Spa juveniles all over Future Stars Friday card

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Saratoga Race Course always provides a critical starting or continuation point for young horses with designs on the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and the 2020 pandemic spectator-free meeting proves no exception.

Twenty-one 2-year-olds who competed at Saratoga this year were pre-entered for the five Breeders’ Cup Future Stars Friday card, including major contenders Simply Ravishing, Jackie’s Warrior and Golden Pal. We covered them all – in person or virtually, such is life in 2020 – and wrote about most in The Saratoga Special.

The Saratoga contingent are represented in each of the races Friday, oftentimes with multiple runners.

Golden Pal, part of a monster contingent from Wesley Ward, dazzled in his Saratoga appearance when he won the Skidmore Stakes without barely taking a deep breath. The son of Uncle Mo is one of four runners for Ward in the opening $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (not counting the three he has on the also-eligible list).

Two other runners in the Juvenile Turf Sprint ran at Saratoga – Bolton Landing third Amanzi Yimpilo and impressive July 18 maiden winner and Grade 2 Saratoga Special third Momos. We wrote about the latter in Christophe Clemente’s Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour that appeared in the Aug. 1 Whitney Day edition (page 6).

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf features a bit more Saratoga flavor with four entries – Public Sector, Mutasaabeq, Fire At Will and Outadore in the field of 14. Fire At Will contributed to a big meet for trainer Mike Maker and owner Three Diamonds Farm with a win late in the meet in the With Anticipation Stakes – which was run at 7 furlongs on the dirt after being rained off.

Mutasaabeq was included in a monster edition of Todd Pletcher’s Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour – his second of 2020, thanks TAP – and before he’d even run.  Check out what Pletcher said about the son of Into Mischief, who won that day, moved to the grass and won the Grade 2 Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland last month.

Four of the seven entered in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies made starts at Saratoga – Simply Ravishing, Vequist, Dayoutoftheoffice and Thoughtfully.

We wrote about the unbeaten Simply Ravishing several times, with each piece appearing on the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc.’s website thanks to our latest working partnership with the organization. The first appeared after the daughter of Laoban broke her maiden Aug. 2, probably the first time the now well-known story about how she came to be appeared in “print.” Check out Melissa Bauer-Herzog’s piece titled “Bluewater’s Levy relishes strong run with NY-breds” for the early scoop.

Sean Clancy penned the next piece about Simply Ravishing, after she rolled in the off-the-turf P. G. Johnson Stakes Sept. 3 and Tom Law added another when she dominated the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland Oct. 2.

Dayoutoftheoffice, who also comes into the Juvenile Fillies unbeaten and co-second choice on the morning line along with Simply Ravishing at 5-2, started the meet off with a victory in the Grade 3 Schuylerville. Read more on that win below.

Vequist took the Grade 1 Spinaway on Closing Weekend and Paul Halloran wrote about the daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist in his piece titled “Maiden No More” that appeared on Page 32 of the final edition of The Special, Sept. 12.

Four Saratoga runners were entered for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, with Plum Ali, Union Gables and Editor At Large drawn into the body of the race and Invincible Gal on the also-eligible list.

All eyes will be on undefeated Jackie’s Warrior when he takes on 13 others in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, his first attempt around two turns after he became the first 2-year-old since Dehere in 1993 to win the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, Grade 1 Hopeful and Grade 1 Champagne.

Our team covered two of those wins, the Saratoga Special (of course) and the Hopeful. Check out both pieces below to read about the Maclean’s Music colt that trainer Steve Asmussen says has “done everything thing right since he came into the barn.”

Jackie’s Warrior will be joined by familiar foe and Saratoga maiden winner Reinvestment Risk in the Juvenile, along with other Saratoga runners Likeable and stablemate Calibrate.

Here’s a look back at some of Friday’s Saratoga competitors for Future Stars Friday from the pages of The Saratoga Special.

Quick Goodnight. Golden Pal evokes memories of dam in Skidmore Triumph. Written for Aug. 22 Saratoga Special by Tom Law. 

Golden Pal zipped past the three-sixteenths pole, Irad Ortiz Jr. looked over his left shoulder at the infield screen and the only matter in doubt in Friday’s Skidmore Stakes was the margin of victory and the final time.

