Saratoga Race Course Notes - August 21
By NYRA Press Office | 08/21/2014 02:27 PM ET
Wicked Strong, V. E. Day post blowouts for G1 Travers; Bayern gets first look at the track
Princess of Sylmar to race with blinkers on in G1 Personal Ensign; blinkers remain possible for Palace Malice in G1 Woodward
Irad Ortiz, Jr. keeping pace with Javier Castellano atop jockey leaderboard at the Spa
Cigar Street entered in Friday optional claimer off 17-month break
Weaver claims first steeplechaser, Spy in the Sky, out of Wednesday's first race
Trainer Rudy Rodriguez continues string of success with first time starters with Pancakesandbatter
Bern Identity headlines Friday's Lord and Taylor Tale of the Cat
Morley gets Grade 1 opportunity with Noble Cornerstone in Ketel One King's Bishop
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens gave Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers contender Wicked Strong a blowout over a sloppy Oklahoma training track on Thursday morning.
Winner of the Grade 1 TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 26 at Saratoga, Wicked Strong was timed in 38.69 seconds for three furlongs.
"It was good, just a basic little quarter of a mile," Jerkens said. "The track was flat and even, so it went good. We weren't looking for a whole lot, anyway, but he skipped over it and got a little something out of it."
Jerkens said he considered putting off the move until Friday but the ultimately stuck to his regular routine with Wicked Strong, the 7-2 third choice on the morning line for the "Mid-Summer Derby".
"It's not going to be any better tomorrow, so I figured we'd do it," Jerkens said. "He's been accustomed to doing it two days out. If he does it two days out and he does a little more than you expect or wanted him to do, at least he has another day to get over it. We decided to go ahead and do it."
Jerkens and his father, Hall of Fame horseman Allen Jerkens, typically give their horses a blowout leading up to races. The younger Jerkens had Curlin Stakes winner V. E. Day out for three furlongs in 37.70 seconds on Wednesday for Saturday's 1 ¼-mile Travers.
"Anytime you expand the lungs close to a race as grueling as that, I would have to think it would be beneficial as long as you're not overdoing it," Jimmy Jerkens said. "We always thought it just put the finishing touches on a horse's fitness. A lot of people don't even dream of doing it and do very well. We just feel a little more comfortable doing it."
Also on Thursday, Grade 1 winner Bayern, the 2-1 program favorite for the Travers, had his first look at Saratoga's main track since arriving from California late Wednesday afternoon.
The 3-year-old son of Offlee Wild jogged one mile and will gallop on Friday after the renovation break. Fiftyshadesofhay, pointing to Friday's Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign, also jogged.
"He was going to do something light, anyway," said Jim Barnes, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. "Tomorrow, he'll gallop. The rain should go away and be a nice weekend."
Ed Stanco's Princess of Sylmar will race in blinkers for the first time on Friday in the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign, a decision trainer Todd Pletcher hopes will help the 4-year-old remain focused throughout the 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares.
At 3, Princess of Sylmar earned Grade 1 wins in the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama and Beldame Invitational. This year, she has won the Cat Cay Stakes in April at Aqueduct and finished second by a head in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps in June at Belmont and second by 2 ¾ lengths in the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap on July 12.
"We trained her in blinkers a few times and got the effect we were looking for," Pletcher said. "It will be interesting to see what transpires, but she's indicating she's in very good form at the moment. I'm not concerned about her being close to the pace or off the pace, just as long as she takes [jockey] Javier [Castellano] wherever he wants to take her."
Dogwood Stable's Palace Malice, sixth in the Grade 1 Whitney on August 2, could be outfitted with blinkers for the Grade 1, $600,000 Woodward on August 30, but Pletcher will not make a decision until after the 4-year-old breezes on Sunday. The 2013 Belmont Stakes and Metropolitan Handicap winner wore blinkers when he breezed four furlongs in 48.90 seconds on Sunday. He hasn't worn blinkers in a race since finishing 12th in the 2013 Kentucky Derby.
"We're considering [having Palace Malice wear blinkers in the Woodward], but aren't committed to it," Pletcher said.
Pletcher said some older horses do not always give their best effort, which inspired him to have Princess of Sylmar wear blinkers in the Personal Ensign and consider putting blinkers on Palace Malice for the Woodward.
"Sometimes as horses get a little older they, perhaps, get a little complacent," said Pletcher. "Something like that might reinvigorate their enthusiasm. We just feel like we need to find a little something extra there."
Irad Ortiz, Jr. continued his recent hot streak going into Travers Week at the Spa, riding three winners from six mounts on Wednesday's card.
