Sunday at Saratoga: Big shoes to fill

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Hall of Fame Rachel Alexandra visited Saratoga Race Course for the first time in 2009, holding off Macho Again to win by a head in the Grade 1 Woodward. Wooderson, her younger half-brother, took his first step towards her legacy Sunday wtih a maiden-breaking victory in the fifth race going 1 1/8 miles on the main track.

Let’s Go Stable purchased the son of Awesome Again for $400,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale. Managing partners Kevin Scatuorchio and Bryan Sullivan placed the colt’s future with Todd Pletcher, who has collaborated with them on Ready’s Echo, Daredevil and Verrazano.

“We liked him a lot, we just didn’t know if we could afford him,” said Sullivan. “We bought him from Gainesway and Brian Graves came over to me and said, ‘that could’ve been a lot worse.’ We weren’t going to spend a lot of money on him but we thought he was going to be a $500 to $700,000 horse and we got him for $400,000, which is great.”

Pletcher sent Wooderson to his father’s Payton Training Center in Ocala and skipped a 2-year-old campaign, giving the colt time to develop into the long-distance horse his pedigree demanded.

“We’ve just been trying to let him mature,” said Pletcher. “He’s a horse we always felt like had some talent. It’s taken him a little bit to get it all together and he’s a horse we always felt would be fit for more time and more distance.”

Wooderson debuted second at Gulfstream Park in April, followed by fifth at Monmouth Park June 23.

“In the first two races, 6 furlongs was not his distance and we had a nightmare trip at Monmouth,” said Sullivan. “He needs to go a mile-and-an-eighth or further so we’re just taking our time with him.”

With John Velazquez aboard, Wooderson ran shoulder-to-shoulder with Domain as they rolled through a :49.64 half-mile. Point To Remember joined the frontrunners in the stretch, thundering towards Wooderson as they passed the grandstand. Velazquez asked for more, and his colt delivered to win by a length.

“Today it kind of all came together,” said Pletcher. “It was the most professional he’s been thus far and you can tell by the way he finished the mile-and-an-eighth, the way he galloped out that this was what he wanted to do.

“He looked like he had something left in the tank when he made the lead and it looked like that horse came to him with some run on his mind, and he was able to repel that challenge and it was nice to see.”

Sullivan celebrated the victory with Let’s Go partners and Pletcher, who is a friend as well as a trainer.

“It’s always fun,” said Sullivan. “If I can help him out and get some winners for the meet, it’s always good. A horse like this hopefully has bigger things down the road. We’ve got five or six weeks so we’ll see what happens.” – Shayna Tiller


• Mark Casse walked slowly down the steps from his box with a grin on his face after 6-5 favorite Chocolate Kisses and Irad Ortiz Jr. provided his barn with a second win at the meet in the second.

The 2-year-old daughter of Candy Ride broke strong from the gate before settling into second behind stablemate Toy Moon and just ahead of Seventh Planet. Chocolate Kisses raced behind Toy Moon coming around the first bend and stayed on her hocks all the way to the final bend, where she made her move. She took the lead in the stretch and edged away to a 1-length win over the late-running Aunt Ashley.

Casse was pleased with the result, especially after thinking back to the filly’s first race at Churchill Downs when she got rained off the turf and moved to the turf.

“Well, we thought about both options (the dirt or the turf),” Casse said. “Honestly, at this time of year what we are more concerned with is trying to get more route race into them. We are trying to look down in the future and this filly has a big pedigree. It wasn’t so much the dirt or the turf, it was just distance.

It wasn’t going to hurt my feelings if they came off the grass today. I feel like she can do a little bit of everything.”

Owned by Debby Oxley, Chocolate Kisses is a $410,000 graduate of the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings. The victory for Chocolate Kisses came at the expense of another Oxley runner, Toy Moon, who is owned by John Oxley.

“You’re very pleased when you win here at Saratoga, because it’s just the most prestigious track going right now this summer,” said John Oxley. “It’s fun to have my wife win and beat me today. I don’t mind being third at all, she had the winner and that’s the way we like it, because it’ll be a very happy household now.”

“We were pretty hopeful about the winner, Chocolate Kisses, because she was very well bred, and she’s a half sister to graded stakes winner Synchrony and she looks the part so we would have been disappointed if she hadn’t won.”

Debby Oxley was also obviously thrilled with the victory, but remained cautious when asked about the filly’s future.

“I think it’s a little too early to say, but I’m very happy, we bought her here last summer, so it was nice to bring her back here and break her maiden.” – David Woods


• Tom Morley tipped is cap to a colleague after a big win by La Moneda in the third.

“I have to say a massive thank you to Brendan Walsh and his team,” Morley said after the New York-bred Freud mare won the 1-mile allowance-optional on the grass. “He’s the reason she’s in my barn.”

La Moneda started her running career with Walsh, then moved to Morley, then back to Walsh and now again with Morley.

“She’s flip flopped between our barns,” said Morley, who added the reason centered on the mare’s roots. “To run in Kentucky didn’t make a lot of sense.”

Morley said Walsh did most of the early work with La Moneda and then raced her at Saratoga last year.

“Brendan is a great friend of mine,” Morley said, “We run very similar operations but he’s a much better trainer than me, so I just try not to mess everything up when I get the chance to have her. She’s really beginning to show her stuff at 5.”

La Moneda made her debut at 4 last August and scored her first win in late September in her second start. Her 1 ¾-length victory over Dolce Lili Sunday was her fifth win in eight starts. Javier Castellano, aboard for all but one of those eight, rode La Moneda again Sunday.

Bred and raced by Patricia Moseley, La Moneda immediately stood out to her connections.

“She was very special from the time she was foaled,” Moseley said. “She had wonderful confirmation and she was always kind of a boss in the paddock. I always think that’s a good sign.”

Stewards lit the inquiry sign for the stretch run – when Dolce Lili steadied near the eighth pole – but no change was made.

“It was fair for the stewards to have a look at it, but I felt my filly kept a relatively straight line and was the best horse in the race,” Morley said. “They came to the right conclusion; the best horse won and there was no need to make a change there.” – Sarah Newman