Step down for Csaba

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Csaba was feeling good on one of the grassy spots near the Saratoga stakes barn earlier this week and shortly after trainer Phil Gleaves returned from a short trip home to Florida to see his son off on his first day of high school.

And the colt wasn’t necessarily enjoying it because he prefers the green stuff under his feet either. No, Csaba doesn’t seem to favor the grass when he competes in the afternoon, a rare exception considering he’s by the white-hot Kentucky sire Kitten’s Joy. He prefers the dirt and Gleaves probably prefers the kind of company he’ll get for Csaba in today’s $100,000 Alydar Stakes.

“All the Kitten’s Joys, except him, love the grass,” Gleaves said Tuesday morning after Csaba returned from training on the main track. “We tried to make him a grass horse. His first three starts, we entered him on the grass and each time it got rained off. Someone was telling us not to pursue the grass, but we did it anyway and we kept doing it.

“He did show he could run on it, finished third in a good race at Gulfstream behind Howe Great and Dullahan on the grass [in the Grade 3 Palm Beach in 2012], but when I ran him back here on the grass last year he didn’t run well at all in the Equalize, so it’s been dirt ever since.”

Csaba, the 3-1 third choice in the 1 1/8-mile Alydar behind Easter Gift and Percussion, has made nine starts on the main track since his ninth-place finish in the Equalize last summer. He’s won five times, all stakes, including the Grade 3 Fred Hooper at Calder and Grade 3 Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream.

Gleaves brings Csaba into today’s Alydar off a very tough attempt on the dirt last time in the Whitney Invitational, where he didn’t completely embarrass himself despite finishing seventh of eight as the biggest price on the board at more than 42-1. He finished 9 ¼ lengths behind impressive winner Cross Traffic in the Whitney, which wasn’t even the primary target for Gleaves when he shipped the bay colt north from South Florida earlier this summer.

“These are the kinds of races we came up here for,” Gleaves said Tuesday morning, shortly after Csaba returned from training on the main track. “The Birdstone and this race.”

The Birdstone was originally scheduled for the day before the Aug. 3 Whitney, but when it didn’t fill Gleaves went to Plan B and entered Csaba against the likes of Cross Traffic, Successful Dan, Mucho Macho Man, Ron the Greek, Fort Larned and Alpha.

“The Birdstone didn’t fill and I didn’t want him sitting around for three weeks doing nothing, so we took a shot, honestly hoping to get a piece of the Whitney. But, it was, quite frankly, a bit over his head. Now we’re in a much better spot.”

A better spot because none of those Whitney opponents are in the Alydar-many already targeting the Grade 1 Woodward closing weekend-but he will face Grade 3 winner and 9-5 favorite Easter Gift, Albert the Great winner and 2-1 second choice Percussion and Brazilian Group 1 winner Vitoria Olimpica. Aussi Austin, second by a nose in a fastly run optional claiming race earlier in the meet, rounds out the field.

Csaba breezed once between the Whitney and while Gleaves was back home in Florida, going an easy half in :52.08 last Friday.

“He’s great, really bounced back in excellent form,” Gleaves said. “I was out in the grass with him, he was rearing up, feeling good. He’s really at the top of his game. No problems there. It didn’t take too much out of him. I just breezed him an easy half because I thought the Whitney would keep him fit. He didn’t need much, so we’re ready to go.”

Easter Gift ships up from Chad Brown’s string at Belmont Park off three straight victories, including the $250,000 Mountainview Handicap that was part of the Penn Mile card June 1 at Penn National.

Brown took over training the Hard Spun colt for the Hard spun colt’s 4-year-old campaign after a sophomore season that included a win in the Grade 3 Smarty Jones at Parx and a runner-up in the Grade 3 Pegasus at Monmouth for Nick Zito. He also finished fourth as the favorite in last year’s Curlin here at Saratoga.

Percussion opened a clear lead in the stretch but got ran down by Calidoscopio to finish second in the Grade 2 Brooklyn before a fifth-place finish after showing speed in the Grade 2 Suburban last time out. The 5-year-old Bluegrass Cat gelding is trained by Todd Pletcher, who also sends out Stud TNT’s Vitoria Olimpica.