Features

Al Stall Jr. keeps tabs on current events by watching the news between sets, wears shorts and running shoes during training hours, proudly displays some of his children’s drawings in his office and quotes John Prine songs when the weather comes up in conversation. 

 There’s no doubt he’s our kind of guy, and oh, he wins plenty of races with a manageable stable split this time of year between Saratoga, Kentucky and Louisiana Downs. A native of New Orleans and the son of the late longtime chairman of the Louisiana Racing Commission, Al Stall Sr., the younger Stall looks to break into the win column at the 2018 Saratoga meeting with two runners today. 

Stall, who sent out Behavioral Bias to a runner-up finish behind No Dozing in an allowance-optional dressed up like a Grade 3 stakes the first Saturday of the meet, entered Aubenas for the first race and Minit To Stardom for the Grade 1 Test today. Rain Friday morning and afternoon, more expected Friday evening into Saturday morning might diminish the chances of the two starters, but Stall rolls with it regardless of the forecast. 

“You can’t worry about it . . . It’s a half-an-inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown, like John Prine sings,” he said Thursday morning on his way to the track to train a set, referring to one of the legendary American country folk singer’s best songs, “That’s the Way the World Goes Round.”

Stall brought 13 horses from his main base at Churchill Downs and they’re again bedded down in Barn 18 on the main track near the Clare Court track. 

Stall won four races from 14 starters out of the barn last year, the best total since 2013 when Central Banker led the way with a victory in the Quick Call Stakes. The trainer won seven Spa races in 2012 and also trained Blame, who upset Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, to victories in the 2010 Whitney and 2009 Curlin out of Barn 18. 

“We’re optimistic,” Stall said of this year. “We have things to point for, we’re going Forego with C Z  Rocket, so that will keep us around for Travers Day at least.” 

Before finishing training and heading off on a day trip to Vermont with his wife Nicole and children Albert III and Greta, Stall talked about some members of his Saratoga string with The Special’s Tom Law. (Editor’s note: Originally published in the August 4 issue of The Saratoga Special)

C Z Rocket: The big horse. Frank Fletcher’s 4-year-old City Zip colt broke his maiden in his debut here last summer to start a three-race win streak. Sixth in the Grade 1 Malibu in late December, the $800,000 2-year-old buy finished third in an optional and won the Kelly’s Landing at Churchill in June. “He ran a race like we knew he was capable of in the Kelly’s Landing. We feel like he’s a potential Grade 1 horse. We don’t know why things didn’t go his way in the Malibu out in California but we regrouped after that race and he’s come back in good form. The Forego is directly on his radar.” 

Tank Commander: Unraced 3-year-old is out of Treasure Trail, a half-sister to Hall of Famer and Horse of the Year Zenyatta bred by Edward Cox Jr. The $950,000 RNA as a yearling shows three works for Stall including a half in :49.43 on the main track July 19. “He’s a War Front 3-year-old maiden, cost a few dollars and has a little potential to run at the end of the meet.”

Layla: Dixiana Farms’ homebred 4-year-old Union Rags filly broke her maiden at Delaware Park and finished fifth in an allowance at Belmont last year for Christophe Clement. She joined Stall’s string this spring and shows two local breezes for her return. “She’s an a-other-than, Union Rags, quick kind of filly who is training well. I’m not sure if she’ll make this book or not but she’s close to running.”

My Girl Rocket: Fletcher paid $170,000 for 2-year-old daughter of Congrats, who breezed a half from the gate in :48.23 on the main track July 29. “She’s a sharp filly. I’m not sure if she’ll run dirt or maybe 5 1/2 on the turf. She’s got a gate card and is just about ready.”

Vomba: Bred by Town & Country Horse Farms, 2-year-old by Candy Ride is out of a daughter of multiple graded stakes winner Cash Run. She breezed a half in :48.24 from the gate July 29. “She’s a filly who is acting pretty smart and she’s got a gate card also. We’ll find a spot pretty quick for her.”

Rocknroll Rocket: Fletcher’s homebred 2-year-old by Curlin is out of the Grade 3-winning Indian Charlie mare Rocket Twentyone. He breezed six times at Churchill before shipping north, the last a half in :49 out of the gate. “Nice colt for Frank Fletcher who also has a gate card. He’ll run to the middle part or late in the meet. He might be looking for a little more ground than 5 1/2 (furlongs), but we like him.” 

Behavioral Bias: The other big horse. A $27,000 buy at the 2016 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May 2-year-old sale, 4-year-old Shackleford gelding broke his maiden almost a year ago to the day before back-to-back victories in the fall in Kentucky and Louisiana. Second to No Dozing in tough 7-furlong optional Opening Weekend for third straight runner-up finish. “He’s our main man. If every horse was like him we’d be in great shape. He’s sound, tries as hard as a horse can try every time he runs. He ran a super fast race over the weekend. We’ll just try and catch that race in Book 3, same kind of race.”