Sanford recap: Enter Sand Man

- -

Eoin Harty leaned on the counter of the racing office and tried to occupy his mind. First he leafed through the New York Post with Ashley Dupre on the cover, then he listened to the Pat Reynolds show, then started worrying about last-minute training tweaks.

“You didn’t notice anybody putting on jar caulks, did you?” Harty asked.

It was a race before the Grade II Sanford, where Darley’s $2.1 million purchase Desert Party was set to take on three rivals.

He didn’t need caulks.

The Kentucky-bred son of Street Cry sat just off the pace in the 6-furlong stakes, then slipped through on the rail to win the $142,500 affair by an easy 3 1/4 lengths and give Harty his first relaxed breath all day.

“I was nervous about the track. I’ve been training on the Polytrack for two years now and this isn’t something I’ve had to handle,” Harty said. “I’m not surprised he handled it – he’s been precocious from day one and he does things that most horses don’t. I felt confident he’d show up and run his race.”

Delaware shipper Officer Ipod (Ramon Dominguez) rocketed from the gate and established a short lead over a short field. Edgar Prado eased Desert Party to the inside of Officer Ipod who was traveling well off the rail. Prado cued Desert Party to the flank of the leader, simply to keep the pacesetter honest.

“I gave him a nudge, then I sat on him. I wanted to stay there, because if I don’t the other horse goes 23 and change instead of 22 and change,” Prado said. “He never got hit by much dirt, I was clear. I wasn’t rushing him. Sometimes you get a dream trip.”

Officer Ipod posted a first-quarter split of 22.78 seconds while Dominguez’s head swiveled over his left shoulder, keeping an eye on Prado. Leaving the backside, Prado tapped the brakes on Desert Party, worrying everybody but himself.

“No problem,” Prado said afterward.

Harty wasn’t thinking that when it happened.

“I could see Ramon looking back,” Harty said. “Then all of a sudden (Edgar) took up so I figured it was going to take a pretty good effort to rebound from that.”

The other two runners, Vineyard Haven and Phosphorescent, volleyed for space and kept the field compact through a half in 46.66. Turning for home, Prado slipped past Officer Ipod and it was over in a stride. Desert Party skipped through the muddy, sealed racetrack, finishing in 1:12.23.

“He’s a star on the rise,” Prado said. “He wasn’t blowing much on the way back, that’s the kind I like. I was very happy with him, second time out, sloppy track, go inside, he handled it very good.”

Darley purchased the bay colt from David Scanlon’s consignment at the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old sale at Calder in February. Bred by David Smith and Steven Sinatra, Desert Party breezed a furlong in 10 2/5 seconds and topped the sales. Out of the 10-year-old mare Sage Cat, he’s a half-brother to stakes winner Elliecat. Paul Pompa Jr. (of Big Brown fame) purchased the colt for $425,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September yearling sale from the Hunter Valley consignment.

Harty unveiled him at Arlington Park June 22 and he swooped from post 10 in the 4 1/2-furlong maiden race to win easily.

“Scanlon told me he was the best horse he’s ever sold,” Harty said. “He’s a good horse, but he’s still got a lot to do. I hope this isn’t his best game, he’s a two-turn kind of horse.”

Like every Saratoga trainer, Harty fought the elements this week and wasn’t sure how it would affect Desert Party. He breezed him once over the main track, zipping 5 furlongs in a minute, second-fastest of 27 breezes Saturday morning. Still, it wasn’t all clear sailing.

“I like to school my horses a lot,” Harty said. “I shipped him to Arlington and then right back to Keeneland, shipped him up here and never got a chance to school him because of the rain, then send him to the receiving barn and he handled it all, took it like an old pro.”

Prado was impressed.

“For a big horse, he’s very athletic. Athletic,” Prado said. “He’s reaching. Hopefully he’ll come back good and go to the Hopeful. He’ll like going 7 furlongs.”

He won’t be wearing caulks.