by NYRA Press Office
On Sunday morning, trainer Jonathan Thomas was happy to report that Catholic Boy came out of his four-length victory in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers “really well,” and that the long-range target for the 3-year-old likely will be the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 3 at Churchill Downs.
“He cooled out nicely, ate up well last night and looked like he had good energy this morning, so all in all he exited that race in good order,” said Thomas, who one year ago took down his first graded stakes with Catholic Boy in the Grade 3 With Anticipation on the Saratoga turf. “[Last year,] the Travers would have been the last thing on our mind. We thought we had a nice, two-turn grass horse, which was perfectly fine. We’ve had this horse since he was a weanling, and to see his development … it’s like [having drafted] an NFL player out of elementary school.”
Thomas said the Grade 2, $500,000 Hill Prince at 1 1/8 miles on the turf on October 6 at Belmont Park was the most likely option as a prep for the Classic, but that the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup a week earlier was also a possibility, as would be letting Catholic Boy train up to the race in Kentucky.
“The Hill Prince seems to make sense right now; it’s against his own age group, cutting back an eighth of a mile and on what I would call just a little bit of kinder surface,” Thomas said. “I don’t know whether we want to go running against [Grade 1 Whitney winner] Diversify [in the Jockey Club Gold Cup], as quick as he is. I don’t know if that’s something I feel good about.
“This horse [also] has the ability to come off the bench running,” he added. “If we needed to add time, that’s OK. We’ll let the next couple of weeks tell us.”
Although Catholic Boy is a Grade 1 winner on both turf and dirt, Thomas said the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Classic hits Catholic Boy “right between the eyes,” and that the 1 ½-mile Breeders’ Cup Turf against older horses was not something he’d like to tackle at this point.
The trainer said there was a palpable sense of relief on Sunday morning at the barn, outside of which hung the red-and-white blanket of flowers that Catholic Boy wore in the winner’s circle.
“It’s a lot of pressure off,” he said. “I think everyone felt very good about how this horse was doing. I know it sounds contradictory, but the better a horse is doing, the more nervous you get. Expectations are high. You feel like you’re sitting on a keg of dynamite and you want it to go off at the right time. Everyone on our team has done an amazing job of getting us to this point.”
Among the many congratulatory text messages Thomas received were one from his former employer, Todd Pletcher, and one from the Spa’s leading trainer Chad Brown, whose Good Magic had been favored in the Travers.
“I got a great text from him and Chad, literally within a minute of each other,” said Thomas. “It was like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady sending you congratulations. That meant a lot. They’re peers and mentors and friends. There’s not a decision I make that I don’t refer back to what those kind of guys are doing and what I can implement in our own program.”
The trainer added that Catholic Boy, now 6-1-0 from nine career starts with earnings of $1,842,000 for owners Robert V. LaPenta, Madaket Racing Stables, Siena Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables, would likely remain at Saratoga through the end of September before moving to Belmont Park.
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Saratoga’s leading trainer Chad Brown moves forward after tough Travers Day
The leading trainer at Saratoga Race Course sent out 12 runners on Travers Day, and came away with one victory, in the Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa with Quidura. His two favorites in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers ran off the board, with second-choice Gronkowski eighth and post-time favorite Good Magic running ninth of 10.
Nonetheless, Chad Brown remains well ahead in the trainer standings with more than twice as many wins (33-16) as Todd Pletcher, who was second heading into Sunday’s card.
“We had some horses that ran good races, but just weren’t good enough [Saturday],’’ said Brown. “Like Lewis Bay, Engage, Wow Cat…They just weren’t good enough on the day. That’s what it’s all about with Grade 1s. You stack your horses up against the best horses. There are days when we won most of these races and our horses were the best horses and we had racing luck and got it done.”
Here’s the rundown:
Greyes Creek ran fourth in the first race, for 2-year-old maidens; Digital Footprint was fifth in Race 4; Engage ran fourth in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial presented by Runhappy, for 3-year-olds; Wow Cat finished third in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign for fillies and mares; Lewis Bay was third in the Grade 1 Ketel One Ballerina for fillies and mares; Funtastic ran seventh in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer for 3-year-olds and up; Gronkowski and Good Magic in the Travers; Quidura won the Ballston Spa, with stablemates A Raving Beauty and Off Limits fourth and fifth, respectively; and Azzedine was fourth in 13th and final race, for maidens 3-years-old and up.
Five of his horses were favorites: Greyes Creek, Digital Footprint, Good Magic, A Raving Beauty and Azzedine.
Brown said Sunday morning that all of his runners appear to have come out of their races in good shape, and he’ll take a few more days to evaluate what’s next. He mentioned the Grade 1, 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on September 29 as a possible next start for Gronkowski and said he plans to wait several days before making any decisions on Good Magic.
“If Gronkowski got back to Belmont and he’s training really well and everything goes good, [the Jockey Club Gold Cup] seems like a logical spot for him given the distance. And he ran so well in the Belmont Stakes,” said Brown. “[As for] Good Magic, I haven’t given any thoughts on him until I see the horse a couple of days removed from the race.”
On his reaction after the Travers: “To have talented favorites in the race, and turning for home you know you’re not a factor, it’s not their day, it’s a tough one,” he said. “We’re not going to stop, we’ll keep on trying, that’s for sure. So, we’ll be back in the Travers.”
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Sword Dancer hero Glorious Empire using G1 Joe Hirsch as Breeders’ Cup prep
Matt Schera’s Glorious Empire, front-running upset winner of Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Sword Dancer, is expected to return to New York for his final prep before the Breeders’ Cup.
Trainer James “Chuck” Lawrence II said Sunday morning that he planned to bring the 7-year-old gelding to Belmont Park for the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at 1 ¼ miles on September 29 which, like the Sword Dancer, is a “Win and You’re In” event for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf November 3 at Churchill Downs.
Lawrence was pleased with how Glorious Empire emerged from the 1 ½-mile Sword Dancer, his third consecutive win and second straight in a graded stakes at Saratoga, following his dead-heat victory with Channel Maker in the Grade 2 Bowling Green on July 28.
“He seems great. We gave him a bath and I took him out and grazed him, and he’s no worse for wear,” said Lawrence, who has been stabled the past week in Barn 1 across Nelson Avenue from the Clare Court trotting track. “We’ll definitely consider the Joe Hirsch and definitely point for the Breeders’ Cup, if it all works out.
“The Breeders’ Cup was not an option or goal or anything before the Saratoga meet, I can tell you that,” he added. “Our goal with him when he first came to me was, Matt wanted to win a race at Saratoga. We obtained that goal.”
Glorious Empire was claimed by Schera for $62,500 last May at Belmont and made four starts for trainer Carlos Martin before getting a break. He was sent to Lawrence upon his return, and made his seasonal debut running sixth in the one-mile Henry S. Clark on April 21 at Laurel Park.
He followed with wins in an optional claimer going about 1 1/8 miles on June 28 at Delaware Park and the Bowling Green, which was contested at 1 3/8 miles over a soft inner turf course. The Sword Dancer was Glorious Empire’s 23rd start, having begun his career in England and having raced and won there and Hong Kong before coming to North America in the fall of 2016.
“The horse has been all over the world with a bunch of different other trainers. They all thought this horse had the talent,” Lawrence said. “They were going a little shorter with him and he was actually sent to me with the thinking of maybe sprinting him. With his beautiful stride and trying to get him to relax a little bit, we decided to try and go the other way and go further with him. It’s just all come together.”
Lawrence and his family relived the Sword Dancer at dinner with Schera and his wife Saturday evening. He said Glorious Empire would ship back to his base at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland Sunday night and likely have one work prior to the Joe Hirsch.
“He’ll have about a week off, going out back at home and just hack around and be a horse. That’s the normal schedule for him,” Lawrence said. “We were pretty tired, but we did celebrate a little bit. It still hasn’t sunk in quite 100 percent. I guess once everything slows down and I get to really thinking about it, it will. To win at Saratoga, a Grade 1, ‘Win and You’re In,’ it’s the ultimate.”
The win was especially meaningful for Lawrence, a former steeplechase jockey who won 136 races and more than $2 million in purse earnings from 787 starts between 1983 and 2003. Among his Saratoga riding victories were the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup with Chief of the Clan in 1987 and Warm Spell in 1993, who would go on to capture the Breeders’ Cup Grand National Hurdle in 1994.
“To win at Saratoga is just really special. Having ridden here as a young adult, it’s just special to win here probably more than any other place,” he said. “I was very successful here. I didn’t ride that long, but I rode very nice horses. I was very lucky.”
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‘Rambunctious’ Whitmore doing well after impressive G1 Forego win
Whitmore was in high spirits one day after rallying for a 1 ½-length win in the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego on Travers Day at Saratoga, trainer and co-owner Ron Moquett said Sunday morning.
