Essential Quality registers a 107 BSF for G1 Runhappy Travers victory
by NYRA Press Office
- Essential Quality registers a 107 BSF for G1 Runhappy Travers victory
- Retirement not in the cards for 84-year-old Saratoga stakes winner Bob Dunham
- Firenze Fire targets G2 Vosburgh after eventful stretch rally in G1 Forego
- Gufo will look to parlay G1 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer win to G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic start
- Viadera riding high off G2 Ballston Spa score; Jack Christopher points to G1 Champagne
- Team Asmussen mighty impressed with the performances of Yaupon, Jackie’s Warrior and Midnight Bourbon on Runhappy Travers Day
- Letruska earns 101 BSF in G1 Personal Ensign
- Pletcher duo works for G1 Hopeful; Life Is Good exits G1 Jerkens in good order
- Dream Lith breezes for G1 Spinaway; Keepmeinmind to regroup after G1 Travers fourth
- Got Stormy readies for graded stakes engagement at Kentucky Downs
- Special two-day Pick 4 at Saratoga nets total pool of $169K; pays $156
Godolphin homebred Essential Qualitycontinued to display his excellence with a superb performance in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers at Saratoga Race Course, picking up a fourth Grade 1 triumph.
Essential Quality, traveling in second position under meet-leading rider Luis Saez, was 3 ½ lengths off pacesetter Midnight Bourbon down the backstretch before inching his way closer to the front nearing the far turn. The pair engaged in a dramatic stretch battle, with the 2020 Champion 2-Year-Old coming out on the winning end by a neck and recording a 107 Beyer Speed Figure.
Winning dramatic stretch duels in prestigious races are nothing new for Essential Quality, who won the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 5 after battling with Hot Rod Charlie in the stretch. He arrived at the Runhappy Travers off a half-length win in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 30 at the Spa, fending off an inside rally from Keepmeinmind, who was fourth in the Travers.
Essential Quality became the first Champion 2-Year-Old to notch a Travers win since Street Sense in 2007 and joined Tiz the Law , Summer Bird , Birdstone , Point Given , Lemon Drop Kid  and Thunder Gulch  as horses to sweep the Belmont Stakes-Travers double. Additionally, he became the first horse since Arts and Letters in 1969 to win the Belmont, Jim Dandy and Travers.
Trainer Brad Cox said the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic is the ultimate goal but has not yet decided whether Essential Quality will race once beforehand.
“He looked great this morning. He’s in good shape,” Cox said. “[Godolphin USA President] Jimmy Bell and I spoke about that this morning, there’s no pressure to make a decision right now. We’ll just let the dust settle and enjoy this victory for a little bit. I think that’s the right thing to do. We’ll make a decision in a week or two weeks. The most important thing is watching him and how he trains.”
Through eight victories in nine lifetime starts, Essential Quality has displayed various tactics, having won from just off the pace in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland, as well as from far back in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he made up nine lengths to secure a victory.
“He’s a versatile horse,” Cox said. “He seems to show up regardless of the pace. He’s shown that he knows how to negotiate a trip and accept what’s thrown his way. He knows how to overcome things.”
Cox spoke volumes of this year’s 3-year-old crop and said it’s a testament to Essential Quality’s accomplishments.
“It’s very, very good, and that’s not just because we have two very good ones in Essential Quality and [Grade 1 Haskell Invitational winner] Mandaloun,” Cox said. “Horses like Hot Rod Charlie, Midnight Bourbon, Jackie’s Warrior and Keepmeinmind were all good horses that played a role as 2-year-olds last year and have been able to continue on at 3. Jackie’s Warrior and Essential Quality were both dual Grade 1 winners at two and three. It means a lot. Hopefully, we can keep marching forward and on to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Cox has been more involved in the Spa meet this season than he has in years past, which has paid dividends to the Louisville-born conditioner. Three weeks ago, Cox saddled Knicks Go to a victory in the Grade 1 Whitney.
“I’ve kind of been in and out of Saratoga in years past, but this year I’ve been here a good bit and it’s really grown on me,” Cox said. “Moving forward, I’d like to spend all of my summers here. Being here and doing well in big races, that makes you enjoy it. It’s a special place. Between the Travers and the Whitney, these are great accomplishments. It’s a lot of teamwork and we have a great team.
“I can see myself spending more time here in years to come,” Cox added. “It’s a great place, the whole town is all about racing. It’s a special place for sure.”
