by NYRA Press Office
The contingent from the barn of trainer Aidan O'Brien continue to train well into their respective starts in the $750,000 Saratoga Oaks presented by Encore Boston Harbor and $1 million Saratoga Derby. Both races are the second leg of the newly designed Turf Triple Series. The Saratoga Oaks marks the second race of the Turf Tiara, while its male counterpart is the middle jewel in the Turf Trinity.
All four horses are owned by a partnership which includes Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith and shipped to the Spa from O'Brien's base at Ballydoyle Training Center in Ireland.
Happen and Coral Beach, entered in today's Saratoga Oaks, walked along the shed row in the quarantine barn located at the Oklahoma annex barn.
Happen, a War Front filly out of three-time Group 1 winner Alexandrova, was sixth last out in the Group 1 Coronation at Ascot June 21 and makes her United States debut while stablemate Coral Beach was seventh in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational two starts back.
"They just had a walk this morning. They walked for an hour and are in there until race time," said O'Brien's travelling head lad T.J. Comerford.
Meanwhile, Cape of Good Hope and Mohawk are continuing to train towardthe Saratoga Derby, scheduled for Sunday.
A full brother to seven-time Grade/Group 1 winner Highland Reel, Cape of Good Hope was eighth in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational last out and will attempt a win in the second leg of the Turf Trinity. His last win took place in the Investec Blue Ribland Trial on April 24 going 1 ¼ miles.
Mohawk, a bay Galileo colt, will attempt his second straight win after taking the Group 3 Meld at Leopardstown. As a 2-year-old he bested Cape of Good Hope and stablemate Sydney Opera House in the Group 2 Juddmonte Royal Lodge at Newmarket.
Both Saratoga Derby contenders went to the main track Friday morning.
"They went a little bit quicker than [Thursday] from the seven-and-a-half and jogged the opposite direction to the mile there, and then they turned around and jumped off at the seven-and-a-half," Comerford said. "They just cantered along well and took it all in very well. They'll have three days of it, so it will be good for them."
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Casse holds strong pair for Fasig-Tipton Racing Festival
Trainer Mark Casse will send out Moon Colony in Friday's Grade 2, $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame and Got Stormy in Saturday's $100,000 Fasig-Tipton De La Rose.
John Oxley's Moon Colony impressed on June 1 with a rallying score in the Grade 2 Penn Mile over a yielding turf course, but faltered last out on the pace after tussling with the Aidan O'Brien trained Blenheim Palace, eventually finishing ninth under Julien Leparoux in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby.
"I think he really likes the mile," said Casse. "I'm not so sure he can't run farther than the mile, but last time Aidan brought the rabbit over and stayed next to us and it caused our horse to run off early. He still only got beat about seven lengths and towards the end of it, Julien knew he was beat and wrapped up."
Casse said Moon Colony has thrived at Saratoga and should appreciate the outside post in Friday's contest.
"He looks great here, he's happy," said Casse. "He's had the inside post the last two times, but he was able to sit off the pace in the Penn Mile. I think we'll be somewhere inbetween this weekend, it looks like there's some speed inside of him."
Gary Barber and Southern Equine Stable's Got Stormy boasts a record of 5-1-3 from 13 starts, including a victory in the Grade 3 Ontario Colleen last July at Woodbine and a strong third in April at Keenenalnd in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley.
Last out, Got Stormy finished second, defeated 1 1/4-lengths, in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
Casse said Moon Colony took a necessary breather after pulling out of the Grade 1 Just a Game at Belmont, and will look for some class relief on Saturday.
"We had planned on running her in the Just a Game and she kicked herself in the stall the day before," said Casse. "We gave her a little break and we're just trying to get her back on track. She's proven she can run against some of the better turf fillies in the country. It's not an easy spot, but it's a good spot for her."
Casse said Barber's Grade 1 Preakness winner War of Will, who faded to fifth after setting the pace in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, continues to train at Saratoga.
"He trained this morning, trained yesterday. I've talked to Gary about it and we're not going to commit to anything right now," said Casse. "We'll see how he trains and how his energy level is. We're still scratching our heads over the Jim Dandy, I don't think you saw the real War of Will but I can't give you a good explanation why."
Casse also noted that Tracy Farmer's Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets winner Sir Winston, currently taking a reprise at Casse's farm in Florida, is in good order.
"He's doing good. He got clearance to start back in training. You might see him back in late fall," said Casse.
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Covfefe well prepared for G1 Longines Test
L N J Foxwoods' Covfefe, third last out following a track record performance in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness, will make her Saratoga debut seeking a return to her winning ways in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Test for 3-year-old fillies.