“He came back very good and is very happy and seemed liked his old, rambunctious self,” Moquett said.
Whitmore earned a 104 Beyer for winning the seven-furlong sprint on the Spa’s fast main track, marking the eighth time in 22 career starts he reached triple digits and tying his personal best first reached in his 2017 Hot Springs victory at Oaklawn Park.
The Forego, a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, marked Whitmore’s first career Grade 1 win and came after a pair of near misses in graded stakes sprints, with the 5-year-old gelding running second by a neck to Limousine Liberal in the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship on July 7 and a neck short of Imperial Hint in the Grade 2 True North on June 8, both at Belmont Park.
“I was so happy for the horse, I thought he deserved one of these and I was so happy that he got it,” said Moquett, who owns the horse along with Robert V. LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners.
Eight of Whitmore’s 11 career wins, including all seven of his stakes victories, have come since turning 4 years old. After notching wins in the Grade 3 Count Fleet, Grade 3 Maryland Sprint and Grade 2 Phoenix in 2017, the son of Pleasantly Perfect is 3-2-0 in six starts in the current campaign, with the Forego adding to his Grade 3 victory in the Count Fleet Sprint on April 14 at Oaklawn.
“We’ve just kept him safe and sound and allowed him to learn exactly what we want,” Moquett said. “He loves to run, so it’s just us keeping him ready to be physically prepared to do what he naturally loves to do.”
Under jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., Whitmore played to his strength as a closer in the Forego, coming from off the pace set by Heartwood to gain the lead in the top of the stretch and outkick City of Light and Limousine Liberal.
“Speed was running well all day so I was nervous before the race, because in the majority of the races, the speed held,” Moquett said. “So, we were one of the few to make up any ground and win. If you look through the card yesterday, there were a lot of horses who [finished] first through third that started first through third. We were just very happy that we were able to make up ground.”
Whitmore had success on the Kentucky Derby trail in 2016, running second in that year’s Grade 3 Southwest and Grade 2 Rebel, both at Oaklawn at 1 1/16 miles, before fading to 19th in the “Run for the Roses” at 1 ¼ miles. Since then, Whitmore has made 15 straight starts between six and seven furlongs, though Moquett said he is confident in stretching him back out for the Dirt Mile, though he left open the possibility of running in the six-furlong Sprint, where Whitmore finished eighth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar.
“He’s graded stakes-placed at 1 1/8 and 1 1/16 miles, so I don’t see there being an issue with the distance,” Moquett said. “We just have to decide between that race or going six furlongs.”
Moquett earned his second career Grade 1 win and first in 12 years, when Seek Gold upset the 2006 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill. It was also his first graded stakes win at Saratoga.
“For me, being a fan of horse racing first and foremost, I’m in this game not because I was born into it, but because I want to be here. The love for the sport and the game is the reason I’m here,” Moquett said. “To win on that kind of day, with a race that has this much history on Travers Day in front of all those people who love horse racing, it was a big deal for me.”
Moquett also said Petrov is targeting the Grade 3, $200,000 Bold Ruler Handicap on October 27 during the Belmont fall meet. After finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on July 28, the 4-year-old Flatter colt bounced back with an allowance win on August 19 at Saratoga.
“He’s training very well and we’re really happy,” he said.
Swing and Sway has already posted a pair of stakes wins this year in the American Beauty and Carousel at Oaklawn. The 4-year-old New York bred filly returned to her native state in finishing second in the Union Avenue on August 16 at the Spa, giving Moquett hope she can continue to do well in the Empire State.
“We’d love to find a New York-bred allowance race in between a state-bred stakes race for her,” he said. “She’s kind of always on the outside of the New York-bred stuff. I’d love to be able to find some of those races where we could make her a New York-bred stakes winner. She’s already been a stakes winner several times, but I’d like to win one at Belmont.”
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Abel Tasman, Marley’s Freedom give Baffert another big day at Saratoga
Bob Baffert didn’t bring a Triple Crown winner with him, and he didn’t even have a 3-year-old for the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers at Saratoga Race Course, but he still showed up for the races on Travers Day.
And so did the two horses he sent out, with Abel Tasman edging Elate by a head and winning the Grade 1, $700,000 Personal Ensign and Marley’s Freedom taking the Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One Ballerina.
