Trainer Barclay Tagg came to Saratoga in 2015 and wasn’t sure he’d win a race at the country’s top race meeting. Of course, the horses went 7-for-19 to put Tagg in the top 12 alongside far bigger stables. Last year, the win total was one. This year, the barn is 3-for-11 with a stakes win. (Originally published in Aug. 27 edition of The Saratoga Special.)
He’s not sure the quality of his stable changed much in any of the years, but that’s the way Saratoga goes.
“If you’ve got horses up here and you went to all the trouble to come up here, which is a great expense to a trainer, you might as well run them,” said Tagg while walking his familiar shedrow in the depths of the main-track side behind the Morning Line Kitchen. “It pays off sometimes. You can win seven one year and two the next with everything going the same. The competition is fun, the weather’s cool and nice. You’d be crazy not to run a horse if he’s doing well. They come out of things better here.”
Tagg, who won the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Funny Cide and has won more than 1,500 races, brought the usual mix of proven horses and 2-year-olds for a variety of clients and likes what he sees.
“It’s a decent string of horses,” he said. “There’s some potential. I like some of these babies. Of course, we wouldn’t mind some new owners. You can always use more horses. We’ve got some room. If the right horse comes along, you’ve always got room.”
With help from a list jotted down by assistant/girlfriend Robin Smullen, Tagg checked on the squad with The Special’s Joe Clancy Friday morning.
Realm: Four-year-old colt owned by Tagg, Eric Dattner and Harry Astarita won his debut here in 2015 and has placed in three graded stakes including the 2016 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. Tagg bought the Virginia-bred son of Haynesfield for $75,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yearling sale in 2014. Sixth here Aug. 5, he’s earned $227,225. “He’s a beautiful horse. I liked the way he looked at the sale and he’s fairly well-bred and he was in the price range where we like to spend. He’s a nice horse to have around, sure beats a sharp stick in the eye. He kind of likes a mile or a mile-and-a-sixteenth going around one turn. That’s his favorite thing. You can only do 7 furlongs here, and I was just saying a little while ago that if we see a race in the new book maybe we could run him before we go back. Robin reminded me that we could do a one-turn mile at Belmont or Aqueduct and we’ve got both of them this fall. Maybe we’ll run him in the Cigar Mile again. That’s when everybody else’s horses are tired.”
I’m The Captain Now: A Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale graduate for $15,000, the 3-year-old is winless in seven starts but has finished second three times while running into some tough opponents (Yoshida, Rocketry, Focus Group) going long on the turf. Second here July 30, the son of Trappe Shot and the Deputy Minister mare Klondike Hills races for Sure Thing Stable and will wait for Belmont in part because of how he reacts to his surroundings. “He’s very high-strung, goes crazy in the paddock. We paddock-school him 15 times before every race and he sweats and you think he’s not going to run any good at all. But he runs his heart out every time. So far, there’s been somebody a little bit better every time. It’s New York racing so it’s not easy. There are future Grade 1 horses in every maiden race. I only paid $15,000 for him and he’s well worth that ($54,250 in earnings). He can run all day long and we thought about running him here again, but that’s not fair to him. It’s quiet at Belmont. He’ll like that a lot more.
Highland Sky: Co-owned by breeder Bonner Young, the 4-year-old carries $447,472 and aims for the Bernard Baruch here on Closing Day. The son of Sky Mesa and the Petionville mare Kristi With A K won his 2017 debut at Gulfstream Park and has lost three straight including a seventh here against stakes horses Muqtaser, Infinite Wisdom, Messi, Red Rifle and Kaigun. Has won a stakes and placed in two graded stakes including last year’s Grade 1 Belmont Derby. “He is a real, real nice horse. I might prefer just attacking the long races with him, but we’re going to run him in the Bernard Baruch (going 1 1/16 miles) before we leave here. His last race (going 1 1/8 miles) was disappointing to us, but he ended up real wide and didn’t get beat all that far. We got the Ragozin figure on him and it was the best race he’s ever run – and he was seventh.”
Tale Of S’avall: Chuck Fipke’s homebred 4-year-old colt by Tale Of Ekati, who raced for Tagg, has kept good company. Finished fifth in Saturday’s Grade 1 Forego, his third consecutive start on Travers Day. He also won his debut on Saratoga’s biggest day in 2015 and finished seventh in the 2016 King’s Bishop. In between graded stakes tries (he’s placed in two), he’s added two allowance wins to that maiden score including a triumph here July 28. The dark bay thrives at 7 furlongs to a mile, especially when there’s plenty of pace, and may point for the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in November at Aqueduct. “We won the Cigar Mile twice, one with Tale Of Ekati and one with Jersey Town, and both times we avoided the tough races earlier and waited until the end. The competition got lighter, they still beat some nice horses but it was a good time to do it.”
Verve’s Humor: Unraced Fipke 2-year-old colt is a half-brother to $498,045 winner Tale Of Verve, who finished second behind American Pharoah in the 2015 Preakness. The chestnut son of Distorted Humor and the Unbridled mare Verve apparently has a taste for notebooks as he spent five minutes scratching his upper lip on a Gregg-ruled 70-sheeter after working a half-mile in :49.76 on the main track Friday. “He’s been a little slow to show any real speed, but he’s got it. He’s given me every indication that he’s going to be a nice horse. It just hasn’t connected with him, what he’s supposed to do out there. But that’s OK. It means he’s thinking about it and learning. They’re not all ready to run early on. That’s just the way some of them are. He’s a real nice colt. I’m excited about him.”
