• Songbird confirmed for G1 Personal Ensign • Oscar Performance targets G1 Joe Hirsch after Secretariat win
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -Fox Hill Farm's Songbird will make her much anticipated return to Saratoga Race Course in the Grade 1, $700,000 Personal Ensign on Travers Day, August 26, as announced by Fox Hill Farm on social media following the 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro's five-furlong breeze in 1:01 early Sunday morning at Del Mar.
"We are definitely running," said owner Rick Porter by phone. "I want to run at Saratoga. It's my favorite track to run at and I think it's the right race for her anyway: the timing is right, the purse is right, and she's run well there."
Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, the two-time Eclipse Award winner posted back-to-back victories at the Spa last summer with a 5 ¼-length win in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at the Personal Ensign's 1 1/8-mile distance and a seven-length romp in the 1 ¼-mile, Grade 1 Alabama.
This time around, Songbird could face a formidable cast of older fillies and mares, including top Personal Ensign nominees Forever Unbridled, exiting a victory in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis, and recent Shine Again winner Carina Mia, among others.
"We're going to hook Forever Unbridled, Carina Mia, and whoever else is coming, so it's not going to be a pushover race," Porter said. "But according to Mr. Hollendorfer, she couldn't be doing any better. She worked in 1:01 and they gave her a 'breezing,' which is pretty hard to get at Del Mar. Jerry said she went around the track like she was just jogging around."
Songbird owns 13 wins from 14 career starts for earnings in excess of $4.5 million. She was handed the only defeat of her career by three-time champion Beholder by a nose in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff and returned this season with a pair of Grade 1 wins in the Ogden Phipps on June 10 at Belmont Park and, most recently, a one-length win in the Delaware Handicap on July 15.
"I asked Jerry the other day to compare her to how she was a week or two before the Breeders' Cup and he said, 'I got to tell you, Rick, she is better than she's ever been. These two races have just got her in the position where she couldn't be more fit,'" said Porter. "If it weren't for that whisker, she'd be undefeated, but she's still something special." * * *
Oscar Performance came out of Saturday's win in the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington in fine order and could be targeting the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic on September 30 at Belmont Park, trainer Brian Lynch said.
Lynch was at Arlington Heights, Illinois to watch Oscar Performance capture his third straight win, all against graded stakes company. After winning the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational last month at 1 ¼ miles on the inner turf, the 3-year-old son of Kitten's Joy posted a 2 ¼-length score in the Secretariat.
"When the past performances came out and we visualized how the race would play out, it went to plan for a change," Lynch said with a laugh. "I figured Sonic Boom was going to be the pace and I was confident we could sit off him. I didn't think the Euros, even if though they are forwardly placed over there, would be as close as our speed is over here."
Lynch, who was back at Saratoga Sunday morning, said a return trip to Belmont is in the works to set up a possible start in the Grade 1, $4 million Longines Breeders' Cup Turf in November at Del Mar.
"I'd say the Joe Hirsch is on the radar and I think if we were to speculate what race we would go in the Breeders' Cup, it would be the mile and a half on the turf," he said. "He's shown that he can go long now and he can quicken when he needs to, so I think the Turf will be where we end up."
Oscar Performance put in his last breeze before the Secretariat on the Oklahoma turf training track in Saratoga before shipping west. Owned by Amerman Racing, the Kentucky homebred has six wins from nine starts, including a victory in last year's Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge on June 3 at Belmont.
"He's a resilient little guy and he likes his job," Lynch said.
Lynch said Unchained Melody has been training well up to the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama on August 19, putting in a five-furlong breeze on the Saratoga main track Friday with stablemate Meantime. The duo was clocked in 1:01.78.
Meantime is also scheduled to run against allowance company on August 19 in his first start off a freshening following an eighth-place finish in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 10.
After posting three wins in four starts, including victories at six furlongs and 1 1/16 miles, Unchained Melody will be stretching out to the Alabama distance of 1 1/4 miles.
"She had a nice work the other day with Meantime, who is back on schedule to run the same day," Lynch said. "I had her sit off Meantime a little bit just in case someone tried to go with her so she can learn to relax, because she's going the farthest she's ever gone. I thought it was a good work, it'll be interesting to see how she shapes up against that group. She needed to get over this track to get used to going a mile and a quarter."
Meantime had been working on the Belmont Park training track before arriving in Saratoga in early August. He has since put in two five-furlong workouts on the main track at the Spa, including the last work where he breezed from the gate.
"He hadn't been out there in a while, and one of his assets is he has a big early speed and I want him to leave the gates clean, and also I wanted to school [Unchained Melody] up a little bit," Lynch said. "I just wanted to regroup with him off the Belmont. You never get an easy spot around here, but it'll be hopefully a good comeback spot for him and get him back on the right track."
Loose On the Town returned to stakes company with a second-place finish in Friday's Tale of the Cat. Lynch said the 5-year-old son of Speighstown, who finished just a head behind Stallwalkin' Dude, will likely target the $100,000 Lucky Coin at 5 ½ furlongs on the turf September 1.
"He came out of it good and I thought he ran a bang up race and just got unlucky there," Lynch said. "There is nothing to be embarrassed about [getting beat by] Stallwalkin' Dude. [We had] the one hole and I think if the roles had been reversed and we drew outside, it might have been a head-bob difference. But the good thing I learned from that race was that he fits that company. He's a versatile horse." * * *
Live Oak Plantation's World Approval was in good condition Sunday morning following his 2 ¼-length victory in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap over the yielding inner turf at Saratoga, said Norm Casse, assistant trainer to his father, Mark.
The win was the first at a mile for the Northern Afleet gelding, who boasts victories from 1 1/16 miles to 1 3/8 miles, the distance at which he won the 2016 United Nations by 1 ¼ lengths.
"He looks really good this morning. I'm just happy to get another Grade 1 win with him and probably more importantly, winning at a mile," said Casse. "Yesterday, it was a big question about what he would do at a mile distance, and he obviously loved it and now that opens up a lot of different avenues for us."
The victory was the ninth from 22 career starts for World Approval, who kicked off his 5-year-old season with back-to-back stakes wins in the April 2 Turf Classic at Tampa Bay Downs and the Grade 2 Dixie at Pimlico Race Course on May 20 before finishing fifth in the 1 ¼-mile Grade 1 Manhattan.
"He was doing really well before the Manhattan, but the Manhattan is just too far for him against those type of quality horses," Casse said. "Then you go back and you see that he won a Grade 1 going a mile and three-eighths, but it wasn't that tough for him and he had everything go his way. I always thought that a mile was going to be his best distance, because he's tactical enough to sit relatively close and he's fast, so he can finish with a big kick and that's what you need. I'm glad we got the opportunity to see that and we have a lot to look forward to."
Reiterating the connections' post-race comments on Saturday, Casse said World Approval will be considered for the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile on September 16, which the Casse stable won last year with two-time grass champion mare Tepin. The Woodbine Mile is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile on November 4 at Del Mar.
"We would love the opportunity to go back to Woodbine and attempt to win the Woodbine Mile again," said Casse. "It's our home track and that's their marquee race. [We will] probably just try to figure out the best way to get him into the Breeders' Cup Mile. Like I said, the most important thing that came out of yesterday is knowing what to do with him from here on out, and that's keeping him at the mile." * * *
Fern Circle Stables' Oskar Blues may make the jump to graded stakes company off Saturday's gutsy debut victory at odds of 33-1, trainer Ken McPeek said Sunday morning.
"Likely the Hopeful," McPeek said of the possible next step for Oskar Blues, a chestnut son of champion sprinter Speightstown. The Grade 1, $350,000 Hopeful at seven furlongs will be run on Labor Day, September 4 - closing day of Saratoga's summer meet.
McPeek's assistant, Ken McAllister, reported Oskar Blues was doing well out of his hard-fought nose triumph over Airtouch, a well-regarded first-timer trained by Todd Pletcher.
"The horse came out great. He came back and ate all his feed, walked around no problem, drank all his water. We walked him again this morning and he's doing great," McAllister said. "He's a good horse. You never know with the 2-year-olds. Kenny was really pleased with him. He said he thought he was probably not even at 100 percent and he still won."
Oskar Blues dueled heads apart with Airtouch from the outset through fractions of 22.92 and 45.84 seconds and 1:10.77, digging in late to win a head bob at the wire after going seven furlongs in 1:23.99.
"The good ones, they know. He was in a battle and he fought all the way to the wire," McAllister said. "We're excited about him, there's no doubt about it, and he beat a good horse."
