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Updated on 09/03/2013 11:13AM
Saratoga: Dave Litfin's daily handicapping diary for 2013
Heavy downpours overnight washed all scheduled turf races to a sloppy main track for getaway day.
Strong Mandate (9th, $16.60), coming off a big second-out maiden win with blinkers on, relished the off-going and won the $300,000 Hopeful by nearly 10 lengths, giving D. Wayne Lukas his second Grade 1 of the meet and Jose Ortiz his first-ever Grade 1 victory.
“I like to give all my horses a race without blinkers and let them get dirt in their face and go through the whole drill,” Lukas said. “Second out, you’ll see all my horses come with blinkers and usually improve, if they’ve got some ability.”
The Calder shipper Casiguapo, the rank outsider at 30-1, swung widest into the stretch and was up for second.
Christophe Clement, who saddled six maiden winners on grass at the 40-day meet, picked up his first dirt win when Lady Cohiba (8th, $5) wired the off-the-turf $150,000 Glens Falls under Junior Alvarado.
“I told Junior to be on the pace or close to the pace,” Clement said. “He never rushed her; he let her run her own race. She was very comfortable in front.”
Second-out maiden winner Sound of Freedom (7th, $3.10) was the meet-leading 36th winner for Todd Pletcher, and his 16th 2-year-old winner. Pletcher won his 10th Saratoga title, breaking a tie with Bill Mott for the most ever.
After finishing second for three straight years, Javier Castellano put a bow on his first Spa riding crown with a five-win day, including a share of race 5 on Indian Splendor ($10.80), who dead-heated with Bobby Jo ($6.80). There also was a dead heat for third in the same race between Bird House and Original Kitten, making it the first double dead heat race since Laurel’s seventh race on Oct. 8, 2012.
Chad Brown and Javier Castellano teamed up for two more grass winners with Samitar (1st, $4.40) in the Speed Boat overnight stakes and Hamnet (3rd, $7.10) in a maiden special weight.
Samitar, who won last year’s Grade 1 Garden City Stakes, caught pacesetter Baffle Me in midstretch and prevailed after a long drive.
Hamnet, unraced since his debut on Woodbine’s synthetic track last Dec. 9, prevailed by a neck over Our Emerald Forest.
The double pushed Brown’s win total to 24, all but two of which have come on turf.
Castellano added a front-end score on D’princess (5th, $7.60) for a three-bagger and 61 wins overall.
Five Iron (9th, $12.80) had posted the top last-out Beyer Speed Figure (88) in the field, but the Woodbine shipper was dismissed as fifth choice in the $150,000 Saranac Stakes and led throughout beneath Luis Saez while drifting out steadily in the stretch.
“I knew if he could get the lead and get left alone, he’d be very dangerous,” trainer Brian Lynch said. “He’s a very determined horse.”
Sweet Reason (10th, $7), who sprouted water wings making up 18 lengths to win her Aug. 9 debut in the slop, caught another sloppy track and made the most of it to give Leah Gyarmati her first graded stakes win of any kind in the Grade 1, $300,000 Spinaway.
Sweet Reason was closer to the pace this time, caught the leaders with ease turning for home, and drew out to score by nearly six lengths under Alex Solis. She earned a preliminary Beyer of 98.
“She trains very well on a dry track,” Gyarmati noted. “I’m sort of anxious to see how that translates into what she does in the afternoon on a dry track.”
There may be no better example of the highs and lows of the game than what transpired in the span of 24 hours for Drawing Away Stable and David Jacobson, who watched in horror as Saginaw broke down Friday, then came back to win Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Forego with Strapping Groom (race 9, $32.40), a 6-year-old horse they claimed for $35,000 on May 24.
Strapping Groom put away Fast Bullet on the turn, opened a clear lead turning for home, and staved off 2011 Forego winner Jackson Bend while drifting out late over a track made sloppy by heavy overnight rain.
“When you claim a horse, you always have high expectations,” Jacobson said. “I always liked him, going back to when he was laid up. After he put away Fast Bullet, I was pretty confident he was going to win.”
It was the first Grade 1 win in a flat race for Jacobson, who won the 2011 edition of the Grade 1 Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase in his first race off a claim with Mabou.
The stars aligned for Alpha (race 10, $17.40), who wired a depleted edition of the $750,000 Woodward for red-hot trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and last-minute replacement rider John Velazquez.
Benefiting from a wet track similar to the one he caught in last year’s Jim Dandy Stakes, and the defections of Cross Traffic, Fort Larned, and Mucho Macho Man for various reasons, Alpha virtually beat the gate while 3-2 favorite Paynter broke flat-footed, cruised along through manageable fractions, and turned back a drifting Flat Out to score by a head.
“I talked to John and said, ‘If he breaks well, and you can clear Paynter, let’s go,’ ” McLaughlin said. “It worked in the Jim Dandy.”
All Saturday turf races were rained off, with the exception of the $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap, in which highweight Silver Max (race 8, $3.80) led throughout.
Shug McGaughey, not known for cracking hard with 2-year-olds in their first start, unveiled a potential star in Honor Code (race 3, $8.50), who trailed by better than 20 lengths after the opening half-mile and flew up the rail to win going away in 1:23.48 for seven furlongs. By way of comparison, two other juvenile maiden races at the same distance went in 1:24.20 and 1:24.48.
“He’s a big, nice horse,” McGaughey said. “He’s had a reputation for a while. I knew he wouldn’t be quick, but I knew he’d finish. The Champagne (Oct. 5) isn’t out of the question.”
The day was marred by the fatal breakdown of Saginaw, the popular 7-year-old gelding who won 21 races and nearly $1 million the hard way, including a 10-win season that tied for most victories in North America in 2012. He was in contention heading into the turn of a starter optional claimer when he took a bad step and suffered two broken bones in his left foreleg. He was taken back to David Jacobson’s barn, and later euthanized because of the extent of his injuries.
Gary Contessa had been winless with his last 66 first-time starters, but he won with two first-out juveniles on this card. Sidearm (second race, $13.20), a $95,000 purchase at the Ocala April sale, rallied from mid-pack to pull away in the stretch, giving Luis Saez a sweep of the early daily double.
Later on, Fancy Boss (seventh race, $25.80) drew in from the also-eligible list and bossed turf sprinters, as Abel Lezcano picked up his seventh win of the meet and upped his Saratoga return on investment to $3.55.
John Velazquez posted a natural double with Trusted Choice (fifth race, $21.40) and Maracuya (6th, $6.50), moving into second place ahead of the sidelined Joel Rosario. Maracuya added blinkers and shortened up to an allowance sprint first out since dueling for the lead in the Delaware Oaks; she won more comfortably than the three-quarter-length margin suggests.
Midnight Watch (eighth race, $6.20) became the latest beneficiary of a highly speed-favoring inner turf course, going wire to wire in the $100,000 Riskaverse. Teen Pauline chased throughout to complete a two-speed number.
“We’re just happy to get this stakes win behind her,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, who moved into sole possession of third place in the trainer standings with 15 wins. “Horses are running well. A lot of them were second early at the meet and came back to win.”
Thursday, Aug. 29
Here's the newest system for handicapping steeplechase races: Just bet the gray horses. That approach caught the $97.50 jump-up daily double after Bluegrass Summer (first race, $11) and The Grey Express ($13), the only gray 'chasers in their respective races, captured the last two jump races at the meet.
