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Lunarpal seeks to silence doubters
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Lunarpal is 4 for 4 with three stakes wins, yet his trainer, Steve Asmussen, has been asked more than once if he has a better 2-year-old in the barn.
"The only horse to have done what he has done to this point they named Horse of the Year," said Asmussen, referring to Favorite Trick, who in 1997 became the first 2-year-old to sweep the trio of juvenile stakes held during the Churchill Downs spring meet. "To suggest that I have another one of them is crazy. He gets no respect. I don't know why he gets no respect."
Perhaps Lunarpal can change that on Thursday when he heads a large field in the Grade 2, $150,000 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga. Entries were to be taken Tuesday for the Sanford, and on Monday as many as 11 horses were under consideration for the six-furlong race.
Lunarpal, a son of Successful Appeal, won a maiden race at Keeneland in April by seven lengths and the Three Chimneys Juvenile on Derby Day by five. His victories in the Kentucky Breeders' Cup and Bashford Manor were both by a neck, which may explain why some believe Lunarpal could be vulnerable.
"Everybody thinks they can beat him, they do," Asmussen said Monday from Churchill Downs. "I'm not going to tell you we're going to do this or we're going to do that. He's just an awesome little horse, he's very mature mentally, and he's doing all he can."
Asmussen has been surprised by how well Lunarpal has fared this early in his career. While Asmussen has a truckload of 2-year-olds, Lunarpal was not believed to be one who would be ready so soon.
"We didn't move him to Kentucky with the first load because I thought he trained a little light when we came to Kentucky," Asmussen said. "I'm very pleased with his weight now, so obviously racing hasn't disturbed him or thrown him off course."
Lunarpal has been at Saratoga for two weeks, and on Sunday he breezed a half-mile in 50.16 seconds. Shane Sellers will ride Thursday.
Consolidator, beaten a neck by Lunarpal in the Kentucky Breeders' Cup, heads the list of challengers in the Sanford. Others considered definite are stakes winners Gold Joy, Departing Now, and Flamenco as well as maiden winners Calypso Band, Fire Path, Maximus C, Smokescreen, and Winning Expression. Afleet Alex is possible.
Funny Cide points to Saratoga BC
Funny Cide fans should hope the same cool temperatures present in Saratoga on Monday morning are evident on Aug. 22 when the Saratoga Breeders' Cup is held. Provided it's not too hot, local hero Funny Cide is likely to make his Saratoga debut in that spot.
Trainer Barclay Tagg said he has also nominated Funny Cide to the Whitney Handicap on Aug. 7, but doubts he will have Funny Cide ready by then. After running gut-wrenching races in both the Massachusetts Handicap on June 19 and the Suburban on July 3, Funny Cide was given 10 days off. He jogged for six days and galloped for five more before working four furlongs in 47.01 seconds at Belmont Park on Sunday.
Funny Cide, last year's champion 3-year-old, arrived in Saratoga on Monday.
Tagg called the Saratoga Cup "kind of an ideal spot." The race is run at 1 1/4 miles and is unlikely to attract any of the participants in the Whitney, run just two weeks prior. Tagg said he would consider the Whitney if the race appeared to be coming up light.
Tagg may have to find a new rider for Funny Cide as jockey Jose Santos is expected to miss at least the first half of the meet with a fractured right arm. Tagg said he would worry about a rider at a later date.
Midway Road likely for Whitney
Midway Road, who earned a whopping 123 Beyer Speed Figure winning the Grade 3 Ben Ali Handicap this year, is being pointed to the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap on Aug. 7, trainer Neil Howard said.
On Sunday, Midway Road worked six furlongs in 1:12.93 over Saratoga's main track.
Following his big performance in the Ben Ali, Midway Road ran second behind Southern Image in the Grade 1 Pimlico Special. In his most recent start, Midway Road finished sixth behind Colonial Colony in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap over a sloppy track.
"His effort in the Special might have taken a little bit out of him for the Foster," Howard said Monday. "Nonetheless, he's training beautifully and worked great yesterday. He's a talented horse. To me, the Pimlico Special really solidified that he's a nice horse."
Howard said he and owner Will Farish would monitor the Whitney field before confirming Midway Road's participation. As of Monday, the Whitney was shaping up to include Bowman's Band, Ghostzapper, Gygistar, Newfoundland, Perfect Drift, Roses in May, and Seattle Fitz.
Storm Flag Flying: First Spa race in two years
When Storm Flag Flying runs in Sunday's Grade 1, $250,000 Go for Wand, it will be the first time she has started at Saratoga since she raced greenly to win her career debut on Aug. 18, 2002.
