08/27/2009 12:00AM

Zito, LaPenta take another chance

Tod Marks
Spy in the Sky clears a jump on his way to victory in the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Stop us if you've heard this one before. A 3-year-old owned by Robert LaPenta, trained by Nick Zito, and ridden by Alan Garcia is a longshot in a Grade 1, $1 million race. He uses his speed to establish a clear lead, is never challenged, and rolls to a 5 1/4-length victory.

One year after Da' Tara went gate to wire to upset the Belmont Stakes at 38-1, LaPenta, Zito, and Garcia are back in Saturday's $1 million Travers with the speedy Our Edge, who will attempt to duplicate Da' Tara's improbable feat at long odds.

"You hope that scenario works out that way and that's what we'll try to do," said Zito, who won the 2004 Travers with Birdstone. "He is a longshot. I don't think they're worrying about him."

Our Edge, a son of 2004 Travers runner-up The Cliff's Edge, has a better resume than did Da' Tara, who only had a maiden win under his belt entering the Belmont. Our Edge has won his last three starts - all around two turns - including a seven-length victory in the Grade 3 Barbaro Stakes at Delaware Park on July 19. Zito is encouraged by the fact that two horses in that race - fourth-place finisher Sumo and ninth-place finisher Pitched Perfectly - came back to win races here.

"So maybe it was a real race," Zito said. "Unfortunately, it was only a mile and a sixteenth; unfortunately, it's not the Florida Derby or the Belmont Stakes or the Peter Pan or the Jim Dandy. However, he's an up-and-coming 3-year-old, you got to say to yourself we'll try it. We always try things like that.

"I'm a public trainer, I have a lot of 3-year-olds I try to deal with, and sometimes it doesn't work out," Zito added. "In his particular case, he's 3 for 3 and why not take a big shot? That's what we're in the business for."

Casner seeks a repeat performance

No matter what happens in Saturday's Travers, the finish will be hard-pressed to duplicate last year when Colonel John nosed out Mambo in Seattle at the end of spine-tingling stretch drive.

Bill Casner, part owner of WinStar Farm, which owns Colonel John, remembers it well. And he hopes for a similar result when he and business partner Ken Troutt send out Hold Me Back in Saturday's Travers.

Casner was in town Thursday for the annual Travers celebration, which fetes the previous year's Travers winner.

"Tonight's reminiscing night, memory lane," Casner said Thursday morning. "We hope we'll be back here same time next year and be able to reminisce again."

Colonel John and Mambo in Seattle hooked up in upper stretch and the two duked it out side by side through the final furlong. At the wire, Robby Albarado, the jockey of Mambo in Seattle, waved his whip triumphantly, providing the only clue as to who may have won. Unfortunately, for his backers, Albarado was wrong.

"Absolutely exhilarating, it was one of those races where your heart just stops - a tremendous stretch duel between Colonel John and Mambo in Seattle," Casner said. "When they hit the wire, in my mind, I thought we won, but as the announcer said it was too close to call. We were blessed and got the nod."

Colonel John had finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby in his only previous start on dirt heading into the Travers. In his only dirt starts, Hold Me Back finished fifth in the Remsen as a 2-year-old and 12th in the Derby, though he may have been compromised by a premature move by jockey Kent Desormeaux in the Derby.

"Hold Me Back started his move at the three-quarter pole and got close to the lead," Casner said. "It's very difficult for a horse to sustain that long of a move. Big Brown might have been able to. We needed to wait a little bit."

Julien Leparoux will ride Hold Me Back from the rail. Coincidentally, both of Hold Me Back's victories have come when he's left from the rail. Hold Me Back is coming out of a fifth-place finish in the Virginia Derby at 1 1/4 miles on turf.

Pletcher has three in Personal Ensign

Trainer Todd Pletcher will take three shots at winning his second Grade 1 Personal Ensign when that race is run for the 42nd time Sunday.

Pletcher entered Unbridled Belle, Sea Chanter, and recent acquisition With Flying Colors in the $400,000 Personal Ensign, which drew a field of eight.

Unbridled Belle will be making her third consecutive appearance in the Personal Ensign, having finished second in it in 2007 and third in 2008. Unbridled Belle was twice bred in the spring but did not get in foal. She has run three times this year, with an 11-length win in the Grade 3 Obeah at Delaware being her best effort. Most recently, she finished third in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap.

Unbridled Belle has been the workmate of Quality Road the last two weeks.

Pletcher also will send out Sea Chanter, who comes off a 5 1/2-length overnight stakes victory at Belmont on July 12. Prior to that, she finished third in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps. Speaking of Phipps, With Flying Colors was a Phipps horse when she won the Floral Park Stakes at Belmont on June 21. Since then, she was sold to Ben Leon's Besilu Stables and turned over to Pletcher.

Swift Temper and Icon Project, who finished one-two in the Delaware Handicap, also are entered back in here.

Spy in the Sky upsets steeplechase

Spy in the Sky, the longest shot in the race, rolled to a 10 1/4-length victory Thursday in the Grade 1, $103,887 New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase, a race in which the well-regarded Mixed Up never threatened and favored Slip Away faded badly after setting a brisk early pace.

Spy in the Sky ($43) was winless in six starts this year and was coming off a fifth-place finish in the minor Ben Nevis Stakes on Aug. 13. But he thrived at the 2 3/8-mile distance and took advantage of vulnerable favorites and the scratch of Planets Aligned.

Liam McVicar rode Spy in the Sky, who is trained by James M. Day. Spy in the Sky was timed in 4:34.16. Sermon of Love finished second, 8 3/4 lengths in front of third-place Dalucci.

Mixed Up finished fifth, beating only Slip Away, who tired so badly he was eased and left the course. Jonathan Sheppard, the trainer of Mixed Up, on Tuesday said he was likely going to scratch Mixed Up, but changed his mind. Mixed Up was beaten by exactly 50 lengths.

Robert Walsh, who is injured, originally was named on Mixed Up. On Wednesday, officials from the National Steeplechase Association and the New York Racing Association made a special trip to the press box to inform the media that three of the six runners would have rider changes, with Danielle Hodsdon moving to Mixed Up from Sermon of Love.

But on Thursday morning, yet another change was made, with Hodsdon essentially remaining on Sermon of Love, and Xavier Aizpuru, who had been named on Slip Away, moving to Mixed Up.

Hodsdon had ridden Mixed Up in all of his starts over the last two years, including a victory last time out in the A.P. Smithwick Memorial, but she did not want to ride Mixed Up on Thursday.

"What a fiasco," Sheppard said.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman