The Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour enters its fourth year in 2018 and Todd Pletcher, the leadoff batter for the daily series in 2015 and 2016, returns to that spot after taking down his 13th training crown at the 2017 Saratoga Race Course meeting.
Pletcher enters this year’s meet with another star-studded shedrow on the Oklahoma Training Track and well-stocked satellite barns at the harness track and beyond. He won 40 races at the 2017 meet, tying the record set by Chad Brown in 2016 and looks to get rolling over Opening Weekend with two runners Friday, five Saturday and four Sunday.
“I say the same thing every year, but it seems maybe more so this year than usual, that our success is going to largely depend on how our 2-year-olds run,” Pletcher said. “So far we’ve gotten off to a decent start to the year, I think we’ve had 15, 16 2-year-old wins but we’re going to have a lot of first-time starters up here. This is a hard place to win period, much less with 2-year-old first-time starters. In order for us to have a good meet we’re going to need our 2-year-olds to perform well.”
The Special’s Tom Law and Ben Gowans stopped in two days before the meet for the annual tour to talk about the stable’s blend of talented and precocious juveniles and established stakes competitors.
Nonna Madeline: The 7-2 second choice on the early line for today’s Grade 3 Schuylerville. The daughter of Candy Ride won her debut June 23 at Monmouth Park. “She was training at Belmont and there wasn’t a 2-year-old race coming up at the time for her, so we took her to Monmouth with the hope that she’d run well and hopefully set herself up for this. She drew the 1 hole, broke, got a little experience and I felt like she responded well to it, finished up nicely and won with what looked like something left in the tank. Hopefully that proves to be the case. She acts like she’s got some quality.”
Blahnik: Two-year-old daughter of Bernardini cost $575,000 this year and makes her debut in today’s fifth race going 5 1/2 furlongs. “She has trained very well, good at the 2-year-old sale and hasn’t disappointed us thus far. She’s a filly that acts like she has some speed and hopefully she breaks cleanly. It looks like a competitive race on paper, which you’d expect at Saratoga. Mike Repole and Eclipse (Thoroughbred Partners) partnered on her.”
Coast: Also co-owned by Repole and Eclipse, 2-year-old son of Malibu Moon cost $500,000 and landed on the also-eligible list for Saturday’s sixth, a 5 1/2-furlong maiden. “He’s a well balanced, athletic sort that trained well at the sale. He’s also been straightforward here and trained well.”
Sombeyay: On the rail for Saturday’s Grade 3 Sanford, son of Into Mischief finished a closing second in the $150,000 Tremont the day before the Belmont Stakes. He’s breezed four times since, including a bullet 5 furlongs on the Oklahoma last Saturday. “He’s not as professional and straightforward in the mornings but his two races have been pretty good. He was a little unlucky in the Tremont, he stumbled and it cost him some early position but I thought he finished up pretty well.”
Lexitonian: Calumet Farm homebred is 3-1 co-second choice on the morning line for Saturday’s Grade 3 Sanford off 1-length victory in 5-furlong maiden June 27 at Belmont. “I was pleased with the way he trained, drew the 1 hole, got a little experience and came through on the inside, showed some courage for a first-time starter. He’s one that’s always trained well. He looks like a Speightstown (his sire), kind of built that way, speed but also acts like he might carry it on a bit.”
Seanow: Homebred Tiznow colt for Gerard and Alain Wertheimer moves to the grass after an even fifth sprinting in his debut at Gulfstream last month. “He ran OK first time out at Gulfstream, kind of struggled a bit with the dirt. We worked him back on the turf and he seemed to improve. His pedigree suggested that might be the case. The fact he’s got a race under his belt, hopefully that will help him but you would think he would want to run longer and on the grass.”
Rally Cry: Off since finishing sixth in last fall’s Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, last year’s Woodward Stakes runner-up makes return in a $95,000 allowance going 7 furlongs Saturday. The third race on the card, it also drew Awesome Slew, Wonderful Light and Behavioral Bias. “I wasn’t sure when I left that they’d get the race to go. It’s kind of one of those graded allowance races. He hasn’t started in a while and I’m happy to have him back. He’s a horse that I believe is at his best probably going further, but we felt like we needed to get started.”
Vino Rosso: The winner of the Grade 2 Wood Memorial was fourth last time behind Justify in the Belmont Stakes, and is on track for next weekend’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy. Son of Curlin shows pair of works since the Belmont, including a 5-furlong move on the Oklahoma last Saturday. “He’ll work again Saturday. He’s doing well. I thought he ran a credible race in the Belmont, taking him out of his natural running style a bit and trying to stay closer to a slow pace. Johnny (Velazquez) made a decision about the half-mile pole to take a shot and try to win the race, that probably ultimately cost him second or third, but it was the right thing to do. He didn’t disgrace himself, didn’t get beat far. We’re excited about the Jim Dandy, hopefully it’s a step toward the Travers.”
Tapwrit: Last year’s Belmont Stakes winner finished third in an allowance-optional June 3 and fifth in the Grade 2 Suburban July 7 in his only two starts since last year’s Travers. “He’s a tricky horse. He’s a horse that’s capable of doing something really big at times and then he’s a horse that sometimes gets lost a little bit. I was disappointed in his Suburban because I felt he trained the best he’d ever trained leading into that race. I think the one thing Jose (Ortiz) would have done differently if he had a do-over was when he was starting to track in behind those horses, he said he felt the fractions were fast and the field was going to back up into him, and he didn’t want to be in position where he would lose his momentum so he opted to go outside. It was one of those things where everybody carried him out into no-man’s land. He had to keep correcting and never got to keep going. If he stayed inside, I don’t think he was going to win but maybe second or third. It was his second race off the layoff and hopefully the third one will be better. Right now the plan is to go to the Whitney. He’s trained really well since coming back and I think there’s another big one in him and hopefully we can get it sooner or later.”
Hi Happy: South American Group 1 winner joined the stable this year and collected wins in the Grade 2 Pan American and Grade 1 Man o’ War before finishing third (beaten two necks) in the Grade 1 Manhattan on Belmont Day. “Great addition to the stable for us to have a ready-made South American horse come in. He’s a very easy horse to train, straightforward, professional. Seems to have found his niche at a mile-and-a-quarter to mile-and-a-half turf races. He’s versatile enough to attend the pace when there’s not much of one or sit off it when there is. The plan is to go to the Bowling Green (July 28) and Sword Dancer (Aug. 25).”
Yale: Pletcher signed $1 million ticket at Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream 2-year-olds in training sale for New York-bred colt by Scat Daddy out of Risky Rachel on behalf of Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier. “He’s still down at my dad’s (training center in Ocala). He’s doing well, we like him a lot. I don’t think we’ll see him at Saratoga, this year, this meet at least. He’s a horse that was very impressive at the 2-year-old sale, they like him also at the training center, just some minor baby stuff kept him from coming in so far. We’re taking a patient approach with him, thinking he might have a great future. You’d like them all to come and do it now but sometimes you just need to give them time to get there. He certainly looks the part.”
Gidu: Zayat Stable’s Irish-bred 3-year-old Frankel colt earned trip to Royal Ascot after wins in the Columbia at Tampa Bay Downs and Paradise Creek at Belmont this spring. Sixth in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at 6 furlongs, he breezed a half-mile at Belmont July 13. “He came back from Ascot in good shape, we’re thinking about the Hall of Fame Stakes (Aug. 3). He won the stakes at Tampa going a mile; he’s been competitive from 5 1/2 (furlongs) to a mile now, and now it’s time to go ahead and try the mile-and-a-sixteenth, see how he’ll handle it. It’s always tricky when you go there and run a straight course, the race divides off like that. It looked like on paper we were going to be in the right group, then that group over there is where you would have liked to have been. He certainly ran well and the way he galloped out and finished, you think, ‘Man, maybe he would have been better off going a little further.’ We were not displeased with the performance or the effort for sure.”
Coal Front: The now 4-year-old winner of last year’s Amsterdam and Gallant Bob returned to the barn Tuesday after surgery and rehab at WinStar Farm in Kentucky. “He just came back in. It was frustrating after he had that huge win in the Gallant Bob at Parx and came back with a condylar fracture. He had surgery for it and it’s taken a while to get him back. He’s been training, should be ready to breeze here in a week or so. If everything were to go absolutely perfect and there was a race for him at the very end of the meet maybe, but most likely back at Belmont.”
Prince Lucky: Daniel McConnell’s homebred Pennsylvania-bred Corinthian colt won the Easy Goer Stakes early on the Belmont Stakes Day card. He’s breezed twice since, both at Belmont. “Right now we’re pointing for the Smarty Jones (at Parx Aug. 25). They moved the race four weeks back from the Pennsylvania Derby. Before it was Labor Day then 19 days back to the Pennsylvania Derby, so that was a smart move by them to space it out a little better. That’s what we’re thinking with him.”
French Reef: Irish-bred colt by New Approach has trained at Saratoga since June, with three breezes on the dirt and one on the turf over the Oklahoma. “He’s a horse that (Vinny) Viola bought from a yearling sale in France last year. He’s actually trained pretty well on the dirt, but haven’t picked out a race yet, we’ll have to see.”
My Miss Tapit: Breeze Easy went to $700,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July horses of racing age sale for the stakes winner who finished third in Grade 2 Princess Rooney in late June. “We got her back and we’re thinking Shine Again (Aug. 1) with her.”
Spinoff: Homebred Hard Spun 2-year-old colt for the Wertheimers is out of Grade 1-winning Gone West mare Zaftig. He won first out going 5 furlongs June 23 at Gulfstream. “We’re pointing him for the Saratoga Special (Aug. 12) right now. I was happy with the way he ran, he’s a horse you might think wants more distance but showed some tactical speed first time out, he’s been training well.”
La Fuerza: Barry Schwartz’s homebred juvenile New York-bred Flatter colt ran record to 2-for-2 with a victory in Rockville Centre last Saturday at Belmont. “Right now the plan would be the Funny Cide (Aug. 24), then maybe test him in open company should he do well there. He’s one you’d expect to want more ground but he’s 2-for-2 sprinting so far.”