Essential Quality is out of the multiple-stakes placed Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality. He is a direct descendant of the influential broodmare La Troienne.
Cox potentially holds a strong hand for the Breeders’ Cup Classic with Essential Quality and Knicks Go, who breezed for the first time since his Whitney triumph on Friday morning. The four-time Grade 1-winning son of Paynter went an easy half-mile in 49.15 over the Oklahoma training track.
Knicks Go will target the Grade 3, $400,000 Lukas Classic on October 2 at Churchill Downs as his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“It was an incredible move and I was proud of him,” Cox said. “I didn’t ask him to do much, but he did it the right way. We’ll keep him here until the first of September and go from there.”
Cox saddled Ten Strike Racing’s Whittington Park, a New York homebred, to a maiden special weight victory on Saturday at second asking. Third in his debut on August 1 at Saratoga, the son of Midnight Lute led the 6 ½-furlong race at every point of call, winning by 7 ½ lengths under Manny Franco. He registered a 69 Beyer for the win.
“We’ve always liked him. I had the opportunity to see him in Florida in March and he had a good physical,” Cox said. “We didn’t feel that we had him quite ready to win first time, but he really got something out of it. We added the blinkers and had a couple of good moves since.”
Retirement not in the cards for 84-year-old Saratoga stakes winner Bob Dunham
Bob Dunham, who trained 4-year-old filly Chou Croute to championship Sprinter honors in 1972 before there were separate categories for males and females, won a Saratoga stakes on Friday with 3-year-old filly Byhubbyhellomoney. But it will hardly be his swan song.
“My family has been trying to get me to retire, but what would I do,” asked Dunham, 84, who captured the 1990 Yaddo with Big Brown Eyes. “I like to play cards, and I like to go fly-fishing in Vermont and Montana. But you can’t go fishing every day.”
What he likes to do best every day is train his stable of seven. And he still does it well.
When former claiming horse Byhubbyhellomoney won the $200,000 Fleet Indian on Friday’s New York Showcase Day at Saratoga by beating the favorite Make Mischief, it was an enormously popular win. But it wasn’t for the filly’s $28.40 payoff for a $2 bet. It was a sign of genuine respect and sincere affection for Dunham.
“It was an extremely exciting win. We all felt really great for Bob, which is the main thing,” said trainer Phil Gleaves, who is married to Dunham’s daughter, Amy. “I cannot tell you how many people, especially trainers, have come by the barn to ask me to please congratulate Bob for them. This morning, Shug McGaughey stopped by the barn to say the same. Bob is such a well-liked guy. Mark Casse was very classy. He just got beat with the favorite, who had a rough start, and Mark was literally the first one there to shake his hand.”
Casse, a Hall of Fame trainer, said Dunham is a long-time family friend.
“I was extremely happy for Bob Dunham. He was a great friend of my dad and since I was a little boy, he was always very kind to me,” Casse said. “I saw him before the race and he said, 'I don't think we can beat you' and I said to him, 'If anyone beats me, I hope it's you.' It was bittersweet and I feel bad for Gary Barber (owner of Make Mischief), but I'm also happy Bob won. I remember him training Chou Croute and she was a champion sprinter. He was a dear friend of my father.”
Chou Croute beat Icecapade in the 1972 Fall Highweight at Belmont, and the old media clippings say that had not Secretariat, then 2-years-old, been the Horse of the Year it might have been her. Each year the Fair Grounds runs the Chou Croute Stakes for fillies and mares.
“She was a great horse,” reminisced Dunham, who is a Kentucky native and said he started mucking stalls at Claiborne Farm was he was 12 years old.
“I worked there for Bull Hancock. Moody Jolley [father of Hall of Fame trainer LeRoy Jolley] was the trainer. When I was a teenager, Bull asked me if I wanted to be Moody’s foreman. My parents wanted me to stay in school, but I went with Moody. I was the assistant when he trained Round Table,” said Dunham, who remains sharp as a tack and has total recall.
Round Table was a five-time Eclipse Award winner, the 1958 Horse of the Year, and a 1972 Hall of Fame inductee. Other top-flight horses Dunham worked with as an assistant include Delta, Doubledogdare, and Nadir.
Dunham trained multiple graded stakes-winner Moment of Hope and that horse was his most recent stakes winner when he won the Grade 2 Stuyvesant Handicap in New York in 1987.