The Grey Express, a European import making her fourth start in the United States for Janet Elliot, prevailed in the $75,000 Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords Stakes over Cat Feathers, who also ran second in last year's edition.
Bashart (10th race, $7.70), back in just 11 days following a maiden victory Aug. 18, posted a wire-to-wire victory in the Grade 2, $200,000 With Anticipation for 2-year-olds, with River Dancer rallying from last to get the runner-up spot.
Bashart was the 34th meet winner (14th stakes winner) for Todd Pletcher, and the 56th winner for Javier Castellano.
"Javier kind of let him run away from there, and he made the lead and relaxed," said Pletcher. "The turf course has been playing that way like the past seven to 10 days, so it was a good spot to be. One of the reasons we decided to run back on short rest was it put us on a better schedule. It gave us an opportunity with a horse that's still learning to run twice . . . before a possible Breeders' Cup."
Bettors chasing a two-day $273,760 carryover in the pick six poured another $1,010,762 into the pool. Two tickets successfully navigated through a sequence capped by Hunter Forward (11th, $71), the longest shot on the board in the nightcap. They each received $424,936.
In the first 2-year-old dirt route of the season, the A.P. Indy colt Commissioner (race 1, $3.80) was along in deep stretch with John Velazquez aboard to nip second choice Souper Lucky; it was better than 22 lengths back to the third finisher.
Commissioner was the 14th juvenile winner of the meet, and the 33rd winner overall, for Todd Pletcher, who is on his way to his 10th Saratoga training title.
With 40 wins and five days remaining, Velazquez almost certainly will overtake the sidelined Joel Rosario (41) for second place in the jockeys’ standings behind Javier Castellano, who has 55 wins and is a shoo-in to capture his first Saratoga title.
Flash Forward (race 4, $6.30) romped by better than eight lengths in the $100,000 My Flag overnight stakes for 3-year-old fillies. She was the first of two straight victories for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who also brought in Blue Pigeon (race 5, $44.80). The latter was the fifth debut winner on turf at the meet for Christophe Clement, all of which have been at least 4-1.
The second-time starter Granny Mc’s Kitten (race 8, $5.70), who missed in a photo in her debut for trainer Chad Brown, received a perfect inside stalking trip beneath Castellano and drew off late to win the $100,000 P.G. Johnson Stakes for owners and breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who garnered their record-breaking 19th winner of the meet.
“I found out the record was 18, so I geared up and brought enough horses and claimed enough horses that I thought I could make it to 20,” Ken Ramsey said. “So, it’s 19 down and one to go.”
The Ramsey-owned runners Sneaky Kitten (race 9) and Present Course (race 10) ran second in the last two races.
Some horses just fit certain races, and that’s the case with Go Unbridled (race 9, $8.60), who won the $100,000 Saratoga Dew Stakes for the second straight year.
Go Unbridled, unraced since bolting into Belmont’s one-mile gap June 23, settled nicely in midpack with Junior Alvarado aboard, surged to the lead with a furlong remaining, and pulled away to win the 1 1/8-mile race decisively. It was her first win since taking the same event last year and the first winner at the meet for trainer Allen Jerkens, who, as track announcer Tom Durkin noted, has been saddling winners at Saratoga since the Truman administration.
“It means a lot more [to win] at Saratoga,” said the 84-year-old Jerkens, who sent out his first winner in 1950. “Every place you win, and any time you win a stake, it’s just great. You think of all the times when you didn’t do nothing, you know? We’ve had our bad days, [but] we’ve come around, and we’re still here, and that’s what counts.”
Earlier on the card, Madame Giry (race 4, $4.30) became the day’s only turf winner to rally from off the pace when she came through inside a drifting-out Jan’s Perfect Star to win the Smart and Fancy overnight stakes on the Mellon course. The Cam Gambolati-trained filly also won an edition of the Smart and Fancy last fall, when it was run at Belmont Park.
All three one-mile races on the inner turf were won in front-running fashion by Amber Coast (race 5, $8), Plainview (race 7, $4), and Spunky Princess (race 10, $9.10).
Deadicated Deal (race 6, $35) and Bemata (race 8, $19.60), a pair of seven-furlong winners from well off the early pace, helped produce a pick-six carryover of $65,602.
The main track carried early speed well. Four of the day’s five dirt races were won by horses who set or pressed the pace. The lone exception was Kaitlyns Cat (race 5, $7.50), who rallied from midpack.
Royal Delta (race 10, $3.10) dueled On Fire Baby into the ground and drew away to win the Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign by better than four lengths under Mike Smith while spotting six pounds to runner-up Authenticity and 10 pounds to third-place finisher Centring.
It was the 12th win from 20 starts for Royal Delta, and the $360,000 winner’s share boosted her career earnings past $4.6 million.
“When she comes with her ‘A’ game, that’s what you expect,” said trainer Bill Mott, who picked up his 11th win of the meet. “She’s got a big, beautiful stride, and it’s hard for some of them to keep up.”
Royal Delta likely will make her next start at Belmont Park in the Beldame, a race she won impressively last fall.
Speed held well on the turf courses through the weekend. Imagining (race 6, $4.70) took advantage of a very firm Mellon course for a wire-to-wire victory in the $100,000 Idle Rich overnight stakes. Freshened at Fair Hill following a troubled trip in the Dixie as the favorite, the Shug McGaughey-trained Imagining returned with blinkers on and was not fully extended beneath Javier Castellano, who capped off a natural hat trick and now has 52 wins with seven racing days remaining.
The picture in the 3-year-old division didn’t get much clearer after Will Take Charge (race 12, $21.20) surged in the final strides beneath Luis Saez to nose out 31-1 pacesetter Moreno in the Grade 1, $1 million Travers.
Will Take Charge, the runner-up in the Jim Dandy Stakes, notched his first win since the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park on March 16 and took home $600,000 to almost double his career bankroll for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
“He’s a little over 17 hands and just starting to find himself,” said Lukas, who had only one previous winner at the meet. “This is a horse who’s getting better. He’s getting his act together.”
Orb saved ground throughout, gained a short lead in midstretch, and held well to finish third, beaten less than a length.
Fourth-place finisher Palace Malice stumbled at the start and raced wide throughout in a tough trip.
Verrazano, the 8-5 favorite off a smashing Haskell score, was a no-show and checked in seventh.
Will Take Charge anchored an all-stakes pick four with a pool of $2,016,699. Those who also navigated through Sweet Lulu (Test, $5.60), Laughing (Ballston Spa, $7.30), and Capo Bastone (King’s Bishop, $58.50) received a payoff of $12,036 for $2.
Capo Bastone, far back early in a field of 14, emerged from the pack in deep stretch under Irad Ortiz Jr. to overtake the front-running Mentor Cane. Capo Bastone was the 13th stakes winner of the meet for trainer Todd Pletcher and his fourth in a Grade 1.
“Based on his breeze with Verrazano, we felt like it was time to take a shot,” said Pletcher, who also ran fourth with 5-2 favorite Forty Tales and fifth with Overanalyze.
You can add Havana (1st, $2.80) to the list of Todd Pletcher’s “fastest 2-year-olds in the world,” after the meet-leading trainer sent out this $575,000 colt by freshman sire Dunkirk for a front-end score over a game but outgunned Kendall’s Boy.
Havana, Pletcher’s 31st winner of the meet and 13th juvenile winner, ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.64, just .13 of a second off the 2010 track record set by Fastus Cactus, who was a 4-year-old at the time.
