A year in which Starlight Partners learned a lot about its 3-year-old Take the Points ended on a note of mystery last Sunday.
The star of the stable, which is co-owned and managed by Schenectady native Don Lucarelli and Saratoga Springs resident Jack Wolf, finished a disappointing seventh in the Grade I Hollywood Derby at Hollywood Park, a race in which he was the 9-2 co-second choice of the betting public, coming off back-to-back Grade I victories.
Still, Take the Points had a productive 2009, with a record of 3-1-1 and earnings of $565,600 from nine starts that included a 13th place in the Preakness that triggered a calculated move to turf. It proved to be a breakthrough for the son of Even the Score out of the Fred Astaire mare Ginger Ginger, who was fourth in the Grade II Colonial Turf Cup and third in the Grade II Virginia Derby before winning the Secretariat at Arlington Park and the Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park.
“We found out that he’s a very versatile horse and a mentally tough horse,” Lucarelli said on Friday. “It’s just a matter of keeping him happy. And we’d really like to run him in one of the turf races at Saratoga, like the Sword Dancer, although that might be a little long. Personally, I think his best distance is a mile and a sixteenth to a mile and three-sixteenths, although the Secretariat was a mile and a quarter.
“We’ll have no problem spotting races, and he’s been very sound. He hasn’t been back to the farm for anything. This was the first time in a long time he hasn’t done what we wanted.”
Take the Points, trained by Todd Pletcher, appeared to be in good stalking position in fourth under Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado.
He was in the clear in the stretch, but lacked the finishing punch to catch The Usual Q.T., leaving the Starlight camp mystified.
“I wish I knew. You got me,” Lucarelli said. “Todd was perplexed, too. Edgar had him on the backside and felt like he was going to win, no problem. As he turned into the stretch, he did not respond. He scoped good, and his blood work was good, so we don’t know. It’s not like the track bothered him. Maybe it was the lights? I don’t know.
“But he looked great, his coat was never better, so we’re hoping that when we look back, we can just put a line through it, like the Preakness. Maybe he doesn’t like the turf rock-hard.”
Take the Points has been shipped to Florida with most of Starlight’s other top runners.
He’ll stay in training and point toward a return to the track in late January or early February.
Although Take the Points ran nine times in 2009, his races were spaced well enough that he’s not a tired horse. On the contrary, he’s never looked better, Lucarelli said, so they might even take another swipe at the dirt again, which leaves even more options open.
“Oddly enough, he ran a real good [Ragozin] sheet number. God knows what kind of number the winner got,” Lucarelli said. “He just didn’t have the push in the stretch that he needed.
“After the Preakness, Todd felt that, because of the mare’s breeding, it would be good to try him on turf, and sure enough, he was right. This was really the first clunker that he threw in. It’s hard to come up with your ‘A’ game every time. But from the standpoint of earnings, it was something like 700,000, and it seems like he definitely has a future, and maybe we’ll try him on synthetic again. And he’s traveled, when you consider all the miles that horse has had on him.”
Take the Points got the ball rolling for Starlight this year, and the stable gathered even more momentum through the performance of some of its 2-year-olds, in particular the fillies Ailalea and Caminadora.
Lucarelli said he expects Caminadora to be a good turf runner in 2010, and she’ll point toward the Sweetest Chant, a $100,000 one-mile race at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 17.
Ailalea, meanwhile, will train toward the Grade II Forward Gal, a seven-furlong race on the main track for 3-year-old fillies.
“We started out slow, then in the fall we realized we had some 2-year-olds who showed some promise,” Lucarelli said.
Also, Checklist, stakes-placed twice as a 3-year-old, has had some chips removed and has been training well for a return to the track, probably in February at Gulfstream.
Three Day Rush, a recent allowance runner-up at Churchill Downs, has been posted as a 175-1 shot to win the Kentucky Derby, but “he seems to want to sprint,” Lucarelli said, “although he did rate out of the 10 hole at Churchill and came in second. He’ll win something at Gulfstream.”
