SARATOGA SPRINGS — Trainer Steve Asmussen applauded what he called “so rare in this day and age,” a champion racehorse with potential value as a stallion coming back for another year of racing.
Even rarer — as in, never been done before — is a horse sweeping the Amsterdam and Allen Jerkens as a 3-year-old, then coming back to sweep Saratoga Race Course’s two Grade I sprint stakes on dirt, the Alfred G. Vanderbilt and Forego.
But the upset this summer would be if Jackie’s Warrior failed to accomplish that, based on his record at Saratoga, and everywhere else, for that matter.
Also rare: Odds of 1-5 on the morning line for the favorite in a Grade I race, but that speaks to Jackie’s Warrior’s status in the male sprint division this season. First up is the A.G. Vanderbilt on Saturday, when he’ll be a heavy favorite against five rivals, then the plan is to run in the Forego on Aug. 27 on the way back to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
“He’s just a very fast horse,” Asmussen said Thursday morning. “I think he ran extremely well, as good as a first-time starter can run, when he broke his maiden. And his second race was the Saratoga Special here, and ever since then he has been on everybody’s radar.”
The Kentucky Derby trail was on Asmussen’s radar last year with this son of Maclean’s Music, owned by J. Kirk and Judy Robison of El Paso, Texas.
Jackie’s Warrior won the Saratoga Special and Hopeful at Saratoga as a 2-year-old in 2020, and was undefeated from four starts when he raced around two turns for the first time, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Sent off as the 4-5 betting favorite, he finished fourth to Essential Quality, then started his 3-year-old campaign with another loss to the horse who would go on to win the 2021 Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old male.
After Jackie’s Warrior’s third to Essential Quality at a mile and a sixteenth around two turns in the Southwest at Oaklawn Park, Asmussen ran Jackie’s Warrior on Kentucky Derby Day, but not in the Derby. He won the Grade I Pat Day Mile and has been a pure sprinter ever since.
“Last year, he started out in a two-turn race and defined himself in one-turn races,” Asmussen told the New York Racing Association earlier in the week. “This year, we’ve had less racing to this point and a fresher horse. We’re sure of what we want to do with him. We have three dominant victories and three races left on his calendar. We want to be purposeful and exact.”
While Essential Quality was building a resume that would lead to a championship last year, so was Jackie’s Warrior.
It’s actually not all that unusual for a 3-year-old to win the Eclipse Award for Male Sprinter, which is open to horses of all ages.
Drefong (2016), Runhappy (2015), Trinniberg (2012) and Lost in the Fog (2005) have won that championship at 3.
Trinniberg won his Eclipse largely on the strength of having won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but Jackie’s Warrior won the championship last year in spite of his BC result, a sixth to Aloha West at Del Mar as the betting favorite.
Jackie’s Warrior’s season included victories in the Amsterdam and Allen Jerkens, by a neck over Life Is Good.
“I think it’s very possible he didn’t like Del Mar,” Asmussen said on Thursday. “Also, it’s the end of a long year that started with a Derby prep, which is what we’re trying to do differently this year.”
Asmussen has been well represented in the Amsterdam, Allen Jerkens (formerly named the King’s Bishop), A.G. Vanderbilt and Forego, having won each of them at least twice.
Before Jackie’s Warrior swept the Amsterdam and Allen Jerkens, five other horses accomplished that, Promises Fulfilled (2018), Caleb’s Posse (2011), Discreetly Mine (2010), Secret Firm (1998) and Chimes Band (1994, Amsterdam was run in two divisions). None of them won either the A.G. Vanderbilt or Forego the following season.
Only Orientate (2002) has won both the A.G. Vanderbilt and Forego.
Jackie’s Warrior is 4-for-4 at Saratoga and is a heavy favorite to make it 6-for-6.
“He loves it in Saratoga. He’s always trained nicely up here and continues to do so,” Asmussen said.
“Everything starts off with thanking Kirk and Judy Robison for putting a champion back in training. That’s just so rare in this day and age. He was an Eclipse champion sprinter, as a 3-year-old, and we obviously targeted one-turn races this year, with the Breeders’ Cup Sprint as our ultimate goal.”
FEARLESS WINS BIRDSTONE
It’s one thing to have a barnful of all-stars.
Trainer Todd Pletcher also seems to always have a mile-and-a-three-quarters horse hanging around the premises.
For the sixth time in 11 runnings, a Pletcher horse won the $200,000 Birdstone, Thursday’s feature at the rare marathon distance of 