08/27/2012 5:24PM

Saratoga: McLaughlin hits highs and lows on Travers weekend

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Barbara D. Livingston
Alpha (6) just gets up to dead-heat with Golden Ticket in the Travers.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Not that he wasn’t already appreciative of the dead-heat in which his 3-year-old Alpha was involved in Saturday’s $1 million Travers, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had an even greater appreciation for it after what happened to It’s Tricky in Sunday’s Grade 1 Personal Ensign Invitational Handicap at Saratoga.

It’s Tricky stumbled badly at the start of the Personal Ensign, her nose literally kissing the dirt, and she nearly unseated jockey Eddie Castro. After recovering, It’s Tricky ran a brilliant race to gain contention along the inside before giving way in the final furlong. She finished third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths by 10-1 shot Love and Pride.

“It makes you appreciate the dead-heat even more the day before,” McLaughlin said Monday morning. “It makes you realize that things like this happen and we’re lucky. We haven’t had too many negative things.”

Before It’s Tricky’s unfortunate stumble – from which she emerged okay aside from a few superficial scrapes on both of her front ankles – it has been a wildly successful meet for McLaughlin. He has won 7 races – three Grade 1’s and a Grade 2 – from 39 starts, including the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama with Questing and the Jim Dandy and Travers with Alpha. In the Travers, Alpha dead-heated for the win with 33-1 longshot Golden Ticket.

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McLaughlin, who won the trainer’s title here in 2008, said he told his family before the start of the meet that his summer could be predicated on how well Alpha did.

“It could be a great meet if he happens to win the Jim Dandy and we go from there,” McLaughlin recalled saying to his wife, Letty, son Ryan, and daughter Erin, all of whom were here for the weekend, despite having to travel from different locales. “But Questing has been fabulous. It’s been an unbelievable meet. Never would I have thought we were going to do this well.”

Alpha looked defeated 100 yards from the wire in the Travers. Perhaps spurred on by the oncoming rush to his outside of Fast Falcon, Alpha, under Ramon Dominguez, found another gear and was able to land his nose on the wire at the same time as Golden Ticket, ridden by David Cohen.

Alpha and Golden Ticket, trained by Ken McPeek, could be headed for a rematch in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Sept. 22. Though McLaughlin left the door open for the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 29, he said the Pennsylvania Derby, because it’s restricted to 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles, “makes the most sense.”

On Sunday, Ken McPeek, the trainer of Golden Ticket, who won the Travers despite having not run since May 5 and while still being eligible for a first-level allowance condition, would most likely run in the Pennsylvania Derby. Another reason the Pennsylvania Derby makes sense for Alpha is that McLaughlin will already be at Parx that day with Questing, who is being pointed to the $1 million Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies on the same card. Questing, a daughter of Hard Spun, has rocketed to the top of the 3-year-old filly division with eye-catching romps in the Coaching Club and Alabama, much to the pleasant surprise of McLaughlin.

“The first time she ran on the dirt we felt like she belongs with these on figures,” said McLaughlin, referring to an allowance win at Belmont in June. “She belongs, but she didn’t look to be any better than Grace Hall and some others. So then when she won like that, then we felt pretty comfortable for the Alabama.”

McLaughlin trains Alpha, Questing, and It’s Tricky for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Stable.

As for It’s Tricky, McLaughlin said the result Sunday was disappointing because of how much planning went into running in the Personal Ensign. It’s Tricky hadn’t run since May 28, when she won the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps – her third win in as many starts this year, and he had the choice of running in the Ballerina on Friday or the Personal Ensign.

“We feel like she was the best,” McLaughlin said. “I think she showed that, taking nothing away from the winner. It’s disappointing because there’s a lot that goes into your planning and what you’re doing, but you turn the page quickly – whoa, thank goodness she’s okay and didn’t get loose or anything.”

McLaughlin will be turning the page to closing weekend when he has a chance to win two more graded stakes. On Saturday, he will send out Emcee in the Grade 1 Forego. Emcee ran a terrific race off a three-month layoff to be third in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt on Aug. 5.

McLaughlin will send out Fortify, a debut winner here on Aug. 4, in Monday’s Grade 2 Hopeful. On Monday, Fortify zipped four furlongs in 46.29 seconds, working in company with Incognito, a horse he blew away by 10 lengths.