• Creator and Gun Runner work in company ahead of G1 Travers • Baffert confirms American Freedom, Arrogate for Travers, Hoppertunity possible for G1 Woodward
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Creator and Gun Runner breezed in company on the Saratoga main track on Monday morning, working five furlongs in 1:00.60. Gun Runner, ridden by jockey Florent Geroux, and Creator, with exercise rider Abel Flores aboard, put in what trainer Steve Asmussen said were great efforts as they prepare for possible starts in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 27.
"I thought they worked beautifully," said Asmussen, who was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame on Friday. "I thought we got lucky with the racetrack today to stay on schedule, under good circumstances, to get done what we wanted, when we wanted."
Creator, the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner, is coming off a last-place finish in the Grade 1 Jim Dandy on July 30. Gun Runner, the Grade 2 Risen Star and Louisiana Derby winner, finished fifth in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on July 31. Asmussen said both recent finishes for the 3-year-olds prompted him to work the duo together for the first time.
"It's the first time they worked in company, but off of disappointing races for both of them, I did not want to kid myself how they were doing," he said. "But I was very impressed with the work and they both seemed to come out of it in great shape."
Asmussen said he'll leave the next start for Gettysburg, who finished eighth as the pacesetter in the Belmont, in the hands of owners WinStar Farm. The Pioneerof the Nile colt breezed four furlongs in 50.94 seconds on Sunday on the Oklahoma training track. Gettysburg has been nominated to the Travers.
"He's a talented horse and I thought it was a solid work," Asmussen said.
Ever So Clever, a 2-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly, will make her first stakes start in the Grade 2, $200,000 Adirondack on Friday. Ever So Clever won her debut by an impressive 7 ½-lengths in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Churchill Downs on July 1.
The Adirondack was originally slated to be run on August 13 before severe thunderstorms forced the cancelation of the final six races on the card. Ever So Clever, who originally drew the outside post with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the irons, will be re-entered in the race on Monday.
"I'm thankful they did what I think was the right thing in rescheduling the race because of the storm," said Asmussen. "I probably won't be lucky enough to draw as we did last time, but with that being said, she's a talented filly with a huge future."
* * *
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed this morning that both American Freedom, second in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, and Arrogate, who has beaten older horses in his three most recent starts, are being pointed to the Grade 1 Travers.
American Freedom, the Grade 3 Iowa Derby winner owned by Gary and Mary West, led for most of the Haskell before being overtaken late by the Travers-bound Exaggerator. A $500,000 yearling purchase, the Pulpit colt has three victories this year, including the Sir Barton on May 20 at Pimlico.
Arrogate, for whom Juddmonte Farms paid $560,000 as a yearling, finished third after a slow start in his debut in April going six furlongs at Los Alamitos. He returned in June to break his maiden and win a first-level optional claimer at Santa Anita Park, and most recently was a front-running victor in a second-level optional claimer, all at 1 1/16 miles.
"Arrogate is in a position where he's had enough racing experience to take the big leap," said Baffert. "We feel confident that the 1 ¼ miles is a good distance for him. So far, I like what I've seen, so they are both coming."
The trainer added that multiple graded stakes winner Hoppertunity, who returned from a third-place finish in the Dubai World to finish fourth last out in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, is under serious consideration for the Grade 1, $600,000 Woodward on September 3.
"It's either that or the Pacific Classic," said Baffert who trains the 5-year-old son of Any Given Saturday for Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman. "We'll know more tomorrow."
* * *
Fox Hill Farm's Songbird wrapped up her major preparations for Saturday's Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama with a half-mile breeze Monday morning at Saratoga Race Course.
With her regular exercise rider Edgar Rodriguez aboard and escorted by pony rider Juan Galbes, the undefeated champion took to the main track shortly after the renovation break. The 3-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly kept to her normal routine, visiting the paddock before being turned loose from the pony on the backstretch.
Steadily picking up the pace, Songbird worked four furlongs in 48.49 seconds. NYRA clockers caught her galloping out five furlongs in 1:01.19.
"We just wanted to have a nice, easy half-mile breeze and an easy gallop-out. Edgar did perfect, they basically went 12's. [It was] smooth, in her regular Songbird fashion," said Christina Jelm, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who is expected to arrive later this week.
Last year, Songbird rattled off four straight victories, capped by a four-length score in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies en route to earning Eclipse Award honors as the 2015 Champion Juvenile Filly. Songbird has added another five graded stakes to her resume as a 3-year-old, topped by the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks in April and a 4 ¼-length romp in her East Coast debut in the CCA Oaks.
