SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Jim and Susan Hill's millionaire Grand Arch will take on a salty field of turf specialists as he looks to defend his title on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course in the rescheduled Grade 1, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap, which has been awarded Grade 1 status for the first time this year for its 32nd renewal.
Grand Arch has shown a penchant for the Saratoga grass in the last two editions of the one-mile Fourstardave, which was postponed after severe storms forced the cancellation of the final six races on last Saturday's card.
Described by trainer Brian Lynch last week as a "horse for course," Grand Arch turned in a close runner-up effort in his Spa unveiling, finishing a neck behind Seek Again in 2014. Last summer, Grand Arch turned the tables on his rivals with a neck victory over Ironicus and launched into a successful fall campaign that also included a win in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland and a gutsy third-place finish to Tepin in the Breeders' Cup Mile to close out his 6-year-old season.
Returning as a 7-year-old, Grand Arch finished third in a blanket finish behind Takeover Target and Ring Weekend in the Grade 2 Dixie at Pimlico Race Course on May 21 before checking in a dull sixth in his most recent race, the Grade 3 Poker on June 18 at Belmont Park.
Lynch added that Grand Arch, who was given a "freshener" following the Poker, is likely to have benefited from the extra week of training.
"We didn't want to run on a track that was going to be that soft with the amount of rain they had," he said. "I think he prefers a little firmer going but he has run well on soft turf before. Last year's Breeders' Cup was a good effort and it was a bit soft. But we got another little maintenance work in him [after the cancellation] so hopefully he's even that much more ready."
Grand Arch, who boasts a 7-6-8 record from 26 starts and earnings of over $1.8 million, has drawn post 2 and will be ridden by regular jockey Luis Saez.
Trainer David Donk will saddle Gerald and Susan Kresa's King Kreesa for the 7-year-old gelding's third bid in the Fourstardave.
The New York-bred son of King Cugat, who was a solid runner-up behind Wise Dan in the 2013 Fourstardave and a close fourth last year, notched his second straight victory in the Forbidden Apple by a tenacious nose last time out leading his veteran trainer to take another shot at the Fourstardave.
"His race in the Forbidden Apple was a huge effort, a really gutty effort," Donk said. "I think right after that I was pointing to the West Point just to stick with New York-breds, but he ran so well and the race changed complexion when Tepin wasn't going to run, Ironicus wasn't ready and Obviously wasn't going to come. So I really thought it was different kind of race and it's $500,000 and I think he deserves the opportunity."
The imperturbable Donk added that, as a trainer, he is not entirely unfamiliar with rescheduled stakes races, recalling a time in 1994 when he saddled the venerable Awad in Grade 3 Hialeah Turf Cup Handicap.
"It poured and they had to cancel the races in the middle of the card," said Donk. "You couldn't even walk outside; the water was knee high. They delayed the race a week and they were worried whether everyone was going to run back in it and [Awad] won it - so I'm one-for-one so far in cancelled races."
King Kreesa will have the services of the meet's leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. as the pair are set to depart from the rail.
Chad Brown will be represented by stakes winners Takeover Target and A Lot as he pursues his first training victory in the Fourstardave.
Dixie winner Takeover Target, who took last year's Grade 2 Hall of Fame by a half-length over A Lot, will look to rebound from his fourth-place finish in the Poker last time out. Manny Franco picks up the mount aboard Takeover Target, who will break from the outside post
A Lot won the Elusive Quality in April, his first start since transferring to the Brown barn this spring. The 4-year-old Tapit colt will be ridden for the first time by Javier Castellano from post 7.
Tourist will be seeking his first win of the year for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. The 5-year-old son of Tiznow most recently finished a half-length behind Midnight Storm in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on June 4 at Santa Anita to earn a field-high 109 Beyer Speed Figure. Joel Rosario will be the irons; the pair will leave from post 8.
Rounding out the field for the Fourstardave are Jump Sucker Stable's Grade 3 Oceanport winner Blacktype, who will be ridden by Joe Bravo from post 5, for trainer Christophe Clement; Reporting Star, who will break from post 3 with Kendrick Carmouche for Merribelle Stable and trainer Elizabeth Voss; Colts Neck Stable's 2015 Belmont Derby winner Force the Pass, who has hit the board in all 11 of his career starts and will depart from post 4 with Jose Ortiz aboard for the Alan Goldberg barn; and the Graham Motion-trained Ring Weekend, set to make his second start of the year with Hall of Famer John Velazquez from the post 6.