Saratoga Race Course Notes - September 1
By NYRA Press Office | 09/01/2013 03:03 PM ET
A holiday-like atmosphere for McLaughlin barn following Alpha's G1 Woodward win; G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup likely next
Honor Code turns in eye-catching performance for McGaughey
Zito looks ahead with Grand Arrival
Tannery returns on short notice for G3 Glens Falls
Sitting in the Greentree office beneath a giant photo of Bernardini's victory in the 2006 Travers, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin pulled out his smart phone and showed around a photo of himself posing with a white-bearded gentleman that was taken a few moments before Alpha upset Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward.
The Twitter caption for the photo appropriately read: "Christmas in August at Saratoga."
"It was fun," said McLaughlin of Alpha's victory, which marked the first in a graded stakes for the trainer this year. "Everything went right for us. It was a big win for the horse, and a big win for everybody. It's been a long time between Grade 1s; it just shows you how hard they are, how hard any graded stakes are, to win."
Alpha, who was one of four Grade 1 winners last year at Saratoga Race Course for McLaughlin, had not won since dead-heating with Golden Ticket in the 2012 Travers. The Bernardini colt closed out his 3-year-old campaign finishing sixth in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby and 12th in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic. He finished off the board in two starts during the winter in Dubai and came off a four-month layoff to run fourth in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap in July at Belmont Park. Immediately prior to the Woodward, he was sixth in the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap.
"It was a great win for him because he kind of went off the track a little bit going to Parx and Santa Anita and then Dubai," said McLaughlin "But, I blame myself a little for taking the blinkers off, and maybe he wasn't quite as fit as I thought he was in his last two races. But, he loves it here. The wet track is obviously a plus, and Johnny [Velazquez] did a great job.
"The gate crew did a great job with him, too," added McLaughlin. "Alpha has always had his issues at the gate. We've schooled him and worked with him, and the gate crew knows him and they've learned him. Hats off to the gate crew."
McLaughlin said Alpha emerged from his victory in good order and said the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 28 at Belmont Park appeared to be the next logical spot.
"It's Belmont Park and 1 ¼ miles, which he likes," said McLaughlin. "But, we'll speak with [Godolphin racing manager] Simon Crisford, who in turn will speak with Sheikh Mohammed."
At a race meet renowned for eye-catching performances by 2-year-olds, first-time starter Honor Code turned in one perhaps as good as any Saturday for owners Lane's End Racing and Dell Ridge Farm.
In a seven-furlong sprint through the slop under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, Honor Code broke with the field and then steadily retreated until he trailed leader Jackson N Lorimar by 22 ¾ lengths after a half-mile in 46.08 seconds. Along the inside on the turn, Honor Code came flying to win by 4 ½ lengths in a time of 1:23.48.
In seven races run Saturday between 5 ½ and seven furlongs, every other winner was either in front or no more than two lengths behind after a half-mile.
"I thought he ran good," said Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey of Honor Code, who earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 89. "He broke fine. I thought he got a little farther back than Johnny and I thought he would. Obviously, I was very pleased with the result. I thought he was really striding out to the finish line. I think the future is in front of him."
Honor Code, by A.P. Indy, is out of the Mr. Prospector mare Serena's Cat, and is a half-brother to turf stakes winner Noble Tune. Serena's Cat won the Klassy Briefcase turf sprint stakes in 2007 at Monmouth Park, yet McGaughey believes Honor Code is going to be a two-turn dirt runner.
"I've had him on the turf and I didn't see much difference in him," McGaughey said. "I think he is a dirt horse. I think he is a two-turn dirt horse in the making, and I think that's what he's going to want to do. He won't be that far back. We'll be anxious to get him stretched out and see where that takes us."
Nick Zito was in a philosophical mood on Sunday, the morning after Richard C. Pell's Grand Arrival broke his maiden by 6 ½ lengths and was led into the winner's circle by exercise rider Raymond Bulgado, who suffered a fractured neck in a training accident just four days earlier.
"That's real life, and it's something where you put everything into perspective," said Zito. "I was bawling like everybody else [when Bulgado led Grand Arrival into the winner's circle], and then I kind of got my composure because I didn't want to lose the moment here. Obviously, God talks to you and says, 'Make sure we enjoy the moment.' That's a good moment, a special moment. So that was great."
It was the second career start for Grand Arrival, who showed early speed between horses, began his advance while racing on the outside on the far turn, led at the top of the stretch, and was driven home by Rosie Napravnik to a 6 ¼-length victory.
"It's always nice when a 2-year-old does what you think he's supposed to do," said Zito. "We just hope he goes forward. He came out of the race great, thank God."
In his lone previous start, Grand Arrival was third, beaten 10 ½ lengths by Grade 1 Hopeful entrant Big Sugar Soda.
"[Grand Arrival] had a little trouble," said Zito of the colt's debut. "He kind of jumped in the air, and [two horses] squeezed him a little bit. It was good experience, and the next time he ran to what everybody thought he would run to, which is always good because great expectations bring great disappointment."
Zito said he will consider the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwoods Champagne on October 5 at Belmont Park for Grand Arrival's next start.
"It looked like he'd go a distance of ground, which is great," said Zito. "We'll see what happens. We'll see how he develops."
Fourth at 30-1 in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap on August 17, Richard Santulli's Tannery returns just 16 days later as the 2-1 program favorite in Monday's Grade 3, $150,000 Glens Falls.
A 4-year-old Irish-bred daughter of Dylan Thomas, Tannery was beaten only 2 ¾ lengths by Big Blue Kitten in the 1 ½-mile Sword Dancer, in which she broke from post 12 and raced wide all the way around.
Despite having only one horse beat entering the stretch, Tannery was just a head behind third-place finisher Nutello.
"I thought with a little better trip, she would have been right there," New Jersey-based Alan Goldberg said by telephone Sunday morning. "I wasn't really worried about [facing males]. It was more that she was doing very well, and I liked the fact that I could put her on a van and leave that morning and have her back in her stall that night. Hopefully, she'll move forward. She's doing well. She looks good, and she's acting good."
The Glens Falls will be the second start for Tannery since getting a break following her eighth-place finish in the Grade 2 New York on June 29 at Belmont Park. Prior to that race, she rallied to win the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay at the Glens Falls distance on May 25, also at Belmont.
"I was just thinking that it's a mile and three-eighths, and we know she likes the distance," said Goldberg of the quick turnaround from the Sword Dancer. "I could have gone to Canada [for the Grade 2 Canadian Stakes on September 15 at Woodbine], but it's only a mile and an eighth in two more weeks. There just wasn't a lot around."
Goldberg has started seven horses at Saratoga this summer with two wins, the Grade 1 Diana and the Grade 2 Ketel One Ballston Spa with Santulli's 5-year-old mare Laughing. In the Glens Falls, Tannery will face four foes - Anjaz, Minakshi, Mystical Star and Strathnaver - she defeated in the Sheepshead Bay.
"I breezed her with Laughing before the last race, and she outworked her," Goldberg said. "Hopefully, she'll run well."