As usual, the summer at Saratoga offered a preview of at least a few Breeders’ Cup runners, and we got a chance to dig up some features from the pages of The Saratoga Special. Saturday’s $4 million Turf is full of European heavyweights such as Ireland’s Anthony Van Dyck, the German-based Alounak, Godolphin’s world-traveling British-bred Old Persian and of course heavy favorite Bricks And Mortar from the American barn of Chad Brown.
But back in late July, Saratoga got a look at Channel Cat as he upset the Grade 2 Bowling Green for Calumet Farm and trainer Todd Pletcher. The 4-year-old son of English Channel and the Kitten’s Joy mare Carnival Kitten raced up front that day and comes off a fourth behind Saturday’s rivals Arklow and Channel Maker in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at 1 1/2 miles.
Early Pounce. Channel Cat goes all the way in grass marathon for Pletcher. Written for the July 28 Saratoga Special by Tom Law.
Todd Pletcher leaned back in his office chair late Wednesday morning, took a bit of a break from discussing the members of his Saratoga string and specifically Calumet Farm’s homebred Channel Cat to brag on the colt’s sire.
Pletcher knows that subject well. He trained English Channel to 13 wins, $5,319,028 in earnings, six Grade 1s that include a dominating score in the boggiest Breeders’ Cup Turf in history and ultimately an Eclipse Award as champion turf male in 2007.
“He’s starting to gather a little momentum and appreciation that he deserves,” Pletcher said. “He’s not commercially the most popular horse but it’s nice to see some breeders are considering sending mares to him.”
Breeders appreciate that versatility and they like the determination the Smart Strike stallion puts in his offspring even more.
“That’s what makes them good, they like to fight,” Pletcher said.
The fans from the paid crowd of 34,517 that stuck around for the three stakes – not hitting the exit with coolers and folding chairs in tow even before 5 p.m. – saw that versatility and determination when Channel Cat took down 11 opponents to win the Grade 2 Bowling Green Stakes.
Channel Cat did all the work early and fended off late runs from five opponents late to win his first graded stakes in the 11-furlong turf event. Luis Saez rode Channel Cat, who also became the fourth graded stakes winner in 2019 for his sire along with Channel Maker, Just Howard and Mitchell Road.
“He’s like a lot of English Channels, he continues to improve as he gets older,” Pletcher said. “He doesn’t mind a little cut in the ground so he’s a versatile horse. He showed today he’s got a versatile running style. There’s still good things to come.
“They’re tough personalities and can be a little tricky to ride. You have to finesse them a little bit, they can have some high head carriages and you get in their mouth too much. When he got to that cozy lead and pricked his ears I thought we had a chance.”
Channel Cat broke with most of the field in the Bowling Green before pulling Saez to the front when the field made the short run into the far turn over the inner turf course. Channel Maker, dead-heat winner of last year’s Bowling Green, tracked in second ahead of the strung-out field that included Chilean import Ya Primo, Sadler’s Joy, Zulu Alpha, Arklow and Focus Group.
Channel Cat turned into the stretch the first time, head high and 2 lengths in front of Channel Maker, running with his head even higher, and passed the quarter over the course labeled firm in :24.66. Channel Cat opened up by 3 lengths past the finish and continued to relax through the half in :49.87.
Junior Alvarado made the first move on the leader after the field hit the backstretch, pushing longshot Argonne past Zulu Alpha, Ya Primo and Channel Maker to take second. Argonne got as close as Channel Cat’s flank and within a half but never closer while the field rounded the far turn the final time.
Channel Cat came off the inside turning for home and opened -a hole at the inside for Ya Primo while Argonne retreated and Arkow and Channel Maker tried to mount a challenge. Ya Primo shot through on the inside, took a brief lead before Channel Cat found more. They dueled inside the sixteenth pole and Channel Cat edged clear again to win by a half-length over Ya Primo. Two heads and two necks separated Arklow, Channel Maker, Zulu Alpha and Sadler’s Joy.
“He’s a game horse,” Saez said. “He fought and took the lead and when they came to him in the stretch he kept fighting. I know a couple horses had a little speed, but he put me in that position. I knew he had a shot to win the race. I saw them coming, but he responded and got to the wire first.”
Channel Cat, who finished in 2:14.43, won for the first time in four starts this year. He finished third, beaten three-quarters of a length by Hunter O’Riley, last time in the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park after off-the-board finishes at Belmont Park in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy and Grade 1 Manhattan.
Channel Cat won two stakes as a 3-year-old last year, the Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs going 1 5/16 miles over the rolling course Sept. 12 and the Bald Eagle Derby on yielding ground 17 days later at Laurel Park.
Pletcher said he wouldn’t have minded even more give to the turf, a nod to Channel Cat’s versatility and proven record on soft ground.
“Feargal Lynch rode him that day at Laurel and he’s ridden in Europe a lot and said he’s never seen anything like that,” Pletcher said. “So we knew he could handle anything. Today it’s got some cut to it, but it was in good condition, he handled it fine and kept finding a little more in the end.”