Sunday, August 31, 2014

Saratoga Race Course Notes 8/31

The New York Racing Association, Inc.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


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Saratoga Race Course Notes


  • Itsmyluckyday, Moreno both well after G1 Woodward slugfest
  • 7-year-old Wise Dan continues to awe and inspire
  • Forego winner to make next start in G1 Vosburgh
  • Prayer for Relief, third in Woodward, to target G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup
  • El Kabeir likely for G1 Champagne after thrashing maiden field on Saturday


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The trainers of Itsmyluckyday and Moreno, the top two finishers from the Grade 1, $600,000 Woodward, both said their horses came back in good shape following their epic confrontation on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.


In a rematch of the Grade 1 Whitney, run August 2, Itsmyluckyday turned the tables and got the best of the front-running Moreno in a race-long battle that ended with Itsmyluckyday prevailing by a half-length.


The race put the two on course for perhaps a third meeting in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and, if Itsmyluckyday's trainer Eddie Plesa changes his mind, a meeting in the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 27 at Belmont Park.


"He came out of the race 110 percent," Plesa said. "A little tired but, as far as wear and tear, 110 percent."


For the time being, Plesa said he does not see the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a 1 ¼-mile race, in the plans for Itsmyluckyday, but he left the door open to the possibility.


"My thinking is I don't want to run four races in a row that are going to be that tough; that would include if we're going to run in the Breeders' Cup," said the Monmouth Park-based trainer. "I like to give my horses a little bit of a break. If the ultimate goal is the Breeders' Cup, I have to be sure we're going into the race 110 percent. I don't want to think we've maybe run him one too many. The great [trainer] Horatio Luro said, 'You don't want to squeeze the lemon too dry.'"


Plesa also said the Grade 2, $400,000 Kelso at a mile on the same card as the Jockey Club Gold Cup could be an option, as is the Grade 1, $300,000 Awesome Again on September 27 at Santa Anita Park, site of the Breeders' Cup.


"He'll tell me," Plesa said. "He could come out bucking and kicking and saying, 'I'm ready to run again. That's my job to figure out when that is."


Moreno's trainer, Eric Guillot, meantime, said the Jockey Club Gold Cup is his primary target.


"I always was planning that," he said. "Thirty days, 30 days, 30 days, babysit him, babysit him, run him. The horse hasn't been out of form since he broke his maiden. He has been 9-for-12 triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures. Who else has that?"


Guillot, despite finishing second, was in a boastful mood Sunday morning.


"He'll win the [Breeders' Cup] Classic by five; you all can put it in the press," he said of Moreno.


Asked why, Guillot answered, "Because I said it."


*           *           *


Though he has been with Wise Dan throughout a 30-race campaign that began in the winter of 2010, trainer Charlie LoPresti continues to be awed by his two-time Horse of the Year.


It wasn't any different on Sunday, the morning after the 7-year-old Morton Fink homebred made a successful and thrilling return to racing by winning the Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap in a photo finish.


It was the third win in as many starts this year for Wise Dan, but first since having emergency colic surgery on May 16 that briefly threatened his eventual Hall of Fame career.


"Can you believe it? It's incredible," LoPresti said. "He's an amazing creature, I'll tell ya. He seems fine. He ate everything up. We got him out and walked him and his legs looked great. I mean, he's a little tired but that's to be expected. He had to really show his heart and class, and that's what makes him the horse that he is."


Though he entertained several options as he brought Wise Dan back to the races, including the Grade 2 Fourstardave on August 9 at Saratoga, LoPresti ultimately settled on the 1 1/16-mile Bernard Baruch though it meant having to give weight to his opponents.


Wise Dan carried 127 pounds, from eight to 13 more than the rest of the field. Late-running long shot Optimizer, with 11 fewer pounds, came flying late on the outside but came up a nose short to the six-time Eclipse Award winner.


"Optimizer ran a great race," LoPresti said. "He's not going to have to [give weight] anymore. Now he's got a race in him, and God willing he's OK. I was relieved. It's been tough coming up here with him, just trying to do the right thing and hoping he didn't get sick again. We had to breeze him a bunch to get him ready. It's been tough in trying to make the right decision, but I'm glad we ran here."


Wise Dan boosted his bankroll to just under $7 million and improved to 3-0 lifetime at Saratoga, including Fourstardave victories in 2012 and 2013. His final time of 1:39.08 was just .17 off the Mellon turf course record set by Fourstardave in 1991, when the legendary New York-bred carried 115 pounds.


"He was here, we prepped him here, and all he had to do was walk across the street," LoPresti said. "I knew the people here at Saratoga wanted to see him run. The fans wanted to see him run. It was the right thing to do.


"When [retiring track announcer] Tom Durkin said, 'Here comes the future Hall of Famer,' it was great. I'm glad we ran him here. I love coming here. I like Saratoga. This is probably the best racing there is, the Saratoga meet. It's so tough to win a race here. This makes the fifth year we've come here and won a graded stake."


Wise Dan will leave Saratoga on Tuesday for Kentucky and point for the Grade 1, $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile on October 4 at Keeneland and then the October 31-November 1 Breeders' Cup, where he is the two-time defending Mile champion.


It is a similar campaign that led to Wise Dan being voted Champion Older Male, Champion Turf Male and Horse of the Year in 2012 and 2013. There hasn't been a three-time successive Horse of the Year winner since Forego from 1974-76.