Both were impressive for Randall Lowe’s homebred Uncle Mo colt, who diced his five opponents over the Skidmore’s 5 1/2 furlongs to win by 3 1/2 geared-down lengths in 1:00.88. The victory evoked memories of Golden Pal’s dam, Lowe’s Lady Shipman winning the Coronation Cup by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:00.85 and the Smart And Fancy by 2 ¾ lengths in 1:00.46 over the same course in 2015 on the way to a runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint as a 3-year-old.

Tyler Gaffalione got the closest look to Golden Pal, who led a 1-2 finish for trainer Wesley Ward, after he rode Fauci to a second-place finish.

“He’s pretty quick. He’s a nice horse,” Gaffalione said. “We knew early on. I rode him in his first start and he’s a really fast horse, but it seems like he’s starting to get the mental side of it now.”

Golden Pal went to the post at 2-5 in his first start since finishing second by a neck in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot. He broke like the first picnic-table seeker on Travers Day in a normal season at Saratoga Race Course and Ortiz found himself ahead by 1 1/2 lengths after a sharp opening quarter in :21.99.

Golden Pal continued on the lead around the turn and into the lane, past the half in :44.37 and widening his advantage to 4 lengths with a furlong to run. Ortiz gathered him up late as Fauci held a clear second by 4 lengths from Sky’s Not Falling with Ward’s third runner, Sunny Isle Beach, fourth.

Mike Trombetta, who sent out Sky’s Not Falling in his turf debut off a third in a small stakes at Colonial Downs, watched the warmup on a TV monitor from the first floor of the clubhouse and conceded Golden Pal would be tough.

“I’m not sure I can beat the six with anything,” Trombetta said.

Trombetta proved equally impressed with a furlong to run, commenting that Golden Pal was “geared down going 55 and change” while he watched from the apron.

“That is what you call a good one,” Trombetta said. “Probably your Breeders’ Cup winner.”

Ward hopes so.

He watched from his home base at Keeneland in Lexington, where the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint will be run Nov. 6. He liked what he saw from the colt he had enough confidence in to bring to Royal Ascot as a maiden.

“He’s something special this guy. We just got a little peek at it,” Ward said. “From everything we’ve seen here, they’re coming into his homecourt like Michael Jordan in the United Center in the Breeders’ Cup this year. He’s a very, very nice colt.”

Ward said he would likely train Golden Pal up to the Juvenile Turf Sprint, which he won last year with Four Wheel Drive and finished second in 2018 with Chelsea Cloisters.

 

Open & Shut. Saratoga’s 2020 racing season begins without spectators. Written for July 18 Saratoga Special by Tom Law.

John Velazquez walked out of the jockeys’ room Thursday, heading to his car parked near Saratoga Race Course’s Union Avenue gate while the final minutes ticked away before post time of the last race on the strangest day in the track’s long history.

Velazquez, Saratoga’s all-time leading rider and a member of the Hall of Fame, rode five of the 11 races on the Opening Day card and walked with his usual confidence.

“I had a good day, rode a couple winners,” Velazquez said when asked about his day.

Perhaps the question could have been better phrased – or maybe like everyone else probably tired of the specific topic – but the query was really about what the day was like for one of the game’s biggest stars.

“It was very strange, very strange,” Velazquez said before the conversation veered off to other subjects, including The Saratoga Special, family and the condition and safety of the jocks’ room when NYRA’s Eric Donovan made his way into the track from the TV truck compound.

Strange probably sums up the day best, although just about every adjective seems to fall short amidst the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Six hours or so before Velazquez hit the exit and with an hour to go before John Imbriale said “And they’re off at Saratoga,” only two cars and a small moving van were parked along East Avenue a block from the track. No teenagers hawking local newspapers, middle schoolers selling bottled water, older gents touting their tip sheets or clubhouse seats, traffic cops or patrons with coolers, lawn chairs and children in tow.

The empty picnic area brings the reality home first, a huge empty space where the grass never looked better. Red and white awnings are everywhere still and the TVs were tuned – just like they are all winter long – to NYRA’s in-house feed. The pavement pads for artists and craft vendors near the Union Avenue gate are empty, last fall’s brown pine needles giving a reminder of the not-so-bad winter of 2020.

The white plastic chains lie on the ground, not needed to keep over-eager patrons back while horses make their way down the path to the paddock. Pickup trucks, cars and golf carts are everywhere, and even a Sky Works boom lift found a home in the backyard near the Fourstardave Bar.

Everything feels the way it probably did after Labor Day, packed up and moved not long after Dr. Devera’s Way and Benjamin Hernandez splashed home to win last year’s finale at 22-1. Huge pallets of everything from paper towels to cups to napkins to potting soil line the first level of the grandstand. One section over, there are hundreds of trash and recycling cans.

At 12:41 the first member of the field of six for the opener – Grit And Glory – stepped onto the rubber pavers and into the backyard, greeted by no one past the children’s area and Man o’ War Way, which is blocked by the white plastic chains. Five minutes later a motorcycle hums near the stoplight by the entrance gate, blaring the Star Spangled Banner loud enough to be heard through the vacant grounds and then drowned out by the blare of the Harley’s engine.

Trainer Bruce Brown, who doesn’t have a runner in the opener or on the card, rolls up in his golf cart at 12:47, shakes his head and says two words.

“Weird, man.”

No doubt.

A few trainers watch the runners for the first from outside the paddock, eyeing potential claims (two were claimed from the race) when fellow conditioner Linda Rice walks out toward the racing office. She’s dressed for a normal day at the races and impresses a local camerawoman.

“She just smelled so good,” she said to a couple middle-aged Turf writers waiting near the path for the jockeys. “Did you notice? Quite a difference.”

The six riders eventually made their way past, including the apprentice Luis Cardenas who won the opener aboard Grit And Glory for Rice and owner Drawing Away Stable.

“I was super nervous before heading to the gate, but once the gate opened, it was business time,” said Cardenas, making his Saratoga debut. “It would have been exciting [for the fans]. I was pretty excited coming down the lane trying to catch the guys in front of me . . . It’s my first year here and to win the first race at Saratoga it means a lot to me. This is my first time at Saratoga. Even driving here, my heart was pumping really fast.”

The tight finish of the opener – only a neck separated the first two – and a stewards’ inquiry and jockey’s objection in the second no doubt livened up watch parties all over town but inside the iron gates they barely caused a stir. The whirling fans in the rafters of the ancient grandstand took care of that part and could even be heard from one of the few benches on the apron near the eighth pole. The things you don’t notice when the crowd fills the place.

Favorites and double-digit odds longshots won races leading up to the day’s two stakes – the Grade 3 Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies and Grade 3 Peter Pan for 3-year-olds. An out-of-towner and local stalwart won those, with Dayoutoftheoffice giving co-owner and trainer Tim Hamm his first Saratoga graded stakes win in the Schuylerville and Country Grammer putting Chad Brown into the picture for the Travers with a victory in the Peter Pan.

Hamm, for years the leading trainer in Ohio and former president of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners, shipped Dayoutoftheoffice from Palm Meadows in Florida to win the 6-furlong Schuylerville. The daughter of Into Mischief, bred and co-owned by Siena Farm, romped in a 4 ½-furlong maiden at Gulfstream in May and did the same by 6 lengths in the Schuylerville.

“I knew she wasn’t a 4 1/2-furlong horse so when she was able to do 4 1/2 at Gulfstream the way she did it you had to give her a chance,” Hamm said. “We’ve won graded stakes, not at Saratoga. It’s great, couldn’t be better. Wish there was 100,000 people here to enjoy it with, but it’s awesome.”

Junior Alvarado enjoyed his first ride on the filly, who won in 1:10.43.

“I was for sure a smiling person the whole way around. I knew what I had under me,” he said.

Alvarado, like Velazquez, made frequent walks to the paddock and back to the room after the race, couldn’t help but notice the difference for the 2020 Saratoga meet.

“There are a few things you’re looking for when you come to Saratoga, one of the main things is to get nice horses like this, 2-year-olds, nice horses to keep going and put you in the big races,” he said. “For me the second thing is the fans. Nothing like the fans here in Saratoga. It makes the whole thing. Even when you don’t win a race you come back and people congratulate you still. They give you high fives. It keeps your spirit up. That’s one of the things for sure we’re missing and hopefully we don’t take it for granted anymore.”

