Del Mar or Saratoga. Saratoga or Del Mar. Every year, or at least it seems like every year, the two tracks are mentioned in the same breath but only when their fans make the argument of the better summertime racing place. Friday and Saturday, when the Breeders’ Cup World Championships is run for the 34th time, the two will intersect and overlap.

Horses who competed at the 2017 Saratoga Race Course meeting are everywhere this weekend at Del Mar, starting in the four championship races set for Friday and then again in the nine events to be run Saturday.

Friday’s card features 15 horses that ran at Saratoga in 2017, including five of the eight entered in the featured $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Many of the 15 won stakes at Saratoga, including Abel Tasman, Elate and Forever Unbridled in the Distaff, Practical Joke in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Orbolution in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and Catholic Boy in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

The $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf leads off the championship events, with a post time of 5:25 p.m. ET, and it features four Saratoga competitors in Best Performance, Ultima D, Orbolution and Significant Form.

Only two Saratoga stars are entered in the field of 10 for the $1 million Dirt Mile – Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens winner Practical Joke and Grade 1 Forego runner-up Awesome Slew. They both ran on the loaded Travers Day card, which you can relive through the pages of the Aug. 27 issue of The Saratoga Special.

Four more are entered in the $1 million Juvenile Turf – impressive maiden winner and With Anticipation third Untamed Domain, Grade 3 With Anticipation winner Catholic Boy, Skidmore winner Flameaway and maiden winner Snapper Sinclair. In addition to covering those runners at Saratoga, TIHR brought readers coverage of Flameaway’s victory in last month’s Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon at Keeneland. The group could grow to five if Tap Daddy, who ran in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race on the dirt, draws in off the also-eligible list.

The headlining Distaff, which you can read more about here, features Mopotism, Coaching Club American Oaks winner Abel Tasman, Alabama winner Elate, Personal Ensign winner Forever Unbridled and Romantic Vision. And again, our team was on hand in Kentucky and New York to cover Abel Tasman’s victory in the Kentucky Oaks in May and Acorn in June and Romantic Vision’s win in the Juddmonte Spinster in October.

So what did our writers have to say about the contenders who races at Saratoga? Check out the stories below to learn about more contenders in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup races.

 

Turfer Girl
Orbolution blasts away in 2-year-old stakes

By Tom Law

Orbolution walked off the van at Palm Beach Downs in late February, fresh from being prepped at J. J. Pletcher’s Payton Training Center and about as ready as a 2-year-old can be at that stage of her life.

She was so ready that it only made sense to see the filly whose pedigree screams distance and turf in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden on the dirt out of Keeneland’s Headley Course chute and a 5-furlong dash at Belmont Park. Perhaps yes, perhaps no.

“Mainly she was very precocious,” said Todd Pletcher, explaining why the winner of Thursday’s $100,000 P. G. Johnson Stakes going long on the grass started going short on the dirt. “We thought she’d run well, we didn’t think she was a slam-dunk by any means, but thought she’d run well. She kind of ran a little green that day (at Keeneland). She bobbled a bit at the start, tried to recover and you could see going around the turn she was shying a little.

“Her next race we entered her on the turf, it came off, and it seemed logical to run her. She didn’t get away well that day and like a lot of young horses getting slop in their face she didn’t appreciate that.”

After those two starts – thirds for the StarLadies Partnership led by Laurie Wolf and Barbara Lucarelli – Orbolution went to Saratoga to prepare again.

“We got to do what she wants to do, run two turns up here on the grass,” Pletcher said. “She’s taken to it awfully well. Being by a Derby winner out of a mare that ran a mile-and-a-half on the grass, that’s what she’s made to do.”

Orbolution proved that by running her record to 2-for-2 on the turf at Saratoga in the 1 1/16-mile P. G. Johnson. Benefitting from a ground-saving trip under John Velazquez in a race that lacked significant early pace, Orbolution won by 4 3/4 lengths over Wild N Ready in 1:43.18.

Orbolution, the winner of her turf debut going the same trip the first Sunday of the meeting July 23, saved ground behind the pace set by the free-running Mentality. That filly, a daughter of Freud who won a 6-furlong turf maiden at Belmont in mid-June for Wesley Ward, set early fractions of :24.08 and :47.85 with a 2 1/2-length advantage over Oldfashioned Style to the second split.