“He is from way back. He was the assistant with all those good horses, and he’s an Eclipse Award winner himself, in 1972, and now he wins a stake at Saratoga 50 years later. And with a claim. Imagine that. How wonderful is that? He’s won a few races over the years here, but certainly nothing of this consequence,” said Gleaves.
Gleaves and Dunham have a little history of their own, and it predates the marriage to Amy.
“We joke that he was my pacesetter in the 1986 Travers, which I was fortunate enough to win [with Wise Times]. He had a horse in there [Moment of Hope] that was on the lead and we joke about that all the time,” said the son-in-law.
Dunham and his wife, Judy, stay with Amy and Phil Gleaves for the Saratoga season every year and for the younger trainer, he said it’s almost like having a living encyclopedia of horsemanship under his roof.
“Over the years I’ve had lots and lots of conversations about horses with Bob and I’ve picked his brain on numerous occasions about things I needed some advice on. He’s always been there about that,” Gleaves said. “He helps me a lot because I come up here in May from Ocala and ship the horses down to Belmont to run. Most times I don’t go, and he saddles them for me. He’s saddled a few winners at Belmont for me, which has been great, and it’s a big help to me not have to drive down there and back up here every time I run a horse. We interchange horses. I go to Florida for the winter and I leave horses with him for the winter in New York because he trains there year round.”
Not only will Dunham keep hanging his shingle outside his barn, but his stable is also about to get bigger.
Steve Shapiro, the owner of Byhubbyhellomoney, currently has three in Dunham’s care and said he’s going to claim another New York-bred for him to train.
“Bob Dunham is a genius. He is a genius trainer. He’s underrated. He doesn’t have a lot of horses, so he can pay attention to me,” said Shapiro.
Dunham is also a gentleman, and one from the old school.
“That’s the best way to describe him. He’s a very likeable person and a high-class person,” said Gleaves. “These are the stories that making racing so great, and you can’t make them up.”
Firenze Fire targets G2 Vosburgh after eventful stretch rally in G1 Forego
To say that the stretch run of the Grade 1 Forego was an anxious one for owner Ron Lombardi would be an understatement, but he was still proud of a valiant effort from multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Firenze Fire, who finished second after savaging subsequent winner Yaupon in the final sixteenth of the seven-furlong event.
Trained by Kelly Breen, Firenze Fire, who finished a respective second and 11th in the last two editions of the Forego, raced in second position throughout just off the flank of Yaupon and edged his way to even terms around the turn. The pair raced nip-and-tuck in upper stretch before Firenze Fire, with Jose Ortiz up, savaged Yaupon inside the eighth pole, biting at his rival’s bridle.
“He ran great. He’s a warrior,” Lombardi said. “Unfortunately, that mishap cost him the race. If he stays focused, I think he wins the race. It was unfortunate but it was a race that people will be talking about for a while. Jose did a tremendous job keeping Firenze Fire in there.”
Firenze Fire was on the receiving end of a similar situation when capturing the Grade 3 Gallant Bob in September 2018 at Parx, where he fended off Whereshetoldmetogo, who tried to bite Firenze Fire in the final furlong.
“It happens so rarely and to have one horse involved in it twice - both the giving and receiving end - is really amazing,” Lombardi said with a laugh.
Lombardi, who races under the Mr. Amore Stable moniker, said Firenze Fire will target a repeat victory in the Grade 2, $250,000 Vosburgh on October 9 at Belmont Park.
“That was always the plan. In fact, I was thinking about skipping the Forego,” Lombardi said. “But he was doing great and it's six weeks for that. I talked to Kelly this morning; he came out of the race great like he always does. Our goal will be the Vosburgh if things fall in line.”
Not all was lost for Lombardi this weekend as New York homebred juvenile filly November Rein won her stakes debut in Friday’s $200,000 Seeking the Ante on New York Showcase Day.
Lombardi said the daughter of Street Boss could target either the $250,000 Maid of the Mist on October 30 at Belmont Park, or face open company in the Grade 1, $400,000 Frizette on October 3 – a “Win And You’re In” event for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Gufo will look to parlay G1 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer win to G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic start
Otter Bend Stables’ Gufo continued his career-long stretch of ultra-consistent efforts when holding off Japan for a neck victory in the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer on Saturday, improving his career ledger to 7-2-3 in 12 races.
Gufo, bred in Kentucky by John Little and Steve Cainelli, earned a personal-best 104 Beyer for his second career Grade 1 victory and first since the Belmont Derby Invitational in October. He cracked triple digits for the second time in three starts after garnering a 100 for his third-place finish in the Grade 1 Manhattan on Belmont Stakes Day June 5.
Clement said Gufo will now target the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/2 miles on October 9 at Belmont.
“He came out of his race in very good shape and I was very proud of him. He looks very good this morning,” Clement said.
Clement added blinkers to Gufo before his start in the Grand Couturier going 1 1/2 miles on July 5 at Belmont. After winning that contest by one length, Clement kept the blinkers on, with the 4-year-old Declaration of War colt responding by rallying from last-of-7 under jockey Joel Rosario to make a strong three-wide move in the upper stretch before digging in.
“We put the blinkers on and it helped Joel get in better position,” Clement said. “It put him more in contention to run a better race.”
Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Darlene Bilinski’s Senbei improved to 2-for-2 with a 2 3/4-length win in the Funny Cide during New York Showcase Day.
Bred in the Empire State by Dr. Jerry Bilinksi, Senbei went gate-to-wire to capture the 6 1/2-furlong main track sprint. Clement said he has not picked out a next spot yet for Senbei, who won his debut by 4 3/4 lengths on July 18 at Saratoga before going 2-for-2 at the prestigious summer meet.
“He came out of his race perfect. I was very impressed,” Clement said.
Senbei was a $280,000 purchase at the 2020 Keeneland Association January Horses of All Ages Sale.
Clement’s 1-2 finishers in the West Point presented by Trustco Bank on New York Showcase Day both are set for fall spots at Belmont, Clement said, with City Man targeting the $125,000 Ashley T. Cole for state-breds 3-years-old and up going 1 1/8 miles on the turf on September 24.
City Man, owned by Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Peter Searles and Patty Searles and bred by Moonstar Farm, bested stablemate Therapist by a nose on Friday in the 1 1/16-mile turf stakes.
Clement said he will likely run Oak Bluff Stables’ Therapist, who earned his first stakes black type in five attempts dating to his win in the 2020 Artie Schiller in November at Aqueduct Racetrack, back at Belmont as well.
“He ran a really good race again. He’s just a fun horse. He’s still consistent and he still tries,” Clement said.
Therapist has registered Beyer numbers of 90 or greater in 10 consecutive starts dating to June 2020.
Viadera riding high off G2 Ballston Spa score; Jack Christopher points to G1 Champagne
Chad Brown saddled a pair of winners Saturday at the Spa with Viaderascoring in the Grade 2, $400,000 Ballston Spa and Jack Christopherimpressing on debut to extend the four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer's meet-leading win total to 32 [eight more than Mike Maker and Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher] heading into Day 34 of the 40-day summer meet.
Juddmonte homebred Viadera, a 5-year-old daughter of Bated Breath, was one of three entrants in the six-horse field along with pacesetter Tamahere[4th] and Kalifornia Queen [3rd].
Tamahere set strong splits of 22.60 seconds, 47.55 and 1:12.12 on the firm inner turf as Viadera saved ground in third under Joel Rosario. Viadera advanced up the rail through the final turn and angled out in the stretch run to reel in her stablemate and hold off the late charge of High Opinion.
Viadera, who capped her 2020 with a first Grade 1 score in the Matriarch at Del Mar, entered Saturday's test from a troubled fourth in the De La Rose on August 8 at the Spa.
"She had so much trouble in her first start of the year here and I was proud of her to come back on short rest and still get it done," Brown said.
Viadera is likely target the Grade 1, $400,000 First Lady on October 9 at Keeneland.
Jim Bakker and Gerald Isbister's Jack Christopher earned a 92 Beyer for his winning debut in a six-furlong maiden special weight for juveniles, powering to an 8 3/4-length score as the even-money favorite.
The Munnings chestnut, a $135,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale, exited post 5 in the seven-horse field under Jose Ortiz and settled in second position before taking command.
"I was very pleased. The word was out. He had worked well and he ran to his works, which is always a relief for a trainer," Brown said.
Brown said Jack Christopher will point to the Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne on October 2 at Belmont, a one-turn mile offering a "Win and You're In" berth to the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November at Del Mar.
Brown saddled Royal Flag and Dunbar Road to respective third and fourth-place finishes Saturday in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign presented by Lia Infiniti.
Royal Flag, a 5-year-old Candy Ride chestnut, entered from a score in the Grade 3 Shuvee on July 25 at the Spa, while Dunbar Road, a 5-year-old Quality Road bay, was looking to secure her first win since taking the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap last July.
While multiple Grade 1-winner Letruska won the nine-furlong test gate-to-wire, Royal Flag closed willingly to complete the trifecta, a head in front of Dunbar Road, who was forced in at the start under Flavien Prat, and had to rally six-wide down the lane.
"Dunbar Road had a bit of an unfortunate trip as she fell a little far out of it after missing the break and went quite wide," Brown said. "Royal Flag had her normal trip that worked out just fine. I was proud of both of their efforts. A really great filly won the race."
Peter Brant and Robert V. LaPenta's Miles D, a sophomore son of Curlin, garnered a career-best 100 Beyer for his third-place effort in the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers. The lightly-race Curlin chestnut, a $470,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, graduated at second asking in June at Belmont and followed with a strong runner-up effort to Dynamic One in the nine-furlong Curlin on July 30 at the Spa.
Brown said he was pleased with the effort.
"He's only run four times and he might be a little bit better at a mile and an eighth," Brown said.
Brown also confirmed Klaravich Stables' Technical Analysis, last-out winner of the Grade 2 Lake Placid on August 21, will point to the Grade 1, $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on October 15 at Keeneland.
Team Asmussen mighty impressed with the performances of Yaupon, Jackie’s Warrior and Midnight Bourbon on Runhappy Travers Day
Steve Asmussen was already back on the road scouting for new talent at the Texas yearling sales on Sunday morning, but there still were plenty of bright smiles lighting up the barn of the Hall of Fame trainer in the wake of Saturday’s back-to-back wins in the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego by Yaupon and the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial by Jackie’s Warrior, followed by Midnight Bourbon’s runner-up finish in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers.
“I was so proud of how our horses ran yesterday. It was a great day of racing,” said Scott Blasi, Asmussen’s longtime assistant. “To win two Grade 1s in a row at Saratoga on Travers Day is a great feeling. There are certain days of the year that are incredibly competitive. There’s Derby Day, Preakness Day, Belmont Day, Travers Day, Breeders’ Cup. With that level of quality racing, it’s the best of the best. On those kinds of days to do well, it’s a special feeling.”
At this stage of the season the two fastest sprinters, arguably, in North America, are stabled in this barn.
J. Kirk and Judy Robison’s Jackie’s Warrior, who won the Grade 1 Hopeful at the Spa and the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont in 2020, notched the first top-level victory of his sophomore season by beating the highly regarded Life Is Good in the ninth race on the 13-race card. In the eighth race, William and Corrine Heiligbrodt’s Yaupon beat Firenze Fire in a race filled with drama.
As the two battled in deep stretch almost stride-for-stride with Yaupon to the inside under Ricardo Santana, Jr., Firenze Fire bared his teeth, turned his head to the left, and tried to savage his rival with no fewer than seven attempts. Afterward, Asmussen said that Firenze Fire was even trying to grab Santana.
“He [Yaupon] came out of it unscathed. No marks or anything. Luckily, Ricardo was able to continue to encourage him, although he was getting pretty close to the inside rail, which I was more worried about than the horse getting bit,” said Blasi. “I think it was a really hard thing for him [Jose Ortiz, up on Firenze Fire] to correct. The thing about it is those guys are riding hard, so they were going forward and it’s not like you have the bit in their mouth. They’re trying to persevere, and that’s a hard to thing to correct when you’re in that position. I’ve seen pictures of horses being savaged, and I’ve seen horses savage, or try to bite, but I’ve never seen any horse do it for that long. I’ve never seen it go on for that long.”
Blasi said even all that commotion could not dim the brilliance of these two sprinters.
“Yaupon is a special horse. It was a great win for him,” said Blasi. “Jackie’s Warrior gave another game effort. He’s a special talent. The horse he beat [Life is Good] is as well. You saw how they separated themselves from the rest of the field, and that just goes to show you the class and the quality of those two horses. It was a great race. Jackie is so consistent. At one turn he’s back to doing what he wants to do.”
The Heiligbrodts’ Mitole won the 2019 Forego, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, the Grade 1 Met Mile at Belmont Park and a fourth Grade 1 on the way to championship Sprinter honors that year for the barn.