Trainer Brad Cox, who arrived in Saratoga Thursday night from his Kentucky base, said Friday morning that Covfefe is primed to bounce back in her first try at seven furlongs. She was beaten less than a length when third behind Mia Mischief in the six-furlong Roxelana on June 22 at Churchill Downs, where she faced older horses for the first time.
"She's doing great. We wouldn't be here if she's not. It's the Grade 1 Test, so you've got to be as good as you're going to get. That's where she is," Cox said. "Her last two works have been phenomenal. She shipped in and had three gallops over the main track and been handling things fine. I think she's set up for a big effort.
"Her last race was the toughest race she'd ever run in. We were facing a Grade 1 winner and were beaten three parts of a length for it all. I felt like she did all the dirty work being stuck down on the inside and being pressed the whole way and she didn't give in. Churchill's a long stretch, and she did get a little tired late but I didn't really crank on her for that race," he added. "We thought, 'Let's take a chance, get the race in her and set her up for the Test.' Now, we're a day away. She's ready for a big race."
Covfefe will break from post 3 in a seven-horse field, with Joel Rosario aboard for the first time. She will carry 119 pounds, four fewer than co-highweights Serengeti Empress, the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks winner, and three-time Grade 1 winner Bellafina.
In the May 17 Miss Preakness, Covfefe ran fast early and faster late, galloping past the wire under a hand ride for a front-running 8 ½-length victory in 1:07.70, the six-furlong track record at Pimlico Race Course. Her 107 Beyer Speed Figure is the second-highest posted by a 3-year-old this year.
"We expected her to run big. She had been training extremely well," Cox said. "You don't really expect that but when you see it, to be honest with you we've felt all along that she's a freak filly and she freaked that day. She showed us that performance once, and I think with a good trip tomorrow and the way she's training, we could see it again."
Cox said that Monomoy Girl, last year's champion sophomore filly, remains at Churchill Downs and is approaching her first timed work of 2019. The five-time Grade 1 winner has been unraced since winning the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Distaff last November, still working her way back from a mild case of colic that flared up in early April.
"She's doing well," he said. "She's really close to getting back to the work tab. I don't have a date picked out, but she's been training extremely well. She's been very aggressive in her gallops, which is exactly what we want to see out of her right now. Everything's positive."
Cox was unsure of the next step for 3-year-old filly Kid Is Frosty, a three-length winner of Wednesday's New York Stallion Stakes Series Statue of Liberty Division at Saratoga. It was her second consecutive NYSSS victory, following the June 23 Cupecoy's Joy at Belmont Park.
"She stepped up and ran a big race the other day. I was proud of her," Cox said. "Honestly, I don't know what's next. It would be nice to stay in the Stallion Series if they offered a 3-year-old filly race, dirt or turf. We'll just have to see how things play out. She came out of the last race well."
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Please Flatter Me in fine fettle for Test
Heider Family Stables, Madaket Stables and Doheny Racing Stable's Please Flatter Me got her first look at Saratoga's main track with an easy jog Friday morning as she prepares for the biggest challenge of her young career in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Test.
The 3-year-old daughter of Munnings arrived in Saratoga early Thursday morning and walked the shedrow for Pimlico Race Course-based trainer Mark Reid, who followed his stable star to town on Friday. Please Flatter Me worked three furlongs in 35.60 seconds Wednesday on her home track.
"She had a walk day yesterday and went to the track today, just an easy jog around there. She just worked at Pimlico the other day, a little blowout of three-eighths, so she hacked around there this morning," Reid said. "She'll probably jog early tomorrow and then we'll take her over there and see what happens."
Please Flatter Me has four wins and a second from six career starts, the latter coming behind Covfefe's track record-setting performance in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness May 17 at Pimlico, finishing 3 ½ lengths clear of Tomlin in third. Covfefe makes her return to graded competition in the Test.
"Fillies that do that, that have an out of this world performance, I've seen it really bother them for quite a while afterward," Reid said. "We obviously know she's that talented, but who's to say that on Saturday she goes back to being a freak?
"[My filly is] doing very well. We're taking a big shot here, but it's time," he added. "She's won some $100,000 [stakes] and she's placed in a Grade 3. [In the Test], we caught a short field and a few fillies that were running long and backing up to sprint, and that's not always the easiest thing. We realize we're up against it, but she's done everything we've asked of her so far so why not give it a try?"
Please Flatter Me won each of her first three starts last fall and winter, capped by the Gin Talking December 29 at Laurel Park. Fourth by a length in the one-mile Busher March 9 at Aqueduct in her only previous trip to New York, she exits a three-quarter length triumph in the Alma North June 16 at Laurel.