“Looking at the work tab of the horse who was second, he looked like he had been training very well,” Pletcher said. “It didn’t surprise us [Havana] broke alertly and showed speed, and I was happy to see him put in the performance he did. He’s trained well enough and he ran well enough today that something like the Champagne [Oct. 5] might make sense.”
Javier Castellano booted home four winners to take a 49-41 lead over Joel Rosario, but the latter will be sidelined for approximately six weeks after being unseated from Casual Elegance after the finish of race 7 and suffering a broken bone in his left foot.
Dance to Bristol (9th, $5.50) made it seven straight wins and punched her ticket to the Breeders’ Cup after repelling favored Book Review in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina Stakes, a Win and You’re In race for the Filly and Mare Sprint.
“Her will to win is what makes her special,” trainer Ollie Figgins III said. “Book Review had dead aim on her inside the eighth pole. Once she saw her coming, she just wouldn’t let her by.”
Judy the Beauty was a late scratch from the Ballerina after flipping in the gate. She emerged unscathed, except for a broken tooth, and will be re-routed to the Presque Isle Masters.
Heading up a three-ply entry, Italian Wedding (1st race, $3.90) rallied from the middle of the pack to give Jonathan Sheppard his 14th win in the 72nd running of the Grade 1, $150,000 Turf Writers Cup.
“He’s a tough, honest little horse and he seems to like Saratoga,” said Sheppard, who has saddled at least one winner at Saratoga every year since 1969. “It’s a handicap, so he was getting a little bit of weight from some of the top horses. He is a horse that I bred myself. I own his dam and his grandmother, and it means a lot.”
Italian Wedding was the day’s only winning favorite, as six of the eight flat-race winners paid double-digit mutuels, including Vitoria Olimpica (3rd, $11.40), who edged odds-on favorite Easter Gift in the $100,000 Alydar overnight stakes for Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez. Pletcher is batting .500 (12 for 24) with his stakes runners at the meet.
Kiaran McLaughlin sent out Sayeed ($6.80) and Almurra ($47.80) on Wednesday, and he struck again 24 hours later with two more grass winners, Sky Painter (7th, $18) and With Sugar On Top (8th, $24.20).
Like Almurra, Sky Painter is 2-year-old by Street Cry who won her debut in a turf sprint.
All but two horses in the nightcap were uncovered in the pick six, and Dreamsgonewild (9th, $24.80) put the finishing touches on a carryover of $43,668.
George Weaver’s summer of fun continued when Court Dancer (1st, $8.30) kicked off Travers week winning her debut by nearly eight lengths. The War Chant filly was Weaver’s ninth winner at the meet, and his second juvenile debut winner, along with Hot Squeeze ($14.40) on Aug. 15.
Sayaad (4th, $6.80) made his third start back from a short layoff for Kiaran McLaughlin, and posted a front-running triumph in the $100,000 Dance of Life overnight stakes on the inner turf. The 3-year-old colt by Street Sense ran one mile in 1:33.77, just .35 of a second off the course record set by L’Oiseau d’Argent (another McLaughlin trainee) in 2004.
McLaughlin struck again with Almurra (8th, $47.80), like Sayaad a Shadwell Stable-owned runner, who was up in a blanket finish to win her career debut over Zindaya and Stay in Front.
Escapefromreality (9th, $8.50) made every pole a winning one in the $150,000 Albany Stakes for 3-year-old New York-breds, denying Amberjack’s bid for a sweep of the Big Apple Triple and a $250,000 bonus.
“Our plan from July 4 was to run him in this race,” said Escapefromreality's trainer, Dominick Schettino. “This horse, when he’s in front, he tries to stay in front.”
Amberjack, the 3-5 favorite after taking the Mike Lee at Belmont and the New York Derby at Finger Lakes, pressed the winner throughout but couldn’t get by while toting 124 pounds.
“It was his race to take at the top of the stretch if he was good enough today,” said trainer Mike Hushion.
Javier Castellano took the opener with first-time starter So Lonesome ($6.50), a Maryland shipper trained by Dale Capuano. However, Joel Rosario countered with three straight winners, Hot Tempo (race 4, $6), Willet (race 5, $4.80), and Eriugena (race 6, $7.40), and closed to within 43-38 of Castellano in the jockeys’ standings with two weeks remaining at the meet.
Willet, beaten a nose by Clear Pasaj in the Lottsa Talc on July 25, turned the tables in the Union Avenue, benefiting from a track that played well to closers.
The 5-year-old Willet, who won last year’s Iroquois Stakes before closing out 2012 with a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Go For Wand, was making her 11th career start and her third this year.
“She was off by design,” said trainer Jimmy Iselin. “If you race hard in the wintertime in New York, the money is there, but we want to run her in big races. Hopefully, she’ll run even longer, and the Gallant Bloom [Sept. 21] is a good possibility. But you can’t run all winter long and expect to do well at Saratoga. It’s too tough.”
Chad Brown saddled his 20th winner of the meet when Industrial Policy (race 8, $9.60) finished strongly in a 1 3/16-mile maiden special weight race under Jose Ortiz. Like last year, Brown is a clear second in the trainers’ standings behind Todd Pletcher, who has 29 victories.
Upsets by Invading Humor (race 7, $15.40), She’s Not Lazy (race 9, $39.20), and Lumineuse (race 10, $46) produced a pick-six carryover of $60,743.
Through 28 racing days, post-time favorites were 93 for 292 (31.8 percent). On dirt, they were 48 for 141 (34 percent). On turf, they were 45 for 151 (29.8 percent).
Sunday, Aug. 18
Tapicat (race 8) was favored at just under 6-5 in the Grade 2, $200,000 Lake Placid for 3-year-old turf fillies and looked home free coming to midstretch after setting a comfortable pace, but she was overtaken by a cavalry charge among Nellie Cashman, Caroline Thomas, Watsdachances, and Concise and wound up a tired fifth.
“She had a great trip,” said Tapicat’s trainer, Bill Mott. “Our test was to see if she’d get nine furlongs, and it looks like we’d better stick with races around a mile.”
Nellie Cashman was up by a nose at 20-1 but was disqualified and placed third for drifting out late into the path of Watsdachances. That elevated Caroline Thomas ($25.20) to first for trainer Barclay Tagg and jockey Rosie Napravnik.
“I thought it looked like you could take [Nellie Cashman] down and not be criticized for it,” Tagg said. “Everybody had to move out of their lane.”
Chad Brown teamed up with Javier Castellano for turf wins with Neck of the Moon (race 7, $4.80) and Runs Like a Kitten (race 10, $8.10). The latter was the meet-leading 13th win for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey.
Castellano widened his lead in the jockeys’ standings to 42-35 over Joel Rosario, who was blanked with nine mounts.
Brown got his 18th and 19th winners of the meet but failed to make up ground on Todd Pletcher, who gave John Velazquez the leg up on two grass winners of his own, Bashart (race 5, $4.50) and Candy Kitty (race 11, $7.90).
Stalking three duelers from perfect position, Princess of Sylmar (race 10, $3) swept past in a flash from the outside approaching the quarter pole and drew away to win the 133rd running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama, virtually cementing the 3-year-old filly championship.
Princess of Sylmar, 7 for 8 in route races, including wins in the Kentucky Oaks and the Coaching Club American Oaks, reported home first by 2 1/2 lengths over second choice Fiftyshadesofhay, stopping the timer in 2:03.21 under Javier Castellano.