Purchased for $350,000 as a yearling last July, Oskar Blues was ridden by Dylan Davis, whose girlfriend, Sara Rowland, gave birth to the couple's first child, son Michael Dylan, Saturday morning. Davis picked up the mount when travel issues prevented jockey Robby Albarado from getting to Saratoga in time for the race.
"Dylan, what an amazing ride," McAllister said. "It was a great day. Dylan has the baby at 8:30 in the morning and then we go out there and get that. They don't draw it up much better." * * *
With one winner and a second-place finish from four starts on Saturday's card, reigning top Spa trainer Chad Brown kept pace by the end the day to remain tied atop the trainer standings with Todd Pletcher with 22 wins. Out of town at Arlington Park, however, Brown's outfit picked up a pair of Grade 1s with Beach Patrol capturing the Arlington Million and Dacita winning the Beverly D.
"They [Dacita and Beach Patrol] were supposed to fly back today, but there were mechanical problems with the plane so they were grounded in Chicago," said Brown. "They each have come out of the race fine so far. When we get them back here and in their normal routine, we'll evaluate as they get back on the track and go from there. I'm not sure of where we might go next. I didn't look beyond this weekend of races for any of these horses."
With Beach Patrol Earning his first victory of the year in the Arlington Million, Brown was pleased the Lemon Drop Kid colt was finally able to get a clean trip to display his ability after starting the year with a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap, a second in the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in May, and a fourth-place finish in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan on June 10 at Belmont Park. Last out, he finished third in the United Nations on July 1 at Monmouth Park.
"He got a really good ride from Joel [Rosario] and a good trip," said Brown. "That's the trip we were looking for and he showed his heart and his fight in the lane like he always does."
The 4-year-old Irish-bred Off Limits came out of her half-length win for owner Martin S. Schwartz in Saturday's eighth race, a 1 1/16-mile allowance on the turf, in good shape and is likely to step up in competition next time out, said Brown.
"She really ran well," he said. "She's earned her spot in a graded stakes somewhere next time out. I'm not sure where or when yet, however."
Brown also reported that Juddmonte Farms' Time Test, who finished second in Saturday's Grade 1 Fourstardave, exited the race in fine order but his trainer added that he was still looking for more from the British-bred 5-year-old, who picked up his third consecutive second-place finish in a graded stakes since arriving from Europe.
"He got a good trip," said Brown. "I thought the winner ran terrific, but our horse was probably compromised by the ground. He didn't switch leads in the lane much like he did in his first start for me in the Fort Marcy on heavy turf and it's just not for him."
Lastly, Brown reported multiple graded stakes winner Timeline is doing well at Belmont Park and will likely point towards the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby on September 23, while Cloud Computing remains possible for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers presented by NYRA Bets and Practical Joke is on target for the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens. * * *
The Jimmy Toner-trained turf trio of stakes winners Time and Motion and Hunter O'Riley and Grade 3-placed Defiant Honor exited Saturday breezes in good order as they continue preparations for upcoming Spa stakes.
Time and Motion and Defiant Honor worked five furlongs together in 1:02.03 while Hunter O'Riley was timed in 49.98 seconds for a half-mile, all over the Oklahoma training turf course.
The 4-year-old filly Time and Motion, who used a win in last summer's Grade 2 Lake Placid as a springboard to Grade 1 success in the Queen Elizabeth II Handicap that fall, most recently ran third in the Grade 3 Modesty July 8 at Arlington Park. Toner said she will stay home and run in the Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa August 26.
Defiant Honor is coming off a sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Lake George July 21, Saratoga's opening day, and is being pointed to the $100,000 Riskaverse for 3-year-old fillies at one mile August 24.
"Everything went well. Time and Motion and Defiant Honor went together. They worked very nice and finished up very well together so I was pleased with that breeze," Toner said. "Time and Motion ... there was a question of going back for [Saturday's] Beverly D, but we thought it was a better option to stay here and run in the Ballston Spa. Defiant Honor went very nicely and she's going to run in the Riskaverse. We're good to go with her."
Hunter O'Riley became a stakes winner for the first time with a come-from-behind neck victory over Bigger Picture at odds of 16-1 in the Grade 2 Bowling Green July 29 at Saratoga. He finished third in the Gio Ponti at Aqueduct and H. Allen Jerkens at Gulfstream Park to cap his 2016 campaign.
"It was a huge effort from him. I was so thrilled for him and everybody because he's such a hard trier and he gives you everything he's got every time he runs," Toner said. "He's had something come up or the pace isn't right or you lose ground or something or another, but he never quits trying."
Toner said the Grade 1, $1 million Longines Sword Dancer on August 26, a 'Win and You're In' race for the Breeders' Cup Turf, would be next for Hunter O'Riley.
"Hunter O'Riley couldn't be doing any better. He breezed a nice half yesterday and right now we're scheduled for the Sword Dancer," he said. "I was hesitant whether to run him or not but it sounds like it might be the same group of horses so we'll take a shot at it." * * *
Pure Silver came out of her graded stakes debut in good order, trainer Todd Pletcher said a day after the juvenile filly romped to a 9 ½-length victory in the Grade 2 Adirondack.
The Mission Impazible filly was fractious in the gate but steadied under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, opening up a sizable lead in the stretch against an eight-horse field for the 6 ½-furlong sprint. Pletcher said the Twin Creeks Farm homebred could target the Grade 1, $350,000 Spinaway on September 2.
"Pure Silver came back very well. She seemed bright, alert and happy," Pletcher said. "We'll evaluate how she trains and I think based on how well she ran yesterday, we'll have to give the Spinaway some serious consideration."
The Spinaway, contested at seven furlongs, earns the winner a guaranteed entry into the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in November at Del Mar.
Stainless stumbled badly at the break and fell behind by almost eight lengths at the start. Under jockey Manny Franco, Stainless chased off the inside and rallied to finish fourth in her first start since a third-place effort in the Grade 3 Schuylerville on Saratoga's Opening Day, July 21.
"Overall, she's in good shape except for a few scratches, scrapes and grabs, but they're all pretty superficial," Pletcher said. "She is fine; it's just what you would expect when she got off to a start like she did. I thought that despite that she ran very well."
Pletcher also reported that American Patriot came out of his sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Fourstardave in good order. The 4-year-old son of War Front struggled with the yielding inner turf track as heavy rain preceded the race.
"He came back fine; unfortunately, he hated the ground and he slipped behind leaving there and just couldn't get on track," Pletcher said. "The whole thing went awry when the skies opened."
Clipthecouponannie will be entered in the $100,000 Union Avenue for state-bred fillies and mares 3-years-old and up at 6 ½ furlongs on August 17.
"She's good, she's training well and we decided to wait for the New York-bred race," Pletcher said. * * *
Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito said Sunday morning that Mossarosa's Giuseppe the Great remains on target for Saratoga's marquee event for 3-year-olds, the Grade 1 Travers at 1¼ miles on August 26.
Giuseppe the Great worked for the first time on Thursday since finishing second to Good Samaritan in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 29 at Saratoga. The son of Lookin At Lucky breezed four furlongs over the Oklahoma training track in 49.87 seconds.
"He's doing great," Zito said. "We'll see what happens. The thing is that he at least has a race over the track. It was very good. No matter how you look at it, that was a gallant effort."
Since his maiden win at Keeneland in April, Giuseppe the Great has been tested and has shown improvement in three consecutive graded stakes races, finishing second to American Anthem in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens and fourth to Practical Joke in the Grade 3 Dwyer prior to his Jim Dandy effort.
"He always tries," Zito said. "The good thing about him is he fits, he belongs. He has developed into a nice horse. He's a wonderful horse. I love him. We're lucky."
While Giuseppe the Great has been galloping over the Oklahoma track each morning, Zito said the colt will likely have another work either Thursday or Friday. * * *
Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables and Gary Aisquith's multiple stakes winner Royal Posse tuned up for a possible start in the $100,000 Evan Shipman for New York-breds August 21 with a sharp five-furlong breeze Sunday morning.
Under jockey Kevin Navarro, Royal Posse was timed in 1:00.22 over the Oklahoma training track, second-fastest of 16 horses at the distance. Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said he got the 6-year-old gelding in 1:13 for six furlongs and out seven furlongs in 1:28.
"He went very nice. I really liked the way he went," Rodriguez said. "We put some bar shoes on him because one of his feet was bothering him a little bit after his last race. He's been training good and he looks good.
