Mo Diddley takes leap in class in Sunday's G2 Saratoga Special
by Brian Bohl
Mo Diddley will step up to stakes company looking to build on a winning debut as part of a nine-horse field in the Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special for 2-year-olds on Sunday at Saratoga Race Course.
Owned by Gary Barber and Cheyenne Stables, Mo Diddley overcame a severe outward break to rally for a debut victory by a head in the 4 ½-furlong sprint on May 18 at Churchill Downs. Trainer Mark Casse said he has high expectations for the Uncle Mo colt as he stretches out to the Saratoga Special distance of 6 ½ furlongs on the main track.
"We're really excited and think he [can be] a superstar," Casse said. "He's only started one time. Watching the head-on [camera], they broke and he took a right-hand turn, which 2-year-olds often do when they break on the outside the first time. He went out of the picture and then all of a sudden, he reappeared and he still won."
Casse said Mo Diddley compares favorably to Classic Empire, the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby winner who was last year's Champion 2 Year Old Male.
"We were impressed by that, but more importantly have been impressed with how he's trained since. We think he's a good horse. Right now, we think he could possibly be our next Classic Empire."
Newly minted Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano will have the call from post 2.
Copper Bullet is 1-2-0 in three starts, including a runner-up finish in his graded stakes debut when he finished 1 ½ lengths behind Ten City in the Grade 3 Bashford Manor on June 30 at Churchill. The son of More Than Ready has breezed three times on Saratoga's Oklahoma training track since that effort as he prepares to race for the first time at the Spa for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
"I thought he struggled with the racetrack when he first got up here, but his last work was pretty good," Asmussen said. "He's a good horse. He has quality and hopefully has some better races ahead of him."
Copper Bullet will be stretched out to the Saratoga Special distance for the first time, drawing the outside post with jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard.
Albaugh Family Stable's Hollywood Star won his first start for trainer Dale Romans, capturing a six-furlong maiden special weight on June 28 at Churchill. The son of Malibu Moon was a $550,000 Keeneland September acquisition, the most expensive colt of his sire's 44 yearlings to sell last year. He will now take the step up in class, breaking from post 3 with Robby Albarado in the irons.
"He's doing good. He's a real racehorse," Romans said. "Horses with that kind of pedigree don't lie to you. He came back and has trained better after the race, and all that put together I don't think he'll fool me. He trained like a good one from day one. When he shipped up they said he was the best one.
"It's a whole different ballgame when you're working with Albaugh when you go in there and buy what you really, really like, and don't have to make something that's not there. I expect a big race."
Barry Lee will also make the jump to stakes competition following a maiden win on July 14 at Laurel. Owned by Sagamore Farm's, Barry Lee, who was purchased at a training sale in Ocala, Florida, is trained by Horacio DePaz, who previously worked for Todd Pletcher before going out on his own.
"He's nice and forward; a different type of horse that he was last year for that race," DePaz said. "He can rate and do whatever you want, but you ask him to go, he'll go and he'll come back to you. He's got a really good mind.
"I like steady improvements. He's shown the class to be able to compete in a graded race. He's been working with older horses and he does it in a relaxed manner; not a nervous, panicky type. He enjoys what he's doing. So, if you throw him against nice horses, [I] think he's going to handle it mentally."
Barry Lee will have the services of jockey Jose Ortiz from post 4.
Pletcher will saddle a pair of entrants in Bal Harbour and Tempestad. Bal Harbour was fifth in the Grade 3 Sanford on July 22 at the Spa after running second and first, respectively, in his first two maiden races at Gulfstream Park. John Velazquez, also a Hall of Famer, will ride from the rail.
Tempestad, like Mo Diddley a son of Uncle Mo, won his first start on May 18 at Belmont and has been training at Saratoga since June on both the main and training tracks. Joel Rosario will break from post 6.
Rounding out the field is Diamond Oops, who is 2-for-2, including a win in the Kiss a Native on July 1 at Gulfstream Park, for trainer Patrick Biancone from post 8; Vino, a maiden winner for trainer Kelly Breen, will exit post 7; and Crea's Bklyn Law for trainer Michael Dilger from post 5.