Since last Thursday, the 22-year-old jockey has guided 15 winners out of 40 mounts, clocking a win percentage of more than 37 percent during the past seven days. Nine of those wins came from a successful three-day weekend for Ortiz, who entered the winner's circle with nearly half of his 19 mounts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The Puerto Rico native capped the weekend with victories in all three of his races on the Sunday card, most notably riding the longest shot on the board, Farhaan, to upset the Alydar Stakes.
Currently second in the jockey standings with 38 wins through Wednesday, Ortiz has narrowed the gap to defending Spa leading rider Javier Castellano to six with 11 race days left in the meet. He has eight more wins than John Velazquez (third) and 16 more than his younger brother, Jose, who is fourth on the leaderboard.
"Everything's going perfectly this week," Ortiz said. "I have no complaints. I don't pay too much attention [to the standings]; I just like my horses."
Ortiz, who tied Castellano for the riding title at the most recent Belmont spring/summer meeting with 51 wins each, has won back-to-back riding titles during Aqueduct's inner track meet (2012-13 and 2013-14) since moving his tack to New York in the summer of 2011.
"Irad's been riding a lot of live horses for a lot of good people," said Steve Rushing, Ortiz's agent for nearly a year. "Plus, he's riding great.
"This place is just so tough," Rushing continued. "I mean, you never come in with high expectations because it's so competitive. But we've definitely exceeded anything that we would've expected. He's been having a great meet, and hopefully it continues for the next two weeks."
Grade 3 winner Cigar Street will return from a 17-month layoff on Friday in an optional claimer for owners Jake Ballis and NBA power forward Rashard Lewis.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Cigar Street has not raced since winning the Grade 3 Skip Away at Gulfstream Park in March 2013 when beat Grade 1 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire, Grade 1 Travers winner Golden Ticket, and Breeders' Cup Marathon winner Eldaafer.
"He's been off a long time," Mott said. "We're just glad to get him back into action. Any horse that has been off that long and running against fit horses is going to be up against it. He's a quality horse. I just hope he can run a credible race that we can build upon. You just never know what horses can do when they have been off for that length of time."
Mott knows that Friday's fifth race at 1 1/8 miles will not be an easy task for Cigar Street, who has been made the 2-1 morning-line favorite by NYRA linemaker Eric Donovan. However, Mott realizes this race is much easier than the Grade 1, $600,000 Woodward on August 30, in which he could have faced the likes of Palace Malice.
"We got lucky. We didn't want to have to run him in the Woodward. That would be deep water," Mott said. "The distance is probably a good distance for him. I would probably rather run him a mile and an eighth than a flat mile just because of the difference in the style of races. If you run a mile a Belmont, you've got to go down the backside in 46 seconds [for the half-mile]. Here, you can go the first half-mile in 47 or 48 seconds."
In his short career, Cigar Street has won four of six races.
Last summer, Lighthouse Bay's upset victory in the six-furlong Prioress at Saratoga Race Course marked the first career Grade 1 triumph for trainer George Weaver.
On Wednesday, the 43-year-old Weaver added another first, claiming 10-year-old veteran steeplechaser Spy in the Sky for $30,000 on behalf of Northville, New York native Gregg Ryan.
"I figured if David Jacobson did it a few years ago, what the heck? It's a racehorse," Weaver said. "They already know how to jump. I'm sure Gregg can give me some pointers."
Weaver said he is likely to run Spy in the Sky again, but not in a return to the flats. The gelded son of 1995 Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Thunder Gulch did run in the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational, a two-mile turf marathon on the eve of the Belmont Stakes.
"I'll talk to Gregg a little bit, but if we run him we'll probably run him in a steeplechase race," Weaver said. "We haven't figured it all out yet. They've got a steeplechase at Belmont in about a month's time, so that might be something we do."
Ryan, 54, holds the record for career victories by an amateur jockey in sanctioned steeplechase races with 162 since 1981. He is owner and president of Lee & Mason Financial Services in Northville, located about 45 minutes from Saratoga, and continues to ride periodically.
"Gregg had a horse that got claimed from him a couple days ago for $40,000," Weaver said. "He might be interested in going back to riding, not steeplechase but point-to-point [races] or something like that in the future. He thought having a horse like this would be better than trying to make one. We talked about it and said, 'Let's claim him.' We might try to run him a time or two, but I think long-term the horse might serve a purpose for Gregg wherever he takes him."
Weaver met Ryan several years ago when he showed up at the trainer's barn looking to get on some horses in the morning.
