Be Your Best a golden opportunity for Mike Ryan
Sep 2, 2022
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Be Your Best a golden opportunity for Mike Ryan

by NYRA Press Office

·    Be Your Best a golden opportunity for Mike Ryan

·    Chess Chief hopes to put rivals in check in G1 JCGC; Sabra Tuff on the muscle G1 Spinaway

·    Tax returns to G1 company for first time in 588 days in Jockey Club Gold Cup

·    Just Cindy in fine fettle for G1 Spinaway

·    Rookie Report: Juan Valdez, half-brother to Constitution, debuts in Saturday maiden special weight

As a bloodstock agent, Mike Ryan has selected multiple prominent racehorses over the years, including Breeders’ Cup winners and Eclipse Award champions. But the Irishman now appears poised to experience the thrill of high caliber success as an owner with Be Your Best, an impressive winner of Thursday’s $150,000 P.G. Johnson at Saratoga Race Course. 

Bred in Ireland by Ryan’s St. Croix Bloodstock, Be Your Best was a flashy winner on debut for trainer Horacio De Paz when besting a field of 10 over Saratoga’s inner turf on July 31. The daughter of 2015 Champion European Sprinter Muhaarar backed up her maiden coup in the P.G. Johnson, racing along the rail to the inside of the Flavien Prat-piloted second choice Idea Generation before cutting the corner and drawing off to a 3 3/4-length victory under Jose Ortiz. The win garnered a 73 Beyer Speed Figure. 

“We were very impressed with her maiden win four weeks ago at Saratoga. She trained with a lot of promise this winter in Ocala with Karl Keegan,” Ryan said. “We had never had her on the grass before her maiden. She hadn’t worked back on the grass. She just trained on the main track at Saratoga, and she always trained like a good horse. 

“Her performance was very exciting and super impressive,” added Ryan, regarding the stakes score. “She had to be patient and wait for her time to get the split up the fence. I was a bit worried between the three-eighths and the quarter pole that Jose wouldn’t get room because Flavien had him pinned in a pocket there. Fortunately, the split came. If we don’t get the split, I don’t think we would have won. But once she found some daylight, she accelerated pretty impressively.” 

De Paz expressed similar anxiousness when Be Your Best lacked racing room around the turn. 

“She came out of her race good. She’s sound and happy,” De Paz said. “It was a nice effort on her part, coming up the rail like that and squeezing through another horse on the outside. That was pretty brave on her part. Jose had me a little worried around the turn until the quarter pole, but he knew what he had underneath him. He’s been working her every morning in her breezes, so he knew her very well.”

Ryan said the P.G Johnson trip was in total contrast to the maiden score. 

“She was tipped out wide turning for home, but she was much the best that day and accelerated past them on the outside,” Ryan said of her maiden victory. “This time, she had to be patient and she saved ground. She didn’t give up a lot of ground. She’s a very smart filly. She’s relaxed and she’ll switch off and respond well when you ask her.” 

Be Your Best’s sire Muhaarar did his best running as a sprinter, but Ryan recalled a conversation with internationally acclaimed trainer John Gosden, who said one can expect his progeny to get a distance of ground. 

“He said, ‘I think they want more ground. People are expecting them to be sprinters, but I think they want to go long,’” Ryan said. “John Gosden was absolutely correct and she’s really rewarded us big time. So, I told Horacio that she was bred for the grass. Muhaarar was a champion sprinter in Europe so I had no doubt she would handle the turf, which she did in her first start.”

Ryan is no stranger to success in selecting future stars at the sale, including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winners Rushing Fall and New Money Honey, both owned by e Five Racing Thoroughbreds and trained by Chad Brown. He also bought Breeders’ Cup winners-turned Champions in Good Magic, Bricks and Mortar, and Saint Liam and also bred 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner More Than Real. 

With Be Your Best stamping herself as a legitimate contender for the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on November 4 at Keeneland, the filly presents Ryan with a new opportunity to experience the thrill of winning as an owner.  

“It would be a tremendous achievement,” Ryan said. “We love the game. We love breeding and we love racing. I’ve been in it a long time and to have a homebred and to still have the mare is very special and extremely exciting. The filly is by a horse that was given great opportunity and had high expectations.” 

