07/26/2011 2:04PM

Saratoga: Higher Court will face battle for lead in Quick Call Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Tom Albertrani will saddle Higher Court in Thursday's $75,000 Quick Call Stakes at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – It took a track-record performance to hand Higher Court his first career defeat last month at Belmont Park. It might take another to beat the speedy 3-year-old again Thursday at Saratoga in the $75,000 Quick Call Stakes carded at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf.

Higher Court won his career debut by six lengths at Keeneland on April 9 and was trying grass for the first time under first-level optional claiming conditions when sent postward as part of a 3-5 entry at Belmont Park on June 23. Despite bobbling briefly at the break, Higher Court recovered to set a lively pace and remained clear through midstretch before proving no match for the late surge of Gantry, who won off by 3 1/2 lengths while completing six furlongs in a course-record 1:06.87.

“He stumbled a little leaving the gate but recovered soon after, and I don’t really think it cost him anything,” said Tom Albertrani who trains the homebred Higher Court for Darley Stable. “The winner just ran a huge race. He went in six and change. We were second best.”

Ramon Dominguez, who rode Higher Court in his last start and will be aboard again in the Quick Call, agreed with Albertrani.

“I was so impressed with him,” Dominguez said. “Although he set pretty fast fractions, he really took off when I asked him turning for home and I was super surprised he got beat, but it took a track record to do it.”

Higher Court will be testing stakes company for the first time in the Quick Call.

“This is a big step up for him, so we’ll see how he handles it and then make a decision where to look to run him in the future,” Albertrani said. “He’s worked well on the dirt, so he’ll run Thursday, even if the race comes off the grass.”

The Quick Call is loaded with early speed. Along with Higher Court, the field also includes Royal Currier, Run Arnie Run, and Nutmegcuveeroyale, none of whom have ever been headed for the lead on grass.

Nutmegcuveeroyale is perfect in two starts since trainer Linda Rice switched him to the turf this spring at Belmont Park. From the rail, he will have little choice but to go early in the Quick Call.

“I don’t think we’d want to get too creative with him at this point anyway, but from the rail, he’s got to get out of there and go,” Rice said.

Rice said Nutmegcuveeroyale will scratch if the Quick Call came off the turf.

A torrid pace would enhance the chances of proven late-runners such as Fastest Magician and Longhunter.

Fastest Magician and Longhunter rallied from the rear of the pack to finish first and second, respectively, going seven furlongs over a yielding course in Belmont’s A Gift overnight stakes in May. The pair met again and may have been a bit overmatched four weeks later in the Grade 3 Hill Prince at a mile, with Fastest Magician finishing sixth and Longhunter a tiring fourth after pressing the early pace.

Great Mills is already graded stakes placed, having missed a nose to Air Support in the Transylvania this spring at Keeneland, and is perfect in two sprint tries on grass for trainer Steve Asmussen.