Does either Yaupon or Jackie’s Warrior resemble Mitole?
“They’re just really fast horses and we’ve had some quality sprinters like Volatile [winner of the 2020 Grade 1 Vanderbilt at Saratoga] and Mitole. I mean they were great sprinters. These horses all have the same qualities. Both of these guys, you couldn’t be any better to be around and to train. Yaupon and Jackie’s Warrior are professionals,” said Blasi.
Though Winchell’s homebred, Grade 3 winning Midnight Bourbon, didn’t give Asmussen his first Travers victory, he finished only a neck behind 2020 Juvenile champion and Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality.
“It was by far the best race of his career. We were a little bit unlucky to lose but that horse [Essential Quality] is a champion. Once that horse gets by you, he’s not going to let anybody pass him, and he proved that time and time again. Hats off to the winner, but our horse is definitely improving. I think with the time that they ran and how they came home in the last quarter, you have to have quality to be able to do that,” Blasi said.
The effort is particularly gratifying considering his last race in the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park in July. That day he clipped heels with Hot Rod Charlie in the stretch and fell.
“I’ve got to give the credit to our team here. Everybody worked so hard on that horse after coming out of the Monmouth race. The whole barn did a great job getting him to come back around,” Blasi explained. “He was able to spend time in the round pen and we let him just be a horse up here in Saratoga, which is the great thing about Saratoga. You’ve got the environment. It’s all good.
“I’m proud of how he acted going over to the paddock. We led the pony in front of him, which I think that made a big difference,” he continued. “He was a total professional yesterday. We really are happy with how he’s progressing.”
Letruska earns 101 BSF in G1 Personal Ensign
Keeping watch over trainer Fausto Gutierrez’s stable star Sunday morning, groom Jose Diaz reported St. George Stable homebred Letruska emerged from her thrilling victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign presented by Lia Infiniti in good order.
Diaz said Letruska will leave Saratoga Monday bound for Monmouth Park, where the South Florida-based Gutierrez also maintains a string of horses. The trainer said Letruska would be pointed to the Grade 1, $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster October 10 at Keeneland as a final prep for the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff November 6 at Del Mar.
Letruska led from start to finish and turned back several challengers in the final furlong to capture the 1 1/8-mile Personal Ensign by a half-length, her fourth consecutive victory and 16th in 21 lifetime starts. Nine of her wins have come in graded-stakes, five of them against Grade or Group 1 competition.
"She has ability, but more she has a big heart. This a special horse," Gutierrez said following the win. "To have this speed and to be able to run long distances, and to have the big heart is special. Not for nothing, I think this is one of the best horses in the country."
The Personal Ensign was Letruska’s third victory this year in a “Win and You’re In” challenge race for the Distaff, following the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps June 5 at Belmont Park and Grade 2 Fleur de Lis June 26 at Churchill Downs. She has won five of her six starts in 2021, including a defeat of champion Monomoy Girl in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom April 17 at Oaklawn Park. Her lone loss this year came by a head in Oaklawn’s Grade 2 Azeri March 13.
Pletcher duo works for G1 Hopeful; Life Is Good exits G1 Jerkens in good order
Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable and Gainesway Stable’s 2-year-old Wit, dominant winner of the Grade 3 Sanford July 17, put in his final preparation for the Grade 1, $300,000 Hopeful on September 6 with a half-mile breeze Sunday morning at Saratoga Race Course.
Wit, with jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. up, went four furlongs in 49.22 seconds over a main track rated fast, ranking 16th of 24 horses at the distance. It was the fifth work in Saratoga since an eight-length triumph in the six-furlong Sanford for Wit, who went five furlongs in 1:01.42 on the Oklahoma training track August 23, the fastest of five horses.
“[It was] a good maintenance work,” Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He had a really solid work last week so we were just kind of looking for the final prep, and it went smoothly.”
By Practical Joke out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Numero d’Oro, Wit fetched $575,000 as a yearling last fall at Keeneland. He was a six-length winner of his June 5 debut at Belmont Park, where he did all his prep work for the Sanford.
Wit’s sire won the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens in 2017, formerly the King’s Bishop, in the first year it was renamed for the late Hall of Fame trainer. The Hopeful for 2-year-olds, like the Jerkens contested at seven furlongs, will be run on Labor Day, September 6 – closing day of the Saratoga meet.
