An NBC crew arrived at the Oklahoma training track at 4:45 a.m. on Thursday “to catch the sunrise,” one of the workers said, while shooting a promo for the upcoming Saratoga Race Course meet.
It was unclear whether the sun actually ever did rise, as the sky remained gray all day, and the track was still muddy from torrential rain the night before.
The symbolism was inescapable, as Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito talked about how muddy the 3-year-old division is right now, and things didn’t get any clearer a day later.
After gushing about Dialed In’s recent workout and how he would be cranking up for the Jim Dandy and Travers, Zito on Friday released a statement that his Florida Derby winner will have surgery next week on a chip in his right knee, and will be taken out of training indefinitely.
“Dialed In will be out of training for awhile,” the statement read. “He has a chip in the right knee. We noticed there was something different with the knee. Dr. Migliacci took some pictures, X-rays, on the 25th of May, which was after the Preakness, and there was no problem, but there is now. Dr. Bramlage will do the surgery next week, and [Dialed In] will be back in training soon.
“[Owner] Bob LaPenta and I, and all my staff, were looking forward to the Travers. Unfortunately, that will not happen. I am grateful that he was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and ran in the Preakness for the $5 million bonus. But I am disappointed, along with Bob, that he did not get a fair chance in those races. Hopefully, as a 4-year-old, he will get back to where he belongs.”
Dialed In had his first published workout at the Oklahoma last Saturday following a fourth in the May 21 Preakness.
After Animal Kingdom finished sixth in the Belmont Stakes, sustaining a minor injury during a bumping incident a few strides out of the gate, the 3-year-old colts are without a clearcut leader, putting even more importance on the Aug. 27 Travers at Saratoga.
Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner-up Animal Kingdom technically is still at the top of the 3-year-olds, but he’s on shaky ground.
The left hind injury will likely keep him out of training through the end of the month, which Team Valor managing partner Barry Irwin said will likely eliminate the possibility of a summer campaign, putting Animal Kingdom in catch-up mode in the fall.
In the final National Thoroughbred Racing Association 3-year-old poll, Animal Kingdom was first, but Preakness winner Shackleford and Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice are right there, and the points are spread all over the place.
Even the filly Plum Pretty, who is entered in the Grade II Hollywood Oaks today but may not run because she spiked a temperature on Monday, shows up at sixth, just behind Dialed In, who was fourth in the Preakness.
Besides the usual attrition due to injury, Animal Kingdom’s Belmont fiasco has thrown the division into disarray. Ruler On Ice is third, based on just one career stakes win, the Belmont, as a 24-1 long shot.
“It’s up in the air,” Zito said on Thursday. “You start from January, from Uncle Mo to To Honor and Serve, The Factor, Boys At Tosconova, you can go on and on.”
Little did Zito know at the time, but by the following morning, “on and on” would include Dialed In, too.
Fillies in spotlight
It’s an important day for 3-year-old fillies, with graded stakes at three tracks — the Grade I Mother Goose at Belmont Park, the Hollywood Oaks and the Grade III Boiling Springs at Monmouth Park.
With Plum Pretty stuck on the West Coast and Black-Eyed
Susan winner Royal Delta suffering a bruised foot, the Mother Goose came up relatively light.
That makes two-time graded-stakes winner Joyful Victory, from the familiar connections of trainer Larry Jones and Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm, the obvious 9-5 morning-line favorite, but the consistent Buster’s Ready has a big chance to enhance her resume.
She’s been in the money in her last six starts, including a second to Royal Delta in the Black-Eyed Susan, but will be making just her third stakes start.
“There’s two major defections in the race, so it kind of came up a little easier than we had anticipated, but all that being said, it’s still a Grade I, and there’s nice fillies in there,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “She seems to be on a steady improve. Her last race was her best race, so if she keeps moving forward, I feel like she’s in there with a chance.”
The Mother Goose has drawn a field of seven that also includes Salty Strike, who has won her last two starts by almost 11 lengths, most recently the Grade III Dogwood at Churchill Downs.