Ryan, who maintains a string of 35 broodmares at Indian Creek Farm in Kentucky as well as six mares at Ballylinch Stud in Ireland, said he would be delighted to win a race where he has either bred or bought three of its previous winners. 

“She’s a quality filly and there will be plenty more that will come out over the next six weeks before the Breeders’ Cup,” Ryan said. “There will be European horses. It’s always a hard race to win. We’ve been lucky to have bred More Than Real and we bought Rushing Fall and New Money Honey. We’ll see, time will tell.” 

Hailing from the prestigious broodmare lines of La Troienne, Be Your Best is out of the unraced Medaglia d’Oro mare Kamakura. Be Your Best’s fourth dam Up The Flagpole produced Grade 1-winner Prospectors Delite – the 2003 Broodmare of the Year who produced that year’s Horse of the Year Mineshaft and Grade 1-winner Tomisue’s Delight.


Chess Chief hopes to put rivals in check in G1 JCGC; Sabra Tuff on the muscle G1 Spinaway 

The Estate of James J. Coleman Jr.'s graded stakes winning Chess Chief looks to light up the tote board in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Keeneland. 

Contested at the Classic 10-furlong distance on Saratoga Race Course’s main track, Chess Chief will break from post 4 under jockey Manny Franco. 

The 6-year-old son of Into Mischief was fifth in this event last year and most recently was third in the Alydar August 4 at the Spa. He closed out his 2021 campaign with a win in the Tenacious at Fair Grounds Race Course, where he has posted all five of his wins through 34 career starts and purse earnings of $894,369. 

The hard-knocking Virginia-bred made the grade in March 2021 in the Grade 2 New Orleans Classic and finished sixth in his title defense this spring.

Despite being made the longest shot of 30-1 on the morning line, trainer Dallas Stewart said he is expecting his horse to run a big race. 

“He’s a real warrior. He ran in this race last year but was coming off a bad grass race,” said Stewart. “This year he’s had a race over the track and a couple of real good works over the main track. He galloped as fresh as a 2-year-old this morning.”

Chess Chief’s most recent work was at five-eighths on August 28 over the Spa main track, covering the ground in 1:01.25. 

Stewart is no stranger to Grade 1 success at the Spa, including the 2017 Personal Ensign with Forever Unbridled and the 2015 Ballerina with her full-sister Unbridled Forever. 

“We won a couple Grade 1s here before,” said Stewart. “We only bring a small amount of horses, but it’s just like any other race. You’ve got to get in there and fight it out.” 

Valene Farms’ talented graded stakes placed Sabra Tuff will attempt to make the grade in the Grade 1, $300,000 Spinaway. Carded as Race 11 Sunday, the meet’s prestigious race for juvenile fillies is contested at seven furlongs on the main track. 

Third in the Adirondack last out, which was won by returning rival Naughty Gal, Sabra Tuff graduated at first asking in June at Churchill Downs and made the jump to stakes company, finishing second in the six-furlong Debutante at the Louisville oval to another returning rival in Wonder Wheel.

Stewart said he has a lot of confidence in the grey daughter of Cross Traffic, who posted a bullet five-eighths breeze in 1:00.67 August 27 over the Oklahoma training track. 

“I like her a lot. I think the seven-eighths will fit her well,” said Stewart. “There’s some nice fillies in there, but I think we match up pretty good. 

“She’s had a race over the track, and she came back with a bullet work getting prepped for the race,” added Stewart. “She’s trained terrific. She’s all class. She’s been here. She’s put the calories on and looks good.” 

Bred in Louisiana by Tom Curtis and Wayne Simpson, Sabra Tuff boast a ledger of 3-1-1-1 and has banked $88,120.


Tax returns to G1 company for first time in 588 days in Jockey Club Gold Cup 

It has been a long road back to top company for 2019 Grade 2 Jim Dandy winner Tax, who returned to the races from a 19-month layoff in July to score a wire-to-wire victory in the Battery Park at Delaware Park. The 6-year-old son of Arch will now try for a Grade 1 victory in Saturday’s $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup going 10 furlongs for 3-year-olds and up at Saratoga Race Course. 

Trained and co-owned by Danny Gargan with R.A. Hill Stable, Tax last faced Grade 1 company in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January 2021 at Gulfstream Park, his last race before an injury that forced his lengthy respite. 

