Every year the mantra seems to be the same: The Saratoga meeting brings together the best trainers, jockeys and most importantly, the best horses. It's written and talked about so much that most take it as fact.
How is it really quantified though? Who determines the theory? Can it be proven?
Truth is nobody really knows it to be fact until Breeders' Cup time rolls around and a little dissection is done to the fields for the 13 races on the World Championships card.
The 2016 edition of the Breeders' Cup, which gets underway Friday at Santa Anita Park, will unmistakably feature a Saratoga feel with 21 of the 45 horses entered in the four races having competed at Saratoga in 2016. Many of them won stakes at the meet - Songbird, winner of the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama; Curalina, winner of the Grade 3 Shuvee; Made You Look, winner of the Grade 2 With Anticipation; and Coasted, winner of the P. G. Johnson. The 2016 Saratoga meet was strong indeed.
The leadoff race, the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, features the most Saratoga vets with eight of the 14 in the body of the race having competed in upstate New York this summer.
Six of the eight were winners, including the race's 4-1 favorite Oscar Performance and the 9-2 second choice Good Samaritan. Made You Look, 12-1 on the early line, also won the Grade 2 With Anticipation for trainer Todd Pletcher.
The Saratoga Special covered all of those races and we wrote about Made You Look and Oscar Performance. The Special also covered wins by Favorable Outcome and eventual Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes winner Keep Quiet.
So what did our writers have to say about those races? Check out the stories below, and keep reading below to learn about more contenders in Friday's other Breeders' Cup races.
Pletcher runner rules Wednesday turf stakes
By Brandon Valvo
Trainer Todd Pletcher is all over the pedigree of promising 2-year-old runner Made You Look.
The dark bay colt's sire is More Than Ready, a key horse in Pletcher's early career who won four graded stakes in 1999 and 2000, including Saratoga's Grade 2 Sanford and the Grade 1 King's Bishop. Pletcher also trained Made You Look's dam, Night And Day. She only raced once, finishing ninth in a maiden special going a mile on the turf. Her claim to fame is her dam, 1995 champion 3-year-old filly Serena's Song, who was part of the barn when Pletcher worked for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
"It was an easy pedigree to like, easy colt to like at the yearling sales," Pletcher said Wednesday afternoon, moments after Made You Look became a stakes winner with a 2-length triumph in Saratoga's $200,000 With Anticipation. "More Than Ready's been good to us for a long time. I've had a lot of success with him and his offspring so it was sort of a natural fit for us."
Owned by Let's Go Stable and Three Chimneys Farm, Made You Look lived up to his pedigree in the Grade 2 With Anticipation for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf. He took a spot running at the rail just behind leaders Gemologister, Monsoon K S A and Keep Quiet in the early stages. With the pacesetters three across and My Bo Chop to his outside, Made You Look rode the rail all the way up the backstretch and around the far turn behind fractions of :24.26, :49.34 and 1:14.14.
In the lane, Javier Castellano saw a narrow opening at the fence inside Gemologister. The jockey faced a decision - shoot the gap or lose time swinging outside. Castellano chose the former and his mount responded, rocketing away from the field to win the $200,000 stakes by 2 lengths in 1:43.12. Keep Quiet finished second after getting caught wide on both turns, and Bird's Eye View rallied for third.
"Turning for home, I didn't have any more room to go, I decided to go inside on the rail because I could go around but I had a couple horses outside," Castellano said. "The hole was a tiny hole inside at the rail. When you ask, especially a 2-year-old to go first time two turns, sometimes they get spooked a little bit, but he did it. He did it the right way. He went through, took off and he finished very well. I like that."
Made You Look's rider in all three starts so far, Castellano has felt the colt progress. He finished second in his debut going 5 furlongs on the turf at Belmont Park in May, won at 6 furlongs in June and handled everything about the longer, two-turn start Wednesday.
"I'm very impressed," Castellano said. "Every single race, he gets better and better and better and I thought he was going to be a sprinter horse, but the way he's developing right now, today was a good test of how far he can go. He did it the right way. I think he's going to be another level horse, he's going to step up and be a graded stakes horse."
Pletcher thought about the past afterward.