Royal Delta would’ve been a major player in here, but she hurt her foot last weekend and will point toward the two major 3-year-old filly stakes at Saratoga, the July 23 Coaching Club American Oaks and Aug. 20 Alabama.
Buster’s Ready was 21⁄2 lengths behind her in the Black-Eyed Susan.
“It was a Grade II, a step up in class, and she kept digging in to the end,” Pletcher said.
Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty had been nominated to the Mother Goose, but Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert kept her in California when she came down with the temperature.
He said that she may not even start in the Hollywood Oaks, depending on how she looks this morning.
That would reduce the field to four and make Las Virgenes winner Zazu, 1-2-1 in four graded stakes this year, a prohibitive favorite.
The 10-filly field for the highly competitive Boiling Springs includes 7-2 favorite Artisanal, owned by Schenectady native Don Lucarelli and Jack Wolf of Saratoga Springs, the managing partners of Starlight Racing.
Artisanal is on a nice little roll, having broken her maiden in March at Gulfstream Park, then following up with an allowance win and a victory in the listed Little Silver at Monmouth Park on May 29.
The ultra-consistent Morning Line had a productive work for Zito at the Oklahoma last week, and he’ll point toward the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga on Aug. 6.
He breezed five furlongs in 1:01.77 last Thursday.
Zito said Morning Line will probably run in an overnight stakes at Belmont next weekend as a Whitney prep.
“Absolutely, we want to get a race at Belmont, and we’ll go from there,” Zito said. “He looked good. I was happy about him.”
In 10 career starts, Morning Line, second to Dakota Phone in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, has finished worse than second just twice, a fourth in his career debut in 2009, and a third in the Grade III Hal’s Hope in January.
Since then, the 2010 Pennsylvania Derby winner was second to Giant Oak in the Donn Handicap and won the Grade I Carter at Aqueduct.
Sidney’s Candy could make his first start since coming to Pletcher’s barn in the Whitney, but Pletcher said the future is still unclear for the 2010 Santa Anita Derby winner, who was on a tear in California last year before finishing 17th in the Kentucky Derby.
He had his first official workout for Pletcher last Sunday, 49.73 at Belmont.
“We’re just kind of getting to know him,” Pletcher said. “I’d say the Whitney is on the radar screen.”
Also possible for the Whitney is Met Mile winner Tizway, who worked four furlongs in 49.48 at the Oklahoma on Wednesday.
As usual, Mechanicville native Chad Brown has horses dropped in stakes races all over the map this weekend, including three in Toronto for Woodbine’s big Queen’s Plate program.
Today, he’ll saddle Zagora against 7-5 favorite Hibaayeb the New York at a mile and a quarter on the Belmont inner turf on the Mother Goose undercard. Walker’s Landing is the 9-5 favorite in the listed Charlie Barley at Woodbine, and Kid Kate is the 4-1 third choice behind Tar Heel Mom and Indian Legend in the Sweet and Sassy at Delaware Park.
On Sunday, Brown has Silver Timber in the Highlander on the Grade I Queen’s Plate undercard and Bowman’s Causeway in the big race, making his second start out of Brown’s barn since being purchased by Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs.
Bowman’s Causeway, last of eight in the Florida Derby before sold by Martin Schwartz, is the 6-1 fourth choice behind Check Your Soul, Queen’splatekitten and the filly Inglorious, and will break from post No. 16 in the field of 17.
Zagora has been steady in stakes since coming to the U.S. from France, at 0-2-1 from three starts, the last two of which were with Brown training.
She was second by a neck to Denomination in the Hillsborough at Tampa Bay and third to Never Retreat in the Grade II Jenny Wiley at Keeneland.
“She’s a nice filly. Both the races for me have been OK, so far. She’s been knocking on the door, and I like this spot,” Brown said.
“She doesn’t really have to do anything different. The first race, off the layoff, she hadn’t run in little awhile, and she got kind of a wide trip. I think the winner got a beautiful trip, just outtripped her, so I’ll chalk the Hillsborough up to she didn’t get a kind trip there. She actually ran a better Rag [Ragozin] number than the winner, so she actually ran a little wide and things didn’t work out for her.