“Any time you run a mile and a quarter, it can be a taxing race, but I thought she did it well within herself,” said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. “She has definitely established herself as champion 3-year-old filly unless somebody does something [big].”
No one had a better day than Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who won three Grade 1 races in the span of an hour or so, beginning with Big Blue Kitten (race 9, $7.90), who got a nifty ride from Joe Bravo to take the $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational over Twilight Eclipse.
“I left it up to Joe,” said Chad Brown, who also trains Arlington Million winner (via disqualification) Real Solution. “He has so much confidence in this horse since the first time he rode him. He really talked me into running in the United Nations, and I was super confident bringing him up here and keeping him on this horse.”
Admiral Kitten completed the Ramseys’ Grade 1 trifecta by winning the Secretariat at Arlington Park.
Artemis Agrotera (1st, $2.90), a Mike Hushion-trained first-time starter, went to the front at the start, and widened steadily to score by nearly a dozen lengths, with entrymate Star Grazing along late from last to get second.
The Grade 1 winner Dayatthespa (3rd, $2.50), coming off a runner-up finish in the Eatontown Handicap to subsequent Diana winner Laughing, was a layover in the $150,000 Yaddo Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares. Bridge-jumpers who bet $219,664 of the $259,311 to show on her never had an anxious moment, as she tracked Sally’s Dream for six furlongs and pulled away in the stretch to easily keep Wholelottashakin at bay.
“She got beat down at Monmouth, and I just felt like I needed to get her back on track and run her in an easier race she could handle,” said Chad Brown, who solidified his hold on second in the standings with 16 winners. “This served a purpose, so you’re going to see her in graded stakes the rest of the year.”
Dayatthespa was the first of three winners on the card for Javier Castellano, who opened a 38-35 lead on Joel Rosario after also bringing in Allie Sweet (7th, $10.20) and Awakino Cat (10th, $3.20).
Irad Ortiz Jr. won three races as well, capped by Awesome Vision (9th, $5.30) in the $100,000 Saratoga Sunrise overnight stakes.
Tough day for steeplechase jockey Darren Nagle, who was unseated in both jump-ups on 5-2 favorite Total Command (first race) and 5-1 second choice Powerofone (second), both trained by Jonathan Sheppard.
Sheppard still won the Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes with Barnstorming, (second race, $13.80), who rallied from next to last under Sean McDermott to win by better than six lengths.
Jack Fisher didn’t win either jump race, but notched his fifth meet win when Mr. Starr’s Report (fifth race, $20.80) set up shop on an easy lead and had enough left to hold off late runs from Mr Algebra and 13-10 favorite Flowing Mane.
Hangover Kid (eighth race, $13.80), coming out of a decent third-place finish in the Grade 1 United Nations, turned back in distance with a last-to-first run on the outside with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the $150,000 West Point.
“He was a little wide on the first turn, but Irad said, ‘Jay, I didn’t want to strangle him back,’ ” said winning trainer Jason Servis. “Once he got over on the backside, he was fine. He’s Grade 1-placed and he’s won a stake – we might look at some big stuff.”
Defending titlist and 2-1 favorite Lubash was in tight along the inside in the stretch. The 5-2 second choice, Kharafa, who likes to stalk and pounce, was sent to the lead soon after the opening quarter-mile and faded late beneath Rajiv Maragh, who is 0 for 50 on grass here.
Slumber (ninth race, $6), an easy winner off an eight-month layoff here last year, returned 378 days later to beat third-level allowance foes with something left. If Bill Mott can hold this lightly raced 5-year-old together, he’s got a stakes race with his name on it this fall.
A rainy dark Tuesday, with three of five scheduled turf races washed to the main track, which dried out steadily from muddy, to good, and finally to fast by late afternoon.
The two $100,000 turf stakes remained on, but the Stroll for 3-year-olds was switched from the Mellon to the inner and shortened from 1 3/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles because of the different course configuration.
As it turned out, 1 1/8 miles was just enough time for Balance the Books (6th, $6.20) to weave through traffic with Javier Castellano and beat Hardest Core to the wire by a neck.
“He rode a great race,” said winning trainer Chad Brown. “The horse was ready today. He adapted to the slow pace, and in the stretch he made the right move. For (Balance the Books) to handle the yielding turf and the slow pace today shows he has matured. This horse has a bright future ahead of him.”
In the Troy for older sprinters, the Wayne Catalano-trained shipper Hogy (8th, $6.40) won for the 10th time in 18 starts after pressing 5-4 favorite Great Mills from the get-go and wearing him down in the final furlong under Joe Rocco Jr., whose 12 meet wins include six stakes.
“Around the turn I saw the favorite was going kind of easy, so I figured I could squeeze on my horse and press him a little bit." Rocco said. "He shot a head in front real fast. And then I just hoped I hadn’t moved too soon.”
The week concluded with a fast main track that carried speed well. All five dirt races were won by horses either leading or second early, capped by Strapping Groom (8th, $9.20), who stalked Right to Vote’s quick pace of 21.58 and 44.71 seconds and edged clear to win the $100,000 Kid Russell overnight stakes under John Velazquez.
It was the second stakes win in three starts for Strapping Groom since he was claimed from his 6-year-old debut by David Jacobson, and the 10th stakes win at the meet for Velazquez.
Velazquez came right back to win the next race on Beer Is Good (9th, $9) for Richard Schosberg, picking up his 28th win of the meet and closing the gap on leaders Joel Rosario (32 wins) and Javier Castellano (31).
Jewel of a Cat (3rd, $27.20), the longest price of five 3-year-old fillies in the $100,000 Coronation Cup, benefited when 3-10 choice Magical Moon became embroiled in a hot pace duel with Lignite, and she was along late from the outside with Chris DeCarlo to overhaul the favorite for Ben Perkins Jr.
“She broke really sharp and the two speed horses really ran away from me, so I knew we must’ve been flying,” said DeCarlo.
Due Diligence (5th, $3.20) was a poorly kept secret for his debut, and romped by better than seven lengths in a maiden turf sprint for Chad Brown.
“We expected him to run well,” said Brown, who is second in the standings with 13 wins. “We were thinking that if he ran well today I would think about running him in the Summer Stakes up in Canada (Sept. 14), a one-turn mile on the grass.”
Due Diligence is a full brother to Console, who won a second-level allowance impressively on the same course Aug. 7 for Bill Mott.
It was the Todd Pletcher and Johnny Velazquez show, as they clicked for four winners together, while Johnny V, added a fifth, She’s Stones Sis (fifth race, $3.50), for Bruce Levine.
Pletcher upped his win meet total to 23 in 21 days, which puts him on pace to break his own Saratoga record, after saddling Sweet Whiskey (second race, $2.90), We Miss Artie (sixth, $4.50), Teen Pauline (seventh, $8.90) and Corfu (10th, $15).
Sweet Whiskey, a $300,000 purchase at the OBS March sale, was never headed in taking her career debut by better than five lengths; she ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.81, just .30 of a second off the track record.
“We had a good line on her, and she lived up to our expectations,” said Pletcher, who now has eight 2-year-old winners at the meet. “She seemed like every time they got to her a little bit she had a little response, and I was particularly pleased with the way she galloped out.
“Obviously,” said Pletcher, the filly will point for a stakes, “just depends on which one.”
