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Updated on 09/17/2011 12:08PM
Medaglia vs. Mineshaft next big one
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - There has been so much talk this year about potential meetings: Azeri versus males; Azeri versus Wild Spirit; Funny Cide versus Empire Maker, round four.
Add one more intriguing match-up to your must-see-TV lineup this fall: Medaglia d'Oro versus Mineshaft. It figures to be a two-part mini-drama with the first airing scheduled for the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park on Sept. 6.
Medaglia d'Oro made a successful return to the races in Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney Handicap, turning back defending Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi - the only horse to beat Medaglia d'Oro in the last year - by one length. Medaglia d'Oro, who was returning from a 119-day layoff, is now 3 for 3 this year and will use the Woodward as his final prep to the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.
Mineshaft, who counts the Pimlico Special and Suburban Handicap among his five wins this year, skipped the Whitney in order to be fresh for the fall. Mineshaft is expected to run in the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup Sept. 27 at Belmont before the Breeders' Cup.
Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Medaglia d'Oro, and Neil Howard, the trainer of Mineshaft, were members of the mutual admiration society Monday morning when talking about the other man's horse.
"He's a good horse," Frankel said of Mineshaft. "I don't know if I can beat him. Till they run you don't know which one is better."
Howard was at Pimlico on Saturday and watched the Whitney via simulcast. He walked away very impressed.
"I've got all the respect in the world for that horse," Howard said. "I was overly impressed with the horse and the training job. He's just a flat-out good horse, it's that simple."
Four days after Mineshaft was credited with a half-mile workout in 53.74 seconds, Howard had him back on the track Monday for a four-furlong move in 48.24 seconds. Howard said Friday's move was more like a two-minute lick, an exaggerated gallop, which was done around dogs, or orange cones, used to protect the track.
"We were going to go [Tuesday], but the track was beautiful this morning. We took a little insurance policy," Howard said. "Our horse has been on a steady schedule; this little busman's holiday has done him well."
Santos off, Bailey on Volponi
Trainer Phil Johnson was not happy with the ride Jose Santos gave Volponi in the Whitney and has replaced him with Jerry Bailey for the $300,000 Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap on Aug. 16.
Volponi broke slowly, as his head was being turned to face forward by an assistant starter just as the gate opened. While Johnson did not blame that mishap on Santos, he felt Santos should have had Volponi closer to the pace in the early going.
"[Northern Rock and Medaglia d'Oro] were together, the ideal thing would have been to go right up there and get right on their tail," Johnson said. "The rest takes care of itself, if he's good enough, he's good enough. He got beat a length with a terrible trip."
Johnson said, contrary to popular belief, that he does believe Medaglia d'Oro is a good horse.
"He's dead game because he was getting tired and he still fought," he said. "With a good trip we would have been right there at the finish."
Johnson said his plan is to run Volponi in the Saratoga Cup and then the $400,000 Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 3 as preps for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Johnson said he could also point Volponi to the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Lady Tak: Ballerina or Gazelle?
Lady Tak, who set the stakes record when she won the Test on July 26, worked an easy half-mile in 50.10 seconds Monday morning over the Oklahoma training track. Trainer Steve Asmussen said Lady Tak could start next in the Grade 1 Ballerina against older horses on Aug. 24, though the Grade 1 Gazelle for 3-year-olds at Belmont on Sept. 6 is more likely. The Gazelle is run at nine furlongs, the Ballerina at seven.
"We're not under the gun to make a decision right now," Asmussen said. "Obviously [the Ballerina] is there, but I haven't limited her to sprinting in my mind. We're dealing with a lot more horse physically than we were in March and April. I won't lie to you, I want to find out how to win the [Breeders' Cup] Distaff."
Meanwhile, Asmussen will be active in this weekend's upcoming stakes, sending out Private Emblem in Friday's $100,000 West Point Handicap for New York-breds on the turf and Mountain General in Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Alfred Vanderbilt Handicap at six furlongs.
Mountain General, winner of the Grade 3 Aristides Handicap in June at Churchill Downs, worked four furlongs Monday in 47.81 seconds over the training track.
"It was a very sharp work for him," Asmussen said. "He hasn't proven himself against that quality of horse, but he ran well at Saratoga in the past. He's definitely better than he's been previously. We didn't expect to be considering him for a race like this."
Private Emblem, who won last year's Albany Handicap on dirt here last year, will be making his second start on turf in the West Point. He finished third, beaten 5 3/4 lengths in a classified allowance at Churchill.
"He'll have to run better," Asmussen said.
Zavata possible for King's Bishop
Zavata, the impressive winner of Saturday's Amsterdam Stakes, could try seven furlongs in the Grade 1 King's Bishop, trainer Patrick Biancone said Monday.
"We don't know yet what we're doing but there's a good chance we'll run him in the King's Bishop," Biancone said. "We'll wait to see what unfolds. If it were six furlongs I wouldn't hesitate. But they don't write a lot of Grade 1's for 3-year-old sprinters."
Biancone said his major target for Zavata is the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
* Saratoga may need a new nickname. Known as the "Graveyard of Favorites," for years, the first two weeks this year have seen nothing but a parade of chalk enter the winner's circle. After seven of Monday's nine races were won by betting favorites, the percentage of winning favorites at this meet climbed to 47.7 percent (54 for 113).
* Dynever, the Lone Star Derby and Aventura Stakes winner, worked four furlongs in 49.12 seconds Sunday and is confirmed to run in Saturday's $600,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park. Edgar Prado will ride.
* Spoken Fur, who will go for a sweep of New York's triple crown for fillies when she runs in the Grade 1 Alabama on Aug. 16, worked five furlongs in 1:01.71 on Sunday.
* Wild Spirit, the Delaware Handicap winner, who is being pointed to the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Handicap on Aug. 22, worked five furlongs in 1:02.06 on Sunday.
* Trainer Todd Pletcher and veterinarian Dr. David Bryant were each fined $1,500 for the late administration of Lasix to Catalita, who finished sixth as the 4-5 favorite in Friday's second race.