• Songbird 'wonderful' following G1 Coaching Club American Oaks victory • Belmont winner Creator turns in final work for G2 Jim Dandy
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Grade 1, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks heroine Songbird has exited her 5 ¼-length romp on Sunday in fine fettle, according to Christina Jelm, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
"She's wonderful," Jelm said Monday morning. "She came out of it the way a champion should come out of it. She's happy, relaxed, bright-eyed, ears up. She's just got an excellent disposition. She's very gentle, very kind, extremely intelligent. She's learning to love the media. She loves to stop and have her photo taken. She's truly a princess."
Unbeaten in nine starts and already boasting Eclipse Award honors as the reigning 2-year-old champion filly, Songbird is expected to remain based at Saratoga while she prepares for her second East Coast engagement this summer in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama on August 20.
"We'll have a couple of Spa days here and we'll speak to Jerry and observe her over the next couple of days before we go back to the track," said Jelm. "We'll just let her tell us as we move along and Jerry will make the decision."
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Grade 1 Belmont winner Creator took to at Saratoga Race Course's Oklahoma training track early Monday morning to wrap up his major preparations for the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy Saturday, the 1 1/8-mile local prep for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 27.
The gray Tapit colt breezed solo shortly before 6 a.m. with exercise rider Abel Flores aboard, covering a half-mile in 49.56 seconds for trainer Steve Asmussen, his third local work since arriving at the Spa in early July including a five-furlong move in 1:01.87 over the main track last week.
"He's doing really well," said Asmussen, who will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame on August 12. "I think he's trained very well over both surfaces. He's gotten a lot out of his gallops here at Oklahoma and I liked his work over the main track last week so I feel really good about him. My only concern with the Jim Dandy, going from a mile and a half to a mile and an eighth, is that it may be a bit short for him, but I feel good about it as a prep for the Travers."
Owned by WinStar Farm and Bobby Flay, Creator outgunned Destin late to win the 1 ½-mile Belmont by a nose, his second Grade 1 victory following his 1 ¼-length score in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby in April at Oaklawn Park. His Arkansas win earned the 3-year-old enough points for a berth in the Kentucky Derby on May 7 but the colt failed to fire in the "Run for the Roses" after checking hard at the top of the stretch to finish 13th in the field of 20.
Gun Runner, another sophomore from Asmussen's talented roster, worked a half-mile in 49.78 seconds Monday morning at Oklahoma ahead of his bid in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on July 31 at Monmouth Park.
Boasting five wins from seven career starts as well as a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, the chestnut son of Candy Ride is exiting a resounding, 5 ¼ length victory in the Grade 3 Matt Winn on June 18 at Churchill Downs and could emerge on the Travers radar depending on the outcome of Sunday's Haskell.
"I think the spacing for the Haskell is good for him," Asmussen noted. "The Matt Winn was six weeks after the Derby and six weeks to the Haskell and I think he's stayed in a very good rhythm. I'm kind of excited about his chances there. I think that with Gun Runner, our performance in the Haskell would have everything to do with that [going to the Travers]."
Rounding out Asmussen's Monday workers are Jerry Durant's 2015 Grade 2 Amsterdam winner Holy Boss, turning in his ultimate work ahead of his bid in Saturday's Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt and breezing an easy four furlongs in 50.71 seconds on the Oklahoma track, while Grade 2 Amsterdam candidate Counterforce worked three furlongs in 37.94.
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Race Me Home, most recently second to Economic Model in the Easy Goer on Belmont Stakes Day, is headed for Saturday's Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy following a sharp half-mile work in :47 3/5 Monday morning.
The Irish-bred son of Oasis Dream, out of the multiple graded stakes winning mare Society Selection, went out shortly before 10 a.m., and was kept well off the rail by exercise rider Laz Gonzalez, as directed by trainer Dale Romans.
"I didn't want to go out right after the break [at 8:45] because there's a lot of traffic and he can get aggressive," explained Romans. "When we went out, I thought the rail might be a little dead so I told him to stay off it.
"I was happy with the way he went," he continued. "I told the rider to go in :48, so that was good, and he galloped out strong."
Race Me Home, purchased for $185,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September sales, was fourth in his first start going 6 ½ furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs in March behind winner Decorated Soldier, who came back to take the Northern Spur at Oaklawn Park. Fourth again in a seven-furlong maiden race at Keeneland, Race Me Home scored his first win by a hard-fought head when stretched out to 1 1/8 miles on May 7 at Churchill Downs.
In the Easy Goer, also at 1 1/8 miles, he rallied from fifth after a bumpy start to finish 1 ½ lengths behind the winner.
"He's always been a horse we thought highly of," said Romans, who last year saddled Keen Ice to upset Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Grade 1 Travers. "I kind of like the spot we're in now. He's been under the radar, improving, and we have nothing to lose."
Romans said Luis Saez, who has been aboard for the colt's two most recent starts, would ride on in Saturday's 1 1/8-mile race.
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Now in his 11th year at Saratoga, trainer Ian Wilkes has gotten off to a strong start with a pair of wins, three second-place finishes and five third-place runners to close out his opening week. Among his winner's was Bird Song in yesterday's third race, a six-furlong allowance, for owner Marylou Whitney.
"Nice, it was good performance," said Wilkes. "A good step forward for the horse and when you win for Marylou and John [Hendrickson] it's tremendous."
In next Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Shuvee Handicap, Wilkes confirmed he would enter 4-year-old filly Sweetgrass. A daughter of Street Sense, last out she won an allowance optional-claiming race on July 1 at Belmont Park. Previous to that race she finished third in the Rags to Riches Invitational on June 10 at Belmont.
"She's training good," said Wilkes. "She needs to train good because the water gets deep."
Multiple graded stakes placed mare Viva Majorca will return to the dirt in her next start, according to Wilkes.
"I will probably run her next month in an unrestricted stakes on the dirt," added Wilkes.
Lastly, Wilkes said that juvenile filly Fun, who ran a solid second in the Grade 3 Schuylerville on opening day, is under strong consideration for the Grade 1, $350,000 Spinaway Stakes on Saturday, September 3 during closing weekend.
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On Sunday, Richard Mettei earned top honors in the Low Roller Challenge presented by NYRA Bets ending the day with a bankroll of $210.70 taking home $930 in prize money. Andy Rehm finished in second with $112.70 in wagers, netting $372 in prize money, and Patti O'Neal in third with $111.20 earned in wagers bringing home $279 in prize money.
The Low Roller Challenge Presented by NYRA Bets gives horseplayers the opportunity to experience tournament play for a nominal fee.
Entry into the contest held on select Saturdays at the NYRA Bets Lounge in the Saratoga Pavilion presented by Time Warner Cable, and on Sundays and Mondays in the Lower Carousel near the Fourstardave Sports Bar is $40 with $30 going towards your live bankroll and $10 towards the prize pool.
Registration for the Low Roller Challenge opens at 11:00am and players are restriced to win, place, and show wagers for the contest.