Baffert and both of his 4-year-old fillies were on their way back to California early Sunday, taking with them free rides to the Breeders’ Cup in November.
Abel Tasman, now with five Grade 1 victories, could run in a prep race at Santa Anita before the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but Baffert added his daughter of Quality Road could train up to the race.
“There’s a little prep at Santa Anita, but I don’t know,’’ said Baffert. “I want to get them back with my main goal getting them at their best for the Breeders’ Cup.”
Abel Tasman, ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, survived an interference claim by Elate’s jockey, Jose Ortiz, during the stretch duel to the wire, but stewards allowed the results to stand. A year ago, Abel Tasman beat Elate by a neck after a stretch-long battle in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga.
Even though Abel Tasman was the 3-year-old filly champion (she also won the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks and Grade 1 Acorn), Baffert says he thinks the filly will “finally get the respect she deserves.
“I knew she was something special,” he said. “She won the Kentucky Oaks. She is getting better with age. RIght now, with her, I’m not in any hurry, and I probably won’t know for three weeks. I want her to be super cherry on Breeders’ Cup day.”
As for Marley’s Freedom, she earned a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint with her fourth straight victory.
“We were hoping she would do something like this,’’ said Baffert. “She shipped well and you learn a lot about them when they ship. She’s a professional, and when we got her [three races ago], she was in great shape, and coming off a win. But I don’t know what I’ll do with her. The sprints are a little hard on them.
“We want to run her next year, so we probably want to stretch her out at some point,” he added. “Don’t know what we’ll do, but if I get bold and stretch her out … Right now, we’re just proud of both of them. It’s been a good weekend. Plus, getting the red jacket was special.’’
Baffert, a two-time Triple Crown winner, brought American Pharoah to the 2015 Travers, where he finished second. The trainer returned the next two years and won the race with Arrogate and West Coast. He won the Triple Crown with Justify this year, but the horse was retired on July 25. On Travers Eve, Baffert was inducted into Saratoga’s Walk of Fame
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'Not a bother' on Mendelssohn following runner-up performance in Travers
Mendelssohn emerged from his runner-up performance behind Catholic Boy in the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers in good shape, T.J. Comerford, assistant to trainer Aidan O'Brien, said Sunday.
“Even after his race yesterday, I had him down at the test barn, and he pulled the arms on me and he was still whinnying, so the race couldn’t have taken that whole amount out of him because he had his dinner last night, he’s straight into his breakfast, he’s showing the signs that he’s in a good place,” said Comerford.
O’Brien has told The Irish Field that Mendelssohn, who is owned by Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, and Derrick Smith, will train up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Mendelssohn raced exclusively on turf as a 2-year-old, capping his campaign with a victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and defeating fourth-place finisher Catholic Boy. After launching his 3-year-old season with a victory in the Group 3 Patton over Dundalk’s all-weather surface in March, Mendelssohn won the Group 2 UAE Derby on dirt by 18 ½ lengths later that month at Meydan Racecourse.
The Scat Daddy colt finished last of 20 following a rough trip in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, contested over a sloppy track in May at Churchill Downs. O’Brien sent Mendelssohn back to the United States for the Grade 3 Dwyer on July 7 at Belmont Park, and the well-traveled runner finished third, beaten 9 ½ lengths, as the 3-2 favorite after contesting the pace.
“I think [the Travers was] a big improvement to the last two,” said Comerford. “I think that was the plan. Aidan wanted to give him confidence after Kentucky. They made him favored [in the Dwyer]. People thought he should have been winning that, but I suppose the way Aidan works is that you probably have to go back to come forward. Bringing him back for the [Dwyer] gave him a bit of confidence. That was his plan, to come here and then go to the Breeders’ Cup. I suppose yesterday was a big improvement again from Belmont. It was a big step up for him, and he’s done well. He’s come out of his race very well. He’s straight into his breakfast. There’s not a bother on him.”
In the Travers, Mendelssohn was sent to the lead from post 8 by jockey Ryan Moore, setting solid fractions of 47.81 seconds for the opening half-mile and 1:11.97 for three-quarters while being pressed to his outside by Catholic Boy, who took over nearing the quarter pole. Despite yielding the top spot, Mendelssohn stayed on well to finish four lengths behind the winner and one length ahead of third-place finisher Bravazo.
“You need the horses for [dirt racing] when you come here,” said Comerford. “He is a horse who has the speed. You can’t inject it into them. You either have it or you don’t, and he seems to have it.”