"I've always said there are really two horses early in my career that got us jump started. Jersey Girl (who won three consecutive Grade 1 stakes in 1998) was one and More Than Ready would be the colt," Pletcher continued. "He won significant races, the kind of races people take note of. He's a horse that's been good to us, good to me and my family, good to the Scatuorchio family for a long time."
Racing for James Scatuorchio, More Than Ready won seven of 17 starts for Pletcher - including five in a row to start his career and then adding the King's Bishop in 2000. The son of Southern Halo stands at WinStar Farm for $50,000 and has sired more than 100 stakes winners including Let's Go Stable runners Verrazano and Daredevil.
Scatuorchio's son Kevin and Bryan Sullivan formed Let's Go Stable in 2006 and joined forces with Three Chimneys to buy Made You Look for $360,000 as a yearling at Keeneland September last year.
"We were going to bid on him at Keeneland September and we saw Mr. Torrealba who owns Three Chimneys was also in the back ring," said Sullivan. "He asked us if we liked the colt and he said, 'I'd love to split him with you guys. Go ahead and buy him, we'll split him,' so that's why we partnered up and split him together."
Let's Go Stables brought a large contingent to the winner's circle to celebrate Wednesday. Although there are about 14 partners in Made You Look, 30 to 40 supporters showed up to see him run and Made You Look gave them their first graded stakes win in Saratoga.
"It's pretty cool. Anytime you can win up here is special," Sullivan said. "Tracks like Saratoga, Keeneland, Belmont. It's always nice, but here is the mother of all tracks. It's special, it's tough to win a maiden special weight let alone a graded stakes race, so we're excited and it's why you're in the game, to win these races."
Bred by the Robert and Beverly Lewis Trust, Made You Look is the second foal out of Night And Day, who made her only start for the Lewis Trust in 2011. The daughter of Unbridled's Song is out of champion, Hall of Famer and $3.2 million earner Serena's Song and thus part of a deep female family that includes Sophisticat, Grand Reward, Harlington, Serena's Tune and Honor Code among others.
All that history can weigh on an owner trying to manage expectations.
"It's fun, it's nerve-wracking," Sullivan said. "A lot of people are kind of new to the game, they don't know what to expect. They think we're going to win and you just try and do your best and at the top of the stretch I thought we had a chance to win. I'm just happy that he exploded and went through the hole and Javier gave him a great ride. To celebrate with friends and family is great."
As for Made You Look's next start, Pletcher is eyeing the Breeders' Cup, but isn't sure whether he'll train up to the championship or make another start at Belmont in the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes Oct. 1.
"We have Breeders' Cup aspirations," he said. "I guess the question is whether we have a start between now and then."
OSCAR PERFORMANCE, from Racing Recap:
- Nothing went according to plan in Oscar Performance's debut going 1 1/16 miles on the Saratoga turf July 23. Trainer Brian Lynch expected the son of Kitten's Joy to race on the lead and deliver a big effort. Instead, Oscar Performance broke a step slow and was wrangled back to race in eighth early behind a lethargic pace, finishing 5 lengths back in sixth.
"In all fairness to Joel (Rosario), he probably didn't get the cleanest trip the other day," Lynch said. "He got boxed in, shut off, didn't get a chance to get out until late."
Saturday's sixth, a 1 1/16-mile maiden special on the inner turf, was a different story. Oscar Performance drew in off the also-eligible list after the scratch of Afleet Rey, broke running from the outside stall under Jose Ortiz and took the lead in a matter of strides.
Oscar Performance never looked back, wiring the field in a 10 3/4-length win in 1:42.89.
"Jose was fortunate enough today to break sharp, put him into the race and nurse him along on the lead," Lynch said. "His second quarter was beautiful, slowed him down and fortunately we had him fit enough to kick on when we needed horse."
Oscar Performance is a full-brother to graded stakes winner and $427,405-earner Oscar Nominated. Amerman Racing lost Oscar Nominated to a $75,000 claim by Ken and Sarah Ramsey in his maiden victory last October at Belmont Park and Oscar Performance wasn't about to be risked for a tag.
