Friday, August 22, 2014

Saratoga Race Course Notes: Friday, August 22, 2014

The New York Racing Association, Inc.

Friday, August 22, 2014


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Saratoga Race Course Notes


  • Bayern gallops for G1 Travers
  • Tonalist could give Clement another G1 dirt win in Travers
  • McGaughey hoping Mr Speaker's quality will translate to dirt in the G1 Travers
  • Reformed deep closer Kid Cruz set for Travers; Rice expects La Verdad in front in Ballerina
  • Wildcat Red seeking first G1 in Ketel One King's Bishop
  • Ritvo aims for weekend stakes with Fast Anna, Little Daddy
  • Saratoga stakes winners Free as a Bird, Stars Above Me to meet in Smart and Fancy on Monday
  • Fields coming together for final graded stakes of 146th meet

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - On his second morning in Saratoga, Bayern galloped 1 ½ miles over the main track after the renovation break Friday in preparation for Saturday's Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers.


Favored on the morning line at 2-1 in a field of 10 3-year-olds for the 145th renewal of the Mid-Summer Derby, Bayern jogged one mile on Thursday morning following his arrival from California late Wednesday afternoon.


"We waited until after the break to get a decent track and he went over it very good; super good," said Jim Barnes, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who is remaining with his string at Del Mar.


"You just want to make sure that he's happy," said Barnes. "You don't want to lead a quiet horse over there. We're very familiar with shipping horses. We ship out a lot, and all the signs are looking good. He's a good horse."


Bayern will break from post 2 under jockey Martin Garcia in the 1 ¼-mile Travers, carded as the 12th of 14 races on Saturday with a scheduled post time of 5:46 p.m. All horses will carry 126 pounds.


In his most recent start, the Offlee Wild colt was a dominant 7 ¼-length winner of the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on July 27 at Monmouth Park, going 1 1/8 miles on the front end in his stretch-out from the Grade 2, seven-furlong Woody Stephens presented by RTN, which he won by 7 ½ lengths.


"I think everybody knows what our plans are. I think they're all [wondering], 'Can he get a mile and a quarter?'" said Barnes. "Looking at the form, I don't know who's going to go [with us] but you could compromise your own chances by going too fast early. As long as we have a sensible pace, you don't want to have to overcome anything."


Baffert is winless in three Travers since his 2001 victory with eventual Horse of the Year Point Given, who also was the last Haskell winner to repeat in the Mid-Summer Derby. Among Baffert's Saratoga stakes victories are the King's Bishop, Alabama, Test and Forego, all Grade 1 races.


*           *           *


Two and a half months ago, Christophe Clement recorded one of the biggest wins of his training career with Tonalist in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, his first Classic victory. On Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, he will send out Tonalist again in hopes of capturing another of racing's most prestigious prizes, the Grade 1 Travers, which will go even further in disproving the commonly held belief that Clement is primarily a turf trainer.


On the eve of the race, Clement considered where a Travers win would fit into his illustrious career, and reflected on his landmark victory in the Belmont.


"I'll have to decide after the race, [if we win], which win is more important," said the trainer. "The Belmont was even more meaningful a week later than it was the day of because there's too much going on. I won the Belmont, and then I had to saddle a horse in the next race. That's what I call good problems; I can deal with that."


Tonalist has made one start since prevailing by a head in the 1 ½-mile Belmont - a second-place finish behind Wicked Strong in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 26 at Saratoga.


"He was pretty fit [for the Jim Dandy]," said Clement. "Everyone said he wasn't fit, but he was pretty fit. We were second best on the day, and that's OK. The winner had a better trip, and on that day he was better than us. I love the way [Tonalist] has trained since the Jim Dandy, and I love the fact we're going an eighth of a mile farther."


If Tonalist is to make up the 2 ¼ lengths Wicked Strong beat him by in the Jim Dandy and catch the front-running Bayern, who projects to be the lone speed in the race, distance and where the Belmont winner is positioned early will have a lot to do with it.


Clement believes the former is to his colt's advantage; the latter he will leave up to jockey Joel Rosario.


"If somebody is riding a speed horse, he should put pressure on Bayern," said Clement. "On paper, there's not much speed except for Bayern in the race. No matter what, it's 1 ¼ miles; you still have to get the distance. Slow or fast, you still have to get the distance. At some stage stamina will come into play. The one thing in the race is you believe Mr Speaker and Tonalist are the two horses proven at the distance.


"I don't want to be involved with [where he'll be positioned in the race]. Joel is coming to speak with me this morning, and we'll talk. The main thing is to be comfortable, wherever he wants to sit in the race. Wherever Joel is comfortable - wherever the horse is comfortable - will be fine with me."


*           *           *


Unlike most of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers field, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said Phipps Stable's Mr Speaker has demonstrated an affinity for the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Mid-Summer Derby. In his latest start, the dark bay or brown colt captured the inaugural Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational at 10 furlongs on turf over the highly regarded Adelaide, who came back to take the Grade 1 Secretariat in his next start.


The crux of the problem, however, is that unlike most of the field, Mr Speaker has no proven dirt form in his running lines.


"We know [1 ¼ miles] isn't going to be a problem," said McGaughey. "Whether that relates to being OK at 1 ¼ miles on dirt, we'll have to see. Workouts say 'yes,' but workouts are different than afternoons. If we were going 1 ¼ miles on turf, I'd have all the confidence in the world. There's no way I can know how he's going to handle the dirt. I hope the rain packs [the track] down some, which it should."


Mr Speaker's lone dirt start came in the Grade 2 Holy Bull on January 25 at Gulfstream Park. The long-winded colt was keen early that day, pressing a swift pace before fading to seventh in the stretch, which McGaughey believes led to his undoing.


"He just laid up too close to the pace [in his last dirt start]; I don't think that's the way he wants to run," said the trainer. "I think he wants to come from off the pace a little bit."


Tactics were changed in his next start, whether by design or not, when he got back on grass in the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Palm Beach at Gulfstream. Mr Speaker was steadied at the start, forcing jockey Jose Lezcano to take up position at the back of the pack from his wide post. Despite a decidedly disadvantageous pace, the 3-year-old colt launched a strong rally in the stretch to miss by only a half-length.


After a win in the Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland and a disappointing fifth in the Pennine Ridge Stakes at Belmont Park, Mr Speaker took the Belmont Derby from well off the pace by a neck.


The decision to enter Mr Speaker in the Travers off of such a strong turf effort stemmed from several variables, according to McGaughey, who admitted he is not averse to taking shots with his horses.


"The upside is huge," said the trainer. "I'd much rather take a chance in a big race than go to a little race. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. I've seen a lot of improvement in him since he's been up here; I think he's done really well up here. I think he's matured a lot. I told Mr. Phipps no matter what; I didn't want to ship him, and he was on board with that. I have no regrets not going in the Secretariat at all."


*           *           *


Two races after purchasing him for $50,000 out of a maiden claimer at Aqueduct, trainer Linda Rice had Travers contender Kid Cruz down in Maryland for the Private Terms Stakes, and the colt dropped more than 18 lengths off a slow pace before rallying powerfully to win by four.


The race set Kid Cruz's reputation as a deep closer, but he enters the 1 ¼-mile Travers on Saturday a different horse, one that can show speed if needed and still kick down the lane.


Kid Cruz dropped back 8 ½ lengths in his next start after the Private Terms, the Federico Tesio at Pimlico, and won again. But then in the Preakness, jockey Julien Pimental let Kid Cruz drop way back again, 16 lengths, and against the likes of California Chrome, he simply could not make up the ground.


After that, Rice turned the mount over to Irad Ortiz, Jr., who had ridden him in his third start, and they made a conscious decision to put Kid Cruz into his races.


"Certainly, Irad has asked him to stay closer, and I hope we get a happy medium this time around," Rice said. "The last race [the G2 Jim Dandy], he was thrown off his game, being rushed early and squeezed out on the [first] turn; he just lost his action. He could have just thrown in the towel and galloped in behind the field. I was thrilled he pulled it together, that Irad pursued with him enough to make a show and put us in the Travers."


Kid Cruz drew the No. 8 post and is 12-1 on the morning line.


"I'm hoping there's more speed in this one, and they go away from him and he can relax and make a truer run at the end of it," Rice said. "But, my biggest fear is [favorite] Bayern gallops away from there and never looks back."


Rice believes Kid Cruz is as good as any horse in the field and hopes his kick will not be dulled by the  1 ¼-mile distance.


"It's an interesting thought that maybe his finish is better used from a mile and a sixteenth to a mile and an eighth. We'll find out," she said.


Asking if the Travers would be the crowning achievement of her training career, Rice said, "If we win? Of course. Absolutely."


Rice has another major player in a Grade 1 stakes race Saturday, La Verdad in the $500,000 Ballerina, a seven-furlong sprint for fillies and mares and a "Win and You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.


In her most recent start, the Grade 2, six-furlong HRTV Honorable Miss on July 28 at the Spa, La Verdad was down on the inside over a sloppy track, and jockey Jose Ortiz chose to take back off the pace set by the speedy R Free Roll.


The strategy did not pay off as R Free Roll went gate-to-wire and La Verdad, despite fighting hard, finished fifth, beaten 3 ¼ lengths.


La Verdad drew post 6, and Rice has a simple plan for the race - go.


"I think that after our last experience, Jose and I would jump her away from there and let her get clear," Rice said. "She has rated before a little bit, both in the Barbara Fritchie [this past winter at Laurel Park] and another race where she ran a mile in the Critical Eye [at Belmont Park]. It's not that she's unratable but, frankly, being on the outside will be an advantage. I would think we're going to be on the lead or stalking in second."


La Verdad won the Grade 2 Distaff Handicap this past April at Aqueduct and also has feasted on New York-bred sprinting fillies and mares. She is 9-for-12 lifetime with earnings of $612,700. Rice has had the Ballerina on her radar all year.


"There are few Grade 1s for fillies and mares sprinting, especially on the East Coast," Rice said. "You never know how you're going to ship to California for the Breeders' Cup. For us, we had to have our eye, as a Grade 2 winner, on a Grade 1, and this was the race."


*           *           *


Trainer Kathy Ritvo never got to win a race at Saratoga with Mucho Macho Man, who went winless in three career tries at the Spa before going on to become a multiple Grade 1 winner and make the heart transplant recipient the first female to train a Breeders' Cup Classic winner.


This weekend, Ritvo will have two chances to return to her south Florida base with a stakes victory, saddling 3-year-olds Fast Anna in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One King's Bishop and New York-bred Little Daddy in Sunday's $250,000 Albany.


Fast Anna is an unbeaten but untested speedster owned by Frank Calabrese. A runaway winner of his first two starts, each in front-running fashion at Gulfstream Park, the Medaglia d'Oro colt will be making his stakes debut in the seven-furlong King's Bishop.


"He's doing fantastic. He's had two good works and he really seems to like the track here," Ritvo said. "He likes the weather, and he's been doing good. I'm excited to see him run. Everything's going really well. It's hard to imagine him going into a race any better."


Fast Anna will break from post 6 as the 6-1 fourth choice on the morning line in a field of eight sophomore sprinters that includes graded stakes winners Wildcat Red, Noble Moon and Coup de Grace and graded stakes-placed C. Zee and Myositis Dan.


"He is a really good horse," Ritvo said. "It's a race, and anything can happen. I definitely have respect for the other horses but he doing as good as he can and he has the class. He deserves the chance to run here."


Little Daddy will be facing state-breds for the first time in his career, having run in open company in each of his five starts, all at Gulfstream Park for owner-trainer Carlo Vaccarezza. He won his debut by 3 ¼ lengths at odds of 16-1 on March 15 and followed with an entry-level allowance victory 15 days later.


Since then, the son of Scat Daddy has placed in three stakes: the Sir Bear and Cherokee Run behind C. Zee, and the English Channel going 1 1/16 miles on turf.


"When he came up here he just kind of fell into the program and he's doing well," Ritvo said. "He'll do anything you ask him to do."


Ritvo noted that both Fast Anna and Little Daddy have flourished since arriving in Saratoga the first week of August, each breezing twice over the main track.


"They've both been training super since we've been here," she said. "They're different horses, but they both have been training equally good. I think the weather has perked them up a little. Their first works were good and on a deeper track before the break. Then I waited and let them work after the break in case we have a little moisture in the track. They both showed up, twice, and came back good. They are going into it really good."


*           *           *


His sire was a Grade 1-winning sprinter, and on Saturday Wildcat Red will look to continue the family tradition in the Grade 1 Ketel One King's Bishop.


The son of 2002 DeFrancis Memorial Dash winner D'wildcat is the 4-1 third choice on the morning line for the seven-furlong King's Bishop, to be run two races before the Grade 1 Travers.


Trainer Jose Garoffalo nominated Wildcat Red to the 1 ¼-mile Travers as well as the King's Bishop, which will be his first sprint since winning the Grade 3 Hutcheson on February 1 at Gulfstream Park.


"He's been good. He likes the weather, the track. Everything has been perfect so far," Garoffalo said. "We just need to run the race."


Purchased for $30,000 last year, Wildcat Red has finished no worse than third in nine of 10 career starts with five wins and $850,850 in purse earnings. He captured the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, was second in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and most recently third behind Travers favorite Bayern in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.


"Professionally, it's a boost for my career to be here and run in these kinds of races," said Garoffalo, a Venezuelan native who came to the U.S. full-time in 1999. "Above that, I think the horse deserves to win a Grade 1 race. He has proved to have the quality and the guts at the Grade 1 level. The horse deserves a nice win, especially here in Saratoga. That's the most important thing. That's why we're here."


Wildcat Red had an educational and uneventful schooling session in the Saratoga paddock during Thursday's third race


"He was very good, very calm," Garoffalo said. "He was very professional, very quiet. There were a bunch of horses schooling and he saw all the people around and the noise of the music, some noises that we don't have down there. He didn't show any kind of fear. He was OK with everything."


*           *           *


Free as a Bird and Stars Above Me, a pair of runners who already have won a stakes during the 2014 Saratoga meet, will meet on Monday in the $100,000 Smart N Fancy, a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint for fillies and mares.


Both Free as a Bird and Stars Above Me won over Smart N Fancy's course and distance in their most recent starts. Free as a Bird rallied from seventh to take the Caress for fillies and mares by three-quarters of a length on August 1, while Stars Above Me pressed the pace in her 2 ¼-length triumph in the Coronation Cup for 3-year-old fillies on July 30.


Free as a Bird, an Elizabeth Valando homebred trained by Ian Wilkes, has won four of her past five starts, including three consecutive stakes scores. Prior to the Caress, she captured the License Fee and Intercontinental at Belmont Park.


Joel Rosario will ride Free as a Bird, who drew post position 8.


The Coronation Cup was the first start in North America for Stars Above me, who is trained by H. Graham Motion for Elite Racing Club. She had a single win in five starts in her native country.


Stars Above me drew post 9 and will have the services of Irad Ortiz, Jr.


The field also includes Caress third-place finisher Madame Giry, recent optional claiming winners Quay and To My Valentine, and Kune Kune, Goldstryke Glory, Believe in Charlie, White Sangria, and Speedinthruthecity. Angel's Glory and Munnings Sister are entered for the main track only.


*           *           *


On Thursday, 2-year-old turf horses will assemble for the Grade 2, $200,000 With Anticipation, the first of nine graded races scheduled for the final week of the 146th meet at Saratoga.


According to NYRA stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes, likely for the 1 1/16-mile race on the Mellon Turf are Creaky Cricket, making his turf debut; the Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Designed for War, front-running winner on August 9 at the Spa and Kamarius, a seven-length winner at the With Anticipation distance on July 19;  International Star, most recently second in the Rockville Centre on Belmont Park's main track to Bustin It; Nutty Futty, who comes in from Gulfstream Park; Startup Nation, sharp maiden winner on August 7 for Chad Brown; and Strong Coffee, who scored for H. Graham Motion on August 2.


The final Saturday of the meet features two Grade 1 races in the $500,000 Forego, a "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the $600,000 Woodward at 1 1/8 miles, along with a pair of Grade 2 contests: the $300,000 Prioress for 3-year-old filly sprinters and the $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.


Probable for the Forego are last year's Grade 1 King's Bishop winner, Capo Bastone; Clearly Now, winner of the Grade 3 Belmont Sprint championship last time out; and Palace, who earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 107 with his victory in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt on August 2. Mshawish, Private Zone and Zee Bros are questionable.


Grade 1 Whitney winner Moreno heads the list of probable starters for the Woodward.  Also expected are Woodward runner-up Itsmyluckyday; Grade 2 Brooklyn winner Norumbega; Romansh, most recently seventh in the Whitney; Stephanoatsee, returning to graded stakes competition after three starts in optional claiming company; and Grade 2 Suburban Handicap winner Zivo, who carries a six-race win streak into the Woodward.


Multiple graded stakes winner Boisterous is among those likely for the 1 1/16-mile Bernard Baruch, along with Irish import North Star Boy; Sky Blazer, most recently third in the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap, and Summer Front, coming off back-to-back seconds in the Grade 1 Eddie Read and the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile in California. Two-time reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan remains possible, as does Five Iron, Mshawish, Paris Vegas, Plainview, and Sayaad.


The six-furlong Prioress could see a field comprised of Milam, Miss Behaviour, Princess Violet, Southern Honey, Stonetastic, Sweet Whiskey, Taris, Tea Time and Thirteen Arrows, with Who's In Town questionable.


On Sunday, which also is Tom Durkin Day at Saratoga, the Grade 1, $350,000 Spinaway is expected to attract Bonnie K, a recent maiden winner at Penn National; By The Moon, who broke her maiden on July 18; Condo Commander, a 12-length maiden winner on August 3; Darling Sky, who scored by 7 ½ lengths on August 9 at Parx Racing, and Florida shipper Polyushko.


The Grade 3, $150,000 Glens Falls for fillies and mares going 1 3/8 miles on the turf looks to attract a large field, headed by Waya winner Cat's Claw, making her graded stakes debut. Also probable are the Christophe Clement-trained pair of Aigue Marine and Tabreed; Angel Terrace, fifth in the Waya; Baffle Me, most recently fourth in the De La Rose; Caroline Thomas, seventh in the Grade 1 Diana; Emotional Kitten, Scampering, Tabreed, Viva Rafaela, and Watsdachances. Clearbrook, English Class, Royal Fury and White Rose are questionable.


Closing day is highlighted by the Grade 1, $350,000 Hopeful for 2-year-olds, expected to attract impressive maiden winner Competitive Edge, who scored by 10 1/4 lengths on July 16 for trainer Todd Pletcher. Florida shipper Dekabrist, Grade 2 Saratoga Special and Grade 3 Sanford runner-up Mr. Z, recent maiden winners Pride of Stride and Requite, and The Great War are also likely, with Hashtag Bourbon, and Wild Zamezi questionable.


Joining the Hopeful on the card is the Grade 3, $300,000 Saranac for 3-year-olds. Expected for the 1 1/8 mile turf race are Belisarious, Beyond Smart, Cabo Cat, Lafontaine, Michaelmas, Predicting, Ring Weekend and Storm. Can'thelpbelieving and Smooth Daddy are questionable.



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