Palace Malice faces stern test in nine-horse Whitney
"He really is (an iron horse)," Pletcher said of Palace Malice, who made 10 starts last year. "He's an uncomplicated horse. He's hearty, he stays in the feed tub, you can train him however you want. I think he actually thrives on action."
Palace Malice returned to the races this year with a hard-fought head decision in the March 8 Gulfstream Park H. and has performed spectacularly since then, registering a 113 BRIS Speed rating for his 4 3/4-length triumph in the New Orleans H. prior to a 9 3/4-length romp in the Westchester. The bay Kentucky-bred squared off against an all-star field at the tricky one-mile distance last time in the Metropolitan H. and showed his class in the final furlongs, driving to a one-length win over Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile hero Goldencents.
"I hate to have an upset stomach this early in the morning," Lukas said about drawing the rail. "Not good. I never really have much luck on the rail in any big race, not really in (a race) of this magnitude."
Will Take Charge is the early 4-1 second choice and shares 124-pound highweight duties with Palace Malice.
Itsmyluckyday will enter the Whiney on the upswing for conditioner Eddie Plesa Jr. Runner-up in last year's Preakness, the Lawyer Ron colt has reeled off three convincing stakes wins since returning from a nine-month layoff earlier this year with a fourth in the Gulfstream Park H., most recently posting a sharp 1 1/2-length tally in the July 6 Salvator Mile. He was flattered when the runner-up and third-place finishers, Bradester and Valid, came back to run one-two in reverse order in last Sunday's Monmouth Cup, and Itsmyluckyday earned his top Speed rating of the year last time (103).
"It's almost the same training pattern as he did last year for the West Virginia Derby," Stall said of the gelding's preparations. "He flourished and won that race by almost 10 lengths. He's going to step into a tougher race than the West Virginia Derby. He seems to thrive up here, even though he has never run over the racetrack. We sure love the way he gets over it.
"We think he's a Grade 1 type of horse. The Stephen Foster was his second race in 8 1/2 months and his first race around two turns (this year). He went from just an allowance race into that race. I think he acquitted himself quite well. He had the lead between calls in the stretch, and he got a little heavy right there toward the end. It did knock him down, but I think it built him up a little bit. I think he's ready for a big race in his third off the layoff."
Moreno, who finished a nose second in last year's Travers, brings plenty of speed to the Whitney equation from post 2. The Ghostzapper gelding exits an encouraging effort for trainer Eric Guillot, finishing second in the July 5 Suburban, and will keep Junior Alvarado in the saddle. Moreno has been installed as the 10-1 co-fourth choice.
Romansh, winner of last year's Curlin at Saratoga via disqualification, is also 10-1 on the morning line. The Tom Albertrani trainee captured the Excelsior at Aqueduct earlier this season and recorded a good third to Palace Malice in the Met Mile two starts back. The four-year-old son of Bernardini will look to make amends for a fifth as the favorite in the Suburban last time.
Grade 2 hero Last Gunfighter, a seven-time stakes winner for Chad Brown, drew the far outside post with leading rider Javier Castellano and comes next on the morning line at 15-1. Rounding out the field at 20-1 are Golden Ticket, who dead-heated for the win in the 2012 Travers; and Suburban third-placer Prayer for Relief.
Competitive dozen line up for Test
Sweet Reason is another who's garnered a fair amount of attention, capturing the one-mile Acorn on June 7, and will cut back to seven furlongs for the first time on Saturday since a 5 3/4-length romp in last September's Spinaway over a sloppy, sealed Saratoga track. The Leah Gyarmati pupil is actually two-for-two at the Spa, having broken her maiden debut by 6 1/4 lengths on a similar sloppy surface before going on to be second in Belmont's Frizette and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
The bay daughter of Street Sense began her sophomore campaign with a win against optional claiming rivals on March 7 at Aqueduct and has competed just twice more, running third in the Gazelle and scoring in the Acorn.
Sweet Whiskey has placed in her other three starts this year, including the Beaumont at Keeneland, and keeps jockey John Velazquez aboard as she seeks to the turn the tables on a number entered in the Test.
Princess Violet could rebound in this spot after a well-beaten second in the 1 1/16-mile Mother Goose last out. The bay daughter of Officer romped in her prior two starts sprinting against state-bred foes, earning a 99 BRIS Speed rating in one of those, and keeps Jose Ortiz in the pilot's seat. Thank You Marylou could also benefit from a cut back in distance after facing top quality rivals at route distances. The Mike Maker trainee was an easy winner of the seven-furlong Any Limit in her season opener and gets Rajiv Maragh in the saddle for the first time here.
Bird Maker was well-beaten in her last try against graded rivals, but that came in the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle and the Ian Wilkes filly has since captured a six-furlong optional claimer under the Twin Spires by 11 lengths. She's not competed since that May 25 race but has been working at Saratoga since July 9. Tea Time and unbeaten Little Alexis both enter the Test off stakes wins and own comparable numbers to the field's best on Saturday, while Red Velvet completes the Test off a fourth in the Victory Ride.
Happy hoping to have it his way in Alfred G. Vanderbilt
"It was a good performance for his first start off the layoff, and it should have him a lot tighter for this one," said trainer Chad Brown.
The other, Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship hero Falling Sky, is cross-entered Saturday to a stakes at Mountaineer.
A fast, contested pace would help a number of contenders. Bahamian Squall, runner-up in the 2013 Vanderbilt following a score in the Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder, recently returned from a seventh-month layoff. Third in the $90,000 Housebuster at Gulfstream on July 5, the David Fawkes charge figures to be much sharper second time off the bench.
