• G1 winner Rachel's Valentina retired; Destin 'excellent' ahead of G2 Jim Dandy • Well-traveled Undrafted set to make Saratoga turf debut in Lucky Coin
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Stonestreet Stable's homebred Grade 1 winner Rachel's Valentina has been retired, trainer Todd Pletcher confirmed Sunday morning.
The lone daughter of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, Rachel's Valentina won her 2-year-old debut by two lengths at Saratoga Race Course last summer before posting a one-length victory in the Grade 1 Spinaway. The Bernardini filly closed out her season with a runner-up finish to Songbird in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
As a 3-year-old, Rachel's Valentina finished a close second in the Grade 1 Ashland in April at Keeneland and was sixth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks and fifth in the Grade 1 Mother Goose on July 2 at Belmont Park. Rachel's Valentina retires with two wins and two seconds from six lifetime starts and earnings of $738,800.
Grade 1 Belmont runner-up Destin, meanwhile, emerged from his latest breeze in good order and remains on target for the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy on July 30.
The sophomore son of Giant's Causeway worked five furlongs in 1:00.87 Friday morning to wrap up his major preparations for the Jim Dandy, the traditional local prep for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 27.
"He's doing excellent," Pletcher reported. "I thought he worked very well and came out of it good and if everybody stays on board for what they're supposed to be doing, I believe we're just going to stay here and run in the Jim Dandy."
Stradivari, who was injured while working in company with Destin on Friday, remains stable at Rood and Riddle, said Pletcher, adding that the Medaglia d'Oro colt is slated for surgery on Tuesday, provided "everything goes well over the next 48 hours."
Far From Over, winner of the 2015 Grade 3 Withers who remained unbeaten coming off a 16-month layoff against optional claiming company in June, worked over the Oklahoma training track Sunday morning and could make a summer appearance at the Spa.
"He's been training very well. We've been very pleased with him," said Pletcher. "I thought his comeback race was quite good. I like what we're seeing in the morning. I'd like to get a real nice, cozy allowance race for him sometime in the next three weeks."
Breezing in company with multiple graded stakes winner Protonico, Far From Over covered five furlongs in 1:02.03.
Pletcher's impressive first-out winner One Liner has stamped himself as an early contender for the Grade 1, $350,000 Hopeful on closing day, September 5, following his 1 ½-length maiden victory Saturday.
"It was kind of what we were expecting from him based on the way he'd been training," Pletcher said of the race. "He had been pretty professional in the mornings and I liked the fact that he drew toward the outside and was able to put himself in a good spot without having to shove on him the whole way. It was a good professional debut. I would think we would consider a race like the Hopeful, but we'll see how he trains and let that guide us."
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A Group 1 winner overseas and multiple graded stakes winner in the United States, Wes Welker and Sheep Pond Partners' Undrafted is set to make his debut over the Saratoga turf in Monday's $100,000 Lucky Coin.
The 5 ½-furlong Lucky Coin for 4-year-olds and up will be the 25th lifetime start for the 6-year-old Purim gelding, most recently sixth by 2 ½ lengths in defense of his 2015 victory in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting June 18.
In his only other start this year, Undrafted was a sharp half-length winner of the Grade 2 Shakertown April 9 at Keeneland, where he has been training since returning from England.
"This is the best he's been. He's a funny traveler but he came back really good this time so I told the owners to fire him right back," trainer Wesley Ward said. "He's like an old country boy that doesn't like to get out of his hometown. He's not a good shipper so we try to ship him on top of the race.
"This year, the plane was leaving and unfortunately it was a week from the time he got here to the race," Ward added. "It's a little too much for him to be away from home. I conceded putting him on the plane rather than vanning him from Kentucky, so hopefully he's ready to go."
Ward brought Undrafted to Saratoga as a juvenile in 2012 following his impressive debut triumph at Keeneland and a third in the Willard Proctor Memorial in California, but he did not race again for 5 ½ months until an optional claiming allowance victory at Gulfstream Park that December.
"He got here as a 2-year-old and we were thinking of running him," Ward said. "When he got here he kind of started wilting down so I just pulled the plug and turned him back out."
Favored at 8-5 on the morning line, Undrafted drew post 12 in a 13-horse field for the Lucky Coin that includes main-track-only entrants Weekend Hideaway and All Star Red.
"He comes from behind so it doesn't matter where he draws," Ward said. "He sits back there and if they go fast early he'll be flying late."
Ward is weighing his options with Kitten's Joy gelding Maniacal, who is 2-for-2 this year. In addition to the Grade 2, $200,000 Amsterdam at 6 ½ furlongs on the main track July 30, he is considering the $100,000 Quick Call at 5 ½ furlongs on the grass Aug. 4. Both races are restricted to 3-year-olds.
