by TERESA GENARO
Originally constructed in the 13th century, the Hofburg palace in Vienna was the center of the Hapsburg empire, the seat of government, a ducal palace. It exudes regality and power.
Seems like Juddmonte Farms knew what it was doing when they chose to make their chestnut colt by Tapit a majestic namesake, given his facile and promising win in the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga on July 27.
Hofburg made his debut at Saratoga last summer, finishing fourth and then taking six months off before breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park in March. He trumpeted his presence in the Florida Derby (G1) in just his third start, an impressive second to Audible, impressive enough for the generally conservative trainer Bill Mott to put Hofburg on the Triple Crown trail, starting him in both the Kentucky Derby (G1) (seventh) and Belmont Stakes (G1) (third). And it was that rigorous spring/early summer campaign that led Mott to seek a softer spot this weekend, entering the $100,000 Curlin on Friday rather than the $600,000 Jim Dandy (G2) on Saturday.
Sent off the 1-5 favorite in a field of five and breaking from the inside post, Hofburg got off cleanly after acting up in the paddock and the post parade, then encountered trouble from Madison’s Luna next door, stumbling before regaining his stride as he trailed several lengths behind the field. He and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. took their position in last place but in contact with the field, letting pace-setting American Lincoln get well ahead.
As the compact field bunched up heading in the far turn of the nine-furlong race, Ortiz took Hofburg wide and easily passed his rivals, drawing off as he pleased over a sloppy (sealed) track to win by five lengths, notching, as unlikely as it seems given the buzz around him for the last four months, just his second win.
“We were coming out of three Grade 1 races we haven’t won, and I wanted to do whatever we could to give him a chance to win a race,” said Mott. “It was good to get this race in him. It was good for him to make the lead and finish up a winner. I think it helps a horse’s confidence.”
On yet another day of Saratoga rain that included a torrential downpour a couple of hours before the race, Mott kept his eye on the track surface, noting its depth and commenting that horses were “going all the way to the bottom” in the previous race. The race was Hofburg’s second on an off-track, the Derby in May having been run on a sloppy surface.
“I think the track in Kentucky was a little more packed,” observed the trainer. “Each wet track is a little different, and he handled it well before. I don’t know that he was really as comfortable on this he was maybe even in the Derby, but he proved he can run on it, even if it’s not his favorite type of racetrack.”
Acknowledging that he was a “little bit concerned” about the colt’s “pushy” behavior, Mott attributed Hofburg’s obstreperousness to being “ready to run.”
While Mott expressly hoped that the colt out of the Touch Gold mare Soothing Touch settles down a little in the next month as he prepares to run in the $1.25 million Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on August 25, he’s also going into that storied race—one that he’s never won—breathing a little more easily.
“I think the timing is right, and he’s had a race and a win over the track,” said the Hall of Fame conditioner. “It gives the trainer some confidence. I don’t know if the horse needed it, but the trainer did.”