Spa stars take Super Saturday stage

- -

A significant amount of rain is expected Friday into Saturday, just in time for the first of two Super Saturday cards at Belmont Park that not surprisingly attracted more than its fair share of stars from the recently concluded Saratoga Race Course meeting.

The five stakes on Saturday’s card are filled with winners of many Saratoga stakes, a group led by leading championship and Breeders’ Cup contenders Flintshire and A. P. Indian. The day gets started with the opener at 12:30 p.m. with the first stakes – the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic – slated for the sixth race at 3:26.

The weather figures to impact the races, especially the Hirsch and the Grade 3 Pilgrim for 2-year-olds on the grass. According to the Weather Channel, rain is expected to hit Long Island Friday, Friday night and into Saturday morning with cloudy conditions and showers Saturday afternoon.

The marquee event on the card features the first three from the Sword Dancer – Flintshire, Money Multiplier and Twilight Eclipse – and the Todd Pletcher-trained Ectot. That’s it, just a field of four to compete for the $500,000 purse of the Joe Hirsch.

Fourth in the Lure Stakes, Ectot just missed in a 1 ½-mile allowance closing weekend after getting the lead in the stretch and withstanding a bump at the sixteenth pole by eventual winner Street Fashion.

“We might run Ectot in the Joe Hirsch, it’s a race we’re just keeping an eye on,” Pletcher said this week before entries were taken, without mentioning the ominous presence of Flintshire in the 1 1/2-mile turf test.

Flintshire is unbeaten in his three U.S. starts, including last time in the Sword Dancer when he benefited from a solid early pace set by a rabbit. He also won the Grade 2 Bowling Green at Saratoga, which didn’t feature a pacemaker, and the Grade 1 Manhattan on the Belmont Stakes undercard, again without a pacemaker.

A victory in the Joe Hirsch will give Flintshire his ninth victory and push him over $9 million in earnings.

Check out our coverage of Flintshire’s victory in the Sword Dancer from the Aug. 30 issue of The Saratoga Special.


Fast females

The Grade 2 Gallant Bloom – a major prep for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint that produced last year’s winner – didn’t attract Haveyougoneaway but still features a quartet of fast females that were 1-2 in two Saratoga stakes and another who was hugely impressive closing weekend.

One of the quartet is Wavell Avenue, winner of last year’s Filly and Mare Sprint who won the Shine Again Stakes two starts back. She ran down 22-1 longshot Momameamaria in deep stretch of the Shine Again before finishing sixth behind Haveyougoneaway and others in the Grade 1 Ballerina.

Hot City Girl and Quezon venture out of the state-bred ranks again after their 1-2 finish in the Union Avenue Aug. 18. Hot City Girl ended a three-race losing streak in the 6 1/2-furlong Union Avenue.

Wonder Gal returned from nearly seven months on the sidelines to win a state-bred allowance race the last Friday of the Saratoga meet by 11 1/2 lengths. Runner-up in the Grade 1 Frizette and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies as a 2-year-old, Wonder Gal managed only one victory in her prior eight starts before her blowout Saratoga score.

The 4-year-old daughter of Tiz Wonderful finished fifth in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie in February then went to the sidelines.

“She wasn’t really off, she was in training the whole time, in light training,” trainer Leah Gyarmati told The Special after he Saratoga win for Jeff Treadway’s Treadway Racing Stable. “We were just having a lot of little issues with her. She wasn’t turned out or anything. It took a little time to get her right and this is the best she’s ever been. She’s looked better than she’s ever looked, her attitude is better.”

Wonder Gal drew the outside post in the field of 7 for the Gallant Bloom and she looks to improve on her 2-2-1 mark from five starts at Belmont in the 6 1/2-furlong handicap.


Oscar worthy

Brooklyn Bobby, the first U.S.-based starter for unbeaten European champion Frankel, got plenty of pre-race hype before his debut Whitney Day but it was another colt from trainer Brian Lynch’s barn who showed he was the goods winning with authority Alabama Day.

Oscar Performance, who figures to be in the mix in the Grade 3 Pilgrim, showed signs he was capable when sixth in his July 23 debut with a strong gallop out. He breezed back, catching the attention of those with an eye for such things, and romped to a 10 1/4-length win at 6-1 odds Aug. 20.

