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Updated on 09/15/2011 1:46PM
Ten-year-old John's Call isn't done yet
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - John's Call, the irrepressible 10-year-old gelding, completed preparations for Saturday's Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational on Tuesday by working five furlongs in 1:03.07 over Saratoga's main track. Under regular rider Jean-Luc Samyn, John's Call began the work in company with a stablemate but went past him early in the move. Trainer Tom Voss said the company was used "just to get him into the work."
John's Call is the defending Sword Dancer champion. When he won last year's Sword Dancer by 9 1/2 lengths, John's Call became the oldest Thoroughbred to win a Grade 1 flat race at Saratoga. Voss said John's Call appears to be doing just as well this year as he was last year.
Voss is taking the same path with John's Call this year that he did in 2000, when John's Call won three of six starts, including two Grade 1 events. Like last year, John's Call made a winning seasonal debut in the Cape Henlopen Handicap at Delaware Park.
"It didn't seem to be too hard a race on him," Voss said. "I think he's doing pretty well. I know it's going to end sometime, it might end this Saturday, but all indications are he's doing fine."
John's Call, who carried 114 pounds when he won last year's Sword Dancer, will be the starting co-highweight at 120 on Saturday along with King Cugat. Others expected to run are Ela Athena (117), Gritty Sandie (114), Honor Glide (114), Slew Valley (114), State Shinto (114), Williams News (114), and With Anticipation (114). Craigsteel (114) is also possible.
Travers hopefuls breeze
Volponi and E Dubai, a pair of 3-year-olds pointing toward the Travers Stakes on Aug. 25, put in workouts over Saratoga's main track Tuesday morning.
Volponi, a 13 1/2-length winner of an entry-level allowance race on July 30 in which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 110, breezed four furlongs in 48.74 seconds under jockey Richard Migliore. Volponi, a son of Cryptoclearance, did not wear blinkers for the work although he wore them in his last start and will wear them in the Travers, according to trainer Phil Johnson.
"We left the blinkers off because I didn't want him to be too aggressive,' Johnson said. "He did it as easy as a horse could do it.'
Johnson has all but decided to run Volponi in the Travers.
"If he stays healthy and doesn't cough or do anything else, we're going to run,' Johnson said. "If anything changes, we'll back off because he's a nice horse with a future.'
Johnson said Migliore, who was aboard for the July 30 win, would ride Volponi in the Travers. Migliore rode Free of Love to a second-place finish in the Jim Dandy, but Free of Love is not expected to run back in the Travers.
Meanwhile, E Dubai, winner of the Dwyer Stakes on July 8, breezed seven furlongs in 1:27.42 on Tuesday. E Dubai skipped the Jim Dandy because his connections, Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's Godolphin Racing Inc., did not want to run him twice in three weeks.
Balto Star, winner of the Arkansas Derby and a potential Travers starter, worked four furlongs in 49.33 seconds Tuesday over the training track. Balto Star has not run since finishing eighth in the Belmont Stakes.
* Beautiful Pleasure, preparing for the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Handicap on Aug. 24, drilled five furlongs in 59.80 seconds Tuesday over the Oklahoma training track. It was the fastest of 11 moves at the distance.
* Affirmed Success, prepping for the Atto Mile at Woodbine on Sept. 9, worked four furlongs in 47.22 seconds over Saratoga's main track. He earned the bullet of 38 half-mile works over the main track.
With Anticipation came late to turf
It's not so strange to see a Jonathan Sheppard-trained runner switch from dirt to grass early in his career. What is unusual is seeing a Sheppard-trained horse making the change from dirt to turf as a 6-year-old.
That's the case with With Anticipation, who makes his next start in Saturday's $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational, a 1 1/2-mile grass race, after finishing first in his last three turf starts, including two stakes.
With Anticipation, who is Grade 1-placed on the dirt, made his turf debut in 1998 and finished third in a second-level allowance race. The gelding went back to the dirt, where he won eight races, including a pair of ungraded stakes in New Jersey and Delaware, and was third in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap.
With Anticipation didn't resurface in a grass race until this spring when he won an allowance event at Keeneland by 8 3/4 lengths. He followed with an authoritative six-length score in the Louisville Handicap on June 2 at Churchill Downs. Last month at Monmouth Park, With Anticipation crossed the finish line first by a head in the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap, but was disqualified and placed second for drifting out and impeding Senure in deep stretch.
Sheppard, a Hall of Famer, has the golden touch with turf runners, both on the flat and over jumps. He said the number of turf horses in his barn outnumbers dirt horses, so when a horse such as With Anticipation comes along and performs well on the dirt, Sheppard is reluctant to tinker with a good thing.
"It took 12 years for me to figure out Ninepins needed blinkers," Sheppard jokingly said in reference to his Grade 1 jumper who won the New York Turf Writers Handicap last year as a 13-year-old. "So it took me five years to find out With Anticipation needed the grass. Not really . . . But I have a top-heavy turf stable, so when you find one who can run on the dirt, you keep your options open.
"With Anticipation came from the same crop of yearlings that [grass runner] Crowd Pleaser did. So it made sense to split them."
With Anticipation will be ridden for the first time in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer by Pat Day.
Another golden oldie set to return
Sheppard also said that Ninepins would return to defend his title in the $100,000 Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup on Aug. 30.
Now 14, Ninepins was diagnosed with a tear in his bladder earlier this year. The potentially serious condition has corrected itself and Ninepins returned to the races last Friday at Colonial Downs for the first time since last October.
Ninepins finished last in the field of eight in the 1 1/4-mile grass on the flat, but Sheppard said he was pleased with the effort because it should give the horse a good foundation for the 2 3/8-mile Turf Writers.
"He wasn't totally fit," Sheppard said. "I told the rider that if he was 20 lengths behind the next-to-last horse, I would be satisfied."
- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson