With Anticipation recap: Proud Pop

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John Iracane pointed to the rambunctious and misbehaving Bittel Road in the paddock before Friday’s With Anticipations Stakes and remarked to a group of friends that the first time he saw the colt he was waist-high. The breeder and co-owner got a closer look a few minutes later after Bittel Road prevailed in a prolonged stretch duel over Skipadate in the $82,400 stakes.

“You see him when he was first born and now you see him in the winner’s circle at Saratoga and it’s a pretty big deal. I only have five horses in training and this is by far the biggest one,” Iracane said. “This is the first time I’ve seen him since he was a year old, so it’s pretty special to be here today and seeing it all unfold in front of you.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher sent out a trio of 2-year-olds in the With Anticipation, a 1 1/16-mile freshman affair over the Mellon turf, and after some anxious moments odds-on favorite Bittel Road came home first.

Bittel Road (John Velazquez) bumped with Ninth Client at the start and raced in close quarters early before finding himself and settling in mid-pack. Ninth Client and High Cry paired to set an honest half-mile in 47.98 seconds while Bittel Road bided his time in between horses in fourth, alongside Uncle T Seven. Second choice Skipadate and first-time starter Herr Mozart lagged at the back of the eight-horse field.

Ninth Client and High Cry led the field to the far turn before stepping aside when the real running began.

Uncle T Seven shot through on the inside turning for home while Bittel Road revved his engines in behind the leaders. Skipadate (Shaun Bridgmohan) and Herr Mozart (Rajiv Maragh) began rallying from the back. Velazquez bided his time until a seam opened as the field straightened away in the lane. He shot through Bittel Lane to the outside of Uncle T Seven while Skipadate and Herr Mozart dove to his inside. As the field hit the eighth-pole, the contest came down to a grudge match between Bittel Road and Skipadate, who battled like Hagler and Hearns. Bittel Road surged clear under the line by a head, with Herr Mozart rounding out the trifecta.

Iracane bred Stormy Atlantic to the Sultry Song mare Sultry Sal and the result was Bittel Road, a dark, strapping colt who made his debut at Belmont Park July 11, where he won a 6-furlong turf maiden by 3 1/4 lengths for Iracane and co-owner Jim Scatuorchio. Bittel Road went straight to the front, clocked a half-mile in 45.86 and never looked back, drawing off at ease and not being asked for his best. With limited spots for a victorious freshman turf horse Pletcher opted to start three in the With Anticipation, including state-bred Double Domino and filly High Cry, then sat back and hoped the race would go.

“We entered High Cry in the P.G. Johnson and that didn’t fill and we were keeping an eye on a 6-furlong New York-bred stake for Double Domino and that didn’t fill,” Pletcher said. “We got worrying that this one wouldn’t fill either so we decided to enter all three in the hopes of helping the race along.”

For a 2-year-old in August, the race into the first turn can be just as harrowing as a 3-year-old stampeding into the first turn of the Kentucky Derby. Though Bittel Road scored in a one-turn sprint in his debut while encountering little adversity, Pletcher was confident the colt would handle increased distance and competition Friday.

“What I was impressed about was that he overcame some adversity. He got bumped at the start and then had some traffic issues but he dug in and showed some gameness and maturity beyond his experience level,” Pletcher said. “We were pretty optimistic that he would run well in his debut at Belmont but two turns for a 2-year-old at this time of the year is always a question mark. He trained like a horse that would handle two turns – he’s a big, scopey, nice horse – but you never know until you do it.”

Iracane reveled in the post-race excitement as he rode the wave that crested at the door of the trustees’ room. He thought back to the waist-high colt who wobbled like a spinning dreidel coming to a stop, then pictured the grown-up version who just delivered Iracane’s biggest win on the track.

“Everyone involved with this horse that helped me out has really liked him from the minute he was born, they thought he was a really good horse. I leaned on Todd, who I have been friends with for a long time, and gave him this colt and he really liked him too,” Iracane said. “Everything has just worked out perfect. Here we are in the winner’s circle at Saratoga. That’s about as good as it gets.”