There’s plenty more to the Maktoum family’s Greentree Training Center than a quiet setting, immaculate barns, a private training track and a spectacular view of mountains off in the distance.
Sure those perks are nice, but it’s the way Kiaran McLaughlin is able to use Greentree that benefits some of the more difficult horses in his care.
Most of the time the 1-mile Greentree track is used for typical North American-style counterclockwise, left-handed training. Other times, frequently later in the mornings, it does an about-face and horses train right-handed. It doesn’t work for every horse, nor is every horse subjected to the clockwise training, but it works for Midnight Watch and the benefits are starting to show.
Headstrong and constantly looking to run off, Midnight Watch benefits from the change of pace. It helps her settle, a little. OK, very little, but enough where she’s able to channel that energy a bit better in her races and she did just that winning Friday’s $100,000 Riskaverse Stakes all the way on the lead during the lone twilight racing card of the season at Saratoga Race Course. The 3-year-old Stormy Atlantic filly raced on the lead in the 1-mile Riskaverse-running under control in the hands of Irad Ortiz Jr.-and won by a length over Teen Pauline as the 2-1 favorite.
“She’s pretty much a runoff in the mornings and in her races, McLaughlin said. “Pat Correa gets on her every day and he’s done a great job with her. We train her right-handed most of the time at Greentree, so that’s a plus, too. She’s a very talented, fast filly and Irad did a great job by slowing it down.”
Ortiz’s ability and Midnight Watch’s willingness to not run off were certainly the keys.
McLaughlin was as close as he could be when he opined after the race that Midnight Watch’s “slowest quarter was the first one.” Turns out her third quarter was the slowest-with fractions of :23.80, :23.44, :24.66 and :23.39 over the firm inner turf course playing to speed-but who’s counting, especially when the final one is the quickest?
“He did a great job riding her because she is difficult and wants to go fast,” McLaughlin said.
Ortiz is familiar with the homebred filly out of the Unbridled mare Trade Only. He rode her in her first two starts of the season, maiden and allowance victories going 1 1/16 miles on the grass at Belmont and was aboard her last time in the Grade 2 Lake George July 24 at Saratoga.
Ortiz employed similar tactics in the Lake George, although Midnight Watch pulled a little more than she did Friday and gave it up in the stretch, finishing fourth. She was 4 lengths behind Kitten’s Dumplings that day, and McLaughlin knew she’d appreciate the slight drop in class although the field for the Riskaverse was strong for a listed race.
Ortiz, fourth and inching up the rider standings heading into the weekend with 26 wins, was equally glad to be back on board.
“It was easy,” he said. “Just break, she’s got speed and try to keep her together. She was pretty good all the way and when I asked her she picked it up. That’s all.”
The Riskaverse really was that simple. Teen Pauline and John Velazquez chased throughout, were down 2 1/2 lengths through the opening half, gradually cut the gap from there and were unable to get it closer than the final margin.
Native Bombshell tried to chase, too, but tired after going wide around both turns.
Third- and fourth- place finishers Unbelievable Dream and Promise Me More closed from the back but never seriously threatened the latest stakes winner for the Darley program.
Jimmy Bell, Darley’s president based at its Jonabell Farm in Lexington, is back in town with a big weekend coming up with Alpha in today’s Grade 1 Woodward and Dancing House in Sunday’s Grade 1 Spinaway. Darley won’t threaten Ken and Sarah Ramsey for the owners’ title, but Midnight Watch moved the stable into second with the 11th win of the meet.
Bell agreed with McLaughlin’s assessment that the 2013 Saratoga meet could be defined with one word: great.
“It’s not all of one thing or all of another,” Bell said. “We’ve got some 2-year-olds we’re excited about, some nice fillies that have come along and made some showings in some nice races, the Personal Ensign, Alabama and such. We’re looking forward to this weekend. We’re looking forward to the Woodward. We know we’re in deep, but Alpha really loves this track and continues to train well. It’s always a horse race so we’ll see how that turns out.”