Maniacal broke his maiden April 29 at Keeneland off more than a year layoff and came back with a half-length allowance victory over elders June 10 at Belmont Park, both on the dirt under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.
"He had some physical issues so we just gave him time to overcome it. He always showed a little bit of promise at 2 but he was kind of like a big kid growing and he finally grew into himself," Ward said. "When he broke his maiden at Keeneland he ran a big race that day, and the other day he ran really big against older horses and showed a big heart, too. When they came and went by him he battled back and won the race. Now we'll see if he's that good."
Ward, who also owns Maniacal, plans to work him Monday over the Saratoga turf.
"I'm going to breeze him and see how he likes that," he said. "This way, it will give me another option."
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Dacita, who rallied relentlessly on the far outside to win Saturday's Grade 1 Diana in a thrilling blanket finish, came out of the race well, as did Chad Brown's three other runners - third-place finisher Rainha Da Bateria, Mrs McDougal (7th) and Wekeela (10th).
"Everyone looks alright," said Brown, who notched his first career Grade 1 win with Zagora in the 2011 Diana.
Dacita, who beat champion Tepin in the Ballston Spa here last year, won her first Grade 1 title.
"I want to just give her the week to evaluate her," said Brown. "She really ran a hard race yesterday so we'll see what we want to do next. It's unclear."
At 28-1, Rainha Da Bateria was beaten a head as the second-longest shot in the field of 10 fillies and mares.
"She had been training really well," said Brown. "Julien [Leparoux] gave her a nice, patient ride, got unlucky there late in between horses but she ran her race. I know her odds were long, but I'm not going to run here just to run at Saratoga. I thought I didn't place her well last time in the Just a Game; she really wants two turns and longer, and she showed it [Saturday]. She ran great."
Brown will take aim at two more upcoming grass stakes for fillies and mares with Sea Calisi and Ball Dancing, who worked five furlongs together in 1:00.20 seconds on the Oklahoma turf course shortly before 10 a.m. Sunday. Sea Calisi is bound for the Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington Park, while Ball Dancing is targeting the Grade 3 Fasig-Tipton Waya Stakes at Saratoga on Whitney Day, August 6.
Brown also reported that Grade 1 winner Angela Renee will miss next Sunday's Grade 3 Shuvee after getting sick.
Brown said decisions regarding the placement of 3-year-olds Connect and Gift Box for Friday's Curlin Stakes and Saturday's Grade 2 Jim Dandy will likely be made after he speaks to their owners Sunday afternoon.
At Belmont Park, both Flintshire and Lady Eli breezed five furlongs in preparation for a trip north on Monday. Flintshire, winner of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan on June 11, went in 1:01 for Saturday's Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green while Lady Eli, who has not run since winning the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks last July, was timed in 1:00 3/5. Cherie DeVaux, Brown's Belmont Park assistant, said by telephone both "went really well." According to the Daily Racing Form, Lady Eli is under consideration for a return in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa on Travers Day.
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Coming off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in his most recent start, trainer Christophe Clement was hoping Sunday's scheduled workout for Governor Malibu would better determine whether the colt would next enter the Grade 2 Jim Dandy or $100,000 Curlin Stakes.
With regular rider Joel Rosario aboard, the son of Malibu Moon breezed five furlongs in 1:01.55 over the Oklahoma training track and looked confident completing the work. Afterward, Clement said it was still too early to make definitive plans for which race he would enter but was leaning toward the Jim Dandy following the colt's good effort.
"Governor Malibu had a nice work this morning," said Clement. "[He was] a little bit erratic because he had to go around some horses at the quarter pole, but nevertheless I thought it was a nice work. As of now he's come back well. We'll check later today just to make sure he's okay, but I would say that the Jim Dandy is very much under consideration now."
With two wins from eight starts, Governor Malibu would be looking to earn his first graded stakes win should he enter the Jim Dandy or his second listed stakes win since February at Aqueduct Racetrack when he won the Gander.
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Graded stakes winners Forever Unbridled and Tom's Ready, both being pointed to Grade 1 stakes on Travers Day, August 27, breezed a half-mile over Saratoga's main track Sunday morning.
Charles Fipke homebred Forever Unbridled and G M B Racing's Tom's Ready each went four furlongs in 49 seconds, according to trainer Dallas Stewart. Forever Unbridled is scheduled to run next in the $750,000 Personal Ensign Invitational while Tom's Ready is working toward the $500,000 Ketel One King's Bishop.
The Personal Ensign for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up will be the first Saratoga start for Forever Unbridled, winner of the Grade 1 Apple Blossom in April whose sister, Unbridled Forever, captured the Shine Again and Grade 1 Ballerina here last summer.
Forever Unbridled ran into traffic trouble down the stretch last time out in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 11 but managed to get up for second, 2 ½ lengths behind Cavorting.
