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Saratoga Race Course Notes - August 11

By NYRA Press Office | 08/11/2013 02:46 PM ET
Palace Malice
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese

  • Palace Malice, Verrazano please Pletcher with penultimate preps; Princess of Sylmar primed for G1 Alabama
  • McPeek's 'War Horses' breeze; owner Fipke to pick between Stroll overnight stakes and G1 Travers for Java's War
  • Auntie Mame victory continues Weaver's 'Summer of Fun'
  • Big Blue Kitten works for G1 Sword Dancer
  • Wise Dan exits G2 Fourstardave victory in fine fettle; Successful Dan under consideration for G1 Woodward
  • Strong Impact goes for third straight in Troy

When the main track opened Sunday morning following the renovation break at 8:50 a.m., 3-year-old stars Palace Malice and Verrazano were the first horses bounding through the gap, eager to put in their penultimate works for the Grade 1, $1 million Travers Stakes on August 24.

With exercise rider Jake Nelson aboard, Palace Malice breezed four furlongs in 49.02 seconds, the 16th fastest of 67 works at the distance. Verrazano, with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez up, worked the same distance in 49.05, in company with Secretariat Stakes-bound turf runner Jack Milton.

"I thought we had a very good morning; everything went just as we had hoped," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "We've certainly never come into the Travers with two horses with credentials this strong and doing as well as these two horses are. We'll just cross our fingers for 13 more days and hope everything continues to go as well as it is."

Palace Malice is seeking to become the only horse besides Arts and Letters in 1969 to win the Belmont Stakes, the Jim Dandy and the Travers. Arts and Letters was named Horse of the Year that year. To accomplish the feat, Palace Malice will have to defeat his stablemate, Verrazano, who is coming off a scintillating 9 ¾-length victory in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on July 28 at Monmouth Park.

Pletcher recognizes putting the two together is not ideal, but both are in contention for end of the year honors.

"You hate to run two horses like this against each other, but it's the right thing for each horse and each owner, so that's what we're going to do," Pletcher said. "Both horses are certainly in position where a win here would solidify their status at the top of the division. What better place to decide it than on the racetrack in the Travers?"

Pletcher also worked Princess of Sylmar, the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks and Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks winner, who is seeking to add the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama to her resume on Saturday.

Princess of Sylmar breezed four furlongs in 49.50 seconds, 49th fastest of 100 works at the distance.

The daughter of Majestic Warrior won the Kentucky Oaks at odds of 38-1 and was less highly thought of than her stablemates Dreaming of Julia and Unlimited Budget, who she vanquished that day.

Pletcher believes any doubts about her talent have been eliminated.

"I think it changed in the [Coaching Club American] Oaks [on July 20 at the Spa]," Pletcher said. "She put any questions about her Kentucky Oaks victory to rest in there with a very strong performance. She's trained brilliantly since then. We hope she can repeat that type of effort in the Alabama. For a filly that has only lost one time since her debut, and coming off a win in the Kentucky Oaks and the Coaching Club, she's established herself as the division leader."

Trainer Ken McPeek's "War Horses" - Java's War and War Dancer - breezed over the Oklahoma training track on Sunday, with both colts under consideration for the Grade 1 Travers on August 24.

Java's War, winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass in April, breezed three furlongs in 37.12 seconds and will make his next start in either the $100,000 Stroll overnight stakes at 1 3/16 miles on the turf on Wednesday or in the Travers. McPeek said the decision will be made by owner Charles Fipke, who also campaigns Travers contender Golden Soul, trained by Dallas Stewart.

"It was just to let him stretch his legs," said McPeek. "He went fantastic. We're going to make a decision on whether he runs on Wednesday. I have to speak to Mr. Fipke about that detail. We may still very well run in the Travers. He worked well today, and I'm happy with that."

Grade 2 Virginia Derby winner War Dancer breezed five furlongs in 1:03.22 in company with stablemate So Raise Yourglass.

"It was just a nice maintenance five-eighths," said McPeek, who trains War Dancer for Magdalena Racing. "The riders went off a little slow the first three-eighths, but they finished up and galloped out nicely."

Trainer George Weaver's horse is aptly named, as Summer of Fun cruised to a 1 ½-length victory in the $100,000 Auntie Mame on Saturday. Ridden by Joe Rocco Jr., the Include filly landed Weaver his sixth win from 16 starts at the meet.

Owned by Bona Venture Stables, Summer of Fun came with a late surge in the stretch to win the mile and a sixteenth race in 1:44.66, paying $5.50.

"She ran huge and came out of it well," said Weaver. "There was some give in the course and I was concerned about it, but the sun was out all day with a pretty decent wind. By the time we ran I thought it was going to be good enough for her to run her race."

Weaver is aiming for a fall campaign for Summer of Fun, and is pleased with the progress the filly is making.

"We are pointing her toward the Grade 1 Garden City [September 14] at Belmont next," said Weaver. "We will nominate for a race at Keeneland, but I would prefer to run her in the Garden City.

"She impressed me last year as a 2-year-old but she has impressed me even more this year," he added.  "Her workouts tell us she is capable of doing some special things. If she continues to do well from here until November, we will plan on going to the Breeders' Cup. She ran a big race [third in the G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies] out there last year."

Weaver has had quite a successful meet thus far. Weaver's other stakes victory was with Lighthouse Bay in the Grade 1 Prioress on July 27. Prior to the Auntie Mame, Summer of Fun was second by a nose in the Hilltop Stakes on May 17 at Pimlico.

"We haven't run a whole lot of horses," he said. "To win a Grade 1 -  and to make that filly a stakes winner yesterday - I don't want to rest on my laurels, but I am going to keep trying to win. Whatever happens from here on out, to win those two stakes races is very important for our barn and something that we are very excited about."