"With that sort of pedigree you always hope," Lynch said. "We've always thought he was better than the brother. He's always trained magnificently and we thought he's got tactical speed, if he breaks well, put him on the lead and Jose gave him a beautiful ride.
"You would have to think after a performance like that it would give you aspirations of a Breeders' Cup Juvenile (Turf), so we'll just see which way we go with him, but at this stage, he's certainly got the credentials to be that kind of horse. One day at a time. We got through today and then we reevaluate and try to map out a program. If he's good enough, he's going to take us." - Brandon Valvo
A large number of Saratoga horses make up the field for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, five of the 14 drawn into the body of the race and another on the also-eligible list.
The group for the Juvenile Fillies Turf includes Coasted, who ran nothing like her 20-1 morning-line price for Friday in the P. G. Johnson Stakes late in the meet. The daughter of Tizway won twice at the meeting, breaking her maiden by 6 lengths Aug. 7 and winning the P. G. Johnson by 1 length Sept. 1 for owner Jeff Treadway's Treadway Racing Stable and trainer Leah Gyarmati.
Con Te Partiro won the Bolton Landing Stakes Aug. 17 then disappointed as the favorite when shipped West for the Surfer Girl at Santa Anita Oct. 10.
Check out the recaps of those victories by Coasted and Con Te Partiro, who both made the cover the day after their respective victories.
Coasted roars away with Thursday feature
By Tom Law
Jeff Treadway likes to dig deep when he shops yearling and 2-year-olds in training sales. Not too deep into his pockets mind you, but into the pedigrees of the potential racing prospects to add to his Treadway Racing Stables operation.
When he looked at the female family of Hip 1373 at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale - a filly out of Malibu Pier, a multiple graded stakes winner on the grass in Southern California from a French family of stakes winners - Treadway saw grass.
Buying fillies with a female family that appealing to buyers who race and buyers who race and breed isn't easy, even out of Book 3 at the September sale. Thankfully the filly was by Tizway - the Tizway of September 2015 is a far cry from the Tizway of September 2016, but Treadway still needed to dig in. He bought the filly for $210,000.
"It was a huge reach," Treadway said of buying the Tizway filly Coasted that day at Keeneland. "Tizway, he's really come on this summer, especially on the turf. But then he wasn't where he is now.
"She was in Book 3 and her full-sister was working for George Weaver at the time lights out on the dirt. She's got that beautiful female family underneath. To be honest with her physical and the female family, to be able to afford her I needed her to be by some out-of-fashion stallion. It fit perfectly for us. It was a reach but she was beautiful, really a cut above looks wise."
Coasted proved a cut above as the most expensive of 35 Tizway yearlings that sold at the sale and a few more cuts above Thursday winning the $100,000 P. G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. Coasted improved to 2-for-3 with her rail-riding 1-length victory over Noble Ready in the 1 1/16-mile turf stakes for 2-year-old fillies.
Coasted, a 6-length winner of a maiden race going the same distance on the grass Aug. 7, is the second stakes winner in the last four days at Saratoga for Tizway following Our Way who won Monday's Better Talk Now.
The bay filly with the white blaze shaped sort of like a seahorse gave Treadway and trainer Leah Gyarmati plenty of worry in the P. G. Johnson.
The 7-10 favorite off her maiden win with Jose Lezcano on the return call, Coasted brushed with Noble Ready leaving the gate and then shuffled back when Bahama Halo came in slightly after running less than 50 yards. Lezcano grabbed Coasted up again going into the first turn as Bahama Halo came in slightly again.
They were last entering the backstretch but settled as the maiden Mo Promise set the pace ahead of Noble Ready, Lady Joan and Bahama Halo.
"That was horrible," Gyarmati said when asked what it was like to watch. "There were a lot of things that happened in that race where I'm like, 'why are we there, why are we there? Why are we so far back? … OK, you're that far back, let's find a spot where you know you can get through or out,' then we didn't."
As Treadway and Gyarmati watched, Coasted made steady progress heading into the far turn and raced into third position, just to the inside of Bahama Halo and behind the dueling leaders Mo Promise and Noble Ready. Manny Franco made a four-wide move with Majestic Bonnie around the bend, her momentum carrying Lady Joan just to her inside and Coasted was back to fifth.
