SARATOGA SPRINGS — Halladay pitched a shutout on Saturday.
Facing a loaded lineup of runners from the barn of Chad Brown, as well as the filly who broke the course record in this race last year, the 4-year-old gray colt Halladay got to the front and didn’t let anyone cross the plate … er, finish line … ahead of him to win the Grade I Fourstardave at Saratoga Race Course.
The only proven front-runner in the field, Halladay overcame a bit of a slow start, relaxed once he and jockey Luis Saez got to the lead and firmly held off Got Stormy, last year’s winner, by a length and a quarter over a mile on the inner turf course.
“He’s gotten really good, and we’ve seen it in the mornings in his training,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He’s been going great and we were confident going in that he was at his very best and we thought we had a bit of a pace advantage, so we wanted to take the race to them. He didn’t break great but once he got his legs underneath him, he settled really well and kicked really strong.”
“When I ride him, I always feel like he’s better on the lead,” said Saez, who has been on Halladay for his last four starts. “He likes to fight. He’s a game horse. Today, the track is a little bit softer and he couldn’t break that fast from there but at the second jump he was right there.
“It was very comfortable. When we got to the stretch and he could feel the competition, he took off. He was a little slow switching leads, but once he was running, he finished well.”
Brown had four horses in the nine-horse field, including 2019 Eclipse Award-winning turf female Uni and three other Grade I or Group 1 winners, but his foursome struck out and got sent back to the barn with nothing better than a fifth-place finish from Raging Bull, the 5-2 morning-line favorite. Uni, the 2-1 betting favorite, never got in the game and finished seventh.
Halladay won a graded stakes for the first time and has won three of four starts in 2020.
His only loss this year was earlier in the meet, a fourth to Somelikeithotbrown in the Grade II Bernard Baruch at a mile and a sixteenth.
With a little less ground to cover this time — and no one pressing too hard on him early — Halladay got through the first quarter-mile in 23.85, the half in 47.19 and six furlongs in 1:10.15.
His finish time of 1:33.32 did not threaten the 1:32.00 Got Stormy ran last year, but Got Stormy did not threaten Halladay too dangerously this time, while comfortably finishing in second by a length and a quarter ahead of another 10-1 long shot, Casa Creed.
“Our strategy was to let him break and do his thing, but actually he didn’t break real clean,” Pletcher said. “Once he was able to get there, he was able to prick his ears and settle and kicked strong turning for home.
“At the three-sixteenths pole, Got Stormy made a big run at him and I thought it was going to be a close finish from there, but he was able to find a little more.”
“He likes to be on the lead and likes to run free, and that was the key,” Saez said. “He handled it beautiful. I think the turf was a little soft. When we got to the stretch, it took a couple of steps to get going. But when he felt the other horse, he gave it everything and took off and won the race.”
Got Stormy, who has been tackling stiff competition all season with nothing better than two second-place finishes in Grade I races to show for it, took a step in the right direction in the Fourstardave, jockey Tyler Gaffalione said.
“That was a big effort today,” he said. “She settled nicely right behind the leaders. When we got into the stretch, I found some room and she finished up nicely. It was just tough to get by the winner, since he put in a big effort today.
“It’s great to see her get back into form. Hopefully we can finish the year strong with her.”