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Purge returns to site of last victory
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Todd Pletcher hopes a freshening and a return to Saratoga will provide the proper tonic for Purge, who is entered in a very tough 6 1/2-furlong allowance race on the opening-day card Wednesday.
Purge scored his most prestigious victory here last summer in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy. Unfortunately, he hasn't won since. Purge finished fourth in the Travers and sixth in the Cigar Mile to end his 3-year-old season. In two starts this year, Purge was badly beaten in a pair of Grade 3 stakes.
Following a last-place finish as the even-money favorite in the Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park, Purge was turned out on a farm in Ocala, Fla. Purge underwent several tests to see if there was anything physically wrong with him, but nothing showed up. He has trained satisfactorily since returning to Pletcher's barn in May.
"He's trained fine, but he was training fine in Florida," Pletcher said, referring to the winter. "I don't know why he tailed off. I'm hoping the freshening has rejuvenated him."
Though his last nine starts have come at a mile or farther, Purge began his career with two wins going six furlongs. That included his debut win by four lengths here as a 2-year-old.
Purge wore blinkers in his first three starts before Pletcher took them off for the 2004 Arkansas Derby. Pletcher tried the blinkers on Purge for the Razorback but is taking them off Wednesday.
"I put them on last time to see if they would help," Pletcher said.
As one would expect at Saratoga, Wednesday's allowance race is no easy spot. Among Purge's competitors are Oaklawn Handicap winner Grand Reward, Fall Highweight winner Thunder Touch, and the very speedy duo of Jet Prospector and Spooky Mulder.
Grand Reward was eased during the running of the Pimlico Special. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Grand Reward displaced his palate in that race and underwent a minor throat operation known as a myectomy. Lukas said he wanted to look at the past performances of the horses running in the race before deciding whether to run.
"I don't know if I have him tight enough for that group," Lukas said. "I'm a little concerned he might be short."
Forest Danger, Limehouse gearing up
Pletcher was still at Belmont Park on Monday morning, when he had several horses work, including Grade 1 Carter winner Forest Danger, who went a slow half-mile in 52.81 seconds over the main track.
Forest Danger hasn't run since finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap. He is being pointed to the $200,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt here Aug. 13.
"We've been consciously trying to slow his works down, and he's relaxed nicely," Pletcher said.
On Sunday at Belmont, Pletcher watched Brooklyn Handicap winner Limehouse breeze 1:01.67 in preparation for the Whitney Handicap on Aug. 6. Limehouse is coming off a fifth-place finish as the favorite in the Hollywood Gold Cup.
Pletcher said Limehouse came out of the Hollywood Gold Cup in good shape and may have been compromised by bad behavior and a poor break.
"He didn't behave well in the paddock, he didn't behave well in the gate," said Pletcher. "He stumbled and was put in a compromising position right off the bat."
Pletcher said Pollard's Vision was also possible for the Whitney.
Campo excited about meet
After getting over the initial shock of the firing of his boss, new racing secretary P.J. Campo said he is "pretty excited" about the Saratoga meet that begins Wednesday.
Campo, 30, was thrust into the role of racing secretary on July 14 after Mike Lakow was abruptly fired. Campo has worked in the racing office for nine years.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity they've given me to take it and go with it," Campo said.
Since Lakow had to juggle several duties, Campo has been assisting in the writing of condition books since the inner-track meeting at Aqueduct last winter.
"Mike was doing the job of three or four people, and this was a way of helping out," Campo said. "Mike was very helpful."
Fans may see a few changes in the racing program, including turf sprints, which were rarely run in New York before. One was run at Belmont on closing day.
"I think it's a great idea," Campo said. "I spoke to a lot of the trainers, and they were receptive to it. I think it's a great betting race."
Campo is the son of Johnny Campo, who trained 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony.
Cedano hopes Belmont success carries over
Trainer Heriberto Cedano hopes to keep the hot streak he was on at Belmont Park going at Saratoga.
Cedano, whose runners finished in the money at a 50-percent clip, concluded the Belmont meet with 6 winners from 28 starters. His last four starters at the meet were all winners, including Doctorinthenews, who won Sunday's finale. Cedano also saddled five horses to second-place finishes and three to third-place finishes. Many of his winners returned double-digit payoffs.
While Cedano's name might be unfamiliar to handicappers at Saratoga, he is no stranger to the Spa. For 33 years, he worked as an assistant to the late Phil Johnson, who passed away last August.
Cedano, who is assisted by his wife, Debbie, who also worked for Johnson, began training his own string upon Johnson's death. Cedano's first winner was Fortunate Damsel in the Grade 3 Pebbles Stakes at Belmont last fall.
In Friday's Grade 3 Lake George, Cedano will send out two runners, If It's Meant to B and Wait It Out. If It's Meant to B won an off-the-turf overnight stakes July 9 at the Belmont meet, and Wait It Out, who was previously owned and trained by Johnson, is coming off a second-place finish in an allowance race June 29.
Cedano said he would love to keep alive Johnson's streak of winning at least one race at Saratoga for the 30-odd years Johnson sent horses to Saratoga.
"I've got to keep the streak going," Cedano said Monday at his barn on the Oklahoma track. "I miss Mr. Johnson, but I feel good to be back here."
Smuggler exits win in good shape
Trainer Shug McGaughey said Smuggler came out of her win in Saturday's Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks like a horse who hadn't run 1 1/4 miles.
"I don't think she knows that she ran in a race that was a mile and a quarter," McGaughey said. "The horses behind know more than she does."
In winning her second consecutive Grade 1, Smuggler defeated a group that included Summerly and Spun Sugar.
Next up for Smuggler is the Grade 1 Alabama here Aug. 20.
On Sunday, McGaughey is planning to run Daydreaming in the Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap. Daydreaming, who has two wins and a third from three starts at Saratoga, is coming off a fourth in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps. Before the Phipps, Daydreaming finished second as the favorite in the Shuvee. Both the Phipps and Shuvee are run around one turn at Belmont.
McGaughey said he is hoping a return to two turns will do the trick in the 1 1/8-mile Go for Wand.
"We'll give her another chance," McGaughey said. "She's run well here before."
The $250,000 Go for Wand is shaping up to be a terrific race. Among those expected to run are Grade 1 winners Ashado, Stellar Jayne, and Society Selection.
* Keep the Faith, making his first start in 15 months, set a North American record Sunday by running six furlongs in 1:06.82 on Belmont's Widener Turf Course. The previous record was 1:07, set by Answer Do at Hollywood Park in 1990.
- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson