Jersey Town fighting fit for Kelso; Poseidon fresh for Vosburgh
Nagging foot issues have limited Jersey Town's schedule in recent years, but trainer Barclay Tagg said the six-year-old is entering Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Kelso Handicap in the best shape since he won the 2010 Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap.
"He has the right amount of breezes under his belt, and he's coming off a race (a third in the Grade 1 Forego on September 1 at Saratoga) he well ran in," Tagg said. "He has so many minor problems that it's hard to bring him into a race step-by-step. Right now we've been able to do that, so hopefully he'll run well. He looks good because he fills out like a monster."
Jersey Town returned from a four-month layoff to finish fifth in Saratoga's Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt on August 5, then made a bold inside rally in the Forego to lead turning for home before tiring to third, 4 1/2 lengths behind winner Emcee and a neck behind runner-up Hamazing Destiny.
"He had an opening at the five-sixteenths pole (in the Forego), and he shot through it like the wire was 10 feet on," Tagg said. "That's a bad group to do that with. It turns out it stayed wide open anyway; nobody came back on the rail. He could have done it at the three-sixteenths pole and it would have been a lot better. He has about a good three-sixteenths of a mile where he'll really explode. If you ask him for more than that, he's probably going to come up short."
Tagg was going to run Jersey Town in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational on Saturday as he believes the Charles Fipke homebred is best at the Vosburgh's six-furlong distance, but called an audible on Wednesday and instead entered the chestnut in the Kelso.
"It looked like the Kelso was the better place than the Vosburgh," Tagg said. "There are monsters in both races. There were monsters when he won the Cigar Mile, too. I don't like either race in particular for him. If To Honor and Serve is on his game, he can be unbeatable, but he can be a little inconsistent. I think the mile has the chance to set up speed-wise for an explosive finish. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out."
After 36-1 longshot Poseidon's Warrior won the Alfred G. Vanderbilt, surprising just about everyone but trainer Robert "Butch" Reid, a decision had to be made about his next start: Run next in the Forego at seven furlongs, or await the six-furlong Vosburgh Invitational 55 days later?
With sights set firmly on the Breeders' Cup Sprint, Reid chose to wait and run the four-year-old son of Speightstown at his best distance, where he has won six of 12 starts.
"I don't think it's a matter of him thriving on shorter breaks -- they all do better with more breaks," Reid said. "The Vanderbilt took a lot out of him. It was a tough race on him, and he ran very hard. That was his first hard race in almost a year, so I gave him the break, and I think he's ready to run a big race."
After Saratoga, Reid took Poseidon's Warrior back to his home base at Parx Racing, where the colt has sizzled in his workouts.
For the Vosburgh, which drew a field of 10, Poseidon's Warrior will start from the inside post position.
"This horse has a tendency to bear out a little bit," Reid said. "Normally, I wouldn't like the rail, but this horse has decent speed, and this might help him getting around a little bit. I would have preferred maybe the (number 3 post), but it will be fine.
"I think he's going to be a little bit of a price. He needs to confirm that Vanderbilt win. It's been like a year-long plan since last November when we started thinking about him for the Breeders' Cup. One more step to go."
Despite largely running a claiming outfit, it is not rare to see trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul pluck an old class horse out of the ranks and send him up to the ladder to a Grade 1 race.
Game Ball, his longshot entrant in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup this Saturday, is just such a horse. Purchased for $47,500 out of a race at Woodbine, the son of Sky Mesa has run in the Grade 1 Man o'War (seventh) and Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational (eighth).
Now, Chatterpaul will switch Game Ball to the dirt, a surface on which he has won six of seven starts, albeit against less talented company than he will face on "Super Saturday."
Chatterpaul, who won the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap in 2011 with $35,000 claimer Mission Approved, has no illusions about Game Ball winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but he is not afraid of the competition.
"Most of the horses, some of them are really good horses, but some of them are tailing off also if you look at the program," he said. "This horse is doing well, a really nice horse, training well. He can run. It's just that I'm looking for the right spot. I'm not crazy about this horse on the turf. Even the rider, (Jose) Espinoza, said he worked easy there on the dirt, easy in hand, a minute flat.
"It's a really top-class horse, just like Mission Approved," the trainer added. "I wouldn't put the horse in if I didn't see any quality in him. There are a few horses you'll find that you can claim and if they're decent enough, you can bring them back to their old class. And he seems like one who will get back there, eventually."
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