Lynch trains Oscar Performance, a full brother to 2016 Spiral Stakes winner Oscar Nominated, for John and Jerry Amerman’s Amerman Racing. He immediately started thinking big things after the blowout victory.

“You would have to think after a performance like that it would give you aspirations of a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Turf), so we’ll just see which way we go with him,” Lynch told The Special. “At this stage, he’s certainly got the credentials to be that kind of horse. One day at a time. We got through today and then we reevaluate and try to map out a program. If he’s good enough, he’s going to take us.”

Oscar Performance will meet eight others in the Pilgrim – if it stays on the turf; two are on the main-track only list – and the opposition includes Sir Douglas and Oiseau de Guerre from Chad Brown’s barn; Bird’s Eye View and My Bo Chop, third and fifth, respectively, in the Grade 2 With Anticipation at Saratoga; and impressive Saratoga maiden-breakers J. S. Choice and Frostmourne.


Back in deep water

A couple days before the end of the Saratoga meet Phil Serpe sat under a shade tree outside his barn and courtyard – a place he calls “Blue Heaven” after a favorite spot of his and girlfriend Lisa Bartkowski in Key West – and mulled the future of multiple New York-bred stakes winner Weekend Hideaway.

The 6-year-old son of Speightstown was less than two weeks removed from career win No. 11 – in a fast state-bred allowance – and Serpe predicted what was ahead for the pride of Mike Hoffman’s Red and Black Stable.

“Mike wants to run him in a big race next,” Serpe said. “I just like winning races with him. Winning races is good for people and it’s good for horses, too. Those horses that are good horses, proud horses, it takes a little notch out of them when they get beat sometimes. He’s gone in his little cycles, but again, you freshen him up a little and he comes back for you. He’s been a real Godsend for us. We’ll keep going, see what happens.”

Weekend Hideaway, fresh off back-to-back bullet 5-furlong breezes at Belmont, is indeed in a big race and lines up against seven others in the Grade 1 Vosburgh.

The forecast shouldn’t hurt Weekend Hideaway, who is 4-for-5 on wet tracks, including a win in the Commentator Stakes going 1 mile in late May at Belmont. Weekend Hideaway is 3-for-4 this season and looks to improve on a sixth in last year’s Vosburgh.

“Like Sean wrote he’s the last of the Flying Zee horses that we bred for the Lizzas. He’s a great horse. If he needs a little break he comes back running. If he runs a bad race he comes back running. He really is a good horse when you consider he’s 6 years old and he’s won races every year. He’s a personality horse and people like him.”

The field for the 6-furlong Vosburgh also includes A.P. Indian and Holy Boss, 1-2 in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga; upset True North winner Joking, the comebacking X Y Jet and 15-time winner and Tale Of The Cat winner and 2015 Vosburgh third Stallwalkin’ Dude.


Baker’s big year

Grade 1 winners Forever Unbridled, Off The Tracks and Paola Queen, along with Penwith and Going For Broke, all figure to go off at shorter odds than Rachel’s Temper in the final stakes of the day, the Grade 1 Beldame. That certainly doesn’t mean the Flatter mare claimed two starts back should be counted out, especially considering the type of season trainer Charlton Baker is enjoying.

Baker is on pace to easily surpass  his best of his 19 years as a trainer – 2013, when his stable earned $2,085,663 in purses – and Rachel’s Temper played a role in the banner year to date. She won the Summer Colony in her first start off a $62,500 claim by Baker last time out at Saratoga for her third win in 10 starts this year.

Rachel’s Temper provided Baker with one of his career-best 10 wins at Saratoga. She also added $60,000 to his yearly purse haul of $1,926,572 – which if he didn’t start another horse the entire year would be his fourth best seasonal total.

“She’s just been a consistent, nice mare,” Baker said of making the $62,500 claim. “I’ve liked her for a couple years now. We never had a chance to claim her but the last time she was in for a claiming price. I’ve been watching her, she’s been running some real nice races, but not this kind of caliber. She was one that looked like she could take on better horses.”

Oh, and another reason Rachel’s Temper deserves consideration is her 4-for-7 career record at Belmont.


Entries for Belmont Park’s Super Saturday card.