Mentality continued to lead through 6 furlongs in 1:14.29 as the field stacked up, Oldfashioned Style still giving chase with Velazquez motionless on Orbolution, Julien Leparoux waiting on Wild N Ready and Manny Franco looking to make up ground after being bumped twice aboard Romantic Babe.

“I thought there’d be a little more pace, looking at the race beforehand,” Pletcher said. “We were kind of hoping for a ground-saving trip, there wasn’t a whole lot of pace on so she was a touch closer than we thought we might be.”

Velazquez never panicked down on the inside, keeping Mentality in his sights and waiting for a hole to open around the turn and in the lane. The hole opened in the stretch, Orbolution went through like an older horse and in an instant it was over.

“When you start looking and the horse in front of you is one of the horses to beat and the horse is getting out, you are taking a chance to stay there,” Velazquez said of his decision to wait down inside. “I took a chance and when he (Ricardo Santana Jr. on Mentality) did let go, she got out and I got through.”

Walking back to the jocks’ room Velazquez smacked his hands together to describe the acceleration that led to the visually impressive victory.

“Pow! It was incredible,” he said. “She got to the hole and really went through it. She was impressive the way that she got through and accelerated that quick as soon as she got in there.”

Orbolution is the first stakes winner for 2013 Kentucky Derby winner and freshman sire Orb. Purchased by Starlight for $370,000 at last year’s Keeneland September yearling sale, she’s out of the Horse Chestnut mare My Rachel who raced for Pletcher, Braidwood Stable and Steve Young’s A One A Racing.

My Rachel finished fourth in three small stakes on the grass in the fall of her 5-year-old season before a third in the Grade 3 Long Island Handicap going 1 1/2 miles on turf.

The first time Orbolution breezed on the grass – a half-mile in :50.81 on the Oklahoma Training Track turf course June 13 – Pletcher said “we saw what we were hoping we’d see.” She breezed twice more on the grass and on the Saratoga main track about a week before Opening Day.

A sizable contingent from the large StarLadies group that owns Orbolution was on hand for her maiden win and again for the P.G. Johnson. The whole group includes Wolf and Lucarelli, along with Suzanne Masters, Leigh Butler, June Rooney, Diana Ryan, Sandy Sullivan, Mary Nixon and Beverly and Cathy Shircliff.

After brushing dirt from her feet and out of her wedges, Wolf plotted the group’s next move to Siro’s for champagne while others answered phone calls and made a few texts. The toast of the day would be the filly rapidly rising up the ranks of the partnership’s best horses behind Eskenformoney, Firsthand Report and Tonasah.

“She just had the worst luck in her first two races and I’m thinking, ‘you can’t burn these starts,’ ” Wolf said. “Todd was like, ‘let’s try her on turf, I had her mom, I know she wants to go longer, we’ll get the distance we want and we’ll start aiming for that.’ He put her on turf, worked her and we were all like, ‘oh, wow, that looks like it’s going to be the surface for her.’ I’m just excited she’s coming along.

“She’s not a mild filly. Not at all. She’s got a head on her shoulders and she doesn’t mind telling you. She’s obviously got some talent and we’re excited to see her and see what lies forward.”

Additional reporting by Brandon Valvo.

 

Saratoga Memories – Practical Joke

Every horse starts somewhere, even Saratoga superstars. Keeneland Sales helps The Special look back at some memorable graded stakes winners – and Keeneland graduates – at the Spa. We’ll look back, re-connect and dig up some memories. Enjoy.

By Joe Clancy

Kyle Crupper was at the Walmart in Paris, Ky., the other day and got stopped by a Practical Joke fan. 

“Man, I so enjoy watching that horse,” the man said. 

And that is the reach of a good horse. You can be at Walmart shopping for whatever and somebody you don’t know will talk to you about a horse your family raised. Crupper is the 28-year-old son of Keith Crupper, who co-owns Whispering Oaks Farm with his brother Allen. 

