SARATOGA SPRINGS — Tax looked like he wanted to return. To the track, that is.
He blasted four furlongs in 47.33 over the main track with regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons Friday morning, then was frisky in the walking ring afterward, showing no signs that he had just fired a bullet workout.
“C’mere, monster,” said one of trainer Danny Gargan’s barn workers, attaching a lead shank to his right cheek so he’d have a second hot walker to keep things under control.
It was exactly the type of training performance Gargan wanted to see in the final serious tuneup for next Saturday’s $1.25 million Travers Stakes.
The Jim Dandy winner ran the fastest half-mile on the main track out of 63 works Friday, giving Gargan and Ortiz every indication that Tax will be a handful, no matter who shows up in the Travers.
“Man, he’s just doing so good right now,” Ortiz said. “He worked really, really good, and just keep your fingers crossed.
“He did it so easy and breezed really fast. I asked him, because you want to work him, and the last little bit he went really well and kept galloping out. He came back like nothing.”
“Irad’s really excited,” Gargan said. “He says he’s getting stronger and bigger and faster, so we’re happy with what he’s doing. It seems he’s blossoming at the right time, and he loves it up here. He was bucking and squealing coming off the track. It was a big-time work.”
Besides the fast half-mile, Tax galloped out in 1:00 for five furlongs and 1:12 4/5 for six, after Gargan had asked Ortiz for 1:13, “so that’s pretty perfect by Irad.”
“We tucked him behind a horse, and then he got some other company in the middle of it, and he went to the rail and went right about his business,” Gargan said. “So I was really happy. I got a little nervous when Chad’s horse started running at him loose. That scared me for a minute on the gallop-out.
“But, no, as you can see, he looks great after the work. This is the fittest we’ve ever had him. This winter, we missed some training due to weather and a few things here and there, and he’s fit now. I don’t know if we can win the Travers, but we’re going to show up and run good.”
A horse trained by Chad Brown got loose on the main track while Tax was still jogging off his work, but outriders were able to get the horse under control soon enough.
Tax and the rest of the Travers field should benefit from the absence of Game Winner and Maximum Security, who were declared out of the race Thursday afternoon by their respective trainers, Bob Baffert and Jason Servis, for minor ailments.
“Any time you don’t have to run against Bob Baffert, it’s a good thing, or Jason Servis,” Gargan said. “They both have great animals. We wish everything’s all good with them, but two less to run against is always a good thing, not a bad thing, especially when it’s two of the better horses. But there’s still going to be a strong field. There’s a lot of newcomers that are going to join the field. Code of Honor’s a really good horse.
“I guess they’ll make Tacitus the favorite now. Because it’s Chad [Brown, with Curlin winner Highest Honors], I’ll probably be fourth choice, or third. It’s OK with me not being the choice. There’s no pressure.”
Tax finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby and was elevated to 14th because of Maximum Security’s disqualification, then finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes, 2 3/4 lengths behind Sir Winston.
He held off Tacitus by three-quarters of a length in the Jim Dandy on July 27.
“We’re going to break running like we always do and figure it out from there,” Gargan said. “I’ve been training him to stalk horses, which is what he did the other day. We broke in front, and we took him back, so he can do it either way. I prefer him to have a target.”
The updated list of Travers probables, in the wake of the Game Winner-Maximum Security news, includes Chess Chief, Code of Honor, Endorsed, Everfast, Highest Honors, Laughing Fox, Looking At Bikinis, Owendale, Tacitus and Tax, with Spinoff listed as possible.
Curlin runner-up Endorsed breezed four furlongs in 48.33 and is on target for the Travers.
One interesting addition to the Travers picture is Spinoff, who beat older horses in an optional claiming race on Aug. 9, after trainer Todd Pletcher had tried him on the turf in the Belmont Derby.
Spinoff was up the track in that race, but won by 5 3/4 lengths at a mile and an eighth on Aug. 9 in his return to dirt.
“It was a good effort. Having blinkers on seemed to have him a little bit more locked in,” Pletcher said. “I nominated him to the Travers. It’s back quick. My first thought is the Pennsylvania Derby from a timing aspect, but with the couple of major defections we had yesterday, it’s something we’ll keep an eye on.”
Dwyer winner Code of Honor is scheduled to breeze on the Oklahoma Training Track at 5:30 Monday morning.
WEEK 7 STAKES
The short list of horses who are likely to run in the Grade I Sword Dancer on Travers Day includes Annals of Time, Channel Cat, Channel Maker, Sadler’s Joy and Ya Primo.
The Grade I Personal Ensign is expected to draw Coach Rocks, Elate, Midnight Bisou, She’s a Julie and Wow Cat, with Golden Award possible.
The Grade I Forego list includes Bon Raison, Diamond Oops, Mitole and Promises Fulfilled, with Catalina Cruiser, Coal Front and Prince Lucky possible.
Borracho, Hog Creek Hustle, King Jack, Mind Control, Nitrous, Rowayton, Shancelot, Super Comet and Twelfth Labour are lined up for the Grade I Allen Jerkens.
The Grade I Ballerina is likely to draw Bronx Beauty, Come Dancing, Dawn the Destroyer, Mia Mischief, Special Relativity and Separationofpowers, with Chalon and Honey Bunny possible.
I’m so Fancy, Indian Blessing, Mascha, Mitchell Road, Rushing Fall and Secret Message are pointing toward the Grade II Ballston Spa, with Candy Store possible.
The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s BBQ At The Barn fundraiser is slated for 6-9 p.m. Tuesday at The Saratoga Winery on Route 29 in Saratoga Springs.
The TRF, now in its 36th year, is the world’s largest equine sanctuary. Founded in 1983, the TRF cares for horses retired from racing with 650 horses located at 18 farms across nine states including New York, with seven TRF Second Chances program in partnership with correctional facilities.
All are welcome to attend the event for an opportunity to meet some of the retired Thoroughbreds, while enjoying great food and live music. Raffle and auction items include: Hamilton Tickets at Proctors Theater; Travers table for four on the Turf Terrace; Saratoga clubhouse box seats; a one-week luxury condo in Vero Beach, Florida; Nick Martinez Saratoga Race Course print; framed Anthony M. Alonso limited edition prints.
Tickets for the event are $30 and available at www.TRFinc.org or by calling 518-226-0028.
‘PHAROAH’ STAKES WINNER
In Friday’s feature, Another Miracle caught caught Montauk Daddy to win the $100,000 Skidmore turf sprint by 1 3/4 lengths, and became the first North American stakes winner sired by 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Another Miracle was the second progeny of American Pharoah to win at the meet, after Sweet Melania won a maiden race on July 14, also on the grass.
“He’s little, but he’s got a big heart in that little body,” trainer Gary Contessa said. “It probably takes up the most space in his body. He’s just a neat horse.”
Contessa said he’ll look at the Indian Summer at Keeneland on Oct. 6, since it’s a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Maven was the first American Pharoah baby to win in the U.S. (maiden race at Aqueduct) and the first to win a stakes race, in the Group 3 Prix du Bois at Chantilly in France on June 29.