Like the rest of the field, Keen Ice was no match for Gun Runner in Saturday’s Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, but the five-year-old son of Curlin did manage to get up for second despite stumbling and nearly going to his knees at the break.
Keen Ice rallied from last to take second in the nine-furlong affair, 5 1/4 lengths behind the winner, and came out of the race in good order, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.
The conditioner added that Keen Ice, three-length hero of the Suburban Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park on July 8, will return to Big Sandy for the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) on October 7 going 1 1/4 miles.
With Keen Ice bypassing a rematch with Gun Runner in the Woodward Stakes (G1) on September 2 back at the Spa, that leaves the way clear for stablemate Neolithic to enter the starting gate of the $750,000 contest.
Neolithic has yet to score a stakes victory and just returned to action on Saturday in the 11TH and final race at Saratoga. He captured that seven-furlong sprint by a neck in his first run since a pair of thirds behind Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) to kick off his four-year-old campaign.
“I thought he ran well,” Pletcher said. “He had a little freshening at WinStar and got a little sick when he first came back, so we had a tight schedule to get to that. I think he overcame a less-than-ideal schedule and not his preferred distance, but I was proud of him for putting in that kid of run.
“He kind of got pushed out a little bit but showed some real determination,” the horseman added. “We’re going to move forward from that race and run a mile and an eighth, which is more in his wheelhouse. Gun Runner is very good, so we’ll do the best we can.”
Pletcher’s barn also sent out the popular Patch on Saturday at Mountaineer Park in the West Virginia Derby (G2). The one-eyed son of Union Rags finished fourth in the 1 1/8-mile contest and was doing well on Sunday.
“Mountaineer is a funny track and I was a little concerned when he drew the 3 (post),” Pletcher admitted. “You don’t want to be on the inside in that track. I thought he ran hard and tried hard, but it’s a difficult assignment when you get stuck down inside all the way around there.”
The conditioner added that Patch’s next start is yet to be determined. Plans for Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming, third in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) most recently, and Curlin Stakes romper Outplay will also be decided after they breeze next week.
Belmont Stakes (G1) hero Tapwrit is on target for the $1.25 million Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on August 26.
“Tapwrit is definitely on schedule for the Travers and we’ll see how Always Dreaming and Outplay work next week and go from there,” Pletcher said.
Some of the trainer’s juveniles are also gearing up for big races. Bal Harbour, fifth while making his stakes bow in the July 22 Sanford Stakes (G3) at Saratoga, will join stablemate and first-out maiden winner Tempestad in the $200,000 Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) on August 13.
Bal Harbour breezed a half-mile Sunday in :49.45 over Saratoga’s fast Oklahoma dirt training track.
“I thought he ran better than what it reads on paper in the Sanford,” Pletcher said. “Especially the way the track was that time. He got shuffled around a bit and lost some ground on the far turn with all the kickback. Once he leveled off late, he put in a decent run. I thought he worked well this morning, so we should be good with him.”
Tempestad clocked five-eighths in 1:02.73 on the Oklahoma training track Sunday.
“I thought he worked well; it was what I was hoping for,” Pletcher said.
Unbeaten stablemate Pure Silver also worked Sunday, covering five furlongs in 1:02.65 on Belmont Park’s fast dirt training track. The Mission Impazible juvenile miss has wired her initial two starts, including the Lynbrook Stakes, and could go next in the $200,000 Adirondack Stakes (G2) on August 12 at the Spa.
“We originally had her targeted for the ($200,000) Seeking the Ante (Stakes on August 25 at Saratoga), but she worked well this morning at Belmont and we’re contemplating going to the Adirondack,” Pletcher said.