09/01/2011 6:40PM

Saratoga: State of Play earns Cup berth via With Anticipation victory

Tod Marks
State of Play (6), with Ramon Dominguez riding, wins the With Anticipation.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.  - Team Valor International won last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf with Pluck, and the ownership syndicate appears to have a major player for this year's edition of the Juvenile Turf in State of Play.

State of Play earned an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf by recording a front-running, half-length victory over Optimizer in Thursday's Grade 2, $150,000 With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga. The With Anticipation is a Win and You're In race, meaning the Breeders' Cup will pay all entry fees for State of Play as well as provide his connections a $10,000 travel stipend.

BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Racing schedule, replays, and past winners »

Under Ramon Dominguez, State of Play made the lead relatively easy, set fractions of 24.24 seconds for the quarter, 49.78 for the half, and 1:14.64 for six furlongs. In upper stretch, Optimizer, under Robby Albarado, made a run at State of Play, but State of Play responded to five cracks of Dominguez's left-handed stick to earn the victory. State of Play ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.97 and returned $8 to win.

Optimizer finished second by 1 1/4 lengths over Dullahan. He was followed in the order of finish by Knock Rock, Splendiferous, Captain Webb, Fox Rules, Sportswriter, and Two Months Rent.

Dominguez expressed surprise at how well State of Play relaxed early on as he was coming off a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race in which he stalked hot early fractions.

"As quick as we went last time, I couldn't imagine second race for him to be that settled, and from the get-go he had his ears forward and was very relaxed," Dominguez said. "When the horse came to him, he was so off the bridle I felt like for a second it seemed like the other horse was going to get a jump on him. Any time I tapped on him he wasn't going to let him go by."

Trainer Graham Motion, who watched the race from his home in Maryland, said he thought his horse won despite racing a bit greenly early on.

"I think he was kind of playing down the backside, ducking and spooking from the fence," Motion said. "I didn't expect him to be on the lead. It was just a matter of him looking around and running a little greenly."

Motion said State of Play would likely have one more start before the BC Juvenile Turf on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs. The logical choices are the $100,000 Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont on Oct. 2 or the $100,000 Bourbon at Keeneland on Oct. 9. Both races are run at 1 1/16 miles.

Motion also won the race following the With Anticipation with Get a Grip, giving the trainer eight wins from 30 starters at the meet.

"It's been great, considering I was nervous going up there with what we had," Motion said.

In other stakes action Thursday:

Dark Thunder ($3.60) pulled away from Bank Merger and Avenging Spirit just outside the eighth pole and bounded home a 5 3/4-length winner of the $75,000 Island Whirl Stakes. Bank Merger outlasted Avenging Spirit by a head for second. Congressional Page finished last in the scratch-reduced field of four.
Dark Thunder, under John Velazquez, covered seven furlongs in 1:23.43.

Dark Thunder, a 4-year-old gelded son of Trippi, is now 4 for 4 since being purchased by Joseph Bernardini and transferred to Todd Pletcher.

** Harbor Mist, under Jose Lezcano, led gate to wire to win the $75,000 Anne Clare Stakes for New York-bred juvenile fillies by 2 3/4 lengths over 17-1 shot Why Take a Chance. It was three-quarters of a length back to 3-5 favorite Victory Island in third.

Harbor Mist is a daughter of Rockport Harbor owned by Flying Zee Stable and trained by Carlos Martin. She ran six furlongs in 1:11.51 and returned $7.80 to win.