Mo Promise couldn't hold the inside coming into the stretch and Lezcano dove for the inside. As quickly as he did the door shut. Irad Ortiz Jr. guided Noble Ready past the pacesetter and to the front while Majestic Bonnie continued to cut into the lead. Lezcano never panicked and Coasted never faltered, coming through a tight opening inside the sixteenth pole and proved much the best.
"It was very tight but the filly in front started tiring and coming back and I got through," Lezcano said. "She took it very good. She's never shied away from another horse. She could go through that little spot."
Lezcano took Coasted in hand at the finish and she won in 1:43.25. Noble Ready finished three-quarters of a length in front of Majestic Bonnie, who was 1 1/2 lengths clear of the maiden European import Naifah in the field of seven.
Coasted's two victories at Saratoga followed a close fifth in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race on the dirt at Belmont Park July 2. Gyarmati hoped to get the filly started in a grass race before that but she was scratched after acting up in the gate.
Even though Coasted's pedigree screams grass, her dam also finished second in the Grade 1 La Brea going 7 furlongs on the dirt late in her 3-year-old season.
"I would have been perfectly happy to run her on the dirt, too," Gyarmati said. "She's bred grass. We started her on turf, she got scratched and then we put her on the dirt, but sprinting. She still ran a big race. I don't know, if we could have stretched her out on the dirt who knows, she might be just as good. But we're here now on the grass and we'll stay."
Treadway said he hoped the filly would show up next in the Grade 3 Miss Grillo at Belmont Oct. 2 followed by an even bigger prize to end the season.
"On to the next thing, Miss Grillo next and knock on wood she'll go to the Breeders' Cup," he said. "She looks like that kind of quality."
Ward-trained sprinter Con Te Partiro roars home late in feature
By Tom Law
Geoff Blanck decided not to let this opportunity slip.
A partner in the Hat Creek Racing group that owns Con Te Partiro, Blanck squeezed a couple hours into an already busy day to make the 45-minute drive south to Saratoga Springs to watch the Scat Daddy filly compete Wednesday in the $100,000 Bolton Landing Stakes.
"I try to get down several times a summer, but I usually come for the day," said Blanck, who owns Forest Lake Camp on the border of Warrensburg and Chestertown with his wife Shalagh. "I literally wasn't able to come today but I said, 'I'm coming for this race. I have to do it.' "
Blanck, his wife and two daughters, Emma, 13, and Annecy, 11, along with some friends, arrived in the paddock with just enough time to spare to watch Con Te Partiro get tacked up. They chatted with jockey John Velazquez and watched her walk out of the walking ring to warm up for the 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint.
"I literally picked them up at whitewater rafting and they changed in the car," Blanck said. "We ran into the paddock, got into the paddock to say hi to the horse and then ran out here and that was that. Exciting."
The adrenaline of the Blancks' Adirondack sojourn paled in comparison to what unfolded on the Mellon Turf Course in the Bolton Landing as Con Te Partiro avoided potential disaster to draw off to a convincing 5 3/4-length victory over longshot Jazz Lady.
"We walked in 20 minutes before the race and now we have to head back," Blanck said from the first floor of the clubhouse after the winner's presentation. "But I couldn't live with myself if I didn't come for the 45-minute window I had and the horse did well. I've just dreamed about getting into a winner's circle so that was pretty awesome."
Making her third start, Con Te Partiro did a pretty awesome job getting her self-described "very small owner" into the winner's circle. Sent off as the 9-1 fourth choice in the field of eight, Con Te Partiro broke well but couldn't match the runoff speed of Big City Dreamin in the opening furlong.
Velazquez was content to let her track behind Big City Dreamin, Heartspoke and Jazz Lady while covered up by 3-2 favorite Lull up the backstretch into the turn. He stayed on the inside around the turn and started to move in tandem with China Grove and Jose Ortiz, just behind the advancing Lull and Manny Franco past the midpoint of the turn.
Heartspoke drifted out slightly, Lull clipped heels and she and Franco went down in a heap. Lull landed hard and slid several yards. Velazquez narrowly avoided the faller, but Con Te Partiro never changed stride and picked off rivals quickly in the stretch.
