A Thread of Blue spools field to win million-dollar Saratoga Derby Invitational
by Brian Bohl
Leonard C. Green’s A Thread of Blue wasn’t able to participate in the first leg of the New York Racing Association’s Turf Triple series, but made up for lost time in a big way, leading an 11-horse field of sophomores gate-to-wire to win the inaugural $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational on Sunday at Saratoga Race Course.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had to keep A Thread of Blue out of the the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational on July 6 at Belmont Park after he spiked a temperature two weeks before the Turf Triple Series’ opener. But the extra rest, and a stretch out to 1 3/16 miles, worked to his advantage in the middle jewel, as the Hard Spun colt was placed up front by jockey Luis Saez, posting fractions of 23.62 seconds for the opening-quarter mile with the half in 48.54 on the firm Mellon turf course.
A Thread of Blue, who went off at 13-1, kept the advantage out of the final turn, with Saez keeping him near the inside as Digital Age made a bid from the outside. But Saez kept his charge under a hard drive, hitting the wire in 1:52.02 to outkick Digital Age by a length.
“We talked about three different races in eight days: the [Grade 2] Hall of Fame, the [Grade 1] Secretariat [on August 10 at Arlington], and this race,” McLaughin said about his options. “We just kept landing back on this race, after talking to Green and his son, Jonathan. We didn’t have to go anywhere and we might get an easier lead going further. Going a mile they are going to be pressing more, so it just worked out great.”
A Thread of Blue was making his first start since running fourth in the Grade 2 Penn Mile on June 1 at Penn National. Before stretching out in distance on Sunday, he logged two victories and a runner-up effort in three starts at 1 1/16 miles on firm turf since December, winning against allowance company at Gulfstream Park to cap his juvenile campaign and taking the Grade 3 Palm Beach at the same track on March 2. A Thread of Blue ran second to Digital Age in the Grade 2 American Turf on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
In facing Digital Age again, A Thread of Blue extracted a measure of revenge en route to returning $28.40 on a $2 win wager. He improved his career bankroll to $879,290 thanks to the winner’s share of $535,000.
“[An] uncontested lead is big, and he’s a very talented horse,” McLaughlin said. “He likes it firm, obviously, winning three in Florida. He doesn’t like to ship that well, but he ran great at Churchill. [The] Penn [Mile] just didn’t go well. We gave him a little more time going into this, but he’s been training unbelievable and it just worked out great.”
Saez notched his seventh stakes win of the Saratoga summer meet, which leads all riders.
“In a big race, you never know, but we were lucky that it was pretty easy up front,” Saez said. “When we came into the stretch, I knew I had plenty of horse. I saw them coming, but he responded pretty well. It was easy for him today. The other day I had to put him into the race because there was a little more speed.”
Digital Age, one of two entrants for trainer Chad Brown, improved on a fourth-place effort in the Belmont Derby, finishing 1 ¼-lengths clear of the Aidan O’Brien-condtioned Irish import Cape of Good Hope for second.
“They slowed down on the backside, in the second part of the race, and when they slowed down, I think that was when I got beat. [But] he was coming,” said Digital Age rider Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Rounding out the field was Social Paranoia, Belmont Derby-winner Henley’s Joy, 5-2 favorite Rockemperor, Kadar, Mohawk, Flyings Scotman, Seismic Wave and Eons.
The Turf Trinity series will conclude on September 7 at Belmont, with the $1 million, 1 ½-mile Jockey Club Derby Invitational, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier to the Breeders’ Cup Turf, while the Turf Tiara for 3-year-old fillies will conclude with the $750,000 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational.
“[The 1 3/16-mile distance] was a concern, but not really. He’s a very talented horse and we thought he could get the distance,” McLaughin said. “Now the next one [the Jockey Club Derby], we might have to talk about a mile and a half, but we got this one. We’re happy with this.”
Live racing will resume Wednesday with a 10-race card that features the $100,000 Evan Shipman for 3-year-old state-breds in Race 9. First post is set for 12:50 p.m. Eastern.