The Cruppers bred Practical Joke – now a three-time Grade 1 winner for Klaravich Stable and Bill Lawrence. Trained by Chad Brown, the bay colt flew onto the scene with two wins here last summer – a maiden score Aug. 6 and the Grade 1 Hopeful on closing day. Since then, he’s added the Grade 3 Dwyer, finished third in the Haskell and won the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes here on Travers Day.

The success is not lost on anyone at Whispering Oaks, or the good people of Paris.

“Oh man, it’s hard to describe a feeling like that,” said Keith this week when asked what it was like to watch Practical Joke win some of the country’s most storied races. “It’s that graduating-high-school moment or something. It’s a moment in your life where you’ve accomplished something you’ve been after for a while. Obviously, this is the first horse of this magnitude that we’ve bred and raised. We’re very proud of him.”

Staked by money earned on the racetrack by four-time winner V.I.P. Princess, Whispering Oaks spent $130,000 to buy the broodmare Halo Humor at the 2008 Keeneland January sale. She was carrying a Fusaichi Pegasus foal, who never raced. A 2009 foal by Bluegrass Cat, Cat On, never got out of the claiming ranks. A 2009 Colonel John filly, Humor Me Colonel, ran once. A 2012 Badge Of Silver filly, Oops Times Two, lost three starts (cheap). Then came Practical Joke. Keith Crupper stuck with his belief in Storm Cat-line sires and bred Halo Humor to Into Mischief in 2013. The bay colt was the goods from the beginning.

“He was always a bit of a leader, you do watch them out there and horses have a pecking order,” Crupper said. “We pushed him out of (Keeneland November) to January because we thought he would be a little better there in terms of book placings and things.”

Clear Ridge Stables spent $135,000 on the freshly turned yearling, then pinhooked him to Keeneland September where Mike Ryan went to $240,000 on behalf of Aquinnah Ventures for Klaravich and Lawrence.  

“He was a very mature, very impressive physical,” Ryan said after the Jerkens win. “Had a boldness about him, masculine head, a very stoic horse. You watch him now and his mental constitution is extraordinary, and his physical. He really has a constitution that is mental and physical. And he’s a fighter.”

That’s fairly evident. He won his debut by 5 lengths, then prevailed in a three-way photo in the Hopeful. He had to battle again in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont, fighting off Syndergaard by a nose for a third consecutive win. Third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Practical Joke finished second in two Kentucky Derby preps and wound up fifth in the Derby itself. He then won the Dwyer in July, and finished third when beaten a half-length in the Grade 1 Haskell.

Shortened up to 7 furlongs in the Jerkens, which used to be the King’s Bishop, Practical Joke went from 5 lengths down to winning by 1 1/4 lengths in 3 furlongs – his third Grade 1 win and fifth triumph from 10 starts. He’s been worse than third once, in the Derby.

“The horse doesn’t quit,” said Crupper. “They may outrun him like they did in the Derby, but they’re not going to outwork him.”

The Cruppers sold the best horse they’ve ever raised, but that’s what they do. There’s no (well, not much) looking back, even if they keep the occasional homebred to race. It’s a business, the colt sold well, the pinhooker made money and the end users are thrilled. And there’s always room in the equation for another star. Halo Humor, who hasn’t had a foal since Practical Joke, is carrying a full-sibling to the earner of $1.6 million (and counting) and could be on the market this fall.

“We’re not Lane’s End,” Crupper said with a laugh. “Zenyatta is not turned out here. We’ve got five or six of our own mares, and some for clients. They’re all in one field, gathered up. They get cared for and we do a good job, but we’ve got to look at moving the mare or selling that foal. We ran into some bad luck with her (and didn’t have a foal) but she’s back in foal to Into Mischief and it’s exciting.”

And if Practical Joke, arguably the most consistent 3-year-old of 2017, keeps on rolling up major wins, the prices will only rise.

“We keep moving her closer to the house so we can keep an eye on her,” Crupper joked of Halo Humor. “One more go and she’s going to be in the garage. I remember when I was a kid and we’d sit around watching these races with my parents. We didn’t daydream we’d be associated with horses in races like this. It’s an amazing feeling.”