"I didn't know who he was," Weaver said. "He wanted to freelance, and I usually defer to my wife [Cindy]. I let her decide. She talked to him and he said he couldn't come in every day, but we needed some help. He started getting on horses and he was pretty good. He could get anything around there. We had some horses that could get on the bridle and be a little tough and he was good at riding them, and we appreciated his help. I tried to pay him but he wouldn't take the money. At the time, I didn't even know he was a very successful businessman. He's a great guy."
Trainer Rudy Rodriguez continued his recent string of success with first-time starters on Wednesday at Saratoga Race Course by sending out Pancakesandbatter to a victory in the day's fourth race, a $75,000 maiden claiming event for 2-year-olds.
Pancakesandbatter, owned by Michael Dubb, broke from the rail and settled behind a dawdling early pace of 23.72 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.70 for the half. The Henrythenavigator colt remained along the rail entering the stretch under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who waited patiently for a hole to open.
Once a seam finally presented itself, the bay colt split horses willingly and drew off to a very professional 1 ¼-length win.
"It wasn't a fast race, but he did it the right way," said Rodriguez. "We taught him how to take dirt and taught him how to behave. The race fell apart and he was able to split horses. Irad rode a perfect race."
Son of accomplished turf runner Henrythenavigator, Rodriguez was tempted to enter Pancakesandbatter on the grass, but was dissuaded by the caliber of turf races at the Spa.
"The grass maiden special weight races here looked very, very tough, so I figured we'd run him for $75,000 [on dirt]," said Rodriguez. "If he got claimed, OK; if not, we'll figure out what to do with him. He was training good on the grass here, but when I saw the horses entered I said, 'Why am I going to do that?' We took a chance and he ran good."
While Pancakesandbatter's pedigree gives Rodriguez options, the trainer says he will stick to dirt racing for the foreseeable future.
"I don't know what I'll do with him now; I'm just going to enjoy the win right now," he said. "We could maybe take him to Philadelphia or Laurel and run in a little stakes over there. He ran a good race and I think he wants to go a little longer. I'll keep him on the dirt until he tells me otherwise."
One of the top 2-year-olds at Saratoga in the summer of 2012, Bern Identity makes his return to the Spa in Friday's $100,000 Lord & Taylor Tale of the Cat, a six-furlong main track sprint that drew eight older horses.
Trained by Kelly Breen for George and Lori Hall, Bern Identity won the Grade 2 Sanford and was third in the Grade 1 Hopeful behind eventual Two-Year-Old Champion Male Shanghai Bobby in 2012.
The 4-year-old Bernstein colt has made just four starts since then, most recently a 4 ¼-length victory in the My Frenchman Stakes at Monmouth Park on August 2 - his first race in nearly 19 months. Monmouth-based rider Paco Lopez will ride the 5-2 program favorite from post 6.
Second choice on the morning line at 3-1 is Bahamian Squall, runner-up in the 2013 Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga who was last of seven in this year's race on August 2. He is winless since taking the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder in July 2013.
Trainer David Jacobson entered three horses: Tenango (8-1) and the entry of Royal Currier and Candyman E (5-1). Royal Currier has won his last two starts at Delaware Park, one at six furlongs; Candyman E opened the year with a victory in the Grade 3 Toboggan at Aqueduct but is 0-for-4 since; and Tenango had a win and a second in three sprint allowances at Saratoga last summer.
Rounding out the field are Traffic Light (7-2), Mewannarose (15-1) and Sensational Slam (6-1).
Noble Cornerstone will become the first graded stakes starter for trainer Tom Morley, a 31-year-old who started his first horse in March 2013, when he competes in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One King's Bishop on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
A homebred owned by Len Riggio's My Meadowview Farm, Noble Cornerstone has won two straight against New York-breds, taking a one-mile entry-level allowance by three-quarters of a length in June at Belmont Park and a 6 ½-furlong optional claimer by a half-length on July 25 at Saratoga. Both starts came against older horses.
Jose Ortiz will ride Noble Cornerstone, 15-1 on the morning line, from post 4 in the seven-furlong Ketel One King's Bishop.
"The horse has been indicating to me all year that seven furlongs probably is his best trip," said Morley. "He's had to run against older statebreds. He just got there last time going 6 ½ furlongs, and this is an opportunity to go a trip that I think is really going to suit him against his own age group."
Morley is a native of England and is a nephew of David Morley, whose accomplishments include a win in the 1997 Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup. A graduate of the Darley Flying Start program, Morley has worked in England with Ed Dunlop and Jeremy Noseda and in the United States with Eddie Kenneally. Since going out on his own, he has won 21 races from 131 starts through Wednesday.
"It's an exciting weekend," said Morley. "I'm looking forward to [running Noble Cornerstone in the Ketel One King's Bishop]. As I said to the owner, I wouldn't be running him if I didn't think he fit in the race."