08/01/2007 12:00AM

New owners aim high with Astor Park


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - When Barry Irwin finalized a deal last Saturday to purchase the undefeated 3-year-old filly Astor Park, he did so with the newly created $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in mind.

In the last week, however, Irwin found a much more immediate goal for the filly. Astor Park will arrive at Saratoga from Penn National on Friday and run in Saturday's Grade 1 $250,000 Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs.

Irwin, the head of Team Valor Stable, said he hadn't thought about running in the Test before he received a call from Steve Rushing, the agent for jockey Ramon Dominguez. Rushing told Irwin that he had a call to ride Astor Park in the Test.

"He said this race is going to fall apart and the favorite could be vulnerable,'' Irwin said, referring to Dream Rush. "I checked it out and he might be right. He planted the seed.''

Astor Park, a daughter of Ecton Park trained by Todd Beattie, won her first two starts, both at Delaware Park. On June 30, she shipped to Monmouth Park, where she won the Dearly Precious Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths.

"She's done everything really right,'' said Beattie, who trained the horse for his sister Holly and her husband, Bryan Rice. "I realize this is a huge step to go from the overnight stakes to the Test, but there isn't a big race around at the distance. The filly is doing so darn good it seems kind of crazy not give her the chance.''

On Tuesday, Astor Park breezed five furlongs in 59.60 seconds at Penn National, where Beattie is based. Beattie said he plans to drive the filly in a van here himself on Friday.

As part of the sale, Beattie will train Astor Park for the Test, but the filly will then be turned over to Todd Pletcher.

"I pretty much knew that,'' Beattie said. "Geez, you buy a filly like that for the kind of money they paid for her, I would want her at my own place. I'll turn into the biggest cheerleader. She'll definitely have a career past this race.''

Others pointing to the Test include Akronism, Appealing Zophie, Baroness Thatcher, Boca Grande, Cotton Blossom, Dream Rush, High Again, Sheets, Silver Knockers, and Time's Mistress. Debbie Got Even and Shesa Little Flirt are possible.

Fabulous Strike targets Forego

While Beattie won't have Astor Park after this weekend, he will still have his top male older sprinter Fabulous Strike in the barn. Beattie is planning to ship Fabulous Strike to Saratoga for the Grade 1 Forego here on Sept. 1.

Fabulous Strike, who won the Grade 3 Aristides at Churchill Downs earlier this summer, comes out of a fifth-place finish in the Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder on July 7. Beattie said that Fabulous Strike had a case of the thumps - an electrolyte imbalance - coming out of the Smile.

Beattie said he thought about running Fabulous Strike in one of two stakes this weekend - one at Monmouth, the other at Mountaineer - but decided to give his horse more time.

"We're probably going to point to the Forego,'' Beattie said. "We're looking for Breeders' Cup points. We sure still believe in him.''

Rags to Riches galloping strongly

Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches had a strong 1 1/4-mile gallop Wednesday morning over Saratoga's main track, her first full day on the grounds. Valerie Buck is the filly's new exercise rider. It was Rags to Riches's third day of training since leaving the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania, where she shipped last week to undergo a thorough physical.

Rags to Riches, who was pulled up at the beginning of a scheduled five-furlong workout on July 22 at Belmont, galloped at Belmont on Tuesday morning before shipping to Saratoga.

"Yesterday and today she galloped as well as she's ever galloped,'' Pletcher said Wednesday morning. "She looked fantastic. I'll probably breeze sometime at the beginning of the week.''

Pletcher said his goal is to figure out the best way to get Rags to Riches to the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 27.

"There are plenty of options,'' Pletcher said. "Right now our focus is on the Breeders' Cup and the best way to get there, but the Alabama [on Aug. 18] remains possible.''

Rags to Riches became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont, edging Curlin by a head on June 9.

Wait a While, Vacare target Ballston Spa

Wait a While, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2006, is scheduled to work at Churchill Downs on Friday, and is being pointed to the Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup Handicap here on Aug. 23.

Wait a While was scratched out of the CashCall Mile on July 6 at Hollywood Park with a fever. About a week later, she was flown to Churchill Downs, where she has been training ever since. Pletcher said that as soon as he can coordinate a plane, Wait a While will ship back to New York.

One of Wait a While's foes in the Ballston Spa is likely to be Vacare, who suffered her first defeat from six starts in the Grade 1 Gamely BC at Hollywood Park on May 28. Vacare, who won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Cup, was scratched from the New York Handicap at Belmont on June 23 due to an entrapped epiglottis. She underwent throat surgery to correct the problem. On Wednesday, Vacare breezed four furlongs in 50.16 seconds over the Oklahoma turf course.

"She should be able to get back to race fitness very quickly,'' trainer Christophe Clement said.

Sir Greeley on comeback trail

Sir Greeley, who had a chip removed from a hind ankle during the winter, worked four furlongs in 50.88 seconds Wednesday morning over the Oklahoma training track. It was his second breeze since resuming training.

Sir Greeley won the Grade 3 Westchester in 2006, and after running sixth in the Metropolitan Handicap he has finished second in four consecutive stakes, including the Gradeo3 Deputy Minister at Gulfstream in February.

"He looks pretty heavy but he might run before the meet's over,'' trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "He's been doing so good.''

Rumspringa's owner contests claim

The connections of Rumspringa, who was declared a non-starter in the first race on Wednesday, are contesting the claim of that horse.

Rumspringa, owned by Winning Move Stable and trained by Gary Contessa, unseated his rider, Ramon Dominguez at the start of the first race. The stewards deemed that he was in the hands of the assistant starter when the gate doors opened, and thus declared Rumspringa, the even-money favorite, a non-starter for wagering purposes. However, the rules allow horses who are declared non-starters to be eligible to run for purse money and thus eligible to be claimed. The only reason Rumspringa was not eligible for purse money was because he lost his rider, the stewards said.

The horse was claimed for $25,000 by owner Michael Repole and trainer Bruce Levine.

Steve Sigler, the owner of Winning Move, is contesting the claim because he contends that the actions of a NYRA employee, the assistant starter, caused the horse to lose his rider and he "never had the opportunity to run for purse money only."

"We are requesting a hearing before the State Racing and Wagering Board as the stewards have already made their decision," Sigler wrote in a press release. "We have a voicemail from the NYRA starter Richie [Brosseau] saying "It was all my fault!"

Sigler is also requesting that the horse be sequestered and not be allowed to run in anyone else's colors until this matter is resolved.