“He’s a really easy horse to train. He’s very professional. He’s very responsive to whatever you want him to do,” Pletcher said. “He’ll sit off a horse and he’ll accelerate on command. He’s really been push-button so far.”
Wit worked in company with Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Power Agenda, purchased for $120,000 out of the same sale. A gutsy front-running nose winner of his debut, a six-furlong maiden special weight August 4 at Saratoga, Power Agenda was timed in 49.25 seconds and is also under Hopeful consideration.
“Power Agenda worked well also. We’ll see how he bounces out of it, but right now we’re leaning toward running both,” Pletcher said. “He showed that he’s got some fight to him. He had trained well leading up to it, so we weren’t surprised, but we’ve been happy with the way he’s come out of it.”
Pletcher said he was thrilled with the efforts of both Life Is Good and Following Sea, who respectively ran second and third in Saturday’s Jerkens. CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm’s Life Is Good set blazing fractions of 21.97 and 44.16 seconds and dug in through a protracted stretch duel with Jackie’s Warrior before coming up a neck short.
Life Is Good joined Pletcher’s stable earlier this summer and was racing for the first time since a victory in the Grade 2 San Felipe March 6 at Santa Anita for previous trainer Bob Baffert. The Jerkens marked his first loss in four career starts.
“Both horses came out of it in good order this morning,” Pletcher said. “[Life Is Good] ran a spectacular race off the layoff. [He] went really fast and just got nipped by a really good horse.”
Pletcher said there is no specific race yet picked out for Life Is Good following the Jerkens.
“We’re kind of surveying all of our options,” he said. “We’ll give it a little time just to digest the race and assess how he comes out of it. I think he’s versatile enough that there’s a lot of potential options.”
Spendthrift Farm homebred Following Sea made a late run to be third, 8 ¾ lengths behind the top two. In his prior start, he finished third in a three-way photo finish in the Grade 1 Haskell July 17 at Monmouth Park but was elevated to second following the disqualification of top finisher Hot Rod Charlie.
“I thought he ran on well,” Pletcher said of the Jerkens. “He got a little confused when he got hit by dirt. He hadn’t had a whole lot of experience with dirt in his face, but once he got going I thought he put in a nice run down the lane to get up for third.”
Wertheimer and Frere homebred Happy Saver, unraced since suffering his first loss in five career starts in the Grade 2 Suburban July 3 at Belmont, remains on track to defend his 2020 victory in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Previously held at Belmont, the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup for 3-year-olds and up going 1 ¼ miles was moved to Saratoga this year and will be run Saturday, September 4.
Happy Saver, whose other stakes win came in the 2020 Federico Tesio last September at Laurel Park, has experience racing over at Saratoga, winning a 1 1/8-mile allowance last July in his second career start. He breezed five furlongs in 1:00.66 Saturday on Saratoga’s main track.
“He worked well yesterday and looked good this morning,” Pletcher said. “We’ve kind of been pointing for this for a little while.”
Dream Lith breezes for G1 Spinaway; Keepmeinmind to regroup after G1 Travers fourth
Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith and Spendthrift Farm's Keepmeinmind posted a career-best 99 Beyer in finishing fourth in Saturday's Grade 1 Runhappy Travers.
Trained by Robertino Diodoro and piloted by Joel Rosario, the Laoban bay was off a step slow from post 3 and raced behind horses as Midnight Bourbon set a moderate pace before being overtaken by Essential Quality, who prevailed by a neck.
"Nothing really went our way from the break. It was a very slow pace and we got trapped and never really got a clear run until it was way too late," Diodoro said. "He ate dirt for a long ways and when things did open up at the top of the lane, you couldn't expect him to sprint home against those two horses after they went ;24, ;49 and 1:14. There was no pace to run at, at all.
"I think that’s why Essential Quality had such a tough time getting by Midnight Bourbon down the lane; he walked everyone to sleep," Diodoro added. "I thought we had him ready to go, but you need racing luck. He cooled out good last night. We'll let the horse tell us how he is and come up with a plan."
Cypress Creek Equine and Arnold Bennewith's maiden-winner Dream Lithworked a half-mile in 48.25 in company with 2-year-old gelding Paynt Your Wagon, who Diodoro claimed for $40,000 out of an off-the-board effort in his August 15 debut at the Spa.
"They were rolling right along," Diodoro said. "We gave her something to run at and made sure she was in front at the wire. I thought she worked really well. She galloped out strong."
