SARATOGA SPRINGS — Sistercharlie’s 2019 season started late, at Saratoga Race Course, and ended on a rare losing note.
She’s starting 2020 late, again at Saratoga, with equally high expectations as befits a champion turf mare chasing another title.
Now 6, Sistercharlie, the 2-5 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s Grade II Ballston Spa, won the 2018 Eclipse Award as the top Turf Female for trainer Chad Brown and owner Peter Brant.
They were thwarted in a bid for a repeat of that last year when Sistercharlie finished third behind Iridessa in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita, after Sistercharlie had strung together three straight Grade I victories, beginning with the Diana at Saratoga.
That streak, coupled with the 2018 Diana, Beverly D and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, put Sistercharlie in company with Zenyatta as the only North American-based horses to have won six straight Grade I’s.
“She’s been training really well,” Brown told the New York Racing Association. “It’s only a mile and a sixteenth, which is a little shorter than the Diana was last year, but she did it a couple of years ago in the Jenny Wiley.
“She’s been ready to run for a little while now. It’s great that he [Brant] decided to race her as a 6-year-old. To have a star horse like this in training is good for the entire industry, so hopefully she has another great year.”
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez has been aboard Sistercharlie in all 10 of her North American starts and will have the call from post 5 as he attempts his sixth Ballston Spa triumph.
Brown also will send out maiden special weight winner North Broadway for Brant.
Speaking of streaks, reigning Canadian Horse of the Year Starship Jubilee is 3-for-3 in 2020, but hasn’t raced since March 7, when she won the Grade II Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs.
“We were planning on giving her a break anyway,” trainer Kevin Attard said. “We wanted to keep her fresh for this year. At one point, we were pointing toward the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland in April, but then COVID took over and plans changed. We sent her to the farm after her race at Tampa and she had a bit of a freshening before we got her back into training.”
A short field of five for the Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt includes three horses who have had stakes success at Saratoga, but the 4-5 morning-line favorite is a lightly raced 4-year-old who has never run in a graded stakes anywhere.
Volatile comes into the six-furlong Vanderbilt having won three straight, including both 2020 starts by a combined 15 1/2 lengths.
Unraced as a 2-year-old, Volatile made his stakes debut in the ungraded Aristides on June 6 at Churchill Downs and won by eight.
“Hopefully he can repeat that performance,” Three Chimneys Farm’s Doug Cauthen told NYRA. “If he can, they’ll take all the beating, but there are some good horses in there.
“He had some issues as a 2-year-old that set him back, so he had a break. No chips or anything, but he took some time and a lot of patience was put into him. [Trainer] Steve [Asmussen] has done a great job of also being very patient and working through it. God willing, it will pay off.”
Volatile will face some veteran competition in the Vanderbilt, including Whitmore, who is a horse-for-the-course at Oaklawn Park but has won at five other tracks, too, including Saratoga. He won the Forego in 2018.
“Options are limited for a sprinter in North America this year due to the COVID-19 and all the changes, so we’re adjusting,” Whitmore’s trainer Ron Moquett told NYRA. “We always wanted to compete in this race with him,” Moquett said.
“It [2018 Forego] was a great race and one of my favorite races of all time. I’d really would like to win the Vanderbilt now. There’s a ton of quality horses running in it, so it’s going to be a tough, but fun, race.”
Firenze Fire won the 2017 Sanford at Saratoga, and was fourth in the Vanderbilt and second in the Forego last year. He’s coming off a victory in the Grade II True North at Belmont on June 27.
Mind Control won the Hopeful in 2018 and the Allen Jerkens last year to start a three-race winning streak that was stopped by Vekoma in the Grade I Carter on June 6.
TOM’S D’ETAT WORKS
Tom’s d’Etat breezed a half-mile in 48.22 on the main track on Friday in preparation for next Saturday’s Grade I Whitney.
It was the fifth-fastest of 26 works at that distance on Friday.
“It was just what we’ve seen in the past,” trainer Al Stall Jr. said. “I just put him with another horse to get his attention and put him back in the game. He went around there very, very comfortably, put up the numbers that we wanted him to, and he galloped out like we wanted him to gallop out. More importantly, it seemed like he was very good back at the barn.”
Tom’s d’Etat is coming off a 4 1/4-length victory in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
Among those he might face in the Whitney are 2019 Whitney winner McKinzie, 2019 Travers winner Code of Honor, By My Standards, Owendale and Bodexpress.
By My Standards and Owendale were second and fifth, respectively, in the Stephen Foster.
Turned Aside finally turned the tables on Jack and Noah in Friday’s featured stakes, the $100,000 Quick Call turf sprint.
Jack and Noah had won all three races in which both were entered all the way back to a maiden race at Belmont Park in September.
Turned Aside and jockey Jose Lezcano got to the lead and won by 1 3/4 lengths as the hard-charging Old Chestnut ran out of racetrack. Jack and Noah led early, but faded to fifth in the six-horse field.
“[Owner] Paul [Pompa Jr.] and I discussed it, and we felt if we didn’t engage early, we were just going to hand it over to Jack and Noah, and we’ve done that enough already,” trainer Linda Rice said.
“Sometimes you change courses, and one horse prefers Belmont and one horse prefers Saratoga, and I thought our horse has been training great all spring and maybe we could turn the tables on him on a different course.”