About a half hour after the Schuylerville four of the main players in the Peter Pan set up shop in the box seat area above the winner’s circle, socially distanced of course, while the field of nine for the now Travers prep went through their final warm-ups.

Todd Pletcher kept his binoculars pinned to his face watching Candy Tycoon walk behind the gate, Chad Brown chatted with NYRA’s Andy Serling while Country Grammer warmed up. Bill Mott, maybe 100 feet from those two, sat in a second row box, a contrast to his usual spot high on the first level. Even Steve Asmussen, who often watches big races from far up the apron, took a different approach and found a seat about 50 feet from Mott.

Those four, plus Serling, were the only people in a section that would have been packed on an unseasonably cool and breezy mid-July afternoon.

“Gut wrenching,” Brown said when asked his thoughts of the day in a place where he grew up and holds in the highest regard.

A few minutes later he endured a few more strains when Country Grammer and Irad Ortiz Jr. took the lead, lost the lead, took the lead, lost the lead and finally took the lead for good to win the 9-furlong Peter Pan by a neck from Caracaro. The Peter Pan gave Paul Pompa Jr.’s Tonalist colt his second win in five starts and his first graded stakes.

“It’s really nice to win this race but definitely a bittersweet day when this beautiful place is empty where I grew up,” Brown said. “We’ll try to get through the meet and hold out hope that maybe it will open more during the meet, but there’s no guarantees about that. We’ll do the best we can and we’re grateful they’re running here. Hopefully, this is the only year we have to do this.”

 

Burner. Jackie’s Warrior makes quick work of fellow juveniles in Grade 2. Written for Aug. 8 Saratoga Special by Paul Halloran.

Fast food. Faster horse.

Jackie’s Warrior owner Kirk Robison moved from California to Texas in 1973 to operate a Wienerschnitzel franchise. He and his wife, Judy, parlayed that into a restaurant empire, with more than 80 Peter Piper Pizza and Burger Kings combined.

The focus Friday at Saratoga Race Course was on neither a piper nor a king, but rather a Warrior – Kirk’s speedy 2-year-old colt, Jackie’s Warrior, who led every step of the way in winning the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes.

“With the babies, we wanted to get a clean break as he did in his first race and let his talent take over,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “At Saratoga, there’s a lot of nice form, but when you get to Saratoga not everyone likes the surface.”

Jackie’s Warrior, a $95,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, clearly loved it, while Asmussen’s other burgeoning star, 8-5 favorite Cazadero, was a different story, finishing a never-threating fifth.

“Ricardo (Santana Jr.) didn’t think he handled the racetrack,” Asmussen said. “He was 2-for-2 at Churchill, so we’ll probably look to go back there.”

Jackie’s Warrior, by Maclean’s Music by the A.P. Five Hundred mare Unicorn Girl, was coming off a June 19 maiden score at Churchill with Santana aboard. After increasing his career earnings to $127,564, he will have a return date at the Spa, with Asmussen indicating he would point for the Grade 1 Hopeful on Closing Day. If you’re looking for omens for today, Maclean’s Music is out of the same dam – Forest Music – as Travers hopeful Uncle Chuck.

Asmussen watched from his usual spot on the apron, against the fence, about 50 yards from the finish line. As Jackie’s Warrior was bounding to a length lead after a quarter-mile in :22.06 under Joel Rosario, Asmussen walked toward the top of the stretch, as if to greet his horse, who had only two serious threats at that point, Therideofalifetime on the outside and Momos in between horses.

Jackie’s Warrior made sure Asmussen, who won his fifth Saratoga Special, didn’t have to sweat, staying inside and pulling away to win by 3 lengths over Therideofalifetime in 1:09.62. Momos, coming off a dominant debut win for Christophe Clement three weeks ago, faded to third, with Garoppolo fourth.

“He broke really well,” said Rosario, who won two races Friday. “I thought there was going to be a little more speed. I thought we might chase somebody, but he broke well and I let him do his thing. When they came close to him, he wanted to go and I felt even more confident.”

The other eight horses – Roderick scratched to run in today’s Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar and 99-1 shot Caramel Chip was a gate scratch – were the ones doing the chasing and it was to no avail.