"They came out running, I didn't have enough speed to be there, got squeezed at the half-mile pole and I sat there thinking, 'Make one run with her,' " Velazquez said. "When that horse fell in front of me I kind of squeezed back to the inside and came out at the eighth pole."
Con Te Partiro passed the tiring Heartspoke and Jazz Lady at the eighth pole and took aim at the leg-weary Big City Dreamin outside the sixteenth pole, blew past and drew off under two taps of Velazquez's left-handed whip in deep stretch. Jazz Lady held second, 1 ½ lengths clear of Heartspoke. China Grove, who wasn't as fortunate as the winner around the turn, finished fourth after swerving slightly to avoid the fallen Lull.
"I was right in behind it but a little to the inside of him," Velazquez said of Franco, who got to his feet quickly after the spill. "When he slid out to the outside, I went back to the inside. I was kind of inching to come out of there and my horse, she wanted to get out of there but at the same time I wanted to hold her inside for as long as I could to make the turn and when I saw that horse clip heels and fall I went back to the inside."
Lull ran loose as the field finished the race and for a few minutes while the field came back to get unsaddled. The daughter of War Front was eventually caught by outriders and walked back to the barn area. The eerily silent crowd finally broke into applause as Franco emerged from the ambulance. Christophe Clement, who trains Lull for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, met Franco on the track and walked up the stretch to watch his filly walk back.
Franco walked back to the jock's room and rode the finale, finishing sixth aboard Master Magician.
"When we got to the turn, the quarter pole, the horse in front of me was getting out," Franco said, "but I don't know, I come riding and they just clipped heels."
Wesley Ward trains Con Te Partiro for Hat Creek Racing, a partnership of 50 ownership shares in the filly purchased for $130,000 at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale.
A half-sister to stakes winner Donworth out of the Street Cry mare Temple Street, Con Te Partiro broke her maiden in her debut going 4 1/2 furlongs April 13 at Keeneland. Con Te Partiro faced males in her second start and finished fourth behind stablemate Silvertoni in the Kentucky Juvenile two days before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Blanck didn't make any of those races. Nor did he make it to Red Lodge's victory in the Colleen Stakes at Monmouth Park Aug. 6.
He made it Wednesday, no matter what.
"That was the first time we've ever been a part of that, so I'm very excited," Blanck said as he watched the replay with his family. "We own a couple others, but I haven't been able to be there in person when they won. And it's the first time I've seen this horse."
The Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile features one of the smallest fields of the weekend with just nine entrants and three - Tom's Ready (ninth in Grade 1 King's Bishop Stakes), Tamarkuz (second in Grade 1 Forego) and Gun Runner (third in Grade 1 Travers) - raced at Saratoga.
Half of the eight entrants in the Breeders' Cup Distaff competed at Saratoga, including Songbird, Forever Unbridled and I'm A Chatterbox (third and fourth, respectively, in Grade 1 Personal Ensign) and Curalina.
Curalina won the Grade 3 Shuvee for her second graded win of 2016 and second victory at Saratoga to go with her 2015 score in the Coaching Club American Oaks (via the disqualification of I'm A Chatterbox).
Curalina, Velazquez trounce three rivals in sloppy Grade 3
By Sean Clancy
"That was easy."
Like a Staples commercial, the comment was made three times after Curalina drubbed three rivals in the Grade 3 Shuvee Sunday.
"That'll do, but they're never easy," assistant Tristan Barry said, skipping down the steps to the winner's circle.
"They're never easy, you know that," trainer Todd Pletcher said, walking down the steps to the winner's circle.
"Never easy, buddy, but it looked like it, right?" jockey John Velazquez said, walking to the jocks' room.
Curalina added her comment when she flicked her ears at the eighth pole while skipping over the sloppy track, lengthening her advantage over pacesetter Carrumba. Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Curalina earned her sixth win by completing 9 furlongs in 1:49.85.
Two days before the Shuvee, a four-horse strategy cooker, Pletcher was asked about tactics.
"It's pretty straightforward," Pletcher said. "You tell Johnny good luck in the paddock and if it doesn't turn out, you blame him."