 

No Pranks
Practical Joke runs one-turn record to 5-for-5 in Grade 1 King’s Bishop

By Tom Law

Mike Ryan looks at a lot of yearlings every year before the summer and fall sales. A lot doesn’t really do the number justice, as it’s in thousands. He inspects them at farms in Kentucky and elsewhere, daylong binges in the weeks and months before they’re put through the rigors of the auction process and again once they arrive on the sales grounds.

Some stand out. Most do not.

Practical Joke, winner of Saturday’s $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens at Saratoga Race Course, definitely fell into the former category and continues to impress the successful agent nearly two years after going through the ring at Keeneland.

“He might be the most consistent 3-year-old in America,” Ryan said of the son of Into Mischief, bought by Ryan for $240,000 in the name Aquinnah Ventures on behalf of Seth Klarman’s Klaravich Stables and Bill Lawrence. “If not, he’s right up there with them. He runs hard every time.”

Ryan saw that promise when he bought the colt out of the Distorted Humor mare Halo Humor midway through the fourth session of the 2015 Keeneland September sale.

Bred by Keith and Allen Crupper’s Whispering Oaks in Paris, Kentucky, Practical Joke didn’t pack a loaded catalog page at Gainesway’s consignment in Barn 30 and when he went through the ring as Hip 909. Halo Humor was the dam of five foals of racing age and just one winner when Practical Joke went through the ring.

Ryan wasn’t overly concerned with that, instead relying on and trusting his horsemanship. Not that others weren’t on the colt, too, as his $240,000 price was more than $90,000 more than the session’s average price and double the median that day.

“He was a very mature, very impressive physical,” Ryan said. “Had a boldness about him, masculine head, a very stoic horse. You watch him now and his mental constitution is extraordinary, and his physical. He really has a constitution that is mental and physical.

“And he’s a fighter. I thought that when (Joel Rosario) got him outside at the top of the lane that that’s the way he likes to run, outside horses.”

Trainer Chad Brown and Rosario echoed Ryan’s sentiments as they met with the assembled press following the third of seven stakes on the loaded Travers Day card.

Brown called Practical Joke “our iron horse” after he won for the fifth time in 10 starts, adding the former King’s Bishop Stakes to his Grade 1 victories last year in the Hopeful and Champagne and the Grade 3 Dwyer two starts back in at Belmont Park.

Rosario, aboard for the Champagne and Dwyer and in Practical Joke’s fifth in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, gave all the credit to his mount after their 1 1/4-length win over Takaful.

“I was just the passenger, he did the job,” said Rosario, who guided Forever Unbridled to an upset win over Songbird in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign two races before the Jerkens. “He’s very special, a very good horse. It seems like the one turn is what he likes to do. He’s just a good horse, probably his best races are when he goes one turn, but he always tries hard. I have a lot of confidence in him. He makes my job easy.”

Practical Joke didn’t have it completely easy in the 7-furlong Jerkens. He broke from the rail in the nine-horse field that included Grade 2 Woody Stephens winner American Anthem from trainer Bob Baffert’s California string, unbeaten Grade 2 Amsterdam winner Coal Front and the speedy Takaful.

Rosario kept Practical Joke a couple paths off the inside leaving the 7-furlong chute onto the main track after the break as Takaful took the lead as expected. A winner of an allowance race Opening Day, Takaful outran the field fairly easily as Phi Beta Express tried to give chase through the opening quarter in :22.36. A gap of nearly 5 lengths separated the first two from the chase group led by Coal Front, Ann Arbor Eddie, No Dozing and American Anthem. Rosario found his spot on the inside up the backstretch before inching up a bit passing the half-mile pole.

Practical Joke moved into fifth through the half in :45.05 as Rosario stayed patient down on the fence approaching the quarter pole. Phi Beta Express tossed the anchor first as Rosario rushed Practical Joke up the inside and toward Takaful. He tipped off the rail at the three-sixteenths, hand rode to the eighth pole, threw a few crosses inside the final furlong before a couple pops right handed a sixteenth from home.

“I was watching for traffic and making sure I wouldn’t get stopped,” Rosario said. “He really picked it up, accelerated like a very good horse. I had confidence in him the whole time, like I said I was watching the traffic and just trying not to get stopped, hoping to make my move going forward.”

