Talent, determination and a little bit of luck often dictate the success of a racehorse's career. That's exactly the case with Sandy'z Slew, a top contender for Monday's Lucky Coin Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
The 5-year-old Limehouse gelding was troubled by breathing problems in the early stages of his career, which eventually revealed his talent as a turf sprinter.
"He had a very tough beginning here," owner Michael Sternklar of Team Clear Stars Stable said Saturday. "His first race up here he got second. ... The jockey gets off of him and says 'He didn't breathe the last quarter mile.' And he still was able to do that. Especially as a young horse it kind of freaked him out, so every time he runs he's worrying about (whether he can) breathe. He had to get throat surgery ... nothing major but had a lot of early setbacks. And sometimes, mentally, that can set a horse back maybe forever."
Sandy'z Slew's talent as a sprinter was reveled when Sternklar and trainer Richard Schosberg ran him short distances due to his breathing issues.
"Rick, he's just a great trainer," Sternklar said. "Took his time with him and figured out that he's a turf horse. We thought early on with his pedigree was that he was going to run long. With the breathing issues we kind of kept him running short. He's turned out to be a great turf sprinter."
Sandy'z Slew is 2-for-2 on the Saratoga turf, and Sternklar is hopeful that running him at 5 1/2 furlongs will set him up for a competitive race.
"He just loves it up here," Sternklar said. And it's actually up here where we discovered that he's a turf horse... The competition's tough - he's faced some of these horses before, he's beaten them and he's lost to them, but he's never faced them at five and a half on the Saratoga turf course. We feel very good about it, we feel that he'll be competitive."
Sandy'z Slew will attempt to improve on his last start June 10, when second to Shore Runner in a 6-furlong turf sprint at Belmont. His regular rider Junior Alvarado has the mount.
"He's fast and he's game, and he's training great and he's perfectly healthy," Sternklar says. "What more could you want?"
Sandy'z Slew and Shore Runner will meet again in the Lucky Coin. Trainer Joe Sharp claimed Shore Runner for owner Brad Grady out of that June 10 race at Belmont. Shore Runner went on to win another allowance-optional July 3 at Belmont, going the same distance on the turf.
Shore Runner worked a half-mile July 20 on the Oklahoma Training Track turf course in :51.21 prepping for the Lucky Coin.
"I wouldn't trade places with anybody as far as how the horse is doing at this point," Sharp says. "He's training good. I actually worked him myself on the 20th on the grass here and he worked excellent. He's pretty uncomplicated and seems to be getting better and better, obviously more confident with every start, so we're excited about him."
Kendrick Carmouche has the mount, and despite breaking from post No. 1, Sharp is confident in the abilities of the More Than Ready gelding and his rider.
"Don't love the one hole, but I have a lot of confidence in Kendrick, and he's good at getting in a good position," Sharp said. "I definitely think he's good enough to win it if he gets the trip."
Anthony McCarthy's Spring To The Sky enters the Lucky Coin as defending champion. The Bruce Brown trainee won last year by 1 3/4 lengths, stopping the clock at 1:01.66. Spring To The Sky went on to win the Troy Stakes at Saratoga a few weeks later.
Spring To The Sky's most recent start was a second to Shore Runner July 3 at Belmont. The 6-year-old son of Langfuhr posted a :48.58 bullet work on the inner turf at Belmont July 18 before shipping to Saratoga.
"He's a very good work horse," Brown says. "He does everything pretty fast. I did the work a little further out just because I figured that he'd go a little quick so gave him a little more time to recover from it. He came out of that no worse for wear and he's ready to go."
Just like Sandy'z Slew, Spring to the Sky also seems to have an affinity for Saratoga, as he's won two of his five starts on the Saratoga turf and took third in another.
"He's doing great, he loves it up here," Brown said. "He shipped in, breezed his last breeze down at Belmont and then brought him up. Like most horses they get up here and they just love it. It's a break for the people and the horses. (It's) kind of out in the country compared to being down on Long Island at Belmont."