Comerford added that Seahenge appears to have emerged from his ninth-place finish in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer in good shape. Seahenge, winner of a Group 2 on the turf as a juvenile, entered the Sword Dancer off a third in the Patton, a fifth in the UAE Derby, a seventh in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile, and a fifth in the Dwyer.
“He didn’t run like I thought he might his first run back on the turf,” said Comerford. “I don’t know. I can’t find any major excuses for him. He just never showed up. He got a bit hot before the race. Maybe he got a little bit excited; he just got a little bit warmer than Mendelssohn ever did.”
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Romans pondering next moves for Travers fourth-place finisher King Zachary and G1 Jerkens winner Promises Fulfilled
King Zachary, fourth in the Grade 1 Travers, was doing well Sunday morning, with plans for his next start to be made at a later date, said trainer Dale Romans.
The Curlin colt trailed the field in 10th for a mile before he advanced late to finish fourth, 1 ½ lengths behind third-place finisher Bravazo. Owned by Thomas F. Conway, King Zachary finished 6 ½ lengths behind the winner, Catholic Boy.
“It was nice, it was satisfying,” Romans said. “[Catholic Boy] ran a great race, I didn't expect him to be the winner. I was not on the bandwagon beforehand, but I thought he ran great.”
Romans added that no plans have been made for Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens presented by Runhappy winner Promises Fulfilled, who led from gate to wire to win by 1 ¼ lengths over stablemate and 32-1 long shot Seven Trumpets and give Romans a 1-2 finish.
“We're going to bask in the glory right now,” said Romans. “Probably for another 24 hours. It's very gratifying. He's a special horse. It's good to be around greatness, and he's great. He and his owner [Bob Baron]. That's the best thing about my job, that I get the chance to be around greatness.
“Promises Fulfilled was going to be the meet maker-or-breaker, for sure. [Seven Trumpets], I told you all along how good he was doing. I was surprised he was that big of a price.”
Promises Fulfilled is perfect through two starts at Saratoga after winning the Grade 3 Amsterdam on July 28. That effort followed his third-place finish in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens on June 9 at Belmont Park.
The 3-year-old Shackleford colt won his first Grade 1 on Saturday, having finished ninth in the Florida Derby in March and 15th in the Kentucky Derby in May in his two previous Grade 1 engagements. Promises Fulfilled began the year with a gate-to-wire victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 3 at Gulfstream Park.
West Point Thoroughbreds’ Seven Trumpets entered in the Jerkens off a second to Firenze Fire in the Grade 3 Dwyer on July 7 at Belmont Park. By Morning Line, Seven Trumpets is still in search of his first graded stakes victory.
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Travers third-place finisher Bravazo ‘in great shape’ after Mid-Summer Derby
Bravazo, the third-place finisher in the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers, was in great shape Sunday morning, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. The 3-year-old Awesome Again colt made his ninth start of the year – and 13th total – in the Mid-Summer Derby. He joined Justify as the only two horses to have started in this year’s Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.
“The horse is consistent," Lukas said. "He's probably the most consistent of any of the 3-year-olds other than Justify, who did it all, but he shows up. He'll probably be one of the few that will be in the [Grade 1] Pennsylvania Derby [September 22 at Parx]. He came back great. [He] cleaned up, he looked good this morning. If they ran it next week, I could wheel him back.”
The durable Kentucky-bred represented Calumet Farms colors well, producing a strong closing kick from midpack to finish five lengths behind winner Catholic Boy, who held a four-length advantage over runner-up Mendelssohn. Bravazo’s $125,000 share of the Travers purse pushed his career earnings to $1,106,528.
“The thing yesterday is the speed held up all day long,” said Lukas. “Even on the turf course. Those two horses were perfectly placed and I thought we were one of the few horses that closed and ran somebody down.
“In a field with that much competition, you're not going to have a perfect trip. I would've liked to see him not catch as much dirt. He had to go wide to get clear to run. Luis [Saez] wanted to move a little earlier than he was able, but you know, that's race riding,” he added.
Now that the 149th Travers is history, and the script has been written by the winning ridgling, eight colts and the filly Wonder Gadot, Lukas said he had mixed feelings with how the race played out.
“We learned it was a super nice race with a lot of parity in the 3-year-old division,” said Lukas, who has saddled 20 Travers horses in his career. “It was pretty much what it was billed to be. I don't think any definitive conclusion can come out of it.”