Sep 3, 2017
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Saratoga Race Course Notes 9.3.17

by NYRA Press Office

  • Gun Runner 'perfect' following G1 Woodward domination
  • Lady Ivanka in good order after impressive G1 Spinaway rally
  • Voodoo Song exits G3 Saranac well, could target G3 Hill Prince next
  • Harmonize in fine fettle following G3 Glens Falls; Mott gearing up for Belmont meet
  • War Flag a model of consistency for Hall of Fame trainer McGaughey

Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm's Gun Runner returned from his 10 ¼-length winning performance in the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward presented by NYRA Bets in great shape, according to Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who has conditioned champions such as Curlin and Rachel Alexandra.

"He came back perfect," Asmussen said. "We're on a fun ride, He's won three Grade 1s since he came back from Dubai, three Grade 1s by over 22 something lengths. He's the best one in the barn. What makes these horses great is how they compete on the racetrack. I never thought it was fair to compare horses that didn't get to defend themselves."

The 4-year-old son of Candy Ride captured his third Grade 1 victory in a row in the Woodward, which began with the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, and then the Whitney a month earlier on August 5. His first Grade 1 win came in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, his last race in 2016 to close out his 3-year-old year after placing second to Tamarkuz in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

His 2017 campaign began with a win in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park, which prepped him toward a trip to Dubai, where he finished second to Arrogate in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup on March 25.

The Woodward may be his best race yet, according to Asmussen, who had been pleased following what he saw from his colt in the Whitney.

"Absolutely, because of the circumstances of the race, more pace in the race, three quarters in 10, and still finished up great," he said. "It's more taxing, but it's perfect because of the nine-week break we have for the Breeders' Cup."

The Breeders' Cup Classic is the next target for Gun Runner and his team, the main reason why he continued to train and run in his 4-year-old season. The Classic will be the third 1 ¼-mile race in his career, and remains a question following his third-place finish in the 2016 Kentucky Derby and his third in last year's Travers, though Asmussen said he has nothing but confidence in his charge.

"We're in great shape. You can't ever say there's no concern, but we love the position we're in," he said.

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Michael Dubb and Bethlehem Stables' Lady Ivanka was tired but in good order following her three-quarter length victory in the Grade 1, $350,000 Spinaway, trainer Rudy Rodriguez said Sunday morning.

The 2-year-old Oklahoma-bred ran down Maya Malibu in deep stretch to win the seven-furlong sprint, improving to 2-for-2 and automatically qualifying for the Grade 1, $2 million 14 Hands Winery Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies on November 4 at Del Mar. 

"We got lucky yesterday where the race unfolded like we expected," Rodriguez said. "I was a little concerned when we went a little wider because we've been teaching her to take more dirt behind her. The track was playing fair. It's not like a couple of weeks ago where it was all inside speed."

Lady Ivanka had been working at Belmont Park under the care of Rodriguez' brother and assistant Gus. The preparation paid off when the Tiz Wonderful filly posted an eight-length score in her debut at 5 ½ furlongs on August 9 at the Spa.

Rudy Rodriguez said he thought Lady Ivanka had the potential to be special but wanted to downplay expectations. The result was Rodriguez winning his second Spinaway, joining Condo Commando in 2014. It was also his first Grade 1 win since Dads Caps won the 2015 Carter Handicap.

"She showed us a lot of talent from the beginning," Rodriguez said of Lady Ivanka. "My brother Gus trained her at Belmont and the first time we ran her, he was excited. It's a lot easier to keep it quiet and let the horse do it, because if you're expecting a lot and they don't get results, then everything falls apart for the owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms, hot walkers; it's tough. So, we tried to take it as it comes. But my brother did pretty much all the work, I'm just here to run her. 

"She was coming up to the race very, very good. It was nice and easy and she was just looking to race. She came up tired after but you expect that. They went fast in front. When she made a big run, we were close enough to get it. We're very proud of her."

Rodriguez said Lady Ivanka will ship back to Belmont soon. Her next spot is not determined, though the Grade 1, $400,000 Frizette on October 8 remains a possibility.

"She ate everything last night. Everything went perfect," Rodriguez said. "We'll talk to the owners in the next couple of days. If she bounces back, I don't see why not. You have to run when they want to run. We'll give her a break but if she keeps acting the way she is, we'll go."