Last year, Storm Flag Flying, the champion 2-year-old filly in 2002, didn't come to Saratoga because she was laid up in Kentucky with a leg injury .
Shug McGaughey, Storm Flag Flying's trainer, said the filly would have a paddock schooling session on Thursday morning. Storm Flag Flying can be temperamental. When she made her debut at Saratoga, Storm Flag Flying froze a couple of times in the paddock and made it difficult for jockey John Velazquez to climb aboard.
In her last start, Storm Flag Flying finished second, 3 1/4 lengths behind Sightseek, in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on June 19. Before the race, a blacksmith replaced a shoe that Storm Flag Flying lost while she was in the paddock.
On Sunday at Belmont, before shipping to Saratoga, Storm Flag Flying worked five furlongs in company with stablemate Alchemist. Storm Flag Flying, with exercise rider Donna McMullen in the saddle, finished ahead of her workmate, covering the distance over a track labeled good in 1:01.68. Alchemist's time was 1:01.88.
McGaughey said he worked Storm Flag Flying in company to keep her on her toes because she has had six weeks in between races.
"I wanted to do something to put her in the ballgame," McGaughey said. "I think her last race was a step in the right direction. I'm really looking forward to running her around two turns."
In her only stakes start in a two-turn race, Storm Flag Flying won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Arlington Park.
Friendly Michelle heads Baffert contingent
Bob Baffert will have 14 horses stabled in Saratoga this summer, led by the 3-year-old fillies Friendly Michelle and Yearly Report, both graded stakes winners. Friendly Michelle, the Grade 1 Prioress winner, is being pointed to Saturday's Grade 1 Test Stakes at seven furlongs, while Yearly Report, the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks winner, could run in the Grade 1 Alabama on Aug. 21.
Other Baffert runners likely to see action at the Spa are Courageous Act (Jim Dandy), Teton Forest (King's Bishop), and Sarava (Saratoga Breeders' Cup). Actxecutive, runner-up in the Hollywood Juvenile, is likely to ship here for the Grade 1 Hopeful on Aug. 21.
Friendly Michelle, a daughter of Artax, has won five of eight starts, including the Grade 3 La Troienne and, most recently, the Prioress. Though Corey Nakatani rode her in the Prioress, Jerry Bailey has picked up the mount for the Test. On Sunday at Belmont Park, Friendly Michelle worked five furlongs in 1:01.98 over a good main track.
"She had her big breeze last week," said Tonja Terranova, who will oversee Baffert's New York string, about a July 17 work in 59.20 seconds. "Bob wanted a nice maintenance work, plus I don't think the track was that fast this morning anyway. She's ready to go."
The seven-furlong Test, as usual, is shaping up as a terrific race. Among those expected to run are Bending Strings, Cherish Destiny, Dazzle Me, Elusive Diva, Feline Story, Forest Music, Humor Me Molly, Prospective Saint, She's a Mugs, and Society Selection. Reforest, who worked five furlongs in a bullet 59.62 seconds Monday at Belmont, is a possibility.
Alexander fined, suspended for positive
Trainer Frank Alexander began serving a five-day suspension on Monday and was fined $1,000 after one of his horses tested positive for a banned substance. The suspension was reduced from 15 days because Alexander waived his right of appeal.
Kaskazi, who finished third in the fourth race at Belmont Park on June 26, tested positive for naproxen, a pain reliever that has been successfully used on horses to treat muscle spasms and various types of lameness. She was unplaced in the order of finish.
Alexander will be able to return to training on Saturday.
Spa simulcasts return to Aqueduct
After a one-year hiatus, the downstate simulcasting of Saratoga's races will return to Aqueduct. Last year, Aqueduct was closed while the construction of a yet-to-be-completed racino was under way, and the Saratoga simulcasts were shown at Belmont.
Free general parking and free admission will be offered at Aqueduct, though preferred parking will cost $3. Seats at handicapping tables with personal televisions can be purchased for $3. Admission to Aqueduct's Equestris Restaurant is $2.
In addition to Saratoga's races, Aqueduct will offer simulcasts from Monmouth, Finger Lakes, and Del Mar.
Several stakes hopefuls work out
Dwyer winner Medallist, preparing for the Jim Dandy on Aug. 8, covered three furlongs in 38.66 seconds on the main track on Monday. Passing Shot, who will run in the Go for Wand, worked a mile in 1:41.47.
Iowa Derby winner Swingforthefences worked six furlongs in 1:14.94. Delta Sensation, who will run in Monday's Lake George, worked five furlongs in 1:02.31.
- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson