Fourth when conceding the lead in the July 26 Bernard Baruch H. (G2), Halladay went forward with intent in Saturday’s $400,000 Fourstardave Handicap (G1) and never looked back. Under a well-judged ride by Luis Saez, the Todd Pletcher trainee fended off a bid from defending champion Got Stormy and booked his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).
Halladay’s more aggressive tactics were easier to envision than the shut-out of the Chad Brown quartet in the Fourstardave. Raging Bull fared best of his stablemates in fifth, edging Without Parole, while reigning Breeders’ Cup Mile heroine and 2.15-1 favorite Uni was seventh and Valid Point eighth of nine.
The Fourstardave ended up being the first turf race on the card after a morning storm rained the earlier events onto the main track. The inner turf was listed as good.
The 5-1 Halladay was hustled to the front and dictated fractions of :23.85, :47.19, and 1:10.15. Emmaus moved up to track in second with Got Stormy a hedge-skimming third. Turning for home, Emmaus could not keep Got Stormy in the pocket, and she quickened in pursuit.
But Harrell Ventures’ Halladay had plenty left. Despite reverting to his left lead, the War Front colt turned back Got Stormy and extended his margin to 1 1/4 lengths at the wire. His time for the mile (1:33.32) shows that the ground wasn’t that slow, although some way off Got Stormy’s 1:32.00 course record in lightning-quick conditions last year.
Casa Creed, the only closer to get involved, posted the fastest final quarter in :22.74 (according to Trakus) to take third. Emmaus came home fourth. Raging Bull ran a bit better than it looks in fifth, considering he was toting the top weight of 123 pounds and made some headway. Without Parole and Valid Point both retreated in wide trips.
Champion turf mare Uni, who also covered extra ground, never landed a blow when splitting Without Parole and Valid Point in seventh. The beaten favorite in this race for the second straight year, Uni was unable to replicate her third from 2019.
Trailing the Brown foursome across the line was Chewing Gum, last throughout after hitting the gate in a tardy start.
Halladay’s first graded coup improved his scorecard to 14-6-2-4, $517,485. The 4-year-old developed over the winter and spring at Gulfstream Park, where he captured the Dec. 28 Tropical Park Derby and May 9 Sunshine Forever.
Teaching him to ration out his speed has been the key, Pletcher observed:
“We felt like we learned a little something in there (the Bernard Baruch) and applied different tactics today. I think the real key is we’ve been able to get him to settle. We wanted to go to the lead today but when he got to the lead, he relaxed and pricked his ears and turned off the bridle. Before he would go to the front and continue to engage and never really settle. So, we’ve been working on that and that’s why in the last race when we were laying second, we were OK with it, because the plan was to get him to settle.
“He’s gotten really good and we’ve seen it in the mornings in his training. He’s been going great and we were confident going in that he was at his very best and we thought we had a bit of a pace advantage, so we wanted to take the race to them. He didn’t break great but once he got his legs underneath him, he settled really well and kicked really strong.”
Saez was fully on board with the game plan:
“When I ride him, I always feel like he’s better on the lead. He likes to fight. He’s a game horse. Today, the track is a little bit softer and he couldn’t break that fast from there but at the second jump he was right there.
“That was the plan, I was trying to get on the lead. He likes to be on the lead and likes to run free and that was the key. He handled it beautifully. I think the turf was a little soft; when we got to the stretch, it took a couple of steps to get going. But when he felt the other horse, he gave it everything and took off and won the race.”
Firm-turf aficionado Got Stormy probably wished it hadn’t gotten stormy at the Spa, but jockey Tyler Gaffalione was delighted with her title defense.
“That was a big effort today,” Gaffalione said. “She settled nicely right behind the leaders. When we got into the stretch, I found some room and she finished up nicely. It was just tough to get by the winner since he put in a big effort today.
“It’s great to see her get back into form. It’s a step in the right direction and hopefully we can finish the year strong with her.”
Halladay was bred in Kentucky by Gainesway Thoroughbreds and Winchell Thoroughbreds. The $225,000 Keeneland September RNA is out of the multiple Grade 3-winning Tapit mare Hightap, from the further family of Canadian Hall of Famer Norcliffe.