08/27/2011 1:34PM

Saratoga: Giant Oak, Ice Box tune up for Woodward

Barbara D. Livingston
Giant Oak works five furlongs in 1:02.56 on Saratoga's main track Saturday morning.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Giant Oak and Ice Box, a pair of late-runners who’ll be looking for a lively pace next weekend in the Grade 1 Woodward, were a contrast in styles in their final tune-ups for the race Saturday.

Giant Oak, working over the main track, breezed an easy five furlongs in 1:02.56, while Ice Box shared the morning’s bullet half-mile drill of 48 seconds across Union Avenue at the Oklahoma training track.

Giant Oak went his opening quarter-mile in a leisurely 26.26 and three-eighths in 38.66 before shading 24 seconds for his final quarter-mile and galloping out six furlongs in 1:15.29.

“He was supposed  to work Sunday and was just going to go a half, but we moved it up a day and sent him an easy five-eighths because I figured we’d have a bad track the next couple of days due to the hurricane,” trainer Chris Block said. “He doesn’t need much at this point, we went with what was basically just a maintenance move this morning.”

Giant Oak rallied from last to finish third, beaten 6 1/2 lengths, by Tizway in the Grade 1 Whitney earlier this month.

“I thought he might be a little closer, but he missed the break by a step or two, it put us out the back door, and then the pace got us,” Block said. “On the far turn, I didn’t think he had a chance to hit the board, considering the slow fractions and the quality of the field, so the fact he finished third was really encouraging. The horse is training well and seems to like the track, which are two positives. I’m just hoping we’ll get a cleaner trip and a little more pace on Saturday than we got last time.”    

Ice Box showed surprising speed not only in Saturday’s work but in his 2011 debut when contesting the pace into the stretch before finishing a tiring third behind Convocation in a third-level optional claimer on July 29. It was the first start for Ice Box in nearly nine months.

Ice Box rallied from the rear of the pack to win the Grade 1 Florida Derby and used a similar tactics to finish second behind Super Saver in the Kentucky Derby during the spring of his 3-year-old campaign last year.

“We let him show speed in his last start to give him a chance to get fit and maybe catch them by surprise at the same time,” trainer Nick Zito said, referring to Ice Box’s 2011 bow. “He’s doing good and all set to go Saturday. We’ll put him back on his normal routine, he’ll be coming from behind again now.”
Godolphin runners get to work early

The threat of Hurricane Irene had many horsemen changing their normal routine as a result of the impending storm and the abbreviated training session Saturday due to the early post for the Travers card – but not assistant trainer Rick Mettee, who had his Godolphin workers ready to go at their regular time shortly after the track opened at 5:30 a.m.

Among the Godolphin runners to breeze four furlongs in the dark Saturday were Regal Ransom, who went in 46.83 and galloped out five-eighths in 59.61, Girolamo (48.20),  and Vineyard Haven (49 seconds).

Regal Ransom is being pointed to Saturday’s Grade 1 Forego. The 5-year-old son of Distorted Humor has not started since finishing 11th after setting the pace in the nine-furlong Stephen Foster on June 18.

“We’ll likely take a shot with him in the Forego,” Mettee said. “His two  races over the track were both good, and this might be our last best chance to get a Grade 1 win for him which is the main reason he was kept in training this year.”

Regal Ransom won his maiden at Saratoga with trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and a high-level optional claimer going 1 1/8 miles one year ago.

Neither Girolamo nor Vineyard Haven have started since finishing third and seventh, respectively, last November in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile. Mettee said Girolamo would not be ready to defend his title in the Grade 1 Vosburgh and could return later this fall at Belmont in the Bold Ruler. He said there are no long-range plans at the moment for Vineyard Haven.   

Mettee also reported that Godolphin’s lightly raced 3-year-old Buffum, a runaway 10-length first-level allowance winner here earlier this summer, worked five furlongs in 59 seconds at the Greentree Training Center on Saturday and would make his next start against older Pennsylvania-bred stakes company at Parx Racing.