Saratoga Race Course Notes - August 22
By NYRA Press Office | 08/22/2013 02:49 PM ET
All systems 'go' with Verrazano, Palace Malice for G1 Travers
Lukas eager to run Will Take Charge in Travers; Fast Bullet pointed to G1 Forego
The Lumber Guy to make comeback in Chowder's First Stakes on Friday; Amerback emerges from runner-up performance in Albany in good shape
Frac Daddy to try turf in Saturday allowance
Almurra headed for stakes following debut win
Hurry up and wait. With two days left until the 144th renewal of the Travers Stakes, that's all trainer Todd Pletcher can do when it comes to Verrazano and Palace Malice, the top two program favorites for Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million "Mid-Summer Derby."
Pletcher said Thursday that Verrazano, 2-1 on the morning line, and Palace Malice, at 5-2, each continue to head into the 1 ¼-mile 'Mid-Summer Derby' in top order.
"Both of them had very good mornings today," Pletcher said. "Galloped without incident. We're pleased with both of them.
"I think whenever you train horses," he added, "you have a tendency to worry about everything, but when you have horses that are doing as well as these two horses, you just hope for no bad luck and try to do all the things you do every day ... try to keep them relaxed and settled and safe, and that's really it. We're just really, really happy with both of them, so you're left just kind of waiting."
Verrazano has won six of seven starts including his past two - the Grade 3 Pegasus and Grade 1 Haskell Invitational - by 19 combined lengths. Palace Malice has strung together professional wins in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes and Grade 2 Jim Dandy.
Following Wednesday's post-position draw for the Travers, Pletcher schooled both colts in the paddock, where the draw was held.
"We waited a little bit because we didn't want to be up there during the draw itself but when we got there, there was still some residual people left over from the draw," Pletcher said. "We like to do it because it doesn't disrupt their routine much. They get their breakfast at 10:30 and then go over at 11:30.
"Both of those horses schooled three days before they ran the last time. Neither one of them are the type of horses that need a lot of paddock schooling but, once again, it's just covering your bases. They both stood at the gate last week and that went smoothly. We like to do that leading up to big races just as an insurance policy, basically."
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas has won the Travers twice, with Corporate Report in 1991 and Thunder Gulch in 1995. He'll saddle Willis D. Horton's Will Take Charge on Saturday, the trainer's first starter in the "Mid-Summer Derby" since Shah Jehan was ninth in 2002.
Lukas, 77, has won 14 Triple Crown races, more than any trainer in history, breaking "Sunny" Jim Fitzsimmons' record with Oxbow's upset of the Preakness Stakes in May. Before that, his last Triple Crown race victory came with Commendable in the 2000 Belmont Stakes.
"I don't get nervous, but I love the big ones. I love to get in that main arena and try to pull it off," Lukas said. "There's no question about it. I still have a passion for it. I'm not one of those rah-rah, get nervous guys. In fact, I get very analytical when they're running. I'm watching their stride, head movement, everything."
Will Take Charge drew post 5 in the field of nine, and is the co-fourth choice on the morning line with Transparent at 10-1.
"I love my post position, in relationship to where everybody else drew," Lukas said. "It isn't a big deal, but if you had to make a choice, that would have been the one I made."
Lukas said he is pointing Fast Bullet to the Grade 1, $500,000 Forego on August 31. Owner Ahmed Zayat transferred the 5-year-old Speightstown colt, who had been with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in California, to Lukas this week.
Fast Bullet has run just five times in his career, winning four, including the Grade 2 RTN True North Handicap on June 8 at Belmont Park, which was his first start in six months. His lone loss was a sixth behind Trinniberg in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint last November.
"He got here the day before yesterday," Lukas said. "He's a beautiful horse. Wow. I had seen his form and seen him run on TV and all that, but I had never seen him physically. Boy, he's a beautiful horse. He should be a factor in the Forego. That's why he's here."
With Grade 1 winner The Lumber Guy set to make his comeback in the restricted Chowder's First Stakes on Friday, trainer Michael Hushion admits he has mixed emotions.
"I'm nervous first, excited second," said Hushion, who conditions the homebred for Barry Schwartz.
The 6 ½-furlong race is for New York-breds 3-years-old and up who haven't won a stakes in 2013.
Last fall, The Lumber Guy won the Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational at Belmont Park and was second by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita. Following the Breeders' Cup, Schwartz left The Lumber Guy in California with Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale, but the colt finished a non-threatening seventh in both the Grade 1 Malibu and Grade 2 San Carlos at Santa Anita.
The Lumber Guy was given time off following his pair of starts for Drysdale, returned to Hushion's barn in the spring, and has been on the worktab since July. Hushion said he was impressed with The Lumber Guy's physical development.