Grade 1 winner Big Blue Kitten put in his final major tune-up for the Grade 1, $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational with a five-furlong breeze on the Oklahoma training track turf course Sunday morning.

Trained by Chad Brown for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Big Blue Kitten worked in company with Real Solution, both horses timed in 1:00.40 according to NYRA clockers.

"They have worked together in the past, but I don't necessarily work them together every week," Brown said. "I try to match my horses up together based on if they complement each other. These horses are very similar - Grade 1-caliber, long-distance grass horses.

"They worked good," said Brown. "Big Blue Kitten has never been a good work horse, but he runs well. Real Solution, on the other hand, is a good work horse as well as being a good racehorse. It doesn't surprise me when we work them together that Real Solution always has a little bit more. For both horses, it was their normal work."

The 1 ½-mile Sword Dancer will be run on August 17. New Jersey-based jockey Joe Bravo will come in to ride Big Blue Kitten, who won the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park in his most recent start.

"He got along with the horse so well the only two times he rode him at Monmouth, I pretty much leave [the tactics] up to him," Brown said.

Also breezing on the turf for Brown was Grade 1 winner Samitar, who went a half-mile in 47.98 seconds in company with Dream Peace. Brown said Samitar is probable for the Grade 2, $250,000 Ketel One Ballston Spa on August 24.

Balance the Books, scratched from the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame stakes on August 9 when it came off the turf, was entered in the $100,000 Stroll overnight stakes on Wednesday.

"We entered to take a look at the race," Brown said. "If you wait for the Saranac [Grade 3, $150,000, September 1] and it rains again or the horse gets hurt, you end up not running anywhere. I'm going to take a look at the race, see how he's training. It's supposed to rain again on Tuesday, so we'll see. He is ready to run."

Wearing a baseball cap, hooded gray sweatshirt and blue jeans, trainer Charlie LoPresti stood grazing a horse outside his barn on the Saratoga Race Course backstretch Sunday morning.

The night before, the Brooklyn-born LoPresti was standing in the winner's circle in a jacket and tie, after reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan pushed his win streak to eight races by defending his title in the Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap.

"I think I'm doing all right for a poor fella," LoPresti said. "I went to a restaurant [after the race] and by the time we got the horse all done up and everything, I was home by 9 o'clock. I was whipped, I'll tell you. Mentally, I was whipped."

Heavily favored at 2-5 in a field of six, Wise Dan overcame high weight of 129 pounds to win the Fourstardave by 1 ¼ lengths over stubborn pacesetter King Kreesa. The winning time of 1:34 was just .58 off the one-mile inner turf course record.

"From everything I can see, he looks great this morning," LoPresti said. "I came back and checked him at 9 last night and he ate all his feed and walked around the stall good. We had him out early this morning and bathed him, walked him and grazed him, and it doesn't look like it took a whole lot out of him. It was a pretty easy race for him."

The biggest concerns for LoPresti going into the race were the weight -
more than Wise Dan had ever carried and 11 to 14 pounds more than his rivals -
and the trip. For much of the early part of the race, he was boxed down inside behind Skyring and Lea before hitting a seam rounding the final turn and steadily gaining toward the wire under a hand ride from Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

"I knew they were going to try to do that, because that's what good race riders do; they try to beat the favorite," LoPresti said. "It was a good race for him. He proved to everybody what kind of horse he was. There shouldn't be any more question about weights and all that.

"I wasn't going to not run him because of the weights. I told [NYRA racing secretary] P.J. [Campo], 'As long as you guys don't kill him, I'll run him,' and I think they were very fair in what they did. I think everybody that ran against him had a fair chance to beat him with the weights. They had their chance."

LoPresti said Wise Dan will remain with him in Saratoga while he picks out the next spot on the way to the Breeders' Cup Mile in November, either the Woodbine Mile on September 15 or the Shadwell Turf Mile on October 5.

Meanwhile, LoPresti was still basking in the win as well as the reception fans had for Wise Dan, from the backyard to the grandstand.

"It raised the hair up on the back of your neck when you're walking over with the horse and all the people are hollering, 'Go, Dan,'" LoPresti said. "I hope by bringing him here it was a good day of racing. They had a lot of people there. Last year, he was an unknown. I mean, he was a good horse, but he wasn't a great horse. That's what it's all about."

With his latest Fourstardave performance added to the horse's resume, LoPresti said Wise Dan might have moved himself into some elite company.

"It tells me he's every bit of what people think he is," LoPresti said. "Maybe he will go down as like a Forego and John Henry and Kelso and some of those horses they've been talking about."

LoPresti added that Wise Dan's older half-brother, Successful Dan, remains under consideration for the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward on August 31. Successful Dan was a closing second in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap on August 3.

"Right now, he's good. Very good," LoPresti said. "We're excited. He's training good. We're just probably going to get a little breeze here sometime maybe next week, if weather permits. We're not going to do a whole lot with him."

Strong Impact goes for his third straight victory on Wednesday as he faces seven others in the 10th running of the $100,000 Troy at 5 ½ furlongs over the Mellon turf course.

The 7-year-old A. P Jet gelding already has a victory at the Spa this year, rallying to take the Fiddler's Patriot stakes by three-quarters of a length on July 21. Trained by Bruce Brown, Strong Impact is 7-2 on the morning line from post position 7 with Alex Solis riding.

Favored at 3-1 is the Steve Asmussen-trained Great Mills, who will be making his first appearance at the Spa since his victory in the 2011 Quick Call. The 5-year-old son of War Front has started once this year, posting a one-length victory in an optional claimer in January at Santa Anita. He will leave from post position 4 under Joel Rosario.

Rounding out the field are Smash, Varsity, Tripski, Hear the Footsteps, Mop Head, and Hogy. Leave of Absence was entered main track only.