

Trading Up is clearly in the softer of the two divisions, but he’ll still have to deal with an improved Lost For Words (post 1) as well as Adios champion Dude’s The Man (post 4) and the recently acquired New Jersey Classic winner Split The House (post 7) with new trainer Chris Oakes.

Alagna and the Captaintreacherous team passed on the Jug in 2013 and will look for their first victory in this third Jewel of the Triple Crown. Scott Zeron, Artspeak’s pilot, tasted victory in 2012 guiding the Casie Coleman-trained Michaels Power to victory.

The top four finishers from each division of the first heat return for the $324,960 second heat in race 17. If neither winner of the first heat captures the second heat a race-off with the three heat winners would determine the Jug winner in race 19.

Little Brown Jug Day at the Delaware, Ohio Fairgrounds begins with first post at 12:00 p.m.

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