07/31/2012 4:06PM

Saratoga notes: Hunters Bay a relative unknown going into Whitney

Michael Burns
Hunters Bay has won his last three races at Woodbine, including the Grade 3 Dominion Day Stakes.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Hunters Bay will be flying a little under the radar when he takes on seven more familiar names in the handicap division in Saturday’s Grade 1 Whitney.

Hunters Bay has registered each of his last four victories at Woodbine for trainer Reade Baker after beginning his career with Todd Pletcher as a 3-year-old in 2010. An Adena Springs homebred owned by Frank Stronach, Hunters Bay earned a spot in the Whitney after reeling off three consecutive victories over the artificial surface at Woodbine, including the Grade 3 Dominion Day going 1 1/4 miles in his last start. The Whitney will be decided at nine furlongs.

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“He really got good last spring, but I was never able to get him in the right races,” said Baker, who was journeying to Saratoga on Tuesday to join Hunters Bay, who arrived the previous day. “This year I was able to get one start into him in Florida before we went back to Toronto and, although he’s won his last three races on the Polytrack, he trains over the dirt training track at Woodbine on a regular basis and he has won on regular dirt. He’s definitely going in the right direction now, he’s on top of his game, and Saratoga is the type of place we should be going with good horses.”

Baker said the best part about Hunters Bay is his ability to adapt to any situation.

“Most horses have specific running styles, but you can put him any place in the race, he can come from anywhere and still win,” said Baker. “I’m very happy with the way he’s progressed thus far this year and can’t wait to try him over there against these top horses on Saturday.”

Hunters Bay will carry 115 pounds in the Whitney, including his regular rider, Emma Wilson. He will receive five pounds from starting highweight Ron the Greek in a field that’s also expected to feature Caixa Eletronica, Endorsement, Flat Out, Fort Larned, Hymn Book, Rule, and Trickmeister.

Hunters Bay was accompanied to New York by stablemate Tu Endie Wei, who will run Saturday in the Grade 1 Prioress for 3-year-old fillies.

The Prioress field will be led by Agave Kiss, who suffered her first defeat in seven starts when she was a shocking and well-beaten fifth as the 1-5 favorite behind Emma’s Encore in Belmont’s Grade 3 Victory Ride on July 7. Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said he plans to enter Agave Kiss in the Prioress but will scratch if she draws an inside post, as she did in the Victory Ride.

Agave Kiss looked good working a very impressive half-mile in 46.69 seconds after the renovation break here Tuesday.

“I’m very happy with the way she went this morning, so everything looks like we’re on schedule to run Saturday,” said Rodriguez. “Hopefully we’ll get a good post. If I don’t get a good post I’m going to scratch and just wait for the Test. I’m still trying to figure out what happened to her last time. She was in the one hole and she got pressed the whole way around. It’s a lot harder when you’re inside, down on the fence like that.”

Along with Agave Kiss and Tu Endie Wei, the Prioress is also expected to lure Ageless, Emma’s Encore, Jamaican Smoke, Jazzy Idea, Judy the Beauty, Livi Makenzie, Munnings Sister, and Well Kept.

A field of eight older fillies and mares will compete in Friday’s Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap. The race figures to feature a very honest pace with speedsters like It’s Me Mom, Maple Forest, Roman Treasure, and Winning Image having all signed on. The remainder of the well-matched field consists of Island Bound, Belle of the Hall, C C’s Pal, and Beat the Blues.

Island Bound, who struggled against mid-level conditioned claimers just seven months ago in Florida, has shown marked improvement of late and would be among the beneficiaries if the action gets hot up front. Island Bound rallied off a fast pace to win the Grade  3 Winning Colors this spring at Churchill Downs.

“She was running for a claiming price last year and all of a sudden she turned the corner. It’s tough to explain,” said her trainer Ian Wilkes.

Thursday card offers variety

Thursday’s 11-race program, which opens with a pair of hurdle races including the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial, also offers a couple of interesting allowance races featuring some familiar names on the handicap scene. The fourth event on the card is a 1  3/16-mile optional claimer on the turf which drew a full field of 10, including Slumber, who has not raced since last November when finishing fourth making his U.S. debut in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, and former stakes winner Kindergarden Kid. The seventh race is a higher-level optional claimer to be decided at six furlongs on the main track featuring Tahitian Warrior, R King of the Road, Leave of Absence, and Little Drama making his first start since being transferred to trainer Michael Mareina.

Retirement program celebrates with Grand Finale

The Career2 program, which was created to promote eventing as a second career for retired racehorses, will hold its Grand Finale at nearby Millbrook, N.Y. later this week. The program is funded by the New York Racing Association and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. The Career2 program kicked off in June and includes a series of eight horse trials on the New York event circuit.

“We are really thrilled by the enthusiastic response to Career2 within the eventing community,” said Rick Violette Jr., president of the horsemen’s association. “The program will invigorate the market for second career Thoroughbreds in the sport horse world.”

Violette said more than 100 horses are participating in the Career2 program this year.