Dream Lith, by Medaglia d'Oro, is pointed to the Grade 1, $300,000 Spinaway on September 5 at the Spa.
Flying P Stable's Lone Rock breezed a half-mile in 50.85 Saturday on the Oklahoma dirt training track.
The 6-year-old Majestic Warrior gelding has won seven of his last eight starts, including wins in the Grade 2 Brooklyn presented by Northwell Health in June at Belmont and the Birdstone last out on August 5 at the Spa.
Lone Rock is pointed to the 1 5/8-mile $300,000 Grand Prix American Jockey Club Invitational on September 18 at Belmont.
"Lone Rock is doing great. He'll ship down to Belmont next week and be ready for the 18th. He breezed great," Diodoro said.
Diodoro boasts a record of 30-5-6-6 at the Spa summer meet heading into Sunday’s card and will look to close strong with a number of stakes runners, including Dreamer's Disease who is entered in today's Better Talk Now.
"We'd like to pick off another win or two for sure, but it has been a good meet," Diodoro said.
Got Stormy readies for graded stakes engagement at Kentucky Downs
My Racehorse Stable and Spendthrift Farm's multiple Grade 1-winner Got Stormy breezed a half-mile in 47.45 on the Oklahoma training turf Sunday under exercise rider Janelle Castonguay.
"On a scale of 1-10, I'd give it an 11," Casse said. "She went faster than I had planned. She just loves it here. Janelle was saying she just shoots around the turns here."
Casse said the two-time Grade 1 Fourstardave-winner [2019, 2021] will make her next start on September 11 at Kentucky Downs in either the 6 1/2-furlong Grade 3, $600,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint or against the boys in the six-furlong $1 million Turf Sprint.
Gary Barber's Make Mischief endured a difficult trip in the Fleet Indian in Friday's New York Showcase Day, hitting the gate at the break and racing wide after exiting the outermost most post en route to a neck loss to Byhubbyhellomoney in the nine-furlong route.
"Given the circumstances, she ran very well," Casse said. "By breaking the way she did, it cost her and she was wide. We had planned on trying to be up near the pace and she gave the winner 48 feet."
Casse said Make Mischief will point to the $250,000 Empire Distaff, a 1 1/16-mile test for state-bred fillies and mares 3-years-old and up on October 30.
Special two-day Pick 4 at Saratoga nets total pool of $169K; pays $156
A special two-day Pick 4 featuring exciting stakes action Friday and Saturday from historic Saratoga Race Course during Runhappy Travers weekend paid $156.50 on a $2 base for selecting 4-of-4 winners. The total pool was $169,386.
The wager, which featured a mandatory payout, ran its first two legs on Friday’s card and concluded on Saturday during Runhappy Travers Day.
Friday saw New York breds earn the spotlight at the Spa, with six stakes worth a combined $1.15 million for horses bred in the Empire State on the card. The two-day Pick 4 started with the $250,000 Albany for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles on the main track in Race 9, with Americanrevolution posting a five-length win as the heavy favorite. Meet-leading rider Luis Saez stayed off the pace before coaxing a strong closing surge from Americanrevolution, who is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. He completed the course in 1:49.94 and paid $3.40 on a $2 win bet.
Saez earned a personal double by leading Giacosa to victory in the following race, rallying from ninth to best Myhartblongstodady by three-quarters of a length to win the $150,000 Yaddo for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up going 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Trained by H. James Bond, Giacosa went off at 9-1 but hit the wire in 1:42.54, paying $20.80.
Saturday closed the Pick 4 with a pair of prestigious Grade 1 contests, starting when favorite Letruska topped Bonny South by a half-length in an exciting finish to the $600,000 Personal Ensign presented by Lia Infiniti. Conditioned by Fausto Gutierrez, Letruska went gate-to-wire in the 1 1/8-mile main track contest, registering a final time of 1:49.15 under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. Letruska returned $3.50.
The 152nd running of the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers for sophomores contesting the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles closed out the wager when favorite Essential Quality held off Midnight Bourbon by a neck to bolster his case as the top 3-year-old.
Essential Quality, the winner of the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy in his previous start at the Spa, gave trainer Brad Cox his first career Runhappy Travers win, while Saez earned his second and first since 2013 when he rode Will Take Charge. Essential Quality posted a final time of 2:01.96 and paid $2.90.