Corfu was coming off a fast-paced debut win July 25, and withstood a stretch-long drive to nose out Sanford winner Wired Bryan - trained by former Pletcher deputy Michael Dilger -- in the Saratoga Special. “We were monitoring pretty closely how he bounced out of his maiden race and just wanted to decide whether we could turn him back on fairly short rest,” said Pletcher. “He came back with a good breeze, and I felt like that was the answer we were looking for.”
Second-place finisher Designer Legs (ninth race, $35) was awarded the win in a roughly run Adirondack after Who’s in Town was disqualified for coming in and forcing odds-on Fiftyshadesofgold into the rail. Who’s in Town was placed fourth.
Despite shouldering 129 pounds, Wise Dan, the reigning Horse of the Year, stretched his winning streak to eight races by running down the New York-bred King Kreesa in the Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap – a streak that began with a victory in the same race last year.
Running over an inner turf course softened by rain Friday and officially labeled “good,” Wise Dan tracked from close range along the inside as King Kreesa, coming off wins in the Kingston and the Poker at Belmont, got clear through moderate early fractions of 24.24 and 47.48 seconds.
Wise Dan tipped to the two path turning for home beneath John Velazquez and wore down the leader by just over a length. His time for the mile was 1:34 flat, just 0.58 seconds off the course record.
“The 24 and change worried me,” said winning trainer Charlie LoPresti. “You don’t let a speed horse get out there like that. They started to pick it up and ran fast the last part of it. I know that horse of ours has a great kick.”
One race earlier, Summer of Fun ($5.50) rallied wide into the lane and drew clear late in the $100,000 Auntie Mame for 3-year-old fillies on the Mellon course. It was the sixth win of the meet for trainer George Weaver and the 11th for jockey Joe Rocco Jr., who earlier on the card brought in Jan’s Perfect Star ($14.60) for Randy Morse and first-time starter In Trouble ($17.20) for Tony Dutrow.
Rain overnight and through the morning rendered the main track sloppy, and forced all scheduled grass races off the turf.
Talent N Passion (1st, $3.90) and Forbidden Talent (4th, $5.80) wired claiming sprints at 5 1/2 furlongs, but otherwise closers fared quite well through the muck and mire.
Sweet Reason (5th, $21.60), a juvenile first-time starter from Leah Gyarmati, trailed her field by 18 lengths down the backstretch, remained last and 14 lengths behind after three-eighths of a mile, but settled suddenly entering the stretch and finished like a house afire to blow by Sky Crew and win going away.
A race later, the New York-bred first-time starter Free Mugatu (6th, $12.40) overcame a 15-length deficit to overhaul pacesetter Empire Dreams for John Terranova.
In addition to Forbidden Talent, who was one of three winning newcomers on the program, Todd Pletcher also sent out Notacatbutallama (8th, $7.70) to victory in the Hall of Fame Stakes, which was rained off the turf for the second straight year. It was the third straight stakes win for the 3-year-old New York-bred, and the 19th winner for Pletcher through the first 19 days at the meet.
“He’s not real big, but he thinks he’s big,” said Pletcher. “He’ll be bouncing in two days, ready to go again.”
The developing see-saw battle between Joel Rosario and Javier Castellano continued. Rosario notched his 28th Saratoga win aboard Flashy American (9th, $4.80) in the $100,000 Alada overnight stakes, while Castellano picked up his 27th win on So Scott (3rd, $3.20) in a two-mile marathon.
Chalkplayers who passed the jump-up opener missed the only winning favorite of the afternoon, as Take Her Tothe Top ($7.90) rallied from 23 lengths behind under Xavier Aizpuru to win the $75,000 Mrs. Ogden Phipps. It was the fourth meet winner for trainer Jack Fisher, who has taken three of the four steeplechase races in addition to a win by Short Shrift ($30.40) in a flat race opening day.
With the exception of second choices Windswept (3rd, $6.30) and Marvin’s Miracle (5th, $6.70), a series of midpriced winners dominated the proceedings and produced a pick-six carryover of $43,303.
Seven winners went off at anywhere from 4-1 to 7-1, capped by Frosty Bay (9th, $16.20) and Melody Lin (10th, $13.20), a pair of deep closers who won turf routes over freshly rain-soaked turf courses, courtesy of a brief but significant late-day rainstorm shortly before the eighth race.
Frosty Bay came from eighth of 10 to overhaul Image of Noon and even-money choice Palace of Dreams in the Statue of Liberty division of the New York Stallion Series for 3-year-old fillies. Like West Hills Giant, who was placed first in Wednesday’s Cab Calloway division of the NYSS, Frosty Bay was sired by Frost Giant.
“I saw a couple horses near the lead struggling,” said Javier Castellano, who capped off a three-bagger with Frosty Bay that vaulted him into a tie for the meet lead. “Sooner or later, I knew it would back up really quick. I just wanted to avoid any traffic, and that’s the reason I kept her outside horses and let her finish quick.”
No one’s better at readying first-time starters on the grass than Christophe Clement, who saddled his third such winner at the meet when Belly of the Whale ($11.20) rallied from mid-pack to win the opener.
Coming off maiden and first-level allowance wins at a mile, Bond Vigilante (2nd, $7.60) chased 7-10 favorite Marriedtothemusic to the stretch and wore him down to take the $100,000 Claramount overnight stakes at six and one-half furlongs. The 3-year-old New York-bred was the 12th Spa winner for Chad Brown, who trailed Todd Pletcher 17-12 after the latter sent out newly blinkered Drum Roll (4th, $15.20) to win a restricted $25,000 claiming sprint.
Orino (5th) led throughout the Cab Calloway division of the New York Stallion Stakes, but was disqualified and placed second behind West Hills Giant ($3.20) after coming in slightly in midstretch and tightening things up on the heavy favorite. It was a marginal call.
Console (9th, $5.50), running in a turf sprint for the first time since a debut win at Kentucky Downs last September, posted a dazzling wire-to-wire win over second-level optional-claiming foes for Bill Mott and Joel Rosario, who ended the day with a 26-23 lead in the jockey standings over Javier Castellano. David Jacobson claimed the third-place finisher, 9-year-old Ravalo, for $62,500.
A $100,000 stakes twin-bill for fillies and mares concluded the week, with Holiday Soiree (8th race, $6.30) coming from next to last to win the six-furlong Shine Again on the main track, and Qushchi (9th, $10.40) rallying from the same position to take the 12-furlong Waya on the inner turf.
Holiday Soiree was making her first start since a fourth-place finish in last month’s Grade 1 Princess Rooney, after which she was purchased and turned over to Todd Pletcher.
“We got the pace setup that we figured,” said Pletcher. “We sat a good trip and she really ran super. She’s trained really well since we had her. We worked her one time and she worked lights out, so we were just happy to find a nice spot for her.
John Velazquez, who has won the Haskell, Whitney, and A.G. Vanderbilt since July 28, was aboard Holiday Soiree, who sped the distance in a rapid 1:08.80 and earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 96.
The English-bred Qushchi, who won three of 21 starts overseas, notched her first U.S. victory, after four in-the-money finishes that included a third in the Bewitch and a runner-up finish in the Keertana, in which she was beaten a head by Treasured Up, who returned to win the Robert G. Dick Memorial.
“I think she had been a little unlucky,” said trainer Graham Motion. “She was just nailed right on the wire at Churchill last time. She actually was interfered with by my other filly, Strathnaver, at Keeneland. That was vintage Edgar [Prado] today. He waited as long as he could.”
