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Saratoga Race Course Notes - July 25

By NYRA Press Office | 07/25/2013 03:57 PM ET
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese

  • Nafzger brings enviable record in Spa stakes to G2 Jim Dandy
  • Guillot: Moreno is 'probably the most talented 3-year-old in the country'
  • McPeek has big plans for meet
  • Toner considering G1 Ballerina with Moment in Dixie
  • Seal Cove could resurface in G2 Bernard Baruch
  • Martini Brother wins first Saratoga steeplechase stakes; Sheppard streak continues

To say Hall of Fame trainer Carl Nafzger picks his spots at Saratoga Race Course would be something of an understatement.

With limited appearances, Nafzger boasts an enviable record in graded stakes races at Saratoga, having won the Travers twice (in 2000 with Unshaded and in 2007 with Street Sense, both owned by Jim Tafel) and the Alabama twice (in 1998 with Banshee Breeze and in 2007 with Lady Joanne), as well as picking up victories in the 1999 Go for Wand with Banshee Breeze and the 2007 Jim Dandy with Street Sense.

Saturday, the semi-retired Nafzger will saddle his first graded stakes starter at the Spa since Street Sense's thrilling victory over Grasshopper in the 2007 Mid-Summer Derby when he sends out Tafel's Looking Cool in the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy.

"I quit while I was ahead," joked Nafzger, whose Unshaded finished third in the 2000 Jim Dandy. "I came back for punishment."

Looking Cool, a dark bay son of Candy Ride, has taken a while to get going in the right direction, said Nafzger. Winless in his first four starts, he broke his maiden on January 5 at Gulfstream Park, then finished a non-threatening sixth behind eventual Kentucky Derby winner Orb in an optional claimer. Following an allowance win and a second-place finish in an overnight stakes in April at Oaklawn, Nafzger's high hopes were dashed when Looking Cool finished eighth in the Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill Downs.

"He was making too many mistakes," said Nafzger. "When we ran against Orb, he got all frustrated. Good horses overcome adversity. A good horse is patient and waits on his rider. They're setting there waiting on the rider to give him the cues. They try to do too much, like a Golden Glove boxer jumping into the ring with a good boxer and trying to beat him in the first round instead of just playing them out and then whipping them."

As the Matt Winn took little out of the colt, Nafzger next decided to ship Looking Cool to Prairie Meadows for the Grade 3 Iowa Derby, where he finally put everything together and scored a half-length victory at 17-1.

"In his last race he did everything right; he settled and made a good run," said Nafzger. "So, we thought we'd give the horse a chance to be a good horse. It fit right into our schedule, and [trainer] Ian [Wilkes] could bring him here with him. He worked good on Tuesday, so let's see if he can step up."

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Trainer Eric Guillot issued an upbeat bulletin when discussing the potential of Southern Equine Stable's Moreno, the dominant winner of the Grade 2 Dwyer who is taking on Belmont Stakes hero Palace Malice in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy.

"He's probably the most talented 3-year-old in the country," said Guillot. "If you watch the Dwyer, his ears are pricked the whole way. He was cooled out by the time we took the tongue tie off of him. That's how good he is. He ain't trying now. If he ever decides to try, he'll beat Palace Malice by a dozen lengths easy, pulling away from him. That's how good he is."

Those are strong words to describe a horse who needed 10 starts to break his maiden, but Guillot said Moreno is only now hitting top form after being compromised earlier in his career by several issues, such as soreness during his 2-year-old season and a lung infection during the winter. Guillot added that gelding Morneo and adding blinkers might also have helped the sophomore transform from a maiden to a prominent 3-year-old.

"When he's sound, and healthy, he runs," said Guillot. "When he's not, he don't. It's just that simple."

Moreno's past two starts have come in one-turn races at Belmont Park, a 6 ¼-length maiden win on June 8 and the seven-length Dwyer score on July 6, and Guillot said his top concern going into the Jim Dandy is the race's two-turn trip.

"He might say, 'Hey, wait a minute!' after he goes down the backside. 'I already went one turn!"' said Guillot. "He might pull himself out the race and get beat 30 [lengths]. That wouldn't surprise me with this horse. Then again, he might just say, 'You know what, I'm starting to get this now. I feel good, I'm sound, I might pull away and beat the whole field.'"

Guillot said he hopes to win the Jim Dandy with Moreno and then run him in the Grade 1 Travers on August 24.

"If I win the Jim Dandy, I'm going to take the cover off my golf cart and get me a canoe," said Guillot. "I'm going to put [the canoe] in [the cart and decorate it] with Southern Equine colors all the way to the Travers."

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Always one to think big when it comes to his horses, trainer Ken McPeek has two of Saratoga Race Course's biggest races in his sights.

McPeek said Thursday morning he is eyeing each of the track's top races for 3-year-olds, the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama for fillies on August 17 and the Grade 1, $1 million Travers on August 24.

For the Travers, McPeek is considering War Dancer, a War Front colt who has made six of his seven career starts on grass, including his most recent, a victory in the Grade 2 Virginia Derby on July 13 at Colonial Downs.

McPeek said he is "leaning pretty heavily" toward the Alabama for Montana Native, a handy 3 ½-length winner of the $100,000 Broome Dance Stakes here on Wednesday.

"I'm not scared of running. If they're doing good, I run them," McPeek said of his training philosophy. "You can overtrain or run too much; everyone's got their style. If they're doing well, I'll run."

War Dancer has made one dirt start, running fourth in a Gulfstream Park maiden race on February 9 that was won by Saint Vigeur, who was second in the Grade 2 Peter Pan and Grade 2 Dwyer. Peter Pan winner Freedom Child was third in that race.