“Off that big a layoff, it was so rewarding,” Gargan said of the Battery Park effort. “And they made him the favorite when he hadn’t run in 532 days. He’s a really cool horse.” 

Tax made a quick ascent to the graded ranks as a juvenile, graduating at second asking in a maiden claiming race at Keeneland where he was haltered by Gargan for $50,000. He followed with a third in the Grade 2 Remsen before making the grade in his sophomore debut with an off-the-pace score in the Grade 3 Withers, both at Aqueduct Racetrack. He punched his ticket to the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby with a runner-up finish to Tacitus in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial that April and subsequently finished 14th in the “Run for the Roses.” 

Tax went on to have a prosperous second half of his 3-year-old season that included a close fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, his determined three-quarter-length score over Tacitus in the Jim Dandy and a runner-up finish to Performer in the Grade 3 Discovery at the Big A to close out the year. As a 4-year-old, he competed in his first Pegasus World Cup and won the Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream Park. 

Gargan said he is excited to have Tax back in Grade 1 company. 

“We didn’t know it would take this long, but it’s pretty cool,” Gargan said. “It’s a big step forward and he’s going to have to run a big step forward, so it will be fun to see if he still has that desire to be in that kind of caliber. If he does, we’ll keep doing it and if not, we’ll go back and figure it out. I would love to see him hit the board.” 

Tax will run 10 furlongs for the first time since an even fifth-place finish in the 2019 Travers at the Spa. Gargan said the dark bay gelding, who is 3-for-3 going 1 1/16 miles, may be at his distance limits in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but that his class will carry him when he exits the inside post under Kendrick Carmouche. 

“He’ll be on the lead and hopefully he runs big. We’ll break out of that one hole running,” said Gargan. “The only thing that worries me is that the mile and a quarter might not be his best distance. It’s funny to say this, but he’s undefeated at a mile and a sixteenth. But he ran good in the Belmont. There were a couple different options here, but we waited on this race and we’ll see how it goes. He likes this track and he’s a happy horse.” 

Gargan also provided an update on his three-time stakes-winning New York-bred Dakota Gold, the gate-to-wire winner of the NYSSS Cab Calloway on August 17 at the Spa. The son of Freud’s next start will come in either the one-mile Grade 3 Bryan Station on October 29 at Keeneland or the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2, $300,000 Hill Prince on October 22 at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet. 

“He’s good. He’s on track for Keeneland, but there’s a chance we run in that one at Aqueduct. We’ll nominate him to both,” said Gargan. 

Before the curtain drops on the Spa meet this Monday, Gargan will unveil two more promising 2-year-olds on Saturday as Champions Dream and Dubyuhnell make their debuts in Race 6 and Race 8, respectively. 

Champions Dream, a grey son of Justify, is the second foal to race out of the Menifee mare Dancinginherdreams, who won the 2010 Grade 2 Pocahontas. Champions Dream breezed a sharp half-mile in 47.47 seconds over the main track on August 28. 

Dubyuhnell, a chestnut Good Magic colt, is out of the multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Forest Wildcat mare Wild Gams. He is a half-brother to graded stakes winner Cazadero, stakes winner Mt. Brave and graded stakes-placed Almost Famous. Dubyuhnell’s latest work was a half-mile in 48.70 over the Oklahoma training track on August 27. 

“My three favorites are running on Saturday: Champions Dream and Dubyuhnell are my two favorite babies, and Tax,” said Gargan, with a laugh.


Just Cindy in fine fettle for G1 Spinaway 

Clarkland Farm's Kentucky homebred Just Cindy will look to keep her perfect record intact in Sunday's Grade 1, $300,000 Spinaway, a seven-furlong sprint for juvenile fillies at Saratoga. 

Trained by Eddie Kenneally, Just Cindy graduated on debut in June sprinting 5 1/2-furlongs at Churchill Downs ahead of a 2 1/4-length score last out in the six-furlong Grade 3 Schuylerville on July 14 at the Spa. 

From the first crop of Triple Crown winner Justify and out of the stakes-winning Proud Citizen mare Jenda's Agenda, Just Cindy demonstrated class in her stakes debut by tracking the early speed from the inside post under Irad Ortiz, Jr. before angling out for the stretch run to reel in Summer Promise and secure the win. 

