Sunday at Saratoga: Petrov sharp in ‘graded allowance’

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After Petrov finished sixth in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap July 28, Ron Moquett looked for a softer spot for the 4-year-old. The colt was on a four-race losing streak, including three in graded stakes, and the trainer looked to get Petrov a confidence-building win.

Moquett entered Petrov in Sunday’s eighth race at Saratoga Race Course, a 7-furlong allowance-optional, but the race came up tougher than he expected. Petrov’s six rivals included graded stakes winner Breaking Lucky, graded stakes-placed runners Favorable Outcome, Life In Shambles and Eight Town and strong overnight performers Behavioral Bias and Wonderful Light.

Petrov overcame the tough field, breaking on top and streaking away to earn his fifth win in 18 starts to push his bankroll to $540,307 for owners Head Of Plains Partners, Rialto Racing Stable and Moquett.

“That last one, we wanted to try to see where we were and this was to re-gather ourselves and try to regain some confidence,” Moquett said. “Very happy. Happy for the owners and more happy for the horse. He deserves to win and he likes to show out on this stage up here, so I was very happy for the horse.

“I guess we’re supposed to win a $95,000 graded stakes, because that’s what they are. These races we’re winning are like stakes races, but I was very proud of him.”

Although Petrov has never set the pace in his prior 17 starts, rider Jose Ortiz sent the gray Flatter son to the lead. Ortiz expected to stalk Behavioral Bias around the track, but Behavioral Bias acted up in the gate just before the start and came away last. Petrov broke on top and Ortiz looked to his left. He didn’t see Behavioral Bias, so he went on with it.

“I thought the three was going to go and I was going to sit off of him a little bit,” Ortiz said. “When I saw he didn’t break, I didn’t think twice. I went to the lead and I’m glad I did.”

Despite being in unfamiliar territory making the pace, Ortiz felt confident on Petrov. The horse’s flexible running style means Ortiz can place him anywhere in the field.

“He breaks really sharp out of the gate and you can go to the lead like I did today, you can sit second, you can sit third, behind horses he takes very well too,” Ortiz said. “He’s very easy to ride. It’s good because somebody got speed, you can sit, if no speed, you can go. He doesn’t care, he’s just a nice horse with a big heart.

“When you ride a horse like that, it’s easier. You can adjust to whatever happens breaking from the gate. Whatever happens there, you just let it fold to you. Some horses, you just have to be in a spot to win. This horse is very straightforward. Whatever you do with him, he’s fine.”

Alone on a length lead, Petrov posted fraction of :22.63 and :45.01. Ortiz gave him a reminder at the quarter-pole and shook him up entering the lane. He went to a left-handed stick and Petrov opened daylight. He passed the furlong marker in 1:08.92 and streaked under the line 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Favorable Outcome and Breaking Lucky in 1:22.01.

“When he got that kind of race, he went easy and he was in the clear and got no trouble,” Ortiz said. “These allowance races are very tough always. I was sitting chilly passing the three-eighths pole. When I asked him to go passing the quarter pole, he responded well and opened up.” – Brandon Valvo


• When Jimmy Jerkens brought Timber Ghost to the races this winter at Gulfstream Park, he didn’t expect big efforts from the 3-year-old. Being a son of Ghostzapper, Jerkens knew the colt would take time to come along. With two starts under his belt, a pair of fifth-place finishes in Gulfstream maiden special weights Feb. 18 and March 4, Jerkens felt Timber Ghost was sitting on a big race when he suffered a setback.

“Like most Ghostzappers, he was slow to come around in Florida,” Jerkens said. “I thought if he was able to run again after that last time, he would have made good improvement, but he had a little stifle injury coming out of that last race and we had to send him home for three months.

“It’s frustrating, but as long as you know the potential is there. You’re forced to. What are you going to do? As long as you know you’re lucky enough to get them back.”

Timber Ghost recovered at Adena Springs, where he was bred and foaled. He came back to Jerkens in excellent shape and soon began firing bullets. In his first Saratoga move July 21, he breezed 6 furlongs in 1:13.87 in company with graded stakes winner Delta Prince. He went an easy 5 furlongs July 28 before posting two more bullets, a 1:00.31 work Aug. 6 and a :59.71 breeze six days later.

“He already had some work in Ocala before he headed up, some light breezes,” Jerkens said. “It wasn’t like he was coming from a standstill. He pretty much got right into the groove of things and he when he first got up here, he worked a nice three-quarters with Delta Prince.

“He’s a big, strong colt that eats good,” he said. “Those kind, they help it along a little bit when they keep that appetite and keep themselves strong.”

Timber Ghost made his return to the races in Sunday’s second, an $85,000 maiden special weight going 6 furlongs on the main track. Overlooked at 9-2, Timber Ghost broke near the top of the field and briefly sat off dueling leaders Leinster and Knight Disruption before ranging up to take the lead in a :22.31 opening panel. Timber Ghost breezed away to a 3 1/2-legnth advantage on the turn under with Junior Alvarado motionless in the saddle.

Timber Ghost put up a :45.24 half and Alvarado shook up his mount and gave him a smack on his right shoulder. The colt kicked away to win by 9 1/2 lengths in 1:09.28.

“Track looked fast. I was hoping it was going to be faster than it was yesterday,” Jerkens said. “They were expecting rain and they didn’t put the water on it like they usually do, so it was getting kind of deep. When a horse, especially a heavy horse like he is, even though he’s had a lot of works, you want to run them on a fast track to help them carry it a little bit.”

Timber Ghost’s pedigree suggests he will excel going longer. His dam Harissa won the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at 7 furlongs at Laurel, placed in graded stakes around two turns and won two listed stakes going a mile or more. Timber Ghost’s best sibling Macho Dancer has four wins, all going 1 1/16 miles at Woodbine.

“Most Ghostzappers are distance,” Jerkens said. “It will be exciting to stretch him out, especially with some speed that he has.” – Brandon Valvo


• Jimmy Toner picked up his first win of the meet when Tap Tap Taparoo, a 3-year-old filly by Tapit, won the third to break her maiden.

“Manny rode a perfect race, put her right where she was suppose to be, in the right spot, and it all worked out well,” Toner said after the 5 1/2-furlong turf maiden special weight.

Tap Tap Taparoo rebounded from a troubled trip when eighth in a 1-mile turf maiden at Saratoga July 22.

“She’s got no mouth, it was my fault I ran her two turns but she doesn’t want to go two turns,” Toner said. “She wants one turn. Just leave her alone, let her do what she wants to do and that’s just the way it worked out. That’s the last time I tried to do something that she doesn’t want. She just wants the one-turn sprint, so I think we’ve found the key to her now.”

Like many other trainers with a stable that leans toward grass horses, Toner has been struggling with the wet weather this season.

“It’s set me back a bit,” he said. “I’m not saying that I would have won anymore, but training schedules get knocked out, cancellations, you know it just hasn’t been a smooth run up here. Fortunately we were able to get this filly back in, because I was afraid they were going to cancel some of the turf races today and we really liked her. It is what it is and we all have to deal with it, not just me.”

Happy to get his first win of the meet Toner had only one thing on his mind walking out of the winner’s circle.

“This filly won, we’re off the duck, and I can go home can finally get some sleep tonight,” he said. – David Woods