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Doctor Jeff, fresh off his debut win last month at Belmont Park, will take the step up in class and face stakes company for the first time as part of a 12-horse field of talented juveniles in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
The 116th running of the Saratoga Special, contested at 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track in Race 9, is one of two stakes on the 11-race card that will be bolstered by the Grade 1, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap for 3-year-olds up going one mile on the inner turf in Race 10 that is a "Win and You're In" qualifier to the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile.
Race 9 at Saratoga on Saturday, August 14 - Post 5:39 PM
|2||Gunite||5-1||Ricardo Santana, Jr.
|3||Ottoman Empire||15-1||Dylan Davis
|5||Midnight Worker||10-1||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
|6||Stolen Base||8-1||Jose Ortiz
|7||Double Thunder||6-1||John Velazquez
|8||Doctor Jeff||2-1||Joel Rosario
|9||Dance Code||15-1||Jose Lezcano
|11||High Oak||12-1||Junior Alvarado
|12||Red Run||30-1||Manuel Franco
Michael Dubb and Michael Caruso's Doctor Jeff won first out in a six-furlong sprint taken off the turf at Belmont on July 10. The Street Boss colt earned a Saratoga Special field-high 78 Beyer Speed Figure for his 2 1/4-length victory for trainer Rudy Rodriguez and subsequently shipped to Saratoga, where he recorded three breezes over the main track, including a bullet five-furlong work in 59.61 seconds on Sunday.
"I'm just very happy with the way he's training over here," Rodriguez said. "He beat some tough horses the first time and he did it the right way. We just take it day-by-day, but he's been training over here for a while. If he doesn't like the track now, he's never going to like it."
Joel Rosario, aboard for Doctor Jeff's win and the winner of last year's Saratoga Special riding Jackie's Warrior, will have the return call from post 8.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, fresh off a whirlwind week in which he broke the record for most wins by a North American thoroughbred trainer, will have a strong chance to add to that total in saddling a pair of Winchell Thoroughbred homebreds in Gunite and Red Run.
The duo are both sons of Gun Runner, who Asmussen also trained during a stellar career that netted two Eclipse Awards, including 2017 Horse of the Year honors as well as that year's Champion Older Dirt Male.
"It's extremely exciting. All a part of what makes racing great," Asmussen said. "We're fortunate to have horses like that and then have the chance for them to prove it. It's amazing how he stamps them just with their attitude. Obviously, he gave them a tremendous amount of ability to find more than what matters. Winning and losing is usually the amount of effort willing to be applied."
Gunite has given that effort through his first three starts, improving in each race, culminating with a maiden-breaking win last out on June 26 going six furlongs at Churchill Downs. Gunite ran third on debut in April over a sloppy and sealed track at five furlongs and stayed at the same distance in following with a runner-up effort on a fast Churchill course in May.
Asmussen said stretching Gunite out in his last start was beneficial.
"The distance had everything to do with it," Asmussen said. "Going from five-eighths, five-and-a-half, three-quarters and go third, second and first. That's how it felt to us."
Ricardo Santana, Jr. will have the mount for a third consecutive time, drawing post 2. Gunite will add blinkers.
Red Run also could be a colt who might appreciate added distance. He boasts an impressive pedigree out of the Tapit mare Red House, who is a full-sister to 2014 Kentucky Oaks winner and Champion 3-Year-Old filly Untapable.
Red Run won going five furlongs on a sloppy Churchill track on May 9 before running fifth in the Grade 3 Bashford Manor on June 26 at Churchill stretched out to six furlongs.
"He's going to need considerably further. The pedigree suggests it also with his female side of the family," Asmussen said. "I chose him to run here for his next step; he's needing one."
Manny Franco will be in the irons from the outermost post 12.
Fellow Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will also send out a couple of talented colts, including Phoenix Thoroughbreds' Double Thunder, who won the Bashford Manor by 4 3/4 lengths under Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez. The son of Super Saver is 2-for-2 to start his career, winning on June 5 at Monmouth before graduating against stakes company later in the month.
After drawing away at Churchill and improving his career earnings to a field-high $116,850, Double Thunder will compete at Saratoga for the first time, teaming again with Velazquez in breaking from post 7.
Pletcher's other contender, Repole Stable's Midnight Worker, showed an affinity for Saratoga already, edging Bourbon Heist by a head for a debut win going six furlongs at the historic track on July 24.
Midnight Worker, a son of Outwork, will pick up the services of jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., departing from post 5.
Nakatomi added to trainer Wesley Ward's ever-growing list of first-out winners in April at Keeneland with a victory in a 4 1/2-furlong contest over a sloppy and sealed track. That set up the Firing Line gelding's cross-Atlantic trip to Ascot, where he ran eighth in the Group 2 Norfolk going five furlongs on June 17.
Owned by Qatar Racing, M. Detampel and D. Howden, Nakatomi registered a breeze on the Saratoga main track on Thursday and will see Hall of Famer Javier Castellano will pick up the mount for the first time, exiting the inside post.
Greg Tramontin's Ottoman Empire was a debut winner, topping an 11-horse field in a five-furlong sprint on June 20 at Churchill Downs. Trainer Tom Amoss then moved the son of Classic Empire up in class early in the Saratoga meet, where he ran fourth in the six-furlong Grade 3 Sanford over a main track rated good on July 17.
Ottoman Empire, a $120,000 purchase at last year's Keeneland September Yearling Sale, will look to parlay his graded stakes experience into black type, picking up the services of jockey Dylan Davis from post 3. He will also add blinkers.
Robert Masterson's Glacial won his first race for trainer Norm Casse in May at Churchill before running third in the Bashford Manor in his previous start. The son of Frosted, a $140,000 purchase at the OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training will pick up the services of Tyler Gaffalione in breaking from post 10.
Rounding out the field is High Oak, a first-out winner for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott on June 26 at Belmont [post 11, Junior Alvarado]; Stolen Base, a debut victor on July 23 at Saratoga for meet-leading trainer Mike Maker [post 6, Jose Ortiz]; Dance Code, third in the Grade 3 Sanford after winning his debut in June at Parx for conditioner Juan Vazquez [post 9, Jose Lezcano]; and Kitodan, who broke his maiden at fourth asking in July at Gulfstream Park, for trainer Jorge Delgado [post 4, Chantal Sutherland].
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