Practical Joke edged away inside the sixteenth pole as Takaful held well to be second in 1:21.96. American Anthem made a belated run on the outside to win a photo with Tale Of Silence to be third with Coal Front fifth.

 “When I turned for home, I got my spot and went after the horse who was on the lead,” Rosario said. “I knew I had it then.”

Practical Joke improved to 5-for-5 in races around one turn, at distances from the 6 furlongs of his maiden victory last August at Saratoga to the 1-mile trip of the Dwyer at Belmont. His five losses came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (third), Fountain of Youth (second), Blue Grass (second), Kentucky Derby (fifth) and Haskell Invitational (third), not exactly easy spots and never by more than 10 lengths.

 

Correct Decision
Catholic Boy lands at Spa, wins With Anticipation

By Sean Clancy

“Did that just happen?”

Yes, Jonathan Thomas, that just happened.

The 37-year-old former steeplechase jockey, former assistant, former a lot of things asked that question while standing on the track after Catholic Boy upset the Grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes.

Robert LaPenta’s 2-year-old son of More Than Ready notched Thomas’ first Saratoga win as a trainer. Thomas and John Panagot, LaPenta’s racing manager, hatched the plan after the bay colt broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park July 20, a day before Opening Day at Saratoga. Well, hatched is probably a stretch, the thought was thrown out there and the plan was dissected, corrected, analyzed and audibled from that maiden win to the stakes score 41 days later.

“We handicapped every two-turn turf race in the country,” Thomas said. “We literally made up our mind 12 days ago, he worked at home, he went in like 1:02, but he went the last quarter in :23, galloped out in 1:14 and 4, 1:15, I called John and said, ‘This horse just breezed great.’ John said, ‘New York.’ ”

“We were flirting with it, flirting with it,” Panagot said. “When he won, we were like ‘Two turns, With Anticipation…’ It just wound up fitting. We took a shot.”

Thomas shipped Catholic Boy from his base at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, Fla., bedding down in the receiving barn in Saratoga nine days before the With Anticipation. Jump jockey Sean McDermott, who works for Thomas’ former boss Jack Fisher, galloped Catholic Boy and Manny Franco breezed him an easy half-mile in :51.11 over the Oklahoma Training Track’s turf course Aug. 25.

Catholic Boy did the rest.

Catholic Boy broke well from post three in the field of 11 as Franco braced against him, allowing him to find his rhythm while keeping a position into the first turn as Earth led through the first quarter-mile in :23.19.

Briefly seventh, Catholic Boy slid forward into fifth as the field straightened down the backstretch, chasing Earth, Trumpi, Nauti Buoy and Fort Wise Treaty through a half in :47.02. Midway on the far turn, Earth led as maiden Irish Territory ripped past horses on the outside, Untamed Domain, making up for a bumbling break, followed him and Catholic Boy waited behind a wall of four. At the head of the stretch, Franco went for the exit ramp, sliding across heels and moving into position inside Untamed Domain and outside Trump, but behind Earth and Irish Territory. Still third past the sixteenth pole, Catholic Boy stretched and rolled past a tiring Earth and Irish Territory to finish 1 1/16-miles in 1:40.94 over the Mellon Turf.

Unsold as a short yearling in the ring for $170,000 at the 2016 Keeneland January horses of all ages sale, Catholic Boy was bought after the sale by Thomas for LaPenta. He’s one of three horses Thomas has bought for LaPenta (Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit being one of them). Sent to Bridlewood, the Kentucky-bred colt bred by Fred Hertrich III and John Fielding went through Thomas’ program and was evaluated this spring. With an option to go to New York or to stay at Bridlewood, Panagot decided to keep the late developing colt with Thomas’ small but select string of racehorses (he’s 12-for-43 in 2017).

“When it was time to evaluate him, we thought he might be good enough for New York but we would rather find out before,” Thomas said. “He was a little immature, he was a little slow to come around, you know, let’s give him a chance to show who he is a little more, he came around quicker than we thought, he was doing well, just run him off the farm.”

