John Charalambous stepped out of the spare stall next to So Long George in Saratoga’s stakes barn, plastic baggy in hand.
“Here, give him a mint, he will love you forever,” he said, handing over not the typical red and white sweets wrapped in plastic we are used to in the United States. These mints were the kind one would get in upscale restaurant that comes with an extravagant bill at the end of the night.
“He only likes the expensive ones,” Charlambous said of the Canadian-trained gelding who eats pretty much anything from bananas to pizza to grapes. To hear Charalambous talk, So Long George can eat anything he wants, as long as he keeps running the way he does.
So Long George will earn his dinner today when he takes on six other older horses in the $250,000 Bernard Baruch Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. He enters the 1 1/16-mile Baruch off a victory in the Grade 2 Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine, one of his two wins from three starts on the season.
Charalambous, who trains the Arch gelding at Woodbine for Up Hill Stable, believes taking on the likes of Silver Max, Za Approval, Tetradrachm and others was a logical next step for So Long George.
“The owner decided to come here,” Charalambous said. “He won on July 21 at Woodbine, so the next race was roughly four weeks later and it was a mile-and-a-quarter. He didn’t want to run him that far and wanted to give him a little more time between races. The race here is a little tougher but he wants to see how good this horse is, too. He likes being competitive and he has run against better horses every time and he has just taken to it.”
Emma-Jayne Wilson, who has four mounts and a victory at the current meet, also ships in from Woodbine to see if she can maintain their winning connection. From 13 starts, So Long George owns six wins, all with Wilson aboard.
“Emma Jayne gets along with him and she gets a lot of run out of him,” Charalambous said. “They definitely have a bond.”
Wilson and So Long George George put that bond to the test in today’s Baruch, on a turf course much different than his hometown, against competition steeper than he has seen.
Silver Max is the 9-5 favorite primarily because he could be the race’s lone speed. He’s won five stakes racing on the front end on the turf, including the Grade 3 Oceanport a month ago at Monmouth Park.
Trained by Dale Romans, Silver Max ended a four-race losing streak that bridged the end of 2012 and start of 2013 when switched to the dirt to win the rained-off Opening Verse June 1 at Churchill. He followed that up with a third in the Grade 3 Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows before moving back to grass for the Oceanport. Robby Albarado gets the return call on the 4-year-old Badget of Silver colt.
Charlie LoPresti sends out Turallure, winner of the Baruch two years ago and second in a tough allowance-optional claiming race early in the meet, and hopes for a little pace to soften up Silver Max. Turallure, a 6-year-old son of Wando who lost the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Mile by a nose, finally showed signs of the Turallure of old when second to Seal Cove in that July 24 race going 1 mile on the inner course.
LoPresti breezed Turallure twice since that race, both times on the Oklahoma Training Track turf.
“He’s doing awful good,” LoPresti said. “That’s going to be a tough race because Silver Max, nobody’s going to go with him. He is the speed. He’s lone speed. The way this turf course has been playing. I don’t think we’re going to get the rain though. That would help him, but I don’t want the main track muddy for Successful Dan (who runs later in the card in the Woodward).”
Turallure is 0-for-4 on the season, finishing sixth in two races in Kentucky this spring before a fifth in the Swoon’s Son Stakes June 8 at Arlington.
“He just didn’t have that spark,” LoPresti said. “He just wasn’t showing me what he showed me when he was up here two years ago and then all of a sudden, after that last race at Arlington, it was like all of a sudden he just started turning things around.
“Then when I got him up here he was a monster. His last two breezes are the kind of works like he was doing when he was up here two years ago when he won the Bernard Baruch. He had two super works over that track.”
Before he got to Saratoga and earlier this spring Lopresti experimented a little with Turallure back at his home base at Keeneland, training him with other horses to try to get him back in gear. It’s not a move the veteran horseman prefers. He’ll do it with young horses, he says, but would rather see an old veteran like Turallure do it on his own.
“That’s what I was having to do earlier in the year with him,” LoPresti said. “I’d work him in company and that didn’t work. Nothing seemed to work. Then I got him up here and all of a sudden it’s like a light bulb went off and everything he’s doing he’s doing on his own. I like that in a horse. Rather than having to try and make him do stuff.”
Za Approval scratched out of a showdown with Wise Dan in the Grade 2 Fourstardave in favor of the Baruch. Trained by Christophe Clement, Za Approval was second last time out in the Grade 1 Shoemaker at Hollywood Park after back-to-back Grade 3 victories on grass going 1 mile.
Tetradrachm turned in one of the more impressive victories on the turf course at the current meet when he won a 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional race Aug. 3 in 1:39.35, not far off Fourstardave’s course record of 1:38.91 set = in 1991. The 4-year-old Badge of Silver colt made his first start for Bill Mott that day and will be ridden again by John Velazquez.
Paris Vegas, a winner here last year for Tom Voss, and Fourstardave fifth-place finisher Willyconker complete the field.