With Miller Lite as the sponsor, Asmussen emerged from the winner’s circle with a lawn jockey and cooler emblazoned with the Lite logo. It was suggested that the cooler seemed a little light, i.e. empty.

“That will be corrected,” he said.

We will check back to see if it tasted great or was less filling. Or both.

 

Doubled Up. Two-year-old phenom Jackie’s Warrior wins second stakes of meet. Written for Sept. 12 Saratoga Special by Tom Law. 

Steve Asmussen and his team knew they were bringing a fast colt when they loaded Jackie’s Warrior on a van at Keeneland bound for upstate New York in late June.

The son of Maclean’s Music left Kentucky with a win in his debut – a 2 ½-length score in good time going 5 furlongs June 19 at Churchill Downs – and he’ll return with two of Saratoga’s most important 2-year-old stakes. A month after winning the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, Jackie’s Warrior took down the Grade 1 Runhappy Hopeful to close the meet and give his Hall of Fame trainer back-to-back victories in the 7 furlong stakes after Basin led a 1-2-3 sweep in 2019.

Jackie’s Warrior wasn’t favored in either race – going to the post for the Special at 3-1 behind his stablemate and 8-5 favorite Cazadero and at 9-5 to the even-money choice and eventual runner-up Reinvestment Risk in the Hopeful. The slight snub in the latter likely came after players watched Saratoga Special runner-up Therideofalifetime finish a fading fourth at 4-5 two days before in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs.

None of that concerned Asmussen’s team.

“Let’s not overthink this, he’s the fastest horse in the race,” Asmussen’s assistant Scott Blasi told jockey Joel Rosario in the paddock.

Rosario obliged and Jackie’s Warrior cooperated from the break, leaving the gate quickly per usual for the barn and running 2 lengths clear before the field left the 7-furlong chute onto the main track.

“When they get their lessons from Steve’s dad in Laredo, Texas, they know how to leave the gate,” Blasi said of Keith Asmussen, whose El Primero Training Center is a frequent starting point for the stable’s winners.

Rosario stayed quiet on Jackie’s Warrior up the backstretch, through a quarter-mile in :22.56 while Papetu, Nutsie and Reinvestment Risk lined up three across from the inside out to give chase. Nutsie retreated first, leaving just two chasers that were a couple lengths in front of 7-2 third choice Mutasaabeq and longshot Ampersand around the far turn.

Reinvestment Risk, considered one of the meet’s most impressive maiden winners, wound up the lone chaser through a half in :44.83 but the effort proved futile with Jackie’s Warrior cruising past the quarter pole ahead by more than 3 lengths. Jackie’s Warrior came into the lane four or five paths off the rail, Rosario tapped him on the shoulder, shook the reins and cracked him twice right-handed outside the eighth pole and the Hopeful was over.

Jackie’s Warrior flew past the furlong marker – and 6 furlongs in 1:08.33 – and cruised past the finish after Rosario gave a look back, first under his right shoulder and then between his legs, to win by a geared-down 2 ¼ lengths in 1:21.29.

“He broke really fast and I was 2 lengths in front right away,” Rosario said. “He’s a fast horse. He was able to carry his speed the whole way around.”

Rosario said he kept Jackie’s Warrior, a $95,000 purchase by owners Kirk and Judy Robison at last year’s Keeneland September yearling sale, off the rail most of the trip because the bay colt seemed comfortable. He also came away impressed, yet again.

“It’s unbelievable the way he ran the first time and he was probably better today,” said Rosario, who finished third behind the Ortiz brothers in the meet’s jockey standings with 48 wins.

Jackie’s Warrior contributed two of his seven graded stakes and 13 stakes victories overall. He also provided two of the Asmussen barn’s seven stakes wins at the meet, a haul that also included the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt with Volatile and Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens with Echo Town.

Asmussen finished seventh in the trainer standings with 14 wins, sixth by purses with $1,483,812 and only ninth by starts with 68. The barn won at 21 percent, along with 10 seconds and 11 thirds.

“We’re just extremely fortunate to have such a talent in our barn,” Blasi said of Jackie’s Warrior and the Asmussen’s training center where he received his early lessons. “Excellent meet for us. The horses have performed extremely well and I have a great crew. Considering Covid and everything that’s taken place it’s really been a great meet for us.”