News of Benny The Bull’s sudden retirement Wednesday shook up the Grade I Forego and the entire sprint division, but did little to jolt Kiaran McLaughlin from his office chair. The trainer, who sends out Shadwell Stable’s Lucky Island in the $250,000 stakes, feels his Argentinian-bred colt is a force in his own right.
“He doesn’t need to step up in the division now that Benny The Bull is out. He’s already there,” McLaughlin said. “Benny The Bull was in tough if he was in there.”
Though Benny The Bull, the likely Forego favorite, loomed as the top sprinter in the land, a look through Lucky Island’s past performances gives credence to McLaughlin’s claim. The 4-year-old son of Lucky Roberto is undefeated in four starts this season, winning by a combined 13 1/4 lengths. His biggest effort came in the Grade II Tom Fool at Belmont Park July 4, when Lucky Island made all the running over a muddy track at today’s 7-furlong distance and drew off to a 4 1/4-length win over Forego rivals Tasteyville and Premium Wine.
Shadwell purchased Lucky Island following a 9-length debut win in June 2007 in his native Argentina. Sent to McLaughlin later that summer, Lucky Island made his U.S. bow in an optional claimer at Calder in December. Sent off at 9-5 in the seven-horse field, he stumbled at the start, was steadied early and finished last. Those weren’t the only factors contributing to the poor performance.
“We’ve loved this horse since the first time we got him. You see what his odds were when he first ran for us. He’s always trained like a nice horse but ran poorly in his first start because he bled a bit,” McLaughlin said. “We put him on Lasix after that race and the turnaround has been tremendous – I’ve never seen a horse improve so much from it.”
Lucky Island made his first start on the anti-bleeding medication in an entry-level allowance at Gulfstream Park in February, where he pressed the pace and drew off to a 2 1/4-length score. He notched an even easier win in an optional claimer at Aqueduct in April, prompting McLaughlin to test deeper waters. Lucky Island entered the Grade III Bold Ruler at Belmont May 10 as a relative unknown; he exited as a major sprint player after a 2 1/4-length win. The Tom Fool put him near the top of the list.
McLaughlin backed off on Lucky Island afterward and aimed directly for the Forego. Lucky Island shows a strong series of local works and should be forwardly placed under regular rider Alan Garcia. McLaughlin, who leads the Saratoga trainer standings, looks forward to a big sendoff.
“We pointed to this race ever since he won the Tom Fool and he has been training right along since. We’re ready to go,” McLaughlin said. “I think 7 furlongs or a mile is his best trip, so we’re excited to get him back going again. It’s been a great meet so far and hopefully the best is yet to come. We’ve got some unfinished business. It would be very important from a stallion standpoint to win a Grade I, so this is the race we want to win.”
The 8-5 favorite looms as the horse to beat, but there are plenty of challengers. Harry and Tom Meyerhoff’s Eternal Star enters in career form, having won five of his last six starts. The most impressive came here Aug. 9, when the son of Five Star Day battled on the lead through quick factions and held off hard-charging Bold Start by a neck in the James Marvin Stakes.
Mike Trombetta brought Eternal Star to Saratoga following his win in the 7-furlong, $200,000 Donald LeVine Memorial at Philadelphia Park June 28. The trainer hoped the 5-year-old could progress to the Forego. After the game score in the Marvin, Trombetta sees today as the perfect spot to test his colt.
“Obviously the race drew some nice horses and Kiaran’s horse is definitely one to be reckoned with. We came up here with a plan and we got the prep race under our belt. We said all along if he ran well there we would look at the Forego, and that’s where we are,” Trombetta said. “He likes 7 furlongs and (today) is the time to find out where we stand. We’re going from some good racing to a Grade I, so several things need to be accomplished, but we’re here and he deserves a shot.”
While First Defence is winless in three starts at Saratoga, you could argue that two of his best races have come at the Spa. He gave Hard Spun all he could handle in last year’s King’s Bishop and rallied for second in the Grade II Vanderbilt earlier this meet. Trained by Bobby Frankel for longtime client Juddmonte Farms, the son of Unbridled’s Song took the Grade III Jaipur over the Belmont turf in June and seeks a graded score on dirt. Channing Hill rides for the first time.
Tony Dutrow sends out the uncoupled entry of Ferocious Fires and Premium Wine, and neither would be a surprise. Owned by Sanford Goldfarb, Ira Davis and William Vidro, Ferocious Fires is undefeated in eight career starts on dirt and the 5-year-old son of Lite The Fuse has already been busy at the meet, winning a pair of minor stakes to run his record to 4-for-4 at the Spa.
Zayat Stable’s Premium Wine also enters off a win over the track, a comfortable 2-length decision in an optional claimer Aug. 13.
The 4-year-old son of Prime Timber finished third, beaten 5 1/4 lengths in the Tom Fool, but has done some of his best work at 7 furlongs, including a big third to the undefeated Bustin Stones in the Grade I Carter this April at Aqueduct. Julien Leparoux takes the call.
Real Estate (Eibar Coa to ride) took an optional claimer earlier in the meet for trainer Bruce Levine. Owned and bred by Peter Blum, the lightly raced 4-year-old has won three of five career starts and tries graded company for the first time. A half-brother to Grade I winners Madcap Escapade and Dubai Escapade, the future appears bright for the son of High Yield.
“He’s certainly the best bred horse in the race. He’s a versatile horse who comes in training well, so it’s a good time to take a shot,” Levine said. “He seems to like the track and ran big here the other day. He’s lightly raced and his race here the other day was impressive, he showed to be very game, so he deserves a shot in there.”
Fox Ridge Farm’s Tasteyville ran second to Lucky Island in the Tom Fool prior to finishing 10th in the two-turn Whitney July 26. The Pat Kelly-trainee has an affinity for a sloppy track, posting a career-best effort in the Grade III Sport Page at a rainy Aqueduct in October, when he won by 9 1/4 lengths. Kelly will check the weather forecast before making a final decision whether to run the son of With Approval. Mike Luzzi has the call if he starts.
Rounding out the Forego field are: Bold Start (Robby Albarado), a stakes winner at Ellis Park who got necked out by Eternal Star in the James Marvin here for Ken McPeek; Forefathers (Edgar Prado), Premium Wine’s entrymate, who enters off a Belmont allowance score in June for Bill Mott; and Greeley’s Conquest (Jorge Chavez), a stakes winner at Prairie Meadows in his last start for Gary Thomas.