With wins at distances ranging from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles over four different racetracks, Songbird has collected her nine victories by a total of 47 ¾ lengths and earnings of more than $2.4 million.
* * *
Since being transferred to the care of trainer Tom Morley, Haveyougoneaway, who previously spent the majority of her career in the Midwest, has returned to her New York roots to find success in the Empire State.
Making her first start for Morley, the 5-year-old daughter of Congrats picked up a second-place finish on May 30 at Belmont Park in the Critical Eye Stakes and has gone on to back-to-back wins in the Dancin Renee Stakes at Belmont on July 3 and her first graded stakes victory in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap on July 27.
Adapting to her new surroundings upstate, the stakes-winning filly will be pointed to the Grade 1 $500,000 Ballerina on Travers Day, August 27.
"It's going to be a big ask of her going into a Grade 1, but she's doing really well up here," said Morley. "There aren't too many opportunities for a filly like this in a Grade 1 for the rest of the year and I think the seven-eighths will hit her right between the eyes as well."
Scheduled to become a broodmare after this season, Haveyougoneaway's success on the track has opened up her options for Sequel Racing.
"The owners will make a decision on what they want to do with her at the of the year," added Morley. "Obviously, if she wins the Ballerina you then have to think about the Breeders' Cup and go from there but we're going to take it one step at a time."
* * *
Trainer Chad Brown reported that his Arlington Million Day contingent all returned in good order, including Grade 1 Secretariat winner Beach Patrol, Grade 1 Beverly D heroine Sea Calisi and Noble Beauty, who was placed first following a disqualification in the Grade 3 Pucker Up.
"Fortunately, everyone that traveled to Arlington came back out of each race well," said Brown, who is entering Monday's card nine wins away from 1,000 victories and currently stands as the leading trainer of the Saratoga meet with 22 wins.
Brown reported that Grade 1 Kentucky Derby runner My Man Sam, who worked four furlongs in 48.93 seconds on Friday, will join stablemates Connect and Gift Box in preparations for a start in the Travers following his second-place finish in an allowance race on July 23 at the Spa.
"My Man Sam is now on target for the Travers," said Brown. "I'm not exactly sure when each will work again, but we'll watch the weather and come up with a plan to have all ready and in contention."
* * *
Making her first start for the meet's leading trainer, Chad Brown, Big City Dreamin heads a field of nine 2-year-old fillies entered for the turf in Wednesday's $100,000 Bolton Landing.
The chestnut daughter of Iqbaal began her career under the care of Wesley Ward, breaking her maiden at first asking at Keeneland and then traveling to England, where she finished 16th in the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot. Upon her return, she scored a front-running eight-length victory in an optional claimer over the all-weather track at Presque Isle Downs.
The meet's leading rider, Irad Ortiz, Jr., has the mount aboard the 2-1 morning-line favorite, who drew the rail.
Ward will be represented by Hat Creek Racing's Con Te Partito, making her first start since finishing fourth facing the boys in the Kentucky Juvenile on May 5 at Churchill Downs. Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride Con Te Partito, 8-1 on the morning line, from post position 2.
Expected to attract considerable support is the Christophe Clement-trained Lull, an easy three-length winner of her first start on July 16 over Belmont Park's inner turf. Manny Franco has the return call on Lull, who will leave from post position 7 and was tabbed at 5-2 on the morning line.
Rounding out the field are Inspired Flight, who finished eighth in the Grade 3 Schuylerville on Opening Day after setting fractions of 22.68 ad 44.79; the Steve Asmussen-trained maiden Truthful, second as the favorite in both her starts; The Louisiana-bred Jazz Lady; recent maiden winners Heartspoke and Kissin Cassie, and China Grove, second in the Astoria on June 9 at Belmont and eighth in the Debutante on July 2 at Churchill Downs.
Made Me Shiver will run only if the race is moved to the main track.
* * *
Ben Gowans bested a field of 103 in Sunday's Low-Roller Challenge, presented by NYRA Bets, and walked away from the bi-weekly event with $618 in prize money.
Gowans finished with a final bankroll of $88.60, holding a clear advantage over runner-up Yogi Milos, who picked up $309 in prize money with a $78 final bankroll. Marko Njezic rounded out the top three, with $74.50 in winnings and $103 in prize money.
The Low Roller Challenge allows aspiring handicappers the opportunity to experience the thrill of tournament play for $40, with $30 going towards live bankroll and $10 to the prize pool.
Held in the NYRA Bets Lounge, the Low Roller Challenge convenes every Sunday and Monday, with the exception of Labor Day, as well as a pair of special Saturday events on Alabama Day, August 20, and September 3 on closing weekend. Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. in the Saratoga Pavilion, presented by Time Warner Cable News.