He was kidding, maybe, but rain Saturday night and Sunday morning made the tactics even more straightforward. Breaking from the rail, second choice Carrumba possessed the most speed of the four. Breaking from the three hole, favorite Curalina looked like the only stalker. Third choice Sweetgrass and fourth choice Joint Return had one option, lag and hope.
"There was only one speed and my horse can be a little bit close if you want to," Velazquez said. "I talked to Todd and told him if he's going in 48 and change, 49, I'm going to be (smacks hands) stuck to him the whole way around, I'm not letting him go that easily."
Curalina broke sharply and Velazquez nudged while Carrumba broke adequately and Jose Ortiz allowed her natural speed to slip to the lead. Avoiding the deep ground on the rail, Ortiz floated Velazquez wide into the first turn.
Through a quarter-mile in :24.28, Carrumba led by a pressured neck. After a half in :48.49, Carrumba led by a still-pressured half-length, six lanes off the rail as Sweetgrass eased inside and Joint Return sat just off Sweetgrass' hip.
"He was going pretty easy, so I wasn't going to let up (smacks hands), he was cruising along so I stuck with him (smacks hands) the whole way around so he didn't get away with an easy lead with nobody putting pressure on her," Velazquez said. "Sometimes they go in :48, :49 and you're a length behind, and the horses get brave, but this time (smacks hands) I was right on her."
Leaving the backside, four rivals within 4 lengths turned into two rivals without breathing space as Velazquez attacked from the outside.
"I didn't give him a break the whole way around there, I was a head or a neck behind, leaning on him the whole way around. That's the only way I can beat him, if I sit in behind, she's going to get brave," Velazquez said. "He was already putting pressure on his horse to stay there, the more pressure he put on, the more I lean on him, I said, 'I think I got him.' "
The attack didn't last long as Ortiz emptied his rounds and Velazquez stared through his scope. Straightening into the stretch, Curalina slid to her right lead and signed the check, widening with every stride to score easily. Velazquez flicked and waved his unturned whip and then simply flexed his elbows like he was cooling down on a rowing machine as he geared down Curalina in the final strides.
Velazquez used his hands to describe the race more than he did to ride the race.
The jockey has positioned Curalina within 4 lengths of the lead at every point of their five previous wins together, including Grade 1 scores in the Acorn, CCA Oaks and La Troienne, In a four-horse field, in the slop, with the main rival possessing speed, Velazquez made the simple decision and Pletcher knew it.
"We were in the spot I thought we would be in, we figured Jose would try to carry us out but Johnny latched onto her pretty tight. Then you just wait until you get to the far turn, that's where you find out," Pletcher said. "You could tell he was kind of confidently turning up the pressure, he never gave it one of those peeks back, that's usually the money shot, I think he figured he just wanted to worry about this one right here and not the others."
Curalina bounced back from the worst effort of her career when she finished fourth in the Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park in June, the only off-the-board finish in her 11-race career. Nothing like a Grade 3 confidence booster.
"She's a fairly easy read when she's doing good. The way she breezed the last couple of times, she was tipping her hand," Pletcher said. "We'll look at the Personal Ensign, assuming she bounces back well," Pletcher said. "As well as she ran today, you got the impression when she pricked her ears at the eighth pole that hopefully it wasn't taxing. Those things are hard to determine sometimes."
Curalina finished second in her debut at Saratoga in 2014. Eight months later, the $125,000 yearling purchase returned to break her maiden at Gulfstream Park. A month later, she won an allowance race by 8 lengths. Pletcher and Eclipse's Aron Wellman thought big after that - she took the Grade 1 Acorn in her next start - and have never stopped thinking big. The Shuvee snapped a seven-rung ladder of Grade 1 appearances.
"She's never had a break out of Grade 1 company and obviously she's won three of those. The schedule dictates that if you want a prep between the Ogden Phipps and the Personal Ensign you need run in the Shuvee," Wellman said. "I know Todd has always been a proponent of having a prep over the racetrack here at Saratoga in particular to prepare yourself for what your big goal is during the summer. The same was true (Saturday) with Destin, we viewed the Jim Dandy, as a springboard hopefully toward the Travers. So we didn't take this for granted by any stretch of the imagination." - Additional reporting by Michael Smith.