Third in the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs in May and second in the $207,600 Centaur Stakes at Indiana Downs in mid-June, War Dancer rallied to win the 1 ¼-mile Virginia Derby by a head over Charming Kitten at odds of 7-1.

"We know he wants a mile and a quarter. It's obviously his distance, but can he handle the surface switch?" said McPeek, whose Golden Ticket was the co-winner of the 2012 Travers in a dead-heat with Alpha. "I think he can. War Front himself never ran once on the turf. We've got to defend our title with somebody.

"The other thing we're looking at is, we do think the 3-year-old season is wide open, and the stud value it would add to him would be dramatic. He would be one of the top 3-year-olds if we could sneak our way into a Grade 1 dirt race."

Another option for War Dancer would be the Grade 1 Secretariat on grass at Arlington Park, but McPeek is pointing Blue Grass Stakes winner Java's War, now in Kentucky, to that race.

"Why butt heads against ourselves?" McPeek said. "We could easily get beat over there and wish we had run here. [War Dancer] never worked on the turf once. He's worked on the dirt every time. He works with all our best horses on the dirt. It just so happens he ended up on the grass in a series of races."

In Montana Native, McPeek said he has an improving filly who has won both her starts since being freshened following her sixth-place finish in a six-furlong allowance over the Polytrack on April 17 at Keeneland.

"She's a good filly. From the beginning, she's done everything right," McPeek said. "We've gotten into a little momentum with her lately. She got a bit of a break for a period before her last start, and her last two have been bang-up. If we can string together a third one, I'm leaning pretty heavily toward running her in the Alabama. I would think even if you run third in a race like that, it's pretty valuable in the long term."

McPeek isn't worried about the 1 ¼-miles of the Alabama for Montana Native, a daughter of multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter Yes It's True.

"I got a Speightstown to go a mile and a quarter last year, and I got a Wild Again to go a mile and a half in 2002," McPeek said of Golden Ticket and Sarava, the latter having upset the Belmont Stakes at odds of 70-1. "She's a good mover.

"She's in a nice routine," he added. "As you can see, she's bright-eyed and happy about herself. She's easy at this stage. I think it's more just making sure she stays in the feed tub and give her a nice little maintenance work before she runs. She's ready, set, go. Golden Ticket was a similar deal. We backed off of him. He ran on Derby day and he didn't run again until the Travers, and he was stronger than ever."

Other horses McPeek is aiming to Saratoga stakes include Atigun for the $100,000 John's Call Presented by Sportech on July 31, and 2-year-old filly Charmed Hour for the Grade 2, $200,000 Adirondack on August 11. Golden Ticket is under consideration for the grade 1, $750,000 Woodward August 31.

*          *          *

Impressed by Moment in Dixie's sharp score in an optional claimer on Wednesday, trainer Jimmy Toner said he would give careful consideration to running the 4-year-old filly next in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina on August 23.

Moment in Dixie won Wednesday at the Ballerina distance of seven furlongs by 2 ½ lengths in a time of 1:24.18.

"That's a big jump, but I would love to get some black type on her," Toner said. "She came back very good. It set up good for her. She had a nice prep down there [on June 14 at Belmont] and ran good yesterday, so we were very happy with her."

Moment in Dixie, out of the multiple-graded-stakes-winning Darby Dan Farm mare Ellie's Moment, is from the last crop of top sire Dixieland Band, who died at age 30 in 2010. Toner said he did a double-take when he first saw Moment in Dixie's pedigree.

"I said, 'Is it Dixieland Band or Dixie Union?'" he said.

Dixieland Band covered Ellie's Moment at age 28 in 2008. Moment in Dixie has won three of eight starts and along with her victory Wednesday, she finished second in a 1 1/8-mile overnight stakes at Saratoga last summer and second in another two-turn stakes race at Monmouth Park.

*          *          *

Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said on Thursday that Stuart S. Janney, III's Seal Cove could make his next start in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap on August 31 after defeating eight opponents, all stakes winners, in an optional claimer on Wednesday at Saratoga.

"I want to keep him in places where he can be competitive and earn some money," said McGaughey of the 5-year-old gelding. "One spot that could come up is the Bernard Baruch, but I'll just have to wait and see to see how that turns up."

In the one-mile race on the inner turf course on Wednesday, Seal Cove raced in eighth early, hooked four wide into the stretch, and outkicked Grade 1 winner Turallure to win by a head. Hoofit finished an additional neck behind in third.

"I thought he ran great," said McGaughey. "He had been training really well. It came up a solid race. One mile isn't his gig; he wants to go farther than that. Javier [Castellano] rode him great. He took him back behind a closer pace than we expected, but he closed well. Javier made the right decision when he brought him off the rail; he prefers being outside of horses. Then [Turallure] came outside of him, but he was able to hold him off."


*          *          *

Last of 11 after 1 ½ mile, Martini Brother rallied over the final fences and went onto a half-length victory over his stablemate Barnstorming in the $75,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes, the first steeplechase race this summer at the Spa.

Trained by Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard and ridden by Darren Nagle, Martini Brother completed the 2 1/16 miles in 3:50.18 as he earned his third straight win and first in a stakes. The 5-year-old gelded son of A.P. Indy was a 4 ¾-length maiden winner in April and scored by a half-length in an allowance in May.

The win extended Sheppard's streak of having won at least one race at the Spa to 45 years, having saddled his first winner in 1969.

The 5-2 second choice, Martini Brother paid $7.30 for a $2 win wager and has now earned $101,274.

Completing the order of finish behind Barnstorming were Extraextraordinary, Kingdom, favored Dr. Skip, Sulwaan, Constant Contact, Forgotten Man, Sharp Numbers, Alajmal, and Bodie Island.