"That was a very good work for me to see him do that," he added. "I think the track was a little fast. I worked another horse in 48 [seconds] and I didn't expect that horse to go in 48. It was good."
Royal Posse had his four-race win streak at Saratoga snapped when seventh in an optional claiming allowance July 23. He is 5-for-8 lifetime at the Spa with one second, winning the Evan Shipman in 2015 and 2016 and the Alydar in 2016.
Claimed for $20,000 May 31, 2015 at Belmont Park, Royal Posse has eight wins and six seconds in his first 14 starts for Rodriguez, capped by a second straight victory in the Claiming Crown Jewel in December that put him over $1 million in career earnings. He has earned $704,875 in purses since being claimed, but is 0-for-5 in 2017 with a third in the Flat Out May 7.
In addition to the Evan Shipman at the 1 1/8 miles Royal Posse relishes, Rodriguez is considering returning the son of Posse to the claiming ranks for the first time since he joined the trainer's barn. He said there is a race for a $40,000 tag the same weekend as the Evan Shipman.
"I thought he was too close to the pace [last time], but maybe he's tailing off a little bit, too. We'll probably give him another chance, or we may run him for [$40,000]," Rodriguez said. "Maybe we lose him, but it's part of the game. He's made a lot of money for us. If they don't claim him and he doesn't run good, maybe we just retire him. I think for 40 he will still be very competitive.
"Maybe he needs a little pick-me-up," he added. "He's hasn't told us that he can't run; we just have to pick the right spot. I want to see if we can win with him again. He's been so good to us." * * *
Monday's $100,000 Saratoga Dew will feature a rare match up between siblings, with half-sisters Jc's Shooting Star and Jcs American Dream set to square off in the day's feature race for New York-bred fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles.
Jcs American Dream, a 6-year-old mare by Catienus, and Jc's Shooting Star, a 5-year-old by Miracle Man, are both out of the Quiet American dam American Passage and were both bred in the Empire State by Miracle Man Racing Partners LLC, managed by Jeff Pearl, the breeding operation behind Pearl's ownership group Shooting Star Stable.
Shooting Star owns David Donk-trained Jc's Shooting Star and campaigned Jcs American Dream through four seasons of racing before she was claimed in December 2015 by James Riccio and sent to trainer Michelle Nevin.
The mares represent the first foray into the breeding business for the owners, an endeavor that began with a $50,000 claim at Saratoga in August 2007. Pearl and a few partners claimed Miracle Man that summer, a 5-year-old stakes-placed son of Yankee Victor, but an injury ended his racing career two starts later and the partners had to come up with Plan B.
"We got into this business almost by accident," said Pearl. "We had claimed a horse to run and when he wasn't going to run anymore, we were asking ourselves, 'Well, what're we going to do with him?' We really liked his breeding so my two partners and I decided to keep him and breed him.
"The first crop wasn't that good," he said. "We were sort of at the mercy of whoever would give us mares, so we decided to go out and purchase a few mares. We had big thoughts but short pockets."
One of the mares they bought was American Passage, in foal to Catienus, for a bargain price of $1,700 at the 2010 Keeneland breeding stock sale.
"She was a very good investment," said Pearl. "She was an older mare, like 16, and she was in foal to Jcs American Dream at the time. I bought the mare to breed to Miracle Man and that's Jc's Shooting Star, who's been really good. It's been a real eye-opener and the New York-bred program has just been great."
Jc's Shooting Star, who drew the rail in the Saratoga Dew and has been installed as the 5-2 second-choice, and Jcs American Dream, drawing post 2 and 3-1 on the morning line, have gone on to amass combined earnings of more than $700,000.
Looking for her first win since an optional claiming race on the turf in May of 2016 at Belmont, Jc's Shooting Star broke her maiden at the Spa in the 2015 $200,000 Fleet Indian for New York-breds and finished third in last year's Saratoga Dew. Overall, she's finished in the money in 17 of her 27 career starts, which have come on both turf and dirt.
"She's only got three wins but she's raced through a lot of bad luck," Pearl said. "The last time she was on the dirt on a dry track was when she ran in last year's Saratoga Dew, but she loves Saratoga. We always thought she'd be really good. Miracle Man passed away a couple of years ago and the reason we bought her [dam] was to breed to our stallion; unfortunately, this is the only one we got, but she's by far been our best horse."