"I'm not trying to lobby for Horse of the Year. I said something yesterday [on NBC] and then after I said it, I wished I hadn't," LoPresti said. "But if you think about what this horse has been through, why wouldn't he be Horse of the Year? He's undefeated. One thing I don't ever want to get into is any kind of match race or anything like that. I'm going to stick to the plan. He'll have two more races. If we're lucky enough to win those and everything goes good, whatever they decide I'm fine with it. He doesn't have to get Horse of the Year. He's my horse of the year if he never wins another race."


*           *           *


After Palace won the Grade 1, six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on August 2, trainer Linda Rice was unsure whether she should have the 5-year-old stretch out to seven furlongs for the Grade 1 Forego on August 30 at Saratoga or stay at six furlongs in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational on September 27 at Belmont.


"I just trained [Palace] into the [Forego after his Vanderbilt win], and he was training really well, and on the morning of the race he was bucking and playing," said Rice. "I knew right then I was going to have to try him."


Palace took advantage of the opportunity by winning the Forego by 3 ½ lengths and, according to Rice, will make his next start in the $400,000 Vosburgh, one of six graded stakes on TVG Super Saturday.


"I'm not the only person who thought [Palace's] best distance was six furlongs," Rice admitted. "Most people did. His record at three-quarters [of a mile] is better than it was at seven [furlongs]. After the race, I was happy and relieved. I didn't want to make a mistake with him; he's such a nice horse. There are other people who might have waited for the Vosburgh instead of bringing him back going seven-eighths, but you never know when something is going to go wrong with horses, and you're sitting with a Grade 1 in front of you with a $500,000 purse. Sometimes, you can't over-think these things."


Rice and owner Antonino Miuccio claimed Palace for $20,000 out of a maiden win at Belmont Park in October 2012, and son of City Zip gradually ascended the ranks before registering his first stakes victory in the Chowder's First overnight stakes one year ago at Saratoga. Since then, he has added scores in the Hudson Handicap, Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap, and Grade 2 True North in addition to his Vosburgh and Forego triumphs.


"One of the keys is, every time it looks like he needs a rest we give it to him," said Rice. "I think that has allowed him to go from winning the Hudson and the Chowder's First to winning Grade 1s, and that's a tribute to my client, Antonino Miuccio."


In addition, Rice said one of the keys to getting Palace to run to his best form is to let him take advantage of his speed.


"He's got speed, but he doesn't like to be rushed," said Rice. "I think we made a mistake [when he was second by 6 ¼ lengths in the Grade 3 Belmont Sprint Championship in July]. He really enjoys being settled, taken ahold of, and sitting behind fast fractions. In the [Belmont Sprint Championship], they went too slow. He needed to be on the lead. He can be on the lead without rushing him; he has natural speed."


*           *           *


Trainer Dale Romans has lofty goals for Prayer for Relief, who was third, beaten two lengths, in the Grade 1 Woodward on Saturday.


Romans on Sunday said Prayer for Relief, a 6-year-old owned by Zayat Stables, will be pointed toward the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 27 at Belmont Park, with the Breeders' Cup and Dubai World Cup being long-term objectives.


"Those things are all in play," Romans said.


In the Woodward, Prayer for Relief raced in midpack early and made a strong run in the stretch without threatening the top two. After the race, Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez said Prayer for Relief "hung" before galloping out strongly.


"I think Johnny learned a little bit about him," said Romans. "It'd be nice to get [Velazquez] back next time. This is a good horse. It's hard to say he's peaking at his age, but he's definitely showing some of his best form. He's doing awfully good."


*           *           *


Second-time starter El Kabeir turned heads on Saturday at Saratoga with an explosive win in a seven-furlong maiden race for trainer John Terranova and owner Zayat Stables.


The 2-year-old son of Scat Daddy debuted in a five-furlong race on August 14 at the Spa, and finished third with late interest behind Blofeld and Signature Cat.


"I was debating whether to run him five [furlongs] or six and a half [in his first start]," said Terranova. "I said, 'Well, 6 ½ [furlongs]  first out, I don't know. He's fast, so let me just run him five, and we'll get a good run into him. If there's a fast horse in there, he'll get a little dirt kicked back at him.' He ran very well; he ran a great internal race after getting creamed at the start. He never quit, came on, took all the dirt and came out of it great."


El Kabeir and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. left nothing to chance on Saturday. Horse and rider went straight to the front, setting fractions of 22.74 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 44.98 for the half before powering away in the stretch to win by 10 ¾ lengths. El Kabeir's time for the distance, 1:22.16, was just .21 seconds shy of Palace's time in the Grade 1, seven-furlong Forego, and more than a full second faster than a seven-furlong maiden event run earlier on the card. For the performance, he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 93, the second-best figure run by a 2-year-old at the meet.


"The last few days before we entered I was thinking, maybe we should run this horse before we get out of here and not even wait until Belmont; he was doing that good," said Terranova. "It wasn't really my decision to enter him, it was his. He was the one telling me. I was just playing off that first race, and everything was really positive."


El Kabeir, who Terranova believes will only get better with more distance, will be pointed to the Grade 1 Champagne on October 4 at Belmont Park, where he is likely to meet Upstart, who earned a meet-best 95 Beyer for his win in the Funny Cide Stakes on August 24 at the Spa.



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