What can Brown do for you? Plenty, if you loaded up on a $772 Chad Brown-Bruce Brown exacta in the opener, Calm Pacific ($25) over 36-1 newcomer Brilliant Command, and a $154.50 early daily double completed by the Chad Brown-trained first-time starter La Reine Bourbon ($14.40), who slipped through inside turning for home and drew clear late while geared down.
Chad Brown completed a hat trick of grass winners at double-digit payoffs when Funny Money (race 7, $10) held off a late run from Satin Sheeks.
Justin Phillip (race 9, $8.30) was a legitimate low-priced overlay in the $400,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap. Coming off a runner-up finish to Bahamian Squall in the Smile Sprint Handicap on the latter’s home grounds at Calder, Justin Phillip turned the tables with a solid, wide rally through the stretch to pull clear by two lengths.
Making his 29th career start, Justin Phillip, beaten a neck in last year’s Vanderbilt, garnered his first Grade 1 title for trainer Steve Asmussen.
“Last year’s Vanderbilt was a good opportunity for him, and I thought he was unfortunate not to win that day,” Asmussen said. “For everything to work out, to have him in this position today – a good draw, a good set-up – was very rewarding. For him to travel as much as he has, run as fast as he has, and probably put up his best race today – 1:08 2/5 in a Grade 1 to put him over a million dollars – it’s very rewarding.”
Justin Phillip’s time, 1:08.59 seconds, earned him a career-best preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 109.
There was a festive atmosphere for the official 150th birthday of Saratoga Race Course, and Mother Nature cooperated with perfect weather for a 12-race program highlighted by the 86th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap.
Looking to become the first horse since Discovery (1934-36) to win consecutive editions of the Whitney, Fort Larned was installed as the 6-5 favorite, but he fizzled to fifth, and it was second choice Cross Traffic (race 10, $9.10) who prevailed for trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez.
Cross Traffic, stretching out to 1 1/8 miles after being run down late in both the Westchester and the Met Mile, was able to get clear through a moderate first quarter-mile in 24.17 seconds, picked up the tempo by running successive quarters in 23.11 and 22.96 seconds, and had enough left to repel Successful Dan and Mucho Macho Man.
“The first quarter was key,” said Pletcher, who won previous renewals of the Whitney with Lawyer Ron (2007) and Left Bank (2002). “Johnny was able to get to the position he wanted without overdoing it and kind of picked it up from there. It was a strongly run race throughout, and we were just hoping he could hold on the last part after the two losses we had at Belmont. Those were heart-breaking losses, to run as well as he did in those two races and miss by a whisker.”
Four races on the inner turf course were won by off-the-pace types. Three winners were anywhere from six to 14 lengths behind early, while Assateague (race 9, $48.60) stalked from third position – three lengths from a duel between Baffle Me and Open Water – before edging a fast-closing Ruthenia in the $100,000 De La Rose Stakes.
Ken Ramsey had a record-breaking Keeneland spring meet. He has set his sights on being leading owner at Saratoga as well, and took three steps toward that goal Friday when Kiss of Thunder (1st, $5.60), Saturday Nthe Park (5th, $13.80) and Major Marvel (8th, $4.10) won their respective races on the inner turf course. Mike Maker saddled all three, and took over second place in the standings with seven victories.
Groupthink was pounded to odds-on for his career debut, but the Chad Brown-trained 2-year-old had to settle for the runner-up spot behind Sol the Freud (2nd, $12.60), who sped to the front soon after the start and drew off in the final furlong. David Cannizzo, who trains the full brother to Grade 1 winner Franny Freud, also sent out juvenile debut winner River Dancer ($63.00) at Belmont on July 5. Both were purchased at the OBS March sale for ZRG Stables.
Silverette (6th, 9.40), who had won or placed in eight of nine starts on dirt, made an auspicious turf debut winning the $100,000 Caress Stakes by a neck over Spun Cap.
Silverette put away last year’s Caress winner, Rosa Salvaje, through quick fractions of 21.39 and 43.70 seconds, opened a clear lead in the stretch, and held on.
“Her two breezes on the turf were phenomenal,” said trainer Dale Romans. “The early fractions were fast, but she was doing it really relaxed. We have three horses for [owner] Paul Pompa, but this is the star of the barn.”
ntermittent rain throughout the afternoon rendered the main track muddy (sealed), while the turf was (wet) firm for two steeplechase races that kicked off the card, and downgraded to good thereafter.
For whatever reason, five of the six grass races were run on the inner course, which took a beating.
Mr. Hot Stuff (2nd, $12), a full brother to 2008 Travers winner Colonel John, tracked the early pace and drew away in the stretch to win the Grade 1, $100,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial for Jack Fisher and Paddy Young. He has won four of eight starts since being transformed into a jumper in 2011.
“He’s taken to the jumps because he doesn’t have to work that hard,” said Fisher. “It’s just a nice, easy gallop for him.”
The main track carried speed quite well, as four of the five winners set the pace or dueled for the early lead. The lone exception was Saginaw (6th, $7.40), who stalked from close range, two lengths off the lead, before pulling away to win the John Morrissey Stakes for the second straight year. It was the 21st victory in 40 starts for the 7-year-old gelding, who has now earned $974,690, most of it since being claimed two winters ago by David Jacobson.
“He’s an incredible horse,” said Jacobson, who took over sole possession of second place in the trainer standings with six wins. “He just has the biggest heart. He’s out there to compete, to win, and he just loves to run.”
Joel Rosario came out firing with wins aboard Hot Stones (race 2, $3.60) and Caxambas Pass (race 3, $11.40) to start the early pick four but settled for runner-up finishes in the last two legs on longshots Barrel of Joy (race 4, 6-1) and Canal Six (race 5, 12-1).
Suddenly down by a count of 18-13 in early afternoon, Javier Castellano countered by winning with three of his last four mounts on the program – Hyper (race 6, $5.40), Sister State (race 9, $11.20), and Chelsea Road (race 10, $6.30) – to narrow the deficit back to two.
The Chad Brown-trained Hyper posted his ninth victory from 20 career starts, stalking the early leaders and pulling away late in the 1 5/8-mile John’s Call Stakes.
“We took a shot,” Brown said, who moved into a three-way tie for second in the trainers’ standings with five winners. “It’s a very odd race, a mile and five-eighths. He trains like a horse who has some stamina. More importantly, he likes firm ground. I’m sure there is a graded stakes with his name on it. It seems he’s gotten better as he’s gotten older.”
Darley Stable and Kiaran McLaughlin picked up two wins. Dancing House (race 7, $10.20) edged fellow newcomer Quilt in a well-run maiden sprint for 2-year-old fillies, and Sister State dropped from a pace-pressing try in the Mother Goose to garner a first-level allowance route over a fast-closing Galloping Giraffe.
Nobody hit the pick six over the weekend, resulting in a two-day carryover of $330,087 to finish up the week. A fresh $1,194,320 was bet into the pool today, and the winning payoff was $53,212 for the sequence of Hyman Roth (5th, $9.60), Bizarroworld (6th, $16.40), Jade Run (7th, $17), Dance to Bristol (8th, $3.70), Revenue (9th, $5.50) and Typhoon Teri ($6.70).
Jade Run was awarded the victory in his allowance route after being bothered in the stretch by first-place finisher Ultimate Empire, who drifted out repeatedly with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. It was the second disqualification in four days for Ortiz, who was also taken down in Friday’s Curlin Stakes aboard Transparent.