Palace, who counts wins in the True North Handicap and Fall Highweight Handicap, is another threat from mid-pack. He enters off a distant second-place finish in the seven-furlong Belmont Sprint Championship to Clearly Now, who finished up seven furlongs in a blistering 1:19 4/5.
Capo Bastone upset the course-and-distance King's Bishop at odds of 28-1 last August, but the Todd Pletcher trainee has done little of note since. Lemon Drop Dream, winner of the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn, was second to Happy My Way at Pimlico but only fifth in a grass stakes at Evangeline Downs last time. Vyjack, a dual graded stakes winner around two turns as a three-year-old, shortens up after being eased in the 1 1/4-mile Suburban Handicap on July 5.
Big Blue Kitten, who notched Grade 1 scores last season in the United Nations at Monmouth and Sword Dancer at Saratoga, headlines the $100,000 Lure over 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf. Subsequently second by a nose in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Big Blue Kitten has not been out since finishing a sub-par eighth in the Breeders' Cup Turf in November.
Restricted to horses that have not won a graded stakes in 2014, the Lure has also attracted the Grade 3 turf winners Swift Warrior and Rogue Romance; 2013 Bernard Baruch runner-up Paris Vegas; 2013 Knickerbocker runner-up Plainview; and the capable New York-bred performer Kharafa.
Among those entered for the main track only is Alpha, dead-heat winner of the 2012 Travers and outright victor of the 2013 Woodward.
Baffert, Hollendorfer, Sadler runners comprise Hirsch field
Iotapa will be making her Del Mar debut in this spot under jockey Joe Talamo. The Afleet Alex four-year-old has been unplaced just once in her 11-race career, with that coming two back on May 3 at Churchill Downs in the Humana Distaff. She's also scored in the Santa Maria and placed in the Santa Margarita and Santa Monica this season.
More Chocolate, who will be making her seasonal bow on Saturday, hasn't visited the winner's circle since taking the 2013 La Canada. Since then the Malibu Moon mare has run second in the Santa Margarita, Vanity Handicap and this contest last August, all Grade 1 contests. She was last finishing seventh in the Goldikova in November and gets a rider switch to Victor Espinoza.
Legacy is the lesser of the Sadler entrants and will be making just her fourth start against stakes foes in this spot. The Sightseeing four-year-old was a well-beaten second in the Santa Lucia and sixth in the Adoration at Santa Anita over the spring, but enters Saturday's contest off a nose victory in the July 6 Cypress at Los Alamitos.
Broken Sword hasn't raced since a fifth in her seasonal bow, the January 19 La Canada, but has recorded three straight bullet works recently, including a half-mile in a best-of-60 :46 1/5 at Del Mar on Monday.
Kingman flies late to beat Toronado in Sussex
A scintillating surge of power carried Kingman to the lead and an emphatic, if relatively narrow, victory in Wednesday's Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.
Crossing the line in a time of 1:41.75, five seconds slower than standard and reflective of a tactical race and early steady pace, the John Gosden-trained Kingman won by a length from last year's victor, Toronado, with a head back to Darwin in third. Kingman, who was ridden by James Doyle for owner-breeder Khalid Abdullah, was sent off the 2-5 favorite.
"I thought they would go a decent pace because they know he (Kingman) has a turn of foot, but I could see Aidan (O'Brien, trainer of third-placed Darwin) playing the same game," Gosden said. "It was as if they were saying, 'we know he'll come from last to first, and if we can nick two lengths it will take a lot of getting back.'
"Actually he has the class to do it under hands and heels. It reminds me of the fact I had him in the July Cup, and if truth be known he would have won it. I'm not just being loud-mouthed when I say that because I feel it's a statement of fact.
"James said the horse was happy on today's ground, but he just took a little organizing with two and a half furlongs to run -- at the furlong marker he was in control again. James has a cool head and didn't panic, and the horse has a gear and then another gear. Today he only had to use one gear, but that was the same for all the horses because they only had a chance to use one gear.
"He's in the Prix Jacques le Marois which comes up pretty quick on August 17, but the (Queen Elizabeth II Stakes) has always been the big, big target and that remains the plan. So we will keep winding it back from there. I'm not keen on the Prix du Moulin, so he could go straight to the QEII."
Toronado looked to have the upper hand with a furlong to run, only to be caught by a flying Kingman in the final 50 yards.
"Toronado has run a brilliant race," said Harry Herbert, racing manager to Toronado's owner Al Shaqab Racing. "Richard (Hughes) felt before the race that if he could steal a length or two off a slow pace with Kingman possibly not letting himself on the ground, that we might have a chance. All credit to the winner though. He is some racehorse and was very impressive.
"I suppose either Toronado or Olympic Glory will take on the winner on Champions Day. If it's soft, that would obviously suit Olympic Glory, but right now I don't know where Toronado will go next."
Highland Reel justified his lofty reputation and a starting price of 10-11 with a decisive victory in the Group 2 Vintage Stakes for two-year-olds.
The son of Galileo had entered many notebooks when powering to a 12-length victory in a mile maiden at Gowran Park on July 1 and had no problem dropping back to seven furlongs, staying on strongly to score by 2 1/4 lengths. Tupi was second with Room Key three-quarters of a length farther back in third.
"Highland Reel could have gone for a winners' race at Naas over six next week, even though he won over a mile last time," trainer Aidan O'Brien said. "He is not short of pace and only ran over a mile last time because it fitted in well.
"He is a horse who learns quick and he will have learnt a lot today. He traveled well, quickened and went through the line strong. Joseph (O'Brien, jockey) said it was hard to pull him up.
"He could go to the Futurity or National Stakes next. All those type of races are open to him."
Snow Sky was given a quote of 12-1 for the St Leger by the sponsoring Ladbrokes following his narrow victory in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes.
The son of Nayef, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, was coming in on the back of a fourth in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, having missed the Derby with a setback.
He was produced to lead by James Doyle approaching the final furlong but had to resist the challenges of Windshear and the front-running Somewhat as the winning post loomed. The winning margin was a neck, with a head back to the third.
Lord Grimthorpe, racing manager to Snow Sky's owner Khalid Abdullah, said: "Snow Sky has traveled well into the race but, looking at the head on, he saw the bend passing the winning post and just ducked a bit. James straightened him up and once Snow Sky changed his legs, he has gone on again.
"Obviously, the great man (Sir Michael) isn't here and I can't speak for him but I think we will consider the Great Voltigeur Stakes (at York) next. It's certainly a possibility now.
Windshear became boxed in, then flew down the outside to finish fast and too late into second, beaten a neck by the winner.
Mark Johnston, who trains third-placed Somewhat, had no such hard-luck story, for his colt made most of the running and was simply deprived of first prize in the closing stages, despite rallying.
"He's run a very good race and (jockey) Joe (Fanning) confirmed something we already knew that he is quite deceptive," Johnston said. "With his big, lumbering stride he looks flat out, and in hindsight Joe wishes he had gone a bit quicker. The horse's stride suggests he is flat out, but he has more to give.
"The St Leger is still on his agenda. Earlier this season we thought we would be sticking to a mile and a quarter with him, but as we've seen today he clearly stays. The Leger could be on the cards."
Amoss earns career win number 3,000 at Indiana Grand
Trainer Tom Amoss had five chances to hit his 3,000th career training win on Wednesday at Indiana Grand and notched that milestone with his very first starter of the day as Infinity of Humor, ridden by Jeremy Rose, romped home in the afternoon's 2ND race.
Starting from post 2, Infinity of Humor jumped out to an early lead and was never overtaken, rallying home to a 1 1/4-length victory in the $24,000 starter allowance.
"I remember my first win very well," said Amoss in a post-race interview with Rachel McLaughlin at Indiana Grand. "It was in 1987 and the filly's name was Prize Dream at Sportsman's Park in Chicago, which is now defunct, but I'm still here."
It is only fitting that the milestone win was with one of Amoss' longtime owners, Maggi Moss, who earned the leading owner title at Indiana Grand in 2013. Moss claimed Infinity of Humor at Fair Grounds earlier in the year. Since partnering up with the Amoss Stable, Infinity of Humor, a three-year-old daughter of Got the Last Laugh, has had two wins and two thirds in four starts.
The milestone by Amoss was followed by two more wins on the card, paired up with Rose in each of those races. Moss also earned an owner double on the early part of the card. Amoss' other wins were with Banner Bill for owner Loooch Racing Stable, followed by a win with Little Face owned by Moss.
"This is a group accomplishment," Amoss said. "Without a great staff, great owners and most importantly great athletes to train, it never would have happened and that is not lost on me. I also want to thank Indiana Grand who has always treated me with such hospitality. It shows how much they care about racing with everything they do and for them to go out of their way for me today, I am very humbled."
Kevin Greely, director of racing, and Jon Schuster, vice president and general manager of racing, joined Amoss and his wife, Colleen, in the winner's circle after the race with a customized sign to signify the accomplishment. The Amoss' also had a sign designed by their daughters, Hayley and Ashley, who could not be in attendance. Both daughters are products of Louisiana State University, just like their parents.
The Amoss family splits their time between New Orleans and Louisville as their home bases.
Ivawood the one to beat in Richmond at Goodwood
Richard Hughes has labeled Ivawood his banker of the Glorious Goodwood meeting, and the unbeaten star of the Richard Hannon Jr. stable puts his lofty reputation on the line again in Thursday's Group 2 Richmond Stakes.
Saddled with a three-pound penalty as a result of his emphatic win in the July Stakes over six furlongs at Newmarket July 10, the bay bids to provide the yard with a fifth renewal since 2008.
"Ivawood has been compared with Toronado and we have seen the similarities at home -- he is certainly high up in our pecking order of two-year-olds," his trainer commented. "He won the July Stakes at Newmarket impressively and he'll be even better on this drier ground, as he has so much natural speed."
Re-opposing from the July is runner-up Jungle Cat, who has 2 3/4 lengths to find with Ivawood. Previously third in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, he is a tough character who is bound to be in the shake-up again.
Of the more unexposed types, Moonraker is interesting coming off a maiden win over five furlongs at Ascot May 10. On that occasion, he had the subsequent Windsor Castle Stakes third Mubtaghaa back in second, but the fact that that rival went on to finish eighth behind Ivawood in the July suggests he has to improve markedly to trouble the favorite.
The Group 3 Lillie Langtry Stakes at Goodwood offers a real mix of distaffers, with the proven extreme stayer Missunited taking on last year's Epsom Oaks heroine Talent.
Whereas the latter has generally failed to build on her classic exploits of last term, Missunited has gone from strength to strength and was in the thick of the action in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. Only beaten a neck and a short head by Leading Light and Estimate there, she was battling back at the close of the 2 1/2-mile showpiece after attempting to make all. Previously, she had won over this trip in Leopardstown's Saval Beg Stakes and she will be a tough nut to crack if allowed freedom on the front end.
Talent also had Leading Light just ahead when runner-up in the St Leger at Doncaster in September, and looked in need of further when third in Haydock's Lancashire Oaks over 1 1/2 miles July 5.
One who is totally unexposed and could spoil the party is Stella Bellissima, who beat the subsequent wide-margin winner Gwafa in impressive style on debut over 12 furlongs at Newbury July 3.
"Anyone can see that she's got a massive task on official figures, being over 30 pounds behind the highest-rated," jockey William Buick said. "But the boss, John Gosden, has an amazing record with lightly raced fillies and can turn them inside out.
"This filly is bred to appreciate a stamina test, coming from a great bottom line, and is a half-sister to Duncan and Samuel by the influential Sea the Stars. I can see her thriving over a mile and six and while I know it's a tall order, I'm sure this is a filly that will be making her mark during the second half of the season."
Churchill Downs Inc. signs agreement with Saratoga Harness
Saratoga Harness Racing Inc. (SHRI) and Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) announced they have executed a binding term sheet and are close to finalizing a five-year management contract wherein CDI will manage Saratoga Casino and Raceway in Saratoga Springs, New York, and Saratoga Casino Black Hawk in Black Hawk, Colorado. Once finalized, the management contract will become effective as soon as CDI obtains necessary licenses and approvals in New York and Colorado.
Should CDI and SHRI be successful in their joint bid to build Capital View Casino & Resort, a proposed world class destination resort casino in East Greenbush, New York, CDI will also manage that facility. A binding term sheet for such management agreement was included with CDI and SHRI's New York casino license application that was submitted on June 30.
SHRI and CDI have also signed a binding term sheet and begun negotiations on a stock purchase agreement wherein CDI will purchase 25 percent of economic and voting interests of SHRI. In addition to its flagship Saratoga Casino and Raceway, SHRI owns a controlling interest in Saratoga Casino Black Hawk; a 50 percent interest in a joint venture with Delaware North Companies to manage the Gideon Putnam Hotel and Resort in Saratoga Springs, New York, and a minority interest in Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky. SHRI, together with its partner Rush Street Gaming, filed a second application for a New York casino in Newburgh, New York, in the Hudson Valley-Catskills Region.
"We are very excited about the expansion of our relationship with Churchill Downs," said James D. Featherstonhaugh, Secretary & Chief Legal Officer of SHRI. "We look forward to a long and successful partnership between two iconic names in the racing and gaming world."
"We are proud to take an ownership interest in Saratoga Harness Racing Inc., which shares with us a passion for offering premier racing and gaming entertainment," said Bill Carstanjen, President and Chief Operating Officer of Churchill Downs Inc. "We are excited to expand our operations into New York and Colorado and hope to become more involved in the Capitol Region if we are fortunate enough to be awarded a license to build and operate Capital View Casino & Resort."
Brown Panther, Estimate to clash in Goodwood Cup
A brilliant renewal of the Group 2 Goodwood Cup on Thursday has 10 declared runners including last year's winner Brown Panther. The six-year-old was bred by and is part-owned by former England footballer Michael Owen, for whom victory would be bittersweet following the death of Treble Heights, Brown Panther's dam, on Monday.
Owen had a day to remember last year at Glorious Goodwood, welcoming in his biggest racing victor. Brown Panther finished fourth in the Gold Cup at Ascot in June before coming second on his latest outing in the Prix Maurice de Nieuil in France on July 13.
"Brown Panther's in very good form ahead of the Goodwood Cup," Owen said. "He's very versatile in that he'll go on any ground so he should have perfect conditions to retain his crown. We're very hopeful. Long-term, the Long Distance Cup on British Champions Day is a huge option for us. He seems to relish Ascot, having won at Royal Ascot previously, and there's a big prize available."
Trainer Tom Dascombe is hopeful of a good run.
"We are very happy with Brown Panther and I think that he has produced his best ever set of results this season," Dascombe said. "It was a massive thrill to win the Goodwood Cup last year. It's the oldest group race in the country and a fantastic race to win. I just wish that we had more horses able to compete at this level -- Brown Panther is our flagship.
"Brown Panther was second in France earlier this month but I think that racing over there doesn't really suit him as he doesn't have that turn of foot that the French horses do. His weight is now exactly the same as it was before that run and he seems to be taking his races better than ever these days.
"Everyone seems to think that he wants very soft ground yet every time he runs on it he gets beaten. He actually wants good ground and conditions on Thursday should be fine for him."
The Queen's Estimate, winner of the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot last year, finished second in this year's renewal although the mare may be disqualified after testing positive to traces of morphine in a post-race test.
Godolphin has won three previous runnings of the Goodwood Cup and has three chances of adding to that record, all trained by Saeed bin Suroor. Eight-year-old Cavalryman won the Princess of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket on his latest start earlier this month, Ahzeemah captured last season's Lonsdale Cup at York, while Excellent Result won a Group 2 at Meydan in March.
The Richard Fahey-trained Angel Gabrial is having his first start in group company after winning the Northumberland Plate on his latest run. Brass Ring, trained by John Gosden, is also having his first group race run having finished third in the marathon Queen Alexandara Stakes on his latest outing at Royal Ascot.
Former hurdler Forgotten Voice won last season's Glorious Stakes at Goodwood, while the Andrew Balding-trained Whiplash Willie is having his first run since finishing third to Brown Panther in the Henry II Stakes on May 29.
The mare Moment in Time was bought by leading Australian stud farm Eliza Park for 350,000 guineas in December, but has yet to subsequently trouble the judge.
Candy Boy hoping to make his own mark in WV Derby
It will not be an easy task. Tapiture has three graded stakes wins to his credit, including a 4 1 /4-length tally in the Southwest at Oaklawn in February. Last time, the Tapit colt rebounded from a poor showing in the Kentucky Derby to claim the Matt Winn at Churchill Downs by two lengths.
Vicar's in Trouble, the Louisiana Derby winner, could be the most dangerous of the three. The Mike Maker trainee did not show his customary foot as the 7-5 favorite in the Iowa Derby last out, and ultimately faded to third over a sloppy track. If able to outbreak the other speed, which have less class, Vicar's in Trouble could replicate the form that produced two graded stakes wins at Fair Grounds last winter.
The big three all raced in the Kentucky Derby, though none were much of a factor. Candy Boy finished 13th and Tapiture 15th after meeting trouble in the first turn, while Vicar's in Trouble also was roughed up en route to trailing the field of 19.
Likely to keep the ex-claimer on his toes is multiple Grade 3 winner Falling Sky, who stretches back out after taking the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship and Donald LeVine Memorial in two of his last four starts.
A swift pace might aid Carve, last-out winner of the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap, and the classic-placed Mylute, unplaced twice behind Moonshine Mullin at Churchill Downs and in the Suburban Handicap last time.
Noted sprint star Delaunay figures to be an overwhelming favorite in the $100,000 Senator Robert C. Byrd Memorial over six furlongs. The Tom Amoss-trained seven-year-old has won numerous stakes throughout the Midwest and Louisiana, highlighted by graded scores in the Churchill Downs and Aristides in Louisville.
The $100,000 West Virginia House of Delegates, at one mile and 70 yards on turf, features Regally Ready, a past winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint who has developed into a capable miler in the region. He earned back-to-back wins at Churchill Downs in May, including the $64,000 Opening Verse.
Free World, hero of the $207,000 Centaur at Indiana Downs last season, was a solid fifth in the Firecracker at Churchill last time and might prove tough to catch. Coalport, a multiple stakes winner campaigned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, is another leading contender in his second start off a layoff.
The top two finishers from Mountaineer's version of the Firecracker, a $75,000 stakes for fillies and mares run on July 2, highlight a contentious renewal of the $100,000 West Virginia Senate President's Cup at one mile and 70 yards on the turf. La Malaguena and Sassy Kitten were separated by a neck in that heat, but will need their running shoes on to cope with graded stakes-placed veterans Moment in Dixie and Queen's Award, as well as Canadian invader Surtsey and the capable pair of Quiet Success and Soft Whisper.
Divine Fortune in search of A.P. Smithwick hat trick
Divine Fortune, co-owned by Sheppard and William Pape, will be part of a heavily favored three-horse entry along with Italian Wedding and Barnstorming, two geldings Sheppard owns outright.
Italian Wedding finished second in last year's Smithwick before taking the New York Turf Writers Cup, but has placed in only two of five starts since then. Barnstorming captured the Michael G. Walsh for novice at Saratoga last year and later finished second in the Colonial Cup. However, the eight-year-old fell in his only previous start this year against allowance company at Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Likely to keep Divine Fortune honest on the front end is Pleasant Woodman, hero of the Imperial Cup and Marcellus Frost earlier this year. Another with early foot is Wanganui, twice stakes-placed in novice company at Saratoga two years ago. Wanganui is trained by Elizabeth Voss, who also saddles English import Makari for his U.S. debut.
Triple Grade 1 winner Demonstrative, winner of the New York Turf Writers Cup in 2012, has been unplaced in four of his last five starts, while Spy in the Sky, winner of the 2012 Smithwick and 2009 Turf Writers Cup, was pulled up in his last two efforts over hurdles.
The Smithwick field is rounded out by All Together, second in the Turf Writers Cup and Lonesome Glory last season, and multiple stakes winner Staying On.
The featured flat event of Saratoga's Thursday program is the $100,000 Evan Shipman, a nine-furlong test for older New York-breds. The likely favorite is Big Business, a multiple allowance winner who just missed to subsequent Suburban Handicap winner Zivo in the Commentator Handicap at Belmont Park two back.
Also in with a shot is Grade 3-placed Escapefromreality, winner of the Albany at Saratoga last year and second by a neck to returning rival Sailmate in an May 23 allowance marking his season debut. Awesome Vision, runner-up by a head in the 2013 Evan Shipman, enters off a photo-finish loss to the returning Fox Rules in a $50,000 state-bred stakes at Finger Lakes on Independence Day.
Elite Racing Club UK's Stars Above Me (Exceed and Excel) made her U.S. debut a winning one in Wednesday's $100,000 Coronation Cup at Saratoga, rallying boldly in deep stretch to triumph going away by 2 1/4 lengths. A maiden winner from five starts in England, the three-year-old filly was bumped hard at the start and had to wait in traffic in upper stretch, altering course to the inside for clear sailing late under Irad Ortiz Jr. Now 6-2-2-1 overall, Stars Above Me was making her first start for Graham Motion. "I was surprised she overcame (the trouble she had), but she really did it very easily," Motion said. "It was very impressive. You always wonder if they're going to overcome (not having a place to run in the stretch), but she did it well. For her European style, it didn't work out so badly. I didn't know if (Ortiz) had horse, but it turned out he had plenty." Off as the slight 2-1 favorite among seven rivals, Stars Above Me completed 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02 on the "good" turf...
Dual Derby hero Australia (Galileo) is back in full work in preparation for the second half of his sophomore season, according to trainer Aidan O'Brien. Off since his Irish Derby (Ire-G1) score June 28 -- which followed a June 7 Epsom Derby (Eng-G1) victory -- Australia's possible targets include the Juddmonte International (Eng-G1) at York August 20 and the Irish Champion S. (Ire-G1) at Leopardstown September 13. "He's back in full work and everything has gone according to plan." O'Brien said. "The boys (owners John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Teo Ah Khing) have their eyes on a couple of races -- York and Leopardstown -- and they will decide nearer the time whether they go to York and Leopardstown or just York or just Leopardstown."...
Jockey Rosie Napravnik will be signing autographs from 11:30 to noon (EDT) at Saratoga on Thursday to benefit the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF)'s "Olivia's Herd." Napravnik will appear at the NYRA Charity Booth, located near the Jockeys' Room, for the autograph signing. The 5TH race on the Saratoga card that day will be named the "Olivia's Herd" in honor of Olivia Saylor, the late daughter of racehorse owner and breeder Paul Saylor. Saylor is a regular contributor to the TRF. He created the "Olivia's Herd" Fund in 2011 in Olivia's memory to provide for the horses in the TRF program who are most in need of special care or feeding because of age or other physical condition. "Caring for animals was Olivia's passion," Paul Saylor explained. "This day at the races will bring awareness to the mission of 'Olivia's Herd' and the work of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. I am thrilled that Rosie will be there to raise the profile of the cause and attract young people to the track and to the mission of 'Olivia's Herd.'" The TRF will be giving away commemorative gifts to anyone who comes and signs up for information about "Olivia's Herd" at the NYRA Charity Booth from 11a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday...
Eddie's First (Square Eddie), entered in Friday's $200,000 Real Good Deal at Del Mar, is being examined and treated after collapsing during training on Tuesday morning during training. Jockey Amir Cedeno was momentarily pinned under the horse but fast action by trainers Phil D'Amato and Gary Mandella prevented major injury to either horse or rider. "(Eddie's First) looks great today," trainer Doug O'Neill said Wednesday. "He just had a bad nosebleed. I don't know if it was the humidity or what caused it, but it got to the point where he was struggling to breathe and that's what made him collapse. We're going to X-ray his lungs in the next few days and talk to the veterinarian about what it's going to take for his lungs to get healthy and start exercising again. Hopefully they're clean and it was an isolated incident. If there was any trauma to his lungs, then that can take a few months." The bay colt set a course record of 1:10.73 at Santa Anita when breaking his maiden by 9 1/4 lengths at about 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf on May 11. Eddie's First has been unplaced while tackling graded rivals in his two races since...
British-based Juddmonte stallions Oasis Dream, Dansili and Frankel will be made available to cover limited books Southern Hemisphere time this year. Dansili is the sire of dual Australian Group 1 winner Foreteller, and he will stand for £60,000. Oasis Dream had stakes winners Ominous and Opinion to his credit in Australia last year, and he will be offered for £50,000. Frankel, whose first foals have already proven extremely popular at sales across the globe, covered 21 mares Southern Hemisphere time last year and will stand this year for £100,000...
Last-out Eddie Read (G1) winner Tom's Tribute (Lion Heart) traveled five-eighths in 1:01 3/5 over Del Mar's Polytrack on Wednesday. He was on the worktab by Grade 2 queen Pontchatrain (War Front), who posted three panels in :36 4/5...
Trainer Richard Baltas celebrated his first Grade 1, and first Del Mar, stakes victory with Big Macher (Beau Genius) in Sunday's Bing Crosby H. (G1) by taking some stable crew members out to dinner at a Ruth's Chris steakhouse and "had a nice time." Big Macher, a $16,000 claim at Del Mar a year ago, recorded his third stakes victory in his last four starts. Baltas said Big Macher came out of the race, a Breeders' Cup Challenge Win & You're In qualifier for the Turf Sprint at Santa Anita, in excellent shape. The decision that lies ahead is what path to take with the bay gelding to get to the big race. "It'll depend on how he is, day by day," Baltas said. "We'll have to talk it over with the owners." Options for a next start includes the Pat O'Brien (G2) on Pacific Classic Day, August 24, back at Del Mar; a top-level sprint stakes in New York; or the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1) in October.
Owner Kaleem Shah owns both five-year-old Fed Biz (Giant's Causeway) and three-year-old Bayern (Offlee Wild). Both trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Martin Garcia. Both wire-to-wire winners, Fed Biz of Saturday's San Diego H. (G2) at Del Mar and Bayern of Sunday's Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park. Baffert reported that Shah had departed his San Diego residence for Vienna, Virginia, the headquarters of the CalNet communications company he founded. "He's very happy," Baffert said. "It was a perfect weekend for him. Both horses ran like they were training and both performances were just amazing really. They just dominated. That's why we're in the business, to see who's got the fastest horse." Bayern trained for the Haskell at Del Mar and returned to the California venue after the race. Baffert is looking at races in the east, possibly the August 23 Travers (G1) at Saratoga, for Bayern and scanning the country for a Grade 1 stakes for Fed Biz, who is zero-for-six at that level of competition...
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA)'s investigation into a handful of positive morphine tests in recent weeks is drawing to a close, BHA Chief Executive Paul Bittar revealed. Seven horses across Britain, and with various trainers, returned positive tests for morphine in what is believed to be a case of contaminated feed, although the source has yet to be officially confirmed. The most high-profile horse involved in the case is The Queen's five-year-old mare Estimate (Monsun), who tested positive following her second-place finish in the Gold Cup (Eng-G1) at Royal Ascot June 19. "At this stage all our information points towards a feed contamination, as has been reported," Bittar told Channel 4. "I'm not sure that we have been quiet through this because we broke with our normal protocol to advise about this before the horses were named, which is slightly unusual for us. We were conscious of the high-profile nature, particularly Estimate, and the fact there were multiple horses involved. It is fair to ask could we have done more to explain the difference between doping and medication issues, but we get caught between being the regulator and making sure that we play out the whole investigation and not ruling out any potential reason for the positive. While everything is pointing towards feed contamination, as the regulator we are forced to play that out right through the investigation."...
The winner of Wednesday's 63rd running of the Graduation Stakes for California-bred two-year-olds has a tough act to follow. California Chrome was a 2 3/4-length winner of the 2013 event and went on to victory in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. "He liked the racetrack and he handled it well (winning the Graduation)," trainer Art Sherman said. "He was still a little green when he was here last year. He never really developed and got strong as he is until he was a three-year-old. Down here last year he was a horse who enjoyed learning the game. He was cool and collected, at a growing age, and we never had any problems with him. We didn't rush him and he turned out the way he did. He was a decent horse at two. But not the kind you could say 'Wow, next year he's going to win the Derby.'"...
Time is running out for one lucky fan and three friends to win an all-expense-paid 48-hour dream trip to the Travers S. (G1) on August 23, and the Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar on August 24, in America's Best Racing's "Ultimate 48 Sweepstakes." The winner and their posse will be shuttled coast-to-coast in style for summer racing's two biggest days. The prize package includes airfare and limousine transportation to the big events, clubhouse seating, luxury hotel accommodations, fancy new clothes and $1,000 for gambling. Contest registration will remain open through Saturday, with the drawing to take place on Sunday. Additional entries can be earned by registering via multiple social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter...
Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA) and Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) have teamed up to create the TCA Thoroughbred Marketplace on October 4-5 at Pimlico. The event is built into the RRP's second annual Thoroughbred Makeover, a national gathering of the farms, organizations and individuals who transition racehorses into second careers. The weekend includes educational seminars, demonstrations and the America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred Contest. "The bridges to second careers for these horses include nonprofit placement organizations, professional trainers, amateur trainers, and direct sales from racing owners and breeders," said RRP founder Steuart Pittman. "This Marketplace invites participation from all of these and will attract a large pool of horse shoppers. If it succeeds we have created a model worth replicating." Each horse will be listed in an online and printed catalog with video links and photographs. Upon arrival at Pimlico they will be observed by a veterinarian whose notes will be posted online for potential buyers and adopters to consider. Blemishes, body condition score, and lameness will be noted. Educational materials will also be available to educate buyers and adopters about the relevance of various injuries and blemishes. Each horse will appear on Saturday in the main arena on the track to demonstrate either its skills or potential. None will be auctioned, and neither TCA, RRP, nor Maryland Jockey Club will be a party to any transactions that take place privately during or after the event. Interested sellers or buyers can find information about participation in the TCA Thoroughbred Marketplace and the Thoroughbred Makeover at RetiredRacehorseProject.org...
Apprentice jockey Carson Sullivan, 25, has been riding since May of last year. The victory he scored on Mon Petite on July 24 triggering a $108.80 return was the 12th of his career. His background triggers two questions: Where has he been, and what took him so long? "It's in my blood," Sullivan said. "I'm a fourth-generation rider. My great-grandfather (Carson Kirk), grandfather (James Kirk) and father (S.J. Sullivan) rode. My step-dad (Matt Vigliottti) also rode." His mother, Christine Kirk, was a backstretch worker who galloped horses for major stables like Jack Van Berg, D. Wayne Lukas and Nick Zito. Such a pedigree often leads to riding at the earliest possible opportunity, age 16. But Sullivan opted to go a different way. He went to college at Ohio University, majoring in psychology. He gave up academic pursuits to play guitar in a band that traveled and wound up in New York. "I've played rock, experimental, jazz, a little bit of everything," he said. But eventually, he returned to his roots. "It was calling to me even though I avoided it," Sullivan said. "I dreamed about riding races and one day I just packed up and headed down south to my grandfather's to learn." He rode at Gulfstream Park in Florida for a year, then came to California. Del Mar is his first West Coast meeting. He is represented by agent Mike Ciani...
Jockey Tyler Baze, needing three wins to reach the 2,000-win career milestone entering Wednesday's Del Mar card, had six mounts scheduled on the program. Jockey Joe Steiner, four away from 1,000 career wins, would par it to three with a victory aboard Peradventure (Papa Clem) in Wednesday's Graduation Stakes, his only mount of the day. Trainer Jack Carava started the week 10 away from career victory No. 1,000 and had three scheduled starters on Wednesday.
For Thursday or Next Raceday
JULY 31, 2014
by John Mucciolo
A handful of graded stakes races took the spotlight during the second week of racing at Saratoga Race Course.
Jim Dandy S. (G2): Centennial Farms' WICKED STRONG (Hard Spun) attended the pace from the start, inched to the lead in early stretch and pulled away to a decisive 2 1/4-length tally for trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Equipped with blinkers for the first time, the Grade 1 hero went nine panels on the fast main oval in 1:49 with Rajiv Maragh in the silks.
Honorable Miss S. (G2): Richard Averill's homebred R FREE ROLL (Rockport Harbor) got the jump on the favorite out of the gate and never relinquished her edge in posting a 1 1/4-length tally with Paco Lopez in the irons. The four-year-old filly sped six panels on the sloppy, sealed oval in 1:10 for conditioner Danny Gargan.
Lake George S. (G2): Sagamore Farm's homebred DARING DANCER (Empire Maker) tracked from behind runners, started to gain momentum in early stretch and turned it on late to get up by a head beneath Alan Garcia. The three-year-old filly went 1 1/16 miles on the firm turf in a swift 1:40 4/5 for conditioner Graham Motion.
Amsterdam S. (G2): Fox Hill Farm's COUP DE GRACE (Tapit) broke slowest of all but began to accelerate nearing the turn for home and finished best of all in securing a three-length score under the guidance of Rosie Napravnik. Trained by Chad Brown, the three-year-old colt stopped the teletimer in 1:15 1/5 for 6 1/2 furlongs on the fast main oval.
Shuvee H. (G3): Godolphin Racing's ANTIPATHY (A.P. Indy) took command prior to the turn for home and never let it go in posting a measured two-length win in this affair for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. The peaking four-year-old filly endured nine panels on the muddy, sealed main course in 1:52 4/5 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the silks.
A total of 60 races were held at the Saratoga Springs, New York venue, with favorites winning at a 40 percent rate and the top two betting choices combining for 62 percent of the wins during the week. From 41 races on the main oval, 15 animals won in wire-to-wire fashion (37 percent), while four of the 19 races on the lawn were taken all the way on the front (21 percent).
The main oval played fairly we thought until the surface was full of moisture over Sunday and Monday, when speed often has an edge on this surface. Eight winners led at every call on the dirt during those days from 19 races (42 percent).
Three of the four wire jobs on the lawn came on the outer surface, two of those coming in sprint races. From what we saw, closers may have had a bit of an edge on the lawn, especially at two turns.
Trainer Todd Pletcher doubled his win total to 10 after saddling five more winners this past week, and he holds a six-win edge on four other conditioners. Trainer George Weaver had a strong week with multiple winners, and we tabbed his as a barn to watch last week as his runners also wake up at Saratoga.
HORSES TO WATCH
2ND -- EMPRESSIVE HUMOR (Distorted Humor) spotted the big favorite a head start but slowly reeled that one in and got it done at first asking for Steve Asmussen. The well-bred juvenile miss came home with energy and heart and could eventually be a nice one, and perhaps sooner than later.
6TH -- It was good to see Grade 1 heroine ARTEMIS AGROTERA (Roman Ruler) get back on track, dominating state-bred foes for conditioner Michael Hushion. We think the sophomore could have a solid second half of 2014 after this confidence builder.
4TH -- KATIE'S GARDEN (Elusive Quality) was a winner out west we liked this winter and the John Shirreffs pupil made good off the layoff with a convincing allowance tally under John Velazquez. The four-year-old filly has speed but can rate, and she could develop into a nice one with a bit more seasoning.
4TH -- NOBLE CORNERSTONE (Noble Causeway) returns to this list after reeling in a clear leader late in posting a pretty sharp allowance victory beneath Jose Ortiz. The sophomore gelding is a versatile sort who could evolve into a stakes horse in the very near future for Thomas Morley.
9TH -- PROTONICO (Giant's Causeway) was near the sharp and contested pace early and was the only horse near it to be close at the wire, falling short by just a nose and head while third beneath Javier Castellano. The Todd Pletcher trainee will be tough right back at this meeting with a more fortunate trip.
2ND -- SANCTIFY (Pulpit) moved outside for the stretch run and came home with a ton of energy in a superb allowance win for trainer Bill Mott. The sophomore colt he is more than capable of handling two turns.
3RD -- The Todd Pletcher-trained COMPETITIVE EDGE (Super Saver) went into this race with some hype and left with a lot more following a 10 1/4-length tour-de-force under John Velazquez. The $750,000 juvenile buy proved why he was worth that sales price and it's hard to imagine seeing a juvenile as impressive at this meeting as the colt was at first asking in here
7TH -- THE BIG BEAST (Yes It's True) got the early jump on this field and left little doubt as to who was best here with a powerful 6 1/4-length romp for conditioner Tony Dutrow. The rapidly improving sophomore colt has now bagged two races with ease in succession and earned a hefty BRIS 102 Speed number for this effort.
10TH -- WICKED STRONG surely appreciate the addition of the blinkers that put him in the race early, a good idea for this grinding type who seems a lot more dangerous when into the race early. Although it was just a single sample race, the colt beat a nice field and could be headed for a big second half of the season.
TONALIST (Tapit) sat a fine trip and really had no excuse in this one but since it was a prep for the upcoming Travers S. (G1), he may have been a bit short. We haven't lost anything for this lightly raced Grade 1 winner.
3RD -- Pletcher's CURALINA (Curlin) could not catch the sharp winner in her debut run, but this juvenile lass showed a ton of interest in the lane and finished more than six lengths clear of her nearest foe. Tab the juvenile filly for a score next out, and she could evolve into a good one with steady growth and improvement. She earned an excellent 96 Speed figure for this fine first offering.
A Look Ahead
A trio of Grade 1 events will take place on Saturday at The Spa. The $1.5 million Whitney Handicap is the topper and will be accompanied by the $500,000 Test Stakes and the $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Stakes.
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At a Glance
AT A GLANCE SCHEDULE
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HANDICAPPER'S EDGE is compiled by Bloodstock Research Information Services. This newsletter may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. Copyright 2011, Bloodstock Research Information Services. Information as to the races, race results and earnings was obtained from Equibase Company LLC and is utilized herein with the permission of the copyright owner, Equibase Company LLC.
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