Frosty Gal: New York-bred 3-year-old filly was an $80,000 purchase at Fasig-Tipton’s 2015 New York-bred yearling sale by Tagg for Sackatoga Stable. The dark bay won a maiden race last fall at Aqueduct and placed in a New York Stallion series stakes to start this year. The daughter of Frost Giant aims for a Saratoga allowance start Sept. 2. “She just breezed five-eights (1:02.55) out there. She’s a real nice filly, and will be OK. She’s already stakes-placed, and it’ll get tougher from here but we like her. The Sackatoga people are great. It’s a pleasure to work for people like that.”
Downside Risk: Young’s nearly black homebred 2-year-old Lonhro colt out of Kristi B turns heads everywhere he goes. Friday, it was in the shedrow as he walked and jigged his way around and tried to stir up trouble. He’s a half-brother to Grade 1 winner and Grade 2 producer Bit Of Whimsy, whose dam Highland Mills became an unlikely foundation mare for Young and her brother George Rowand. The $27,000 yearling lost all five starts, but produced stakes horses Royal Mountain Inn and Miss Josh and stakes producers Kristi B and Highland Hope. “He’s slow coming around, but that family is like that. They were never early horses. Bonner’s kept the line going by upgrading with sires one way or another and has come up with a lot of good horses.”
Blacksburg: Another Young 2-year-old homebred, the Ghostzapper gelding is out of Bit Of Whimsy, meaning he’s a half-brother to Grade 2 winner Caroline Thomas and stakes winner My Sweet Girl. “He’s been a little slow coming around too. He’s the first Ghostzapper I’ve had and I think he’s going to be a very nice horse. He’s shown all kinds of class in everything he’s done. We’re excited about him.”
Golden Vale: Striking 2-year-old filly is by former Tagg runner Jersey Town and looks a bit like him with a wide blaze and a wider chest. She greeted stall guests with a long, nostril-rattling exhale. She was nearing a debut race, including two gate works, but got sick and missed some training. “She’s pretty fast, we like everything she’s doing. We have a feeling she’s going to be turf, she just gives us that inclination with the way she moves. She looks like Jersey Town and is very much like him. You’ve got to be a little careful with them because they look like little bulls and you can get ahead of yourself. She was doing really, really well and she got really sick on us about the second week we were here. Now she’s bucking and squealing and raising hell. That’s good to see. Beautiful filly.”
Tale Of Silence: Fipke homebred 3-year-old finished fourth (beaten a nose for third) in the Allen Jerkens Saturday. Like Tale Of S’avall, the Tale Of The Cat colt likes 7 furlongs to a mile and has nibbled at big things with a second to Practical Joke in the Grade 3 Dwyer in July. “He’s a 3-year-old and there aren’t that many opportunities for them to run against other 3-year-olds left. Sometimes I like to take a shot. Sometimes you just need to run a horse when he’s doing well. That’s what made Allen Jerkens famous. He said he had a knack for knowing when a horse was ready. I don’t know how, but he did.”
Verve’s Tale: Another Fipke homebred, the 4-year-old Tale Of Ekati filly (a full-sister to Tale Of Verve) won the Summer Colony Stakes by a nose here Aug. 20. A Grade 3 winner in 2016, she’s earned $420,500. “When (Going For Broke) scratched out of the race, I felt pretty confident but, you know, it’s hard to be confident in a horse race. There are so many things that can happen in a race that aren’t anybody’s fault. She’s a lovely filly and we really like her. She went into it really, really good and she ran really, really good. She had to dig in and fight which is good to see. I love to see them try that hard. Absolutely. That’s what you want them to do.”
Highland Lady: Young’s 3-year-old daughter of First Samurai and Kristi With A K (therefore a half-sister to Highland Sky) has yet to race, but is coming around. “She was always having sore glutes and stuff like that. She’s a big, hefty filly and maybe she grew faster than she developed in some other ways. She’s a gorgeous filly. Hopefully we can get a race into her this fall and see what she could do as a 4-year-old.”
Spa Jazz: Sackatoga’s 2-year-old New York-bred, a $75,000 purchase at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s October yearling sale, is getting close to a race. The son of Graydar is about three weeks away from his debut. “Beautiful colt. I really liked him at the sale, and we got him in our price range. He bucked his shins, so we had to back off and lose a little bit of time.”
Speighgal: Another Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October graduate races for Dattner and Astarita. The 3-year-old Speightstown filly finished second on the turf here Aug. 19. “She’s high-strung and all that but she’s doing things. She can really run, she’s really fast.”
River Deep: The hungriest, or maybe just the loudest, horse in the string finished third here for owner/breeder Morgan’s Ford Farm Aug. 7. Son of Arch missed a work with a hoof issue, but is aiming for a race Sept. 3. “He’s a nice-looking horse and he’s going to be fine. He just got a late start. That happens with some of them.”