Looking for a race at Gulfstream for three weeks, Thomas and Panagot settled on an extra going 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf. Catholic Boy drew off to win by 2 lengths.

More decisions.

“What am I going to do, send him to New York to someone else?” Panagot said. “The horse is doing so well with Jonathan, he knows him inside and out at this point. Keep him at two turns and come here, he’s probably not good enough to win, but he’s not going to embarrass us, he’s not going to embarrass himself. Our plan was to run him longer every time we ran him. And today, he showed that he’s somebody else.”

Undefeated, a Grade 3 stakes winner and Thomas’ first Saratoga winner. The latter line of achievement was certainly the headline of the day.

Thomas grew up on Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Farm in Upperville, Va., rode steeplechase race before breaking his back in 2000. Once he recovered from that, he returned to ride amateur races and then set out on a long journey in flat racing, assisting Christophe Clement and Dale Romans, training in Saudi Arabia and making his most integral move when becoming Todd Pletcher’s assistant in 2007. In 2013, Thomas became Bridlewood’s farm trainer. That role has expanded from breaking and developing horses to keeping a few and running them off the farm, a mini Fair Hill Training Center, as Thomas likes to describe it.

“It was a client request, we had some horses that maybe were a little anxiety ridden or wanted a quieter atmosphere, they were doing well, Aron (Wellman) was the spark,” Thomas said of the Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners president. “I was up front, saying it was an experiment, it’s actually worked out well. We’ve been lucky with the quality of the horse we have, we’ve got a very, very good team at home, our owners have allowed us to put horses where they belong. Like this horse, instead of coming to New York, we got a confidence booster at Gulfstream.”

That win boosted everybody’s confidence and began the Saratoga dialogue between Thomas and Panagot, a discourse that works very well.

“If I come up with an idea and he doesn’t agree, we won’t do it,” Panagot said. “If he comes up with an idea and I don’t agree, we won’t do it.”

Catholic Boy in the With Anticipation at Saratoga? They agreed. And Thomas had his career moment.

“You don’t come to Saratoga on a whim, this can be a heartbreaking place,” Thomas said. “For me, this is everything.”

 

UNTAMED DOMAIN, from July 23 Racing Recap:

• Graham Motion saddled Animal Kingdom to victory in the 2011 Kentucky Derby and sent out one of the young stallion’s first winners when West Point Thoroughbreds’ Untamed Domain won the third.

“Honestly, it’s very special,” Motion said. “To come up here and win with one of his first foals that I’ve had in training, it’s pretty special to me. I have a lot of involvement in the stallion as it is. It’s important to me, it’s important to all of us.”

Untamed Domain hesitated at the start of the 1 1/16-mile maiden special on the turf and raced last of seven along the rail as the field moved into the first turn. Jose Ortiz tapped on the brakes as Linburgh’s Kitten dictated a quarter in :24.75. Past a half in :50.40, Untamed Domain raced inside of Another and Pete Marwick and behind Honorable Treasure as Ortiz stood high in the irons and again checked his mount entering the final turn.

Shaken up on the turn, Untamed Domain accelerated into the stretch, found room with three-sixteenths to run. Ortiz tugged the right rein and Untamed Domain shifted out. He struck the lead a half-dozen strides from the wire and galloped to a 1 1/2-length victory in 1:44.21.

“This horse has a really good attitude and he handles things really well,” Motion said. “He showed that turn of foot today. The acceleration he showed after getting stopped, to overcome it and show that turn of foot is pretty special.”

Untamed Domain’s win followed a fourth in his debut going 5 1/2 furlongs at Laurel Park July 2.

“We liked him at Laurel,” Motion said. “He didn’t have a great trip, he didn’t handle the turn that well, but I felt very good about the way he ran. I knew this was more his style anyway, to go a mile-and-a-sixteenth. In an ideal world, it’s great to get a race into them before they come up here.”

Untamed Domain, a $90,000 purchase at last year’s Keeneland September yearling sale, is Motion’s first win at the meet after going 0-for-2 Friday.

“Yesterday we had a little bit of a frustrating day. I did think we’d have a winner yesterday, so I knew we were running some live horses this weekend. You’d hate to go through the weekend and not come through.” – Brandon Valvo