"She didn't have the best trip there," Reid said. "That race was actually a lot better than it looked. She didn't get off good and rushed up there, and they went insane fractions for that day. Then she turned for home and got to dawdling and playing. I'm cautiously optimistic that she's going to run well."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez rides Please Flatter Me for the first time from post 6 at co-lowweight of 117 pounds, with only Grade 2 Davona Dale winner Jeltrin to their outside.
"It's perfect. I think it's ideal. I think she can lay up comfortable outside of them and then it's up to her, if she's good enough. She's going to run good," Reid said. "She'll have a little jog tomorrow morning, we'll let her relax for the day, then go over and introduce her to Johnny V and see what happens."
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McLaughlin to saddle Lucullan and A Thread of Blue for Fasig-Tipton Racing Festival
Godolphin's multiple graded-stakes placed Lucullan, having successfully navigated his return to competition after more than a year away, will take the next step in his comeback in Saturday's $100,000 Fasig-Tipton Lure.
Contested at 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf for 4-year-olds and up that have not won a graded sweepstakes in 2019, the Lure attracted a field of nine including main track only entrant Control Group. Lucullan drew post 2 under Luis Saez, who was aboard for the return victory July 3 at Belmont Park.
"He came back and ran huge," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "He usually wants to come running, but there wasn't much pace that day and Luis had never been on him so we asked him to stay a little closer and he did. He rode him great, and he ran very well. He's a neat horse, very talented."
A 5-year-old son of Hard Spun, Lucullan was third by 1 ½ lengths behind Robert Bruce and Spring Quality in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy last May, exiting the race with a cannon bone injury in his hind leg that sent him to the sidelines.
Lucullan went unraced at 2 but flashed his talent as a 3-year-old, beating Bricks and Mortar by a half-length when second in the Grade 3 Hill Prince in October 2017, just a neck behind Yoshida. Three months earlier, he was third as the favorite in a one-mile allowance against older horses, his lone previous try over the Saratoga turf.
"We're excited about running him. It's a nice race, tough horses, but looks like it could shape up well for him. Maybe a couple of them will go and he'll come running," McLaughlin said. "He's faced some nice horses, and we're happy to have him back.
"I just hope he can repeat [his last race] and win again and then we can step up again to a graded-stakes," he added. "We like him a lot. He's very talented."
McLaughlin will also send out Leonard C. Green's A Thread of Blue in Sunday's $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational, the second leg of NYRA's Turf Triple for 3-year-olds that continues with the $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational September 7 at Belmont Park.
A Thread of Blue skipped the opening leg of the Turf Triple, the $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational July 6, following the Grade 2 Penn Mile June 1 at Penn National, where he finished fourth. The Saratoga Derby is run at 1 3 1/6 miles.
"We're worried about the distance a little bit, but we're happy that it's a firm turf because he's a little better on the firm," McLaughlin said. "He's doing very well. We like that he can walk out of his own stall, because he doesn't ship great."
A Thread of Blue put together a three-race win streak at Gulfstream Park over the winter, including wins in the Dania Beach and Grade 3 Palm Beach. He was second in the Grade 2 American Turf May 4 at Churchill Downs prior to the Penn Mile.
"We're stretching him out a little bit because going a mile, there might be a little quicker pace," McLaughlin said. "We don't have to be on the lead or anything, we might not get the mile and three sixteenths, but we're giving it a try. He's a nice horse, a graded winner, and he's working very well."
* * *
Motion barn gaining momentum into Saturday stakes at Saratoga
Fresh off King Zachary's track record-setting performance in Thursday's Birdstone, trainer Graham Motion is hoping to carry the momentum into Saturday's Whitney Day program, where he has entrants in two of the afternoon's five stakes.
Motion will send out Sam-Son Farm's Say the Word in the $100,000 Fasig-Tipton Lure and Desert Isle in the $100,000 Fasig-Tipton De La Rose, both scheduled for Saratoga's inner turf course.
Say the Word, a 4-year-old More Than Ready gelding, enters the 1 1/16-mile Lure off three consecutive trips going one mile, finishing third last out in the Grade 2 King Edward June 29 at Woodbine, beaten 1 ¾ lengths by Synchrony.
On the Canadian Triple Crown trail last summer, running in two legs including a third in the Breeders' Stakes on a yielding Woodbine turf course, Say the Word owns two wins and two thirds from five subsequent starts.