Dance to Bristol found a seam in the stretch and was up in the final strides with Xavier Perez to catch the Allen Jerkens-trained Classic Point in the Grade 2, $200,000 Honorable Miss Handicap. It was the sixth straight win for Dance to Bristol, who is based in Maryland with trainer Ollie Figgins III.
Bill Mott celebrated his 60th birthday by sending out five runners, and finally got a win when his last starter, Revenue, circled wide to win a $20,000 claiming turf sprint from off the pace.
“It’s a nice way to finish the day off,” said Mott, who has won a race at Saratoga on his birthday in 15 of the past 20 years. “At least they won’t be throwing rotten tomatoes at me on the way out.”
The uncannily reliable handicapping angle will be in mothballs next year, as Mott’s birthday falls on a dark Tuesday.
Todd Pletcher and Joel Rosario won both stakes: Winning Cause (first race, $9.20) was up late to catch Joha in the $100,000 Sir Cat, a restricted event for 3-year-olds which had never won a turf stake. Forty Tales (10th, $7.30), idle since getting up to win the Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes day, punched his ticket to the King’s Bishop after another stretch-running score in the Grade 2, $200,000 Amsterdam for 3-year-old sprinters.
“He likes this distance,” said assistant trainer Tristan Barry. “He does his thing. He comes from off the pace and runs them down. He seems comfortable doing that, and we’re happy he likes it.”
Pletcher, who was at Monmouth Park to saddle Verrazano for a big win in the Haskell Invitational, has tripled up on his closest pursuers with a dozen meet winners. Forty Tales was his sixth stakes winner during the first nine racing days here.
Rosario also brought in Barrister Jim (fourth race, $6.30) for Wesley Ward, and Norumbega (ninth, $7.10) for Shug McGaughey. That enabled him to take a 15-13 lead over Javier Castellano.
It was bombs away on the turf courses. Miss Frost (second race, 29.20) and Miss Lamour (third, $29.40) started off an early pick four worth $11,670, and Dissension (eighth, $69.50) was extricated from stretch traffic in time to help create a double carryover of $330,087 in the pick six.
An eventful day began with Caixa Eletronic (race 1, $3.30) rallying wide in the stretch to win an optional-claiming route for trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the 22nd victory from 65 starts for the 8-year-old horse, who kicked in late to wear down Tuvia’s Force.
Al Stall Jr. started off the early pick four by sweeping the 2-year-old races with a pair of second-time starters, Base Case Scenario (race 2, $8.20) in a turf route and Twang (race 3, $4.50) in a dirt sprint. Base Case Scenario was the meet-leading fourth winner for Klaravich Stables, but he was fortunate that third-place finisher Bobby’s Kitten, the 13-10 choice in his debut, raced in heavy traffic through the entire stretch run.
Unitarian (race 4, $6.10) was up late as Pletcher’s second winner of the day and a record-breaking 694th Saratoga winner for jockey John Velazquez, who eclipsed Jerry Bailey’s mark.
Lighthouse Bay (race 5, $45.20), the fifth choice in a six-horse field for the Prioress, slipped through along the rail turning for home beneath Joe Rocco Jr. and got past pacesetter Wildcat Lily to give trainer George Weaver his first domestic Grade 1 stakes triumph. Meanwhile, Kauai Katie backpedaled to finish last at 2-5, burning bridge-jumpers who bet $254,105 to show on the prohibitive favorite.
Students of pace were Laughing (race 9, $15.80) all the way to the bank when the 5-year-old mare got away with slow early fractions and held off late runs from Dream Peace and Stephanie’s Kitten to win the Grade 1 Diana in a photo.
Pletcher completed a hat trick when Palace Malice (race 10, $4.70) proved that his Belmont Stakes win was no fluke, stalking Moreno to the stretch and edging clear to take the Grade 2 Jim Dandy by a length over the late-running Will Take Charge. The time of 1:47.37 was the second-fastest Jim Dandy at 1 1/8 miles and earned Palace Malice a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 107.
During the four-day opening week, five of 12 races on the inner turf were won wire to wire with no temporary rails in place. But it rained overnight Monday and into Tuesday morning, and the rails were up nine feet from the hedge starting Wednesday, July 24, and it’s been all closers for three straight days, including Thursday’s Jonathan Kiser Memorial over the jumps.
Two of three inner-course winners Friday rallied from last or next-to-last, with The Lady Says Yes (5th, $5.60) making up 11 lengths, and Centrina (7th, $10.40) coming from better than eight lengths behind.
Regarding the Mellon (outer) course, Subtle ($11.20) led throughout an opening-day turf sprint, and remains the only wire-to-wire winner from 15 races. The rails have been at 12 feet since the start of the meet.
The opener featured the return of Saratoga horse for course Currency Swap, who won the Hopeful at 2 and the Amsterdam at 3. Making his first start since undergoing throat surgery last fall, he was bet to odds-on after the scratch of Doctor Chit, but got the blues and weakened to third after chasing Jake N Elwood ($6.70) to the stretch. The time for the six-furlong, third-level allowance was a mediocre 1:10.25 compared to Tanglewood Tale’s 1:10.46 clocking in a restricted claimer for fillies one race later.
Making his first start since a preliminary allowance win April 4, Transparent came from off the pace to finish first in the $100,000 Curlin Stakes, but he was disqualified and placed fifth for coming out in front of Proud Strike nearing the stretch, causing the latter to clip heels. Fortunately for Transparent’s many backers, entrymate Romansh ($4.80) finished clearly second best and was awarded the win.
In a feat right up there with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Martini Brother (1st, $7.30) won the Jonathan Kiser Memorial, thereby keeping Jonathan Sheppard’s streak of saddling at least one Saratoga winner every year since 1969 intact. For good measure, the 72-year-old conditioner also sent out runner-up Barnstorming at 18-1 for an all-Long Jon exacta worth $92.
Todd Pletcher, who won 23 juvenile races last year en route to his ninth Spa training title, swept both divisions of a five-furlong maiden dash with Corfu (2nd, $3) and Our Amazing Rose (5th, $2.90). They were purchased at auction earlier this year for $675,000 and $325,000, respectively.
In the male division, Corfu battled through quick fractions of 21.40 and 44.88 seconds while pressed by Aarons Orient and Pure Sensation, and was all out to edge the latter by a half-length in 58.27 seconds.
In the filly division, Our Amazing Rose was outsprinted early by Zip One, but inhaled that one around the turn and drew off by nearly eight lengths in a snazzy 57.68 seconds.
“She had been training very well,” said Pletcher of Our Amazing Rose. “She had actually trained with Mike Repole’s other filly, Stopchargingmaria, who won here on opening day. We felt like we had a pretty good line on her. It’s been kind of hard to separate them in the mornings.”
John Velazquez rode both of the Todd Squad rockets, and then tied Jerry Bailey’s all-time Saratoga record of 693 winners when he guided White Rose (6th, $7.90) to an allowance victory for Bill Mott.
Central Banker (8th, $10.40), making his first start since a fifth in last fall’s Delta Jackpot, capitalized on a four-way pace battle up front for a stretch-running score in the $100,000 Quick Call Stakes for Al Stall and Joel Rosario.
Thunderstorms Monday night and early Tuesday forced the seventh and 10th races off the turf, which was labeled good.