Starlight also has a well-regarded New York-bred named Slither who recently shipped back to New York and will look for a race.
Just for good measure, a 2-year-old filly named La Vida Vino jointly owned by Barbara Lucarelli, Don’s wife; Laurie Wolf, Jack’s wife; and Barbara Kurtin broke her maiden by seven lengths as the 7-2 favorite in the fifth race at Aqueduct on Friday.
GRADED STAKES CHANGES
Two key stakes races at Saratoga Race Course were affected when the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association announced its list of graded stakes for 2010 on Thursday.
The Alfred G. Vanderbilt was one of 15 races upgraded, and one of three Grade II’s that became Grade I’s.
The Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs have also been upgraded to I.
The Go for Wand at Saratoga was one of five races downgraded from I to II, along with the Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park, the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park, the John C. Mabee Stakes at Del Mar and the Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita Park.
Kodiak Kowboy put an exclamation point on his stakes-studded career last Saturday at Aqueduct, rallying through the stretch to edge Bribon and Vineyard Haven in the Grade I Cigar Mile.
The 4-year-old son of Posse, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, settled in fourth along the inside as Vineyard Haven, part of the favored entry with Pyro, dueled with Driven by Success through fractions of :23.69 and :46.80. With Bribon taking over midway through the stretch, Bridgmohan angled Kodiak Kowboy to the outside and he responded with a strong late kick to surge into the lead inside the sixteenth pole and win by three-quarters of a length.
The victory marked the third Grade I of the year for Kodiak Kowboy, who won the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct in April while trained by Larry Jones and the Vosburgh at Belmont Park in October for Asmussen.
With career earnings of $1,668,529 and a record of 11-4-3 from 23 starts, Kodiak Kowboy is a six-time graded stakes winner, including victories at Saratoga in the Grade II Saratoga Special in 2007 and the Grade II Amsterdam as a 3-year-old in 2008.
Bribon, who was bidding to become the first horse to win Belmont Park’s Grade I Met Mile and the Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile in a single year, finished a head in front of Vineyard Haven, who in turn was followed by Vacation, Pyro and Driven by Success.
AROUND THE TRACKS
Lentenor, a full brother to Barbaro, was second in the third race at Aqueduct last Saturday. Under Jose Lezcano and running in the familiar Lael Stable silks, Lentenor bobbled at the break, encountered traffic on the turn and finished well for second behind long shot On Vacation. On Vacation is co-owned by Queensbury-based Preferred Pals Stable, Bethlehem Stable, Brous Stable and Wachtel Stable. . . .
Grade I winner Macho Again, owned in part by Roger and Joyce Locks of Saratoga Springs through West Point, has been returned to Fair Grounds to be freshened for the second year in a row by trainer Dallas Stewart. Macho Again finished the 2009 campaign with a ninth in the Clark last weekend. He used Fair Grounds as a springboard for a season that included a win in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs and second place finishes at Saratoga in the Whitney to long shot Bullsbay and the Woodward to Rachel Alexandra. . . .
Friesan Fire was third to Good and Lucky in an allowance optional claimer at Fair Grounds on Thursday, his first start since the Preakness, and first for Asmussen, in a high-level optional claiming race on Thursday at Fair Grounds. Victories at Fair Grounds in the Lecomte, Risen Star and Louisiana Derby made Friesan Fire a slight favorite in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished 18th of 19. He was 10th in the Preakness. . . .
Unplaced on the dirt at Saratoga and Belmont Park, The Mailet became a graded stakes winner last Sunday when she shipped to Hollywood Park for trainer Bruce Levine and rolled past four opponents in the final quarter mile to win the Grade III Miesque Stakes. She had broken her maiden at 43-1 in her turf debut at Belmont on Oct. 22, then continued her grass success in the Miesque.