"I thought he ran well last time. A really good horse won, and he's a Grade 1, Grade 2-caliber horse, so I thought Say the Word ran respectably," Motion said. "Say the Word has improved. He's a better horse this year than he was last year. I think also we've kind of found out that this is more his distance. Last year we wanted to run him in the Queen's Plate so we tried to stretch him out, and clearly a mile, mile and a sixteenth is more his trip. I think he ran respectably in those races, but I don't think that's his best trip. I think he's more of a miler."
Desert Isle takes a two-race win streak into the one-mile De La Rose. The 4-year-old daughter of champion Bernardini scored in front-running fashion in an open May 27 allowance at Delaware Park, then came from off the pace to take the seven-furlong Zadracarta against fellow Canadian-breds June 29.
Junior Alvarado, aboard for the stakes win, gets a return call from the rail in a field of 14 that includes three horses entered for main track only.
"It's a big step up because the last race was a restricted race, but I believe in the race at Delaware she actually equaled or set a track record, so she has ability," Motion said. "I like the fact that she's drawn on the rail and I like the fact that Junior's riding her because he knows her."
Motion reported that King Zachary was doing well the morning after his 8 ½-length Birdstone romp in 2:52.97 for 1 ¾ miles, eclipsing the rare distance's previous best of 2:55 set by Reigh Count on September 1, 1928. Motion said the 4-year-old son of Curlin would head back to his string at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. before a possible return to New York for the $300,000 Grand Prix American Jockey Club Invitational going 1 ½ miles September 7 at Belmont Park.
"He's doing super. He seemed very good this morning. He's run twice up here in a short space of time so I'll get him back home and probably gear him up for the race at Belmont," Motion said. "He's a lovely animal. He's an impressive horse, but I wouldn't have expected him to break a [nearly] 100-year-old record.
"It's just taken us a while," he added. "Unfortunately with these longer races, it's hard to find them and even the mile and a quarter, most of them are Grade 1 or Grade 2. We just need to kind of find our niche with him. I wouldn't be opposed to even trying him in one of these 1 ¼ mile races now because I think that's what he really needs, at the very least."
Motion's Thursday also included a win by Empressof the Nile in an optional claiming allowance at Saratoga and King of Egypt, a first-time starter by 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, at Laurel Park in Maryland.
"It was a very gratifying day," he said. "Everyone wants to win at Saratoga. It's the best racing of the year, there's no doubt about it. When you can compete in stakes up here, and come away with a win like that with a horse that showed that kind of ability, it's very gratifying."
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Talk Veuve to Me likely to point toward G2 Presque Isle Downs Masters
Trainer Rodolphe Brisset is considering sending graded stakes winner Talk Veuve to Me to the Grade 2, $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters on September 16 at Presque Isle Downs.
Owned by Brisset in partnership with Team Valor International and Stephen McKay, the 4-year-old Violence dark bay filly finished third last out in an allowance race over the Saratoga main track. Her last victory took place in the Grade 3 Indiana Oaks on July 14, 2018.
As a 3-year-old, Talk Veuve to Me was a second-out maiden winner at Fair Grounds by 11 ¼ lengths. She built on that effort with two runner-up finishes against graded-stakes company in the Grade 2 Eight Belles at Churchill Downs and Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park.
Talk Veuve to Me worked over the Oklahoma training track on August 1, where she went five furlongs in 1:01.30.
"She breezed really well and she's doing well. Right now the Masters would be a possible goal," Brisset said.
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Gullo hoping for stakes glory in G2 Adirondack
Active for over 39 years on the NYRA circuit, veteran conditioner Gary Gullo will look to secure his first graded stakes victory with a pair of talented runners in Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Adirondack for juvenile fillies with Miss Peppina for owners Bob Petersons Stables, Frank Bellavia and West Point Thoroughbreds and New York-bred Big Q for DutchessViews Farm.
Sired by multiple graded stakes winner Bayern, Miss Peppina was purchased for $80,000 at the Ocala Breeders April 2-year-olds in training sale. Making her debut on July 3 at Belmont Park, she stalked early and opened up late to win by two lengths.
"At the time I thought I overpaid for her," joked Gullo. "She had a great look about her and nothing really bothers her. She's really a sweetheart. She's always breezed well, even taking dirt to her face and in her first race she got stopped a little bit at the half-mile pole, but once she got things her way she really picked them up and proved herself."
With Joel Rosario aboard, Miss Peppina will leave from post 6.
Drawing the rail, the Big Q will make her second start at the Spa after winning her debut on opening day against fellow New York-breds by half-length at odds of 14-1.
"I don't like the rail for her, but if she breaks sharp, she's one of those horses that might be able to make the lead," Gullo said. "I'd rather see her from behind a little bit. Six and a half furlongs is a tough distance for a 2-year-old. You have to get her gunning out of there. She's not a slouch though. I expect her to run well."
