07/18/2012 3:59PM

Saratoga notes: Wilkes ready for strong showing with Neck ‘n Neck and Fort Larned

Email
Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Neck 'n Neck, winner of the Matt Winn, is pointed for the Jim Dandy.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Ian Wilkes already knows what it’s like to win big races at Saratoga. The Australian-born Wilkes served as Carl Nafzger’s assistant when Street Sense captured both the Jim Dandy and Travers here in 2007, and two years later earned the first Grade 1 victory of his own training career with Capt. Candyman Can’s triumph in the King’s Bishop.

[Complete coverage of racing at Saratoga: News, PPs, and video]

Wilkes could be in the spotlight in major races like the Travers and Whitney again this summer with the current stars of his stable, the 3-year-old Neck ‘n Neck and older Fort Larned. Neck ‘n Neck is expected to make his local debut in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 28 as a stepping-stone to the Travers, with Fort Larned targeting the Grade 1 Whitney the following week.

Neck ‘n Neck has shown promise all along but really began to flourish this spring at Churchill Downs, where he defeated older horses by 6 1/2 lengths under allowance conditions as a prelude to his even more impressive 7 1/4-length decision in the Grade 3 Matt Winn on June 16.

“Right now we’re leaning to the Jim Dandy with Neck ‘n Neck,” said Wilkes. “He worked good yesterday, and we’ll get another five furlongs into him before the race.”

Neck ‘n Neck breezed five furlongs in 1:00.60 here Tuesday.

“This is a horse who showed promise all along but was very green when he first started out,” said Wilkes. “He was only four or five lengths off them in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby but just made too many mistakes. He got his confidence back winning that allowance race, and suddenly the light bulb just went off. He’s just started doing things more professionally. He faced some nice horses in the Matt Winn, and I expected him to run well but never thought he’d win like that.”

Fort Larned, who zipped a bullet half-mile in 47.80 seconds on Tuesday, has also come a long way since finally turning the corner after being equipped with blinkers for the first time in his 3-year-old finale. Fort Larned has captured three of his last five starts, including the Grade 3 Skip Away and the Grade 3 Cornhusker stakes. In the Cornhusker, he avenged his second-place finish at the hands of Successful Dan earlier this spring in Churchill’s Alysheba.

“The blinkers really helped him,” said Wilkes. “Whether it gave him more confidence or gave him his own space, something just clicked. He got a little rank with Julien [Leparoux] after getting pinched after the start of the Stephen Foster. He ran through the bit instead of travelling through it, and it just wasn’t his night. But he came out of the race fine, so I took a shot, wheeled him back in two weeks in the Cornhusker, and when you beat a horse like Successful Dan it shows he belongs in a race like the Whitney.”

Expanded turf course

There will be an additional lane on the Mellon Turf Course this year, which could lead to more turf races being run.

Since last year’s meet ended, the New York Racing Association elevated the ground on the outer half of the Mellon Turf Course, which effectively moved the crown out 24 to 26 feet. There will now be four rail positions – 0 feet, 12, 18, and 27 – where there had traditionally been three. The rail for Friday’s opening-day program will be set at 12 feet, Glen Kozak, NYRA’s director of racing surfaces, said.

“What it really does is gives us the flexibility of having another area to race on that we haven’t had in the past,” Kozak said.

Kozak said the widening only took place on the turns and not the straightaways. The dimensions of the inner turf course were left alone.

Tripleheaders for Dominguez, Garcia

Jockeys Ramon Dominguez and Alan Garcia will be men on the move Saturday as they ride races at three tracks on one day.

The two begin the day at Saratoga, where Dominguez is named to ride the first three races while Garcia rides the second, which is a fully loaded maiden affair for 2-year-old colts.

After the second, Dominguez and Garcia will catch a private plane to Delaware, where Dominguez rides Awesome Maria and Garcia rides Cash for Clunkers in the $750,000 Delaware Handicap.

After the Del Cap, Dominguez and Garcia will catch another private plane to Colonial Downs to ride the Virginia Derby and Virginia Oaks. Dominguez rides Summer Front in the Derby and Zultanite in the Oaks. Garcia rides Lucky Chappy in the Derby and Ski Holiday in the Oaks.

Kent Desormeaux will accompany Dominguez and Garcia from Saratoga to Delaware and on to Virginia where he will ride Finnegans Wake in the Virginia Derby.

NYRA to offer free wi-fi at Spa

Bring your iPad or other tablets or handheld devices to Saratoga and you may never have to leave your seat to make a wager.

For the first time, NYRA will offer free wireless access in all public areas of Saratoga. The network will have high capacity to serve patrons each racing day.

Installed by Deep Blue Communications, a Latham, N.Y.-based company, the network will include 50 indoor and outdoor wireless access points and is designed to support handheld devices, smart phones, and tablets.

Fans will be able to link to United Tote’s FastBet Mobile, a wagering application available exclusively ontrack and designed for smart phones, tablets, iPhones, iPads, and most Android-based tablets and phones.

“We are excited to provide this additional convenience for fans who wish to place wagers on mobile devices through one of the most advanced wireless networks available,” NYRA president and COO Ellen McClain said.

– additional reporting by David Grening