"She worked great this morning," Stewart said. "She had a bad trip in the Ogden Phipps but ran good and was second, so here she is. We're just trying to pace it out and hit the Breeders' Cup. We want to be sound and ready to go."
Twelfth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby coming out of a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, Tom's Ready rallied from dead last to win the seven-furlong, Grade 2 Woody Stephens by 1 ½ lengths, also on Belmont Day. He ran twice last summer at Saratoga, finishing fourth in his career debut and fifth in the Grade 1 Hopeful.
"He came back great," Stewart said. "We're just spacing his races out. The horse ran all through the Louisiana Derby series, ran in the Kentucky Derby, we gave him a little bit of a break and brought him back Belmont Day. Now we'll give him a nice long break and try to win the King's Bishop with him and the Breeders' Cup Mile."
Stewart said Tale of Verve emerged well from Saturday's 1 1/8-mile allowance victory by a neck at odds of 17-1 over favored My Man Sam. Runner-up in the Grade 1 Preakness behind 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, it was the first win since his maiden triumph last April.
"He's a beautiful horse. We'll just keep him two turns and space his races out, maybe run him one more time here. We'll figure it out," he said. "It was a big step yesterday. Great race, he fought hard and beat a really, really nice horse. It was a great Saratoga race."
Another Fipke homebred, Tale of Verve ran six more times last year following the Preakness including off-the-board finishes in the Belmont, Grade 2 West Virginia Derby, Grade 1 Travers and Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby. He was fourth in a Churchill Downs allowance June 4 off a seven-month layoff.
"We gave him a break during the winter. He ran hard in the Preakness and we just kept going. I probably should have stopped a little bit. I think I learned something there. Those Triple Crown races, if they're not competing they need a break," Stewart said. "He's such a nice horse, he's sound. We gave him the time off. They did a great job in South Carolina with him and sent him back to me. It looks like we're on the right road."
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Saratoga's program of steeplechase races kicks off Wednesday with nine horses entered in a $65,000 allowance hurdle, and handicappers will notice a change in the jump races this summer as the last fence in the final stretch run will not be jumped.
The change adheres to a recommendation by Dr. Scott Palmer, the equine medical director of the New York State Gaming Commission, and is intended to enhance the safety of the jump races at Saratoga. As a result, the steeplechase races will have a three-furlong run from the final fence on the backstretch to the finish line. The change was inaugurated for the two jump races at Belmont last fall, and New York Racing Association and National Steeplechase Association officials decided to follow Dr. Palmer's recommendation for the 2016 races.
Sharing the 156-pound highweight in Wednesday's 2 1/16-mile race will be Robert A. Kinsley's Unsinkable and Duodecim Stable's All for Us.
All for Us, trained by Jack Fisher, won his maiden start over fences in May after a successful flat career and was a fast-closing second in a Ratings Handicap at Monmouth Park on June 16. Connor Hankin, currently second in the jockey standings, will ride.
Trained by Elizabeth Voss, Irish-bred Unsinkable won his maiden start in the U.S. in April and most recently won a division of a flat race for hurdlers at Parx Racing on July 10. Top jockey Jack Doyle has the mount.
Maryland-based Voss also entered The Fields Stable's Berland, who would be making his first start after a racing career in England. A maiden hurdle winner last December for former trainer John Ferguson, the Darley-bred by Cape Cross has finished in the money in his four jumps starts. Gus Dahl will ride.
Trainer Leslie Young entered Dyna's Vow, owned by Amy Taylor Rowe, and Ballybristol Farm's Blue Atlantic. Third in a Suffolk Downs Ratings Handicap on July 9, Dyna's Vow will be ridden by Gavin Sheehan, who is making his U.S. debut.
Blue Atlantic will be making his first U.S. start over fences after finishing fifth in the second division of Parx's flat race for hurdlers.
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, who is looking to extend his string of at least one Saratoga victory to 48 years, entered his As You Like It, a Florida-bred by Shakespeare who won his first start over fences and then was second in an optional claiming hurdle at the High Hope Steeplechase in Kentucky in May. Gerard Galligan has a return call.
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Showing a new dimension to earn his first stakes win in yesterday's Grade 3 Sanford, Bitumen for owner Joseph W. Sutton returned from the race in fine shape, according to trainer Eddie Kenneally.
"He's good," said Kenneally. "He ran a big race but he seems fine. No issues.
Making his debut June 30 at Churchill Downs, the son of Mineshaft was hesitant at the break but quickly raced to the front of the pack and extended in the stretch to go on and win by an impressive 6 ¾ lengths. On Saturday, Bitumen broke and settled to the back of the pack to comfortably stalk a hot pace and win the Sanford.
"He had a different setup from his first race, but he overcame it and just showed some class and got it done," added Kenneally.
Now unbeaten in two starts, Kenneally confirmed the next target for the juvenile would be the Grade 1 Hopeful on Labor Day, September 5.