08/08/2012 3:31PM

Saratoga: Optimizer back on best surface in Hall of Fame Stakes

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Barbara D. Livingston
After getting beat a combined 58 1/4 lengths in the Triple Crown races this spring, trainer D. Wayne Lukas moved Optimizer back to turf. Optimizer starts in Friday’s Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Though he ran Optimizer in all three Triple Crown races, trainer D. Wayne Lukas knew that the colt’s preferred surface was turf.

Friday, Lukas returns Optimizer to his favorite turf course when he runs him in the Grade 2, $200,000 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga. Optimizer, who won his career debut over Saratoga’s turf course, will be coupled with Skyring. Both horses are owned by Bluegrass Hall LLC.

In addition to winning his debut on turf, Optimizer finished second to Dullahan in the Grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes, also at Saratoga. Following a third-place finish to Dullahan in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, Lukas kept Optimizer on the dirt from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile through the Belmont Stakes. The horse was beaten 58 1/4 lengths combined in the three Triple Crown races.

In his return to turf, Optimizer finished fourth in the Virginia Derby. Lukas was not tame in his criticism of jockey Horacio Karamanos’s decision to take Optimizer off the inside part of the course turning for home.

“He very easily could have been second,” Lukas said. “That kid made a terrible decision at the three-sixteenths pole – I mean unbelievably bad, it made me want to throw up. He was doing a good job riding him up to the three-sixteenths pole, they gave him a clear path along the rail, and he jerks him across the heels of three horses and tries to go outside. I couldn’t believe it.”

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Junior Alvarado will ride Optimizer for Lukas from post 5 in the Hall of Fame.

Lukas’s other entrant, Skyring has made only two starts on turf. He won the James Murphy at Pimlico and finished third, beaten a neck, in the Grade 3 American Derby at Arlington on July 14. He will be ridden for a second straight time by Joel Rosario.

Daddy Nose Best also won his maiden up here last summer and competed in two-thirds of the Triple Crown, finishing 10th in the Kentucky Derby and ninth in the Preakness. He, too, returned to turf in the American Derby, where he finished fourth, beaten just three-quarters of a length.

“It looked like a merry-go-round,” trainer Steve Asmussen said of the American Derby. “Just where he was off a moderate pace, he comes three wide just off their hip and finished off their hip.”

Chad Brown won last year’s Hall of Fame Stakes with Big Blue Kitten, who started in the claiming ranks before reeling off five consecutive victories.

This year, Brown sends out Yari, who began in the claiming ranks and has won three of his last four, losing the other race by a nose.

“He belongs with these horses. He’s a horse on the improve, he’s training great,” Brown said. “He doesn’t need the lead, he’s ended up there due to a smart decision by the riders. Rosie [Napravnik] rode him great last time. I think she rode technically a beautiful race on him, but he’s certainly not a need-the-lead horse.”

Shkspeare Shaliyah, Csaba, Spring to the Sky, and Quick With complete the field.