SARATOGA SPRINGS — A $1 million race, and the perhaps aptly named State of Rest “was not really paying attention.”
Fortunately his jockey was, and also happens to be a 49-year-old Hall of Famer who has seen everything.
John Velazquez did everything he needed to do to get State of Rest in a position to win the Grade I Saratoga Derby Invitational on Saturday, and the colt, making his first start in the U.S., did the rest to finish off a one-length victory at Saratoga Race Course.
Velazquez said State of Rest presented some challenges shortly before the race and shortly after it started, but he was able to make the necessary adjustments.
“The horse is actually a very, very nice horse and he was not really paying attention out in the post parade, so I was a little bit worried that his mind wasn’t on the business, and that’s what he did,” Velazquez said. “He didn’t break very well. I didn’t panic. I just saved all the ground, looking for somewhere to go down the stretch, and when I got him out, he responded really good.”
“I thought Johnny gave him a fantastic ride,” trainer Joseph O’Brien said. “The pace was pretty strong, and he got him comfortable and came home strong. We knew he would like the firm turf and getting more distance today.”
Besides not having raced in the U.S. until Saturday, State of Rest had never run longer than a mile in seven races in the United Kingdom, with just one victory to show for it and none since he won his career debut at Fairyhouse in Ireland in June of last year.
He faced a significant stretch-out in distance in the mile-and-three-sixteenths of the Saratoga Derby, which is the second leg of NYRA’s Turf Triple for 3-year-olds.
O’Brien said the added distance actually was an angle the State of Rest camp was looking to pursue.
“We figured this was a lovely spot and that the conditions would suit him well,” he said. “We weren’t sure how he would handle this level, and he had never been around these turns before, but he handled everything really well.”
King Fury, trying turf for the first time while using the Saratoga Derby just to get in a race after he missed the Jim Dandy, finished ninth of 10.
He is being pointed toward the Aug. 28 Travers, but couldn’t run in the Jim Dandy because trainer Kenny McPeek’s barn was under quarantine.
GRADE I TEST
In the other Grade I on the Whitney card, Bella Sofia got a well-timed ride from meet-leading jockey Luis Saez to win the Test for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs.
Bella Sofia sat behind pacesetter Illumination and took the lead at the three-sixteenths pole before kicking away for a 4 1/4-length victory over Souper Sensational.
The Test was her graded stakes debut and just the fourth race of Bella Sofia’s career.
“We just let him ride her the way he wants to ride her,” trainer Rudy Rodriguez said. “I know we asked a lot. We’re just happy to have her in the barn. The day she broke her maiden, she put everybody away impressively. She was training good.
“You know when you draw the outside, you pretty much just let the jockey figure out what they want to do. She broke better than anybody. I thought she was going to be out front when she broke that good. She was nice and comfortable and she was running very well for him and when he asked her, she was there for him.”
“She broke perfectly,” Saez said. “We were looking for that spot right there to sit and make a run into the stretch. She did it so well and so beautifully. She came through the stretch pretty smoothly. I knew the 1 horse [Illumination] had some speed, so the plan was to break from there, relax and make one move with her. She’s a pretty nice filly.”
With three wins on the card, Saez extended his lead in the jockey standings to nine over the Ortiz brothers, Irad Jr. and Jose.
Also on the card, jockey Julien Leparoux used a last-to-first move on War Like Goddess to win the Grade II Glens Falls, and Flavius, ridden by Flavien Prat, took the $120,000 Lure on the turf for trainer Chad Brown, whose favorite Value Proposition was scratched at the gate when the horse lost a shoe.
“I think today she broke good. We got bumped, so we were last because of the little bump in the beginning,” Leparoux said. “But she still had the kick, so that was nice to see.”
Brown had three shots at the Lure, with Flavius, Value Proposition and Orglandes, but Value was scratched when he lost the shoe but was still allowed to run for purse money only. Flavius picked up the slack.
“I am so appreciative for this horse,” Brown said. “Juddmonte are very good clients of mine. They are very patient with this horse and decided to leave him in training for another year. It took a little time to get him back in form, but I loved his race today.
“Unfortunately, when he [Value Proposition] stepped on to the turf course and was behind the gate waiting to load, he stepped on himself and popped his shoe off. He was safe to run. He still ran a really good race to run third. Those things happen. We’ve had several horses lose shoes after a race before but it’s weird to happen right before the race. It’s unfortunate for that horse and it probably affected him a little bit. He put in a good effort and I’m proud of him.”
The stakes highlight next weekend is the Grade I Fourstardave, and for the second weekend in a row, a female horse is expected to run against males in the big race.
Got Stormy, Raging Bull, Daddy Is A Legend, Rinaldi and Set Piece are listed as probable for next Saturday’s Fourstardave, and Whisper Not is considered possible.
In 29 career starts, the 6-year-old mare Got Stormy has run against males eight times, including twice in the Fourstardave, which she won by 2 1/2 lengths over Raging Bull in 2019. She was second to Halladay in the race last year.
Three-time Grade I winner Raging Bull is coming off a second be a head to Oleksandra in the Grade III Poker, after he won the Grade I Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland in his 2021 debut.
The 2-year-old males get back into graded stakes action on Saturday in the Grade II Saratoga Special.
Doctor Jeff, Glacial, Gunite, High Oak, Kavod, Kitodan, Midnight Worker and Sonnyisnotsofunny are probable, and Ottoman Empire may also join the field.
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