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Barry K. Schwartz' Voodoo Song exited his gate-to-wire victory in Saturday's Grade 3, $300,000 Saranac for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga Race Course in good order, trainer Linda Rice said Sunday morning. 

Undefeated in five career starts on the grass, the victory was the fourth for Voodoo Song in a six-week span at Saratoga, a feat unmatched since Native Dancer won four in a single season at the Spa in 1952, then a 24-day meet. As a 2-year-old that year, the legendary "Gray Ghost" swept a quartet of stakes races, including the Saratoga Special and Hopeful.

"He came out of the race well and he looked good this morning," said Rice. "We're of course still very excited about his big win yesterday."

Transferred to Rice in July, Voodoo Song won his first start for his new barn by a front-running 5 ¼ lengths in a $40,000 claiming race against open company at 1 1/16 miles on the grass on July 22. He ran back four days later against New York-breds in a 1 3/8-mile turf allowance, sprinting to a 16-length lead early in the race and holding on to win by three-quarters of a length. 

In his third Spa appearance a month later, Voodoo Song stayed in front every step of the way to post a length victory in a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer on the grass on August 23.

On the lead throughout in the Saranac, the 3-year-old English Channel colt showed his typical keenness through the early going, drawing off by at least 5 ½ lengths on the backside before holding off a hard-charging Yoshida to win his graded stakes debut by a neck.

"In his last race, he relaxed a little bit more than yesterday but it was at a longer distance," said Rice. "He's learning with experience. I believe English Channel used to run on the front end as well and he takes after his father, that's for sure."

Rice said no definitive plans have been set yet for Voodoo Song, though the chestnut colt could be considered for the Grade 3, $500,000 Hill Prince for sophomores at 1 1/8 miles on October 7 at Belmont Park.

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Stretching out in distance to earn her first victory since the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks in August of 2016, Larkin Armstrong's Harmonize has emerged from her neck victory in the Grade 3, $200,000 Glens Falls on Saturday at Saratoga in fine fettle, Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott reported Sunday morning.

"She [Harmonize] had quite a wide trip without a doubt, but she won in spite of it," said Mott. "Three-wide on all the turns and she was still good enough to get up and win. It turned out to be a good race. I guess it proved she can win going that far."

Mott said he was still undecided on whether the 4-year-old daughter of Scat Daddy will rejoin Grade 1 competition in the $500,000 Flower Bowl Invitational on October 8 at Belmont Park, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Filly & Mare Turf, or wait for another race later in the fall. 

"We'll have to take a look at it [the Flower Bowl]," said Mott. "It's potentially setting up to be a very tough race. I'm not sure, or we might look for something easier."

Grade 3 Saranac runner-up Yoshida also exited his race in good order after finishing a neck behind Voodoo Song, said Mott, who conceded the Japanese-bred Heart's Cry colt may not have had the best of racing luck in his two starts at the Spa. That effort followed a close second this summer to Bricks and Mortar in the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame on August 4. 

"He had to steady a little bit on the turn, causing him [Irad Ortiz, Jr.] to wait a minute to tip him out. It could've cost him a neck. He ran well, he ran hard, but you have to give the winner his credit. He's been second twice and you can make some excuses for him but the fact was he was second and didn't win. At the end of the day, you need the perfect trip to win sometimes and he just didn't get that."

Looking forward to the Belmont Park Fall Championship meet, Mott reported that Grade 1 Alabama winner Elate was in good order and remained on target for a start in the Grade 1, $400,000 Beldame on September 30.

*         *         *

Allen Stable's homebred War Flag came out her third-place finish in the Grade 3, $200,000 Glens Falls in good order, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said Sunday.

The 4-year-old War Front filly was sent off as the 5-2 favorite but was last of nine at the half-mile mark. War Flag rallied in the stretch, going four-wide to earn a piece of the purse.

"I thought she ran fine behind a slow pace and closed OK," McGaughey said. "She's at Belmont now."

War Flag doesn't have any definitive plans for her next spot, said McGaughey, who added that he will return to Belmont on Monday.

The ultra-consistent War Flag has never finished out of the money in eight starts, going 4-3-1, including 1-1-1 in three North American starts after running her first five races exclusively in France. She made her stakes debut with a runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Matchmaker on July 30 at Monmouth Park.

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