08/02/2009 11:00PM

Whitney hopefuls work as rain lets up

Barbara D. Livingston
The gray Dry Martini, a prospective Whitney starter for Barclay Tagg, trains with stablemate Just Ben at Saratoga on Sunday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - After several days of steady rain that rendered the main track less than suitable for workouts for three consecutive mornings, Sunday became a virtual cavalry charge during training hours. More than 300 horses recorded timed trials, including several prominent contenders for Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney.

Among the prospective Whitney starters to get in their final preps over the main track on Sunday were Dry Martini, Smooth Air, and Asiatic Boy. The three works provided a real contrast in styles leading up to the big event.

Dry Martini was easily the fastest of the trio, going five furlongs in 58.80 seconds in company with stablemate Just Ben. A 6-year-old son of Slew Gin Fizz, Dry Martini is in the best form of his career, having won his last two starts, including the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont on July 4.

"He just keeps getting better," trainer Barclay Tagg said just moments before sending out first-time starter Overlap to win Monday's third race. "I'm going to put him in there for Saturday, but it's not carved in stone that we'll run. I'm hoping there will be some pace in the race to go along with Commentator, and if it looks like there's a chance it will set up for him, then we'll go."

Tagg said his primary goal for Dry Martini is the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 3.

"If we don't go here, there's always the Woodward later in the meet," said Tagg, "although he's best when fresh, so timing-wise, the Whitney would be perfect."

Just Ben, who was transferred to Tagg's barn after setting the pace and finishing a tiring sixth in the Dwyer, was among the nominees for Monday's Grade 2 Amsterdam.

"I wanted to run Just Ben in the Amsterdam but didn't want to mess with Quality Road," said Tagg. "There's an allowance race here for him next week that we might try. I didn't want him to work as fast as he did the other day. I knew we were getting him right, but after watching him work with Dry Martini like that, I didn't know he was that right."

Smooth Air also worked five furlongs on Sunday, covering the distance in 1:01.70 over a lightning-fast strip after the renovation break. It was his third work following a second-place effort in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile, where he drifted out badly while chasing eventual winner Coal Play through the stretch.

"He went a little slower than I'd have liked, but he worked okay," said Chad Brown, who took over Smooth Air's training from the Calder-based Bennie Stutts following his second-place finish in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile. "I don't know why he got out at Monmouth. He had drifted during some of his works at Belmont leading up to his last start, but I didn't expect it in the race. Since he's been up here, he's done better and been pretty straight in his works."

Asiatic Boy was given an easy trial on Sunday, going a half-mile from the three-furlong pole to an eighth of a mile beyond the wire in 48.07. The move was designed by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin to keep the Argentine-bred from working too fast just six days out from the race.

"If I broke him off at the half-mile pole he would have gone in 46 and change and up in 59," said McLaughlin. "So we tricked him a little by going from the three-eighths pole and accomplished exactly what we were trying to do."

Asiatic Boy has finished second in each of his two U.S. starts, missing by a length behind Macho Again in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster and by two lengths to Dry Martini in the Suburban.

"I'm looking for some pace and hoping we draw inside for Saturday," said McLaughlin. "I don't like the mile and one-eighth races here or at Gulfstream because they start too close to the turn, and a lot depends on post position and trip going into the turn."

A special post-position draw for the Whitney will be held in the paddock here at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Post positions for the Grade 1 Test, which is also on Saturday, will be announced at that time.

Along with Dry Martini, Smooth Air, and Asiatic Boy, the field for the Whitney is expected to include likely favorite Commentator, Finallymadeit, Macho Again, Arson Squad, and possibly Tizway.

Blame points for Travers after stakes win

Trainer Al Stall Jr. said Blame will be among the nominees for the Grade 1 Shadwell Travers Stakes here Aug. 29 following his game victory over Gone Astray in Sunday's Curlin Stakes. Blame, a homebred son of Arch, rallied along the inside to win his stakes debut under Jamie Theriot.

"We threw a lot at him yesterday for his first time in a stakes, first time around two turns, and first time in the mud," said Stall. "The mud was kicking back in his face and getting pretty heavy with him in behind horses and down on the rail as he was, and he didn't have to go on in there down the stretch. I really loved the way he handled the second turn and finished up as he did. He got a real schooling in that race and showed a lot of natural ability."

Stall said he will nominate Blame to all the appropriate graded 3-year-old stakes on the national calendar, including the Travers.

"We were pointing him for the Louisiana Derby this spring, but he came down with a nasty bruise and we had to give him some extra time," said Stall. "And maybe that was a blessing in disguise because he's a bigger, stronger model now. Right now time is on his side, and hopefully this will be his time of year."

McGaughey may push on with Gone Astray

Trainer Shug McGaughey said he will look at the Travers with Gone Astray, who finished second despite being hung wide throughout the 1 1/8-mile Curlin.

"I thought he ran well," said McGaughey. "It was probably his best race yet. Stretching him out around two turns seems to have helped. The horse who beat him has a chance to be okay, and he got the trip and we didn't. If the top, top ones come together for the Travers, I don't think he's that kind, so the Pennsylvania Derby would probably be a good possibility for him right now."

Bridgmohan returns from training injury

Jockey Sean Bridgmohan on Monday accepted his first mount since suffering a compressed vertebra and concussion in a training incident at Churchill Downs on July 7. The jockey finished second aboard first-time starter Fayoum for trainer Steve Asmussen in Monday's third race.

Bridgmohan, 30, has been back galloping horses for the past week and was scheduled to make his return on Wednesday.

"I didn't think it was going to happen today, but Steve called me at 11 this morning and asked me to ride this horse," Bridgmohan said on the way back to the jocks' room after the race. Fayoum drew in off the also-eligible list after the race for 2-year-old maidens was switched from the turf to the main track.

"Every time you come back from something like this you're glad to get the first one out of the way," said Bridgmohan. "I'm coming in here starting from zero with nobody to ride for other than my main guy [Asmussen], so I'm hoping other trainers will see that I'm back and business will pick up again."

Asmussen won 13 races during the 2008 Saratoga meeting.

Hodsdon rides her first flat winner of 2009

Danielle Hodsdon, among the leading steeplechase riders in the country this season, registered her first flat win of 2009 when guiding Sermon of Love to victory in Monday's fourth race for trainer Jonathan Sheppard.

Sermon of Love, a 6-year-old son of Pulpit, was returning to the flats after racing exclusively over hurdles during the past two seasons. Although he'd won two jump races in his career, Sermon of Love was eligible to compete against maidens on the flats.