"There are a lot of positive vibes from him," said Hushion. "They did a good job bulking him up on the farm. He came here looking tremendous. I had been to the farm [about a week before he arrived at the track], and my jaw dropped. It looked like a stallion show."
Hushion said he planned to originally run B Shanny in the Chowder's First, but re-routed him to Leon Reed Memorial Handicap on August 17 at Finger Lakes so he wouldn't have to face The Lumber Guy. B Shanny won the Leon Reed by 4 ¼ lengths.
"You think you're going over there [to Finger Lakes] and [are going to win], but that doesn't always work," said Hushion. "Things unfolded like we wanted them to. The perfect race for him was going to be the [Chowder's First] for horses who have not won a sweepstakes, but we had to go to Plan B with B Shanny."
Hushion said Amberjack emerged from his runner-up performance behind Escapefromreality in Thursday's Albany Stakes in good shape. Had Amberjack had won the Albany, he would have swept the "Big Apple Triple" series and earned a $250,000 bonus.
"I have no complaints about what happened in the race," said Hushion. "[Jockey Junior] Alvarado did what he had to do. He didn't get in a speed duel and he made it a two-horse race at the top of the lane. It was smart riding. Unfortunately, we lost a two-horse race."
Arkansas Derby runner-up Frac Daddy will run for the first time Saturday since making the pace for a half-mile before fading to last of 14 runners in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 8.
After finishing second at 23-1 in the Arkansas Derby, trainer Ken McPeek entered Frac Daddy in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished 16th, and then came the Belmont.
The son of Scat Daddy has been working and galloping steadily at Saratoga for his return, and will run on the grass for the first time in the eighth race, a first-level allowance.
"We've trained him over the turf course here [at the Oklahoma training track], and he acts like he likes it," McPeek said Thursday morning as Frac Daddy was out for a gallop over the Oklahoma dirt. "The horse is a real physical animal; he's real strong and does everything right. He's tricky to ride in a race, and if things don't go his way, he's problematic. It's a good time to try him on grass."
Frac Daddy has tantalized McPeek with his talent. The colt finished second in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in his third start behind eventual Prince of Wales Stakes winner Uncaptured. Taken to Florida, Frac Daddy baffled McPeek with a dull sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Holy Bull, and then finished seventh in the Grade 1 Florida Derby.
He rebounded in the Arkansas Derby, but then turned in two non-threatening outings.
"He's a bit of an enigma, but we can all be, can't we?" McPeek said. "We've just got to figure him out. We've been too ambitious with him, honestly. There are times I've relegated him to a morning glory because he can outwork about any horse I have in the morning, when there's no dirt in his face and he's in cruising mode. He has been known to outwork [2012 Travers co-winner] Golden Ticket on a regular basis; he outworks Atigun. Then, when we put him in a tough spot, he melts down a little bit. But maybe the grass is a good spot."
Frac Daddy is 8-1 in the field of 10. His 5-year-old half brother, Lemon Drop Red, has won twice over the turf in Europe.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he is looking at stakes with Shadwell Stable's Almurra after the 2-year-old filly debuted a neck winner on Thursday at Saratoga Race Course in a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint.
Almurra is by Street Cry and out of Alwajeeha, who won the 2008 Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for McLaughlin and Shadwell.
McLaughlin said he was surprised Almurra won on Thursday, considering her distance-oriented pedigree, lack of conditioning, and mental immaturity.
"She's very, very well bred and she's does everything right," said McLaughlin. "[NYRA paddock analyst] Maggie [Wolfendale] was correct in what she said. She knocked her a bunch, and she was right. She's heavy and Maggie thought she would need a race. [Almurra] was screaming in the paddock and was looking for the pony."
McLaughlin said Almurra could make her next start in the Grade 3 Miss Grillo on October 6 at Belmont Park or in the Grade 3 Jessamine on October 9 at Keeneland.
"It's fun to look ahead and say that the filly wants more ground and should improve, so we marked her down for the Miss Grillo, but she might go to Keeneland because of the owner," said McLaughlin. "Shadwell, they like to run something at Keeneland."
McLaughlin added that he was impressed with Sayaad's gate-to-wire, 4 ½-length win in the Dance of Life overnight stakes on Thursday. Sayaad, another Shadwell homebred, won the one-mile race on the inner turf course in 1:33.77 seconds. The course record is 1:33.42, set in 2004 by L'Oiseau d'Argent, also trained by McLaughlin.
"He ran huge. He ran a 'wow' race," said McLaughlin of the 3-year-old. "We thought he was doing great and thought he would run well, but to run like that was, 'wow.'"