With two live chances among the eight-horse field to win his first graded-stakes race, Gullo is just hoping for a good showing.
"I'm just happy to be in the position," said Gullo. "It's a very talented field. If they each run a credible race, I'd be happy with both of them."
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Eons looks to extend winning streak in $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational
Mark Grier's Eons will enter his most challenging race with momentum that has been building since April, carrying a four-race winning streak into Sunday's $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational at 1 3/16 miles on Saratoga's Mellon turf.
Following the Belmont Derby last month, the Saratoga Derby marks the second leg of the New York Racing Association's newly implemented Turf Triple series for 3-year-olds. Comprising the Turf Trinity for males and the Turf Tiara for fillies, the series will conclude next month at Belmont Park, with the $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational, a "Win and You're In" qualifier to the Breeders' Cup Turf, on September 7, while the Turf Tiara wraps with the $750,000 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational on the same day.
The Arnaud Delacour trainee has not lost since breaking his maiden at third asking on April 11 over Keeneland's firm turf. Over his last four starts, the Giant's Causeway colt has handled a step up in class each time.
After besting Largent by a neck in an allowance race on May 17 over softer ground at Pimlico, Eons graduated to stakes company with a half-length victory in the Stanton on June 12 at Delaware Park. In his graded stakes debut on the same surface, Eons edged Award Winner by a neck to capture the Grade 3 Kent last out on July 6 in his first start at 1 1/8 miles.
"I think he's training very well. I've been happy with him," Delacour said. "He's improved physically and mentally all year. We knew we had to take our time. He's answered positively to everything we've asked him to do and has stepped up when we've asked him. We had to be patient."
Eons, unraced as a juvenile, ran four straight races at 1 1/16 miles, starting with his second career start on February 19 at Tampa Bay Downs, before stretching out in the Kent. He will now run at the Saratoga Derby distance for the first time.
"This is a big step up. I like the distance for him," Delacour said. "We always had in mind this race. I think he can go further than a mile and a quarter. It's just a different level of racing, and that's why we wanted to go in this."
Eons, who registered a personal-best 84 Beyer Speed Figure in the Kent win, will be facing a talented 11-horse field comprised of some of the top sophomore turf colts in the Saratoga Derby that includes 7-2 favorite Rockemperor, Belmont Derby-winner Henley's Joy [4-1] and Digital Age [9-2].
Drawing post 5 with jockey Trevor McCarthy in the irons, Eons is listed as 15-1 on the morning line.
"The post matters to some degree, but with a long race on the turf, it probably matters a little bit less than on the dirt," Delacour said. "But I was pleased with the post position. That gives us some options. Hopefully, we can negotiate a good trip from there."
McCarthy, aboard for both the Stanton and Kent wins, has developed a rapport with Eons, which Delacour said could be beneficial.
"It helps. He knows the horse, and Trevor has been riding very well for us in different places in the Mid-Atlantic," he said. "He definitely deserves a shot for a race at this level."
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Saratoga Week 5 stakes probables
Thursday, August 8:
$100,000 Saratoga Dew
Probable: Fetching (Mark Casse); Might Be (Chris Englehart)
Possible: Cartwheel (Mark Hennig); English Soul (Ray Handal)
Friday, August 9:
$100,000 Tale of the Cat
Probable: Eight Town (Brian Lynch); He Hate Me (Stanley Hough); Killybegs Captain (John Terranova) Mr. Crow (Ben Colebrook); Skyler's Scramjet (Michelle Nevin)
Possible: Always Sunshine (Ned Allard); Heartwood (James Chapman); Tale of Silence (Barclay Tagg)
Saturday, August 10:
Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special
Probable: Green Light Go (Jimmy Jerkens); Iberico (Antonio Sano); January Won (Ken McPeek); King Snake (Jack Sisterson); Long Weekend (Tom Amoss); Noose (Eddie Kenneally); Peruvian Boy (Ignacio Correas); Rowdy Yates (Steve Asmussen); Tomato Bill (Christophe Clement); Zyramid (Steve Asmussen)
Grade 1, $500,000 Fourstardave
Probable: Dr. Edgar (Tagg); March to the Arch (Casse); Ostilio (Simon Crisford); Qurbaan (Kiaran McLaughlin); Raging Bull (Chad Brown); Uni (Brown)
Possible: Synchrony (Michael Stidham)
Sunday, August 11:
Probable: Elsa (Stidham); Midnight Fantasy (Joe Sharp); O'Keeffe (Larry Rivelli); Sister Peacock (Stuart Simon); Smoken Deb (Jonathan Thomas); Tobago (Graham Motion)