08/08/2011 4:11PM

Saratoga: Sean Avery looking healthy at last

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Barbara D. Livingston
Sean Avery (right), with Joe Bravo riding, edges out Trappe Shot in the Alfred Vanderbilt.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – A year ago at this time, there were doubts whether Sean Avery would be able to race again. For most of the morning and early afternoon Sunday, there were doubts whether Sean Avery would race in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga.

After he held off heavily favored Trappe Shot to win the Vanderbilt by a nose, there are no longer any doubts that Sean Avery is among the leading sprinters in the country. It was the first graded stakes victory for Sean Avery, and the Beyer Speed Figure of 112 he earned equaled the number he recorded winning the Longfellow Stakes at Monmouth on June 5. It was also the first Grade 1 victory for his trainer, Allen Iwinski.

Now, Sean Avery is one step – and continued good health – away from the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in November.

“That’s what we’re hoping. If he stays healthy, that’s the plan,” said John DeStefano, the former trainer who is now the racing manager for Black Swan Stable, the owners of Sean Avery.

Sean Avery, named for the colorful NHL player, had a history of physical issues that limited him to five starts through his 4-year-old year. He suffered a chip in ankle at 2 and a chip in a knee at 3. Last summer, he was being prepared for a return at Saratoga when then-trainer Mike Hushion noticed something wrong with a tendon.

“Mike Hushion deserves a lot of credit,” DeStefano said. “It could have gone unnoticed in a lot of other barns. After we discussed, it we decided if we stopped on him right then there was an excellent chance it could heal and he could come back.”

The horse was rehabilitated by Lynn Boutee at her training center in Williston, Fla. Since, Sean Avery was ready to return in Florida, he was sent to Iwinski, his original trainer, because he was based at Gulfstream.

Sean Avery won allowance races at Gulfstream and Parx before his breakout win in the Longfellow. He obviously regressed from that effort in the Mr. Prospector where he was beaten 2 1/4 lengths by Roaring Lion.

Out of that race, Sean Avery had been training extremely well and his connections felt now was the time to attempt a Grade 1. They did not want to run Sean Avery on a wet track, which seemed like a real possibility after heavy rains Saturday night turned the track sloppy and more rain was forecast Sunday.

But it did not rain Sunday. A hot sun helped dry out the track ,and only after the track maintenance crew harrowed, or opened the track, before the fifth race, the decision was made to run.

“Yesterday seemed like the longest day of my life,” said Iwinski, who took a couple of years off to deal with a case of Hepatitis. “All of us were on the same page about let’s not take a chance of hurting this horse on a bad racetrack. In the morning, the track superintendent said he was going to keep it sealed all day, and I thought we were not going to be able to run. That is where luck comes into play.”

As lucky as he may have been, Sean Avery was also good. He sped out to a lead in 21.91 seconds and kept on going through a half-mile in 44.56 seconds, and he ran the six furlongs in 1:09.71 and won by the narrowest of margins.

DeStefano said the Breeders’ Cup Sprint is the goal with probably one start beforehand. One of the options could be the Vosburgh at Belmont on Oct. 1, where he could again meet Trappe Shot.