"For a young horse that had only one prior race under her belt it was a big effort," Kenneally said. "She was able to break sharp but relax in behind the leaders in the pocket and have enough ability when a seam opened up that she was able to get out and find running room. It was a professional run for an inexperienced filly." 

Just Cindy has breezed back five times at Kenneally's home base at Keeneland, including a half-mile in 48.40 on August 27. 

"She could not be doing better," Kenneally said. "She's had a good gap between races and seems fresh and ready to go. She's been breezing well. We're really happy with her. She's had a race over the track and no issues." 

The regally-bred Just Cindy's third dam is multiple graded stakes winner Just Jenda, who captured the 2010 Grade 2 Molly Pitcher going two turns at Monmouth Park. Kenneally said he expects Just Cindy will also improve with added ground with an eye towards the 1 1/16-mile Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in November at Keeneland. 

"You never know until you try but we would assume from everything she's shown us that seven furlongs would be better than six," Kenneally said. "After this race, going to a mile and a sixteenth, we're hoping that would move her up further." 

Kenneally has enjoyed past success with young horses at Saratoga, taking the Grade 3 Sanford with Bitumen [2016] and By Your Side [2019] as well as a runner-up effort in the 2019 Grade 2 Saratoga Special with Scabbard. 

"We were fortunate to win the Sanford twice and we had a horse named Scabbard run very well up there as well in the Saratoga Special," Kenneally said. "At this time of year, that's where the good races are. It's where the prestigious races are for 2-year-olds." 

Kenneally said he's had high hopes for Just Cindy from Day One. 

"She acted like a good horse from the first week she was in the barn," Kenneally said. "She's very professional and takes everything in stride. She's a class filly and showed that all the way through. It was fairly clear that she was a quality filly when we first got to know her."

Kenneally said a big effort Sunday will almost certainly signal a Breeders' Cup try for Just Cindy, who will exit post 5 under pick-up rider Luis Saez. 

"Luis rides a lot for us and we're very happy to have him on board," Kenneally said. "I would play it by ear but if she could get a Grade 1 under her belt on Sunday, we would be very comfortable to wait then for the Breeders' Cup." 


Rookie Report: Juan Valdez, half-brother to Constitution, debuts in Saturday maiden special weight 

West Point Thoroughbreds has joined forces with two of racing’s most prominent families in the purchase and management of Juan Valdez, a Medaglia d’Oro colt who debuts in Race 8 on Saturday, a seven-furlong maiden special weight on the Saratoga main track. 

Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, Juan Valdez is owned by West Point in partnership with Lane’s End Racing, Woodford Racing, Phipps Stable, Ken Langone and Edward J. Hudson, Jr. 

Juan Valdez, a $900,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Florida Sale in March, is out of the Distorted Humor mare Baffled, making him a half-brother to prominent sire Constitution. 

He began serious training at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland before arriving in Saratoga in mid-August and worked five-eighths over the main track on August 26 in 1:00.20. 

“He’s made good strides since he came up from Fair Hill and we’re very pumped to get his career started,” said West Point Thoroughbreds’ Terry Finley. “We got some great partners involved and we’re starting sort of a new era with new people involved. This horse has grown on Shug the last month and a half or so, and when they grow on Shug they grow on us.” 

Finley expressed excitement in sharing the experience of campaigning Juan Valdez with prominent and influential families in racing and breeding.

“It’s a cool thing to have happen. We're in it and we’re trying to buy good stock at the sale. They’re not cheap but we’re trying to get good prospects,” Finley said. 

Luis Saez will pilot Juan Valdez from post 8 [5-1] in the 10-horse field. 

Breaking from the outside is Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Crupi, who makes his second career start following a late closing third for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. 

The Curlin colt is named in honor of the late horseman and pinhooker James “J.J.” Crupi, who passed in May 2019 and had a longstanding relationship with Pletcher and his owners. 

Crupi is by Curlin out of the Malibu Moon mare Don’tforgetaboutme – a half-sister to graded stakes winners Red Ruby and Mo Tom as well as multiple Grade 1-placed Beautician. Bred in Kentucky by Claiborne Farm, Crupi was bought for $275,000 at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, where he was consigned by his breeder.

Irad Ortiz, Jr. picks up the mount as the 5-2 morning line favorite. 

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