“The other race, at Keeneland, I think it was just a little too short for her in distance. I really didn’t have another option where to run her. The track was quite yielding, and she was too far back. Was she going to win the race? Probably not, but she could’ve been a little closer on the wire if she was laying a little closer.” The mile-and-a-quarter of the New York should suit Zagora, Brown said, and a soft turf shouldn’t be a hindrance.
“I don’t want heavy going, but if there’s a little cut in the ground or it’s a little on the soft side, I’m not going to be worried about it,” he said.
Walker’s Landing is favored in the Charlie Barley off a second to Queen’splatekitten in the Marine at Woodbine and an allowance win at Belmont.
Bug Juice favored
Bug Juice, the New York-bred 2-year-old champion owned by Saratoga Springs’ Neal Galvin of Our Blue Streaks Stable, is the slight 2-1 favorite for today’s Mike Lee at Belmont, the first leg of the Big Apple Triple.
A two-time stakes winner at Finger Lakes last year, Bug Juice opened his 3-year-old season with a third in the Tom Ridge at Presque Isle Downs on May 18.
“I thought it was a good race,” trainer Bruce Levine told the New York Racing Association. “I’m not sure about seven-eighths or how far he wants to go. We’ll see if he gets the seven, and if he does, we’ll try stretching him out.”
BACK IN BUSINESS
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Racing resumed Friday at Kentucky’s famed Churchill Downs racetrack, home of the Kentucky Derby, two days after a tornado caused damage to the barn area and forced the track to cancel racing.
Fans began arriving at 4 p.m. for “Downs After Dark,” the Louisville track’s popular nighttime racing series. Track officials had canceled Thursday’s day racing after a tornado Wednesday evening damaged several barns and forced up to 100 horses to be moved.
Additional races will be added to next week’s programs to make up the nine races lost from Thursday’s card, track officials said.
The tornado had estimated wind speeds of up to 105 mph as it hit the track before later strengthening to as much as 120 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Seven barns were significantly damaged, as was the chapel on the backside of the facility. No injuries to humans or horses were reported.
Around the tracks
Pletcher said Starlight Racing’s Hilda’s Passion is doing well and is ready for her next start, perhaps in the seven-furlong Bed o’ Roses next Sunday at Belmont.
“We’re just waiting to see the weights,” he said.
Hilda’s Passion is 5-2-0 from seven stakes starts, and just romped in the Grade II Vagrancy at Belmont three weeks ago. . . .
An interesting stakes card at Prairie Meadows carries some star power, with West Point Thoroughbreds’ Awesome Gem the 3-1 favorite against 10 in the Grade III Cornhusker, and Astrology the 9-5 favorite in the Iowa Derby in his first start since finishing third in the Preakness.
The Grade I winner Awesome Gem is 8-13-5 for earnings of just over $2.5 million from 43 lifetime starts and is 4-8-4 in 30 graded stakes.
The 8-year-old gelded son of Awesome Again is coming off a win in the Grade III Lone Star Handicap. . . .
Jerry Hissam, agent to Calvin Borel, told the Evansville Courier-Press that the jockey will not be coming to Saratoga this summer, and will ride at Ellis Park instead. . . .
Last Sunday, the day after the death of Clarence Clemons, saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, E Street Shuffle won the third race at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. . . .
Gantry set a Belmont Park inner-turf course record on Thursday, covering six furlongs in 1:06.87 to win race 8, a $52,000 optional claimer for 3-year-olds and up.
The gelded son of Pulpit trained by Mike Hushion was making his 4-year-old debut and turf debut.
Santa Anita, again
Santa Anita will once again work on its main track and will be shut down for as long as two weeks, beginning on July 11.
The repairs will include adding sand to a track that was reconverted to traditional dirt from a hybrid synthetic track.
Track officials believe that 15 inches of rain this winter washed away enough sand to give the track a clay-heavy composition.
According to the California Horse Racing Board, there were 19 equine fatalities during racing and training over the course of the winter/spring meet.