The main track was officially labeled fast, but still retained some moisture, which was a favorable situation for Nevada (third race, $17.80), whose two best Beyer Speed Figures had been delivered on wet tracks.
After some parimutuel fireworks to close out opening week, there was a double carryover of $245,278, and a fresh $1,276,121 went into the pool. Bettors who navigated through the winning sextet of Mama Zee ($11.60), Seal Cove ($23.20), Corinthianna ($11.20), Moment in Dixie ($6.30), Kitten’s Dumplings ($5), and Where’s Danny ($11) collected a payoff of $60,903.
Outside closers dominated the seven races on the drying-out main track, with five winners making up deficits ranging from six to 14 lengths.
Off-the-pace runners swept the three turf races as well. Seal Cove rallied from next to last to prevail in a three-horse photo over Turallure and Hoofit, who were also reserved off the early pace.
In the Grade 2, $200,000 Lake George for 3-year-old fillies, Kitten’s Dumplings notched her third consecutive stakes victory for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker, coming from better than 14 lengths behind to edge Watsdachances by a half-length, with Tapicat just another neck behind in third.
“She has a really nice kick, but she can hang a little bit, so I’m always careful to time it,” said winning rider Joel Rosario, who posted a three-bagger for the second straight racing day.
After a bevy of long-priced winners Sunday resulted in a pick-six carryover of $57,553, a fresh $329,305 dove into the pool for Monday’s sequence.
When the dust had settled, no one had come up with the combination of Sea Queen ($10.80), Thomas Hill ($16.60), Stop Sign ($8.50), Angel’s South ($71.50), Bigger Is Bettor ($25.20), and Starship Gambler ($4.30). The 5-of-6 consolation payoff was a robust $4,858.
Thomas Hill, claimed from his previous start at Belmont Park, was the first Saratoga turf winner for trainer Mitch Friedman since Aug. 11, 2002. The trainer had been winless from 42 such starters during that stretch.
Angel’s South seemed hard to have even in retrospect, but the Andrew Mitchell-trained shipper from Monmouth Park was able to grab the early lead through slow fractions in a one-mile allowance on the inner turf and sprinted home the final quarter in 22.23 seconds to hold off the cavalry.
In the Evan Shipman Stakes, Bigger Is Bettor got a dream run up the rail beneath Joe Rocco Jr., who was winning his first Saratoga stakes race, and prevailed in a four-way blanket finish over Awesome Vision, Readthebyline, and Groomedforvictory. It was the first Spa start for Bigger Is Bettor since his 26-1 upset victory in the 2011 Albany Stakes as a 3-year-old.
“Last year, he wasn’t able to run here because he got into an accident,” trainer Rodrigo Ubillo said. “I was confident he could go the distance, and he likes it here.”
Javier Castellano swept the early double with the 2-year-olds Big Sugar Soda ($12) for Steve Asmussen and Ready to Act ($17.60) for Chad Brown.
Three favorites managed to win, including a good-looking performance from Uno Duo (4th, $3), a Juddmonte Farms homebred daughter of Macho Uno who breezed through her first-level allowance condition for Bill Mott.
Otherwise, it was a day for hatpins and lucky numbers, beginning with Rapscallion (2nd, $31), who switched to turf after beginning his career with two dirt starts at Delaware Park for Graham Motion and got loose through easy fractions to kick off a $46,165 early pick four that also included hard-to-have winners Marriedtothemusic (3rd, $19.80) and Happy Fella ($58.50).
If you figured it would be a while before another boxcar pick-four payoff, you’d be wrong, because the late pick four was worth $70,858 for the combination of Joy Seeker (7th, $10.40), Strong Impact (8th, $24.40), Wired Bryan (9th, $16.40), and Galiana (10th, $141.50).
Strong Impact, now 3-2-1 from 7 starts on Saratoga turf, was overlooked in the $100,000 Fiddlers Patriot Stakes, named for the New York-bred who owns the two fastest clockings on the Mellon course at 5 1/2 furlongs. Strong Impact came close, stopping the teletimer in 1:01.17 after coming through along the rail to wear down Tightend Touchdown, who set enervating fractions of 21.56 and 43.55 seconds.
Wired Bryan outdueled Hollywood Talent through the opening half-mile and drew off to win the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes impressively. The New York-bred colt scored by more than five lengths, giving Michael Dilger, a 35-year-old former assistant trainer to Todd Pletcher, his first stakes victory.
Overnight thunderstorms provided welcome relief from the oppressive heat and humidity that had gripped the area for almost a week. The main track was labeled “good” (harrowed).
Although the official turf condition still was “firm,” it was not the sun-baked surface of opening day, and times were noticeably slower. Whereas the one opening-day turf sprint featured a half-mile fraction of 43.63 seconds, two races over the same real estate Saturday yielded splits of 45.82 and 45.54.
The 11-race program was front-loaded with five straight turf races, followed by six dirt races, in anticipation of late-afternoon thunderstorms. A brief shower arrived shortly before the start of the eighth race, but the skies cleared for the Shuvee Handicap.
In the repositioned Shuvee, formerly run at Belmont, the Todd Pletcher-trained Authenticity ($3) stalked a snail’s pace set by Sea Island, reached the front nearing midstretch and held safe a rail-skimming bid by Flashy American. Eblouissante, a highly touted half-sister to Zenyatta who was making just her third career start and her first since January, was fractious in the gate, off last, and was eased, as was Royal Lahaina.
In the featured Coaching Club American Oaks, Princess of Sylmar ($6.30) was last of five but within easy striking range early, swept to the lead from the outside into the lane, and drew off by six widening lengths. The Kentucky Oaks winner improved to six wins from seven starts around two turns.
“I think today she put herself at the top of the leaderboard, and now everyone understands that the Kentucky Oaks was a real race,” said Pletcher, who earlier Saturday saddled Silsita ($14.60) to win the My Princess Jess overnight stakes.
Temperatures into the 90s and oppressive humidity for a fifth consecutive day dampened opening-day totals for Saratoga’s 150th meeting. Ontrack attendance was 21,935, down 15 percent from last year, while ontrack handle of $3.3 million was off 18 percent from 2012, despite a solid betting card.
The saving grace was a steady breeze throughout the afternoon, a backstretch tailwind that propelled sprinters through fast opening fractions, and conversely a stretch headwind that slowed come-home times: Subtle (6th, $11.20) was able to hang on in the day’s only turf sprint after being blown through an opening half-mile in 43.63 seconds. Dirt sprints featured three half-miles under 45 seconds, including a 44.42 split in the James Marvin, and 44.68 in the Schuylerville.
Sage Valley ($8.90) sat a perfect trip under Cornelio Velasquez in the James Marvin, sitting just off a bruising three-way pace battle among Souper Speedy, Strapping Groom, and Laurie’s Rocket, and forging past in the stretch. Politicallycorrect and Hello Lover rallied from next-to-last and last to fill out the exacta and trifecta.
Brazen Persuasion ($2.80) and Bahnah ($2.40), 2-year-old fillies exiting wins at Churchill Downs, dead-heated in the Schuylerville, finishing on even terms after an against-the-wind final furlong in 14.40.
John Velazquez rode three winners, including the impressive Todd Pletcher-trained newcomer Stopchargingmaria ($3) and Hessonite ($3.80) in the On the Bus overnight stakes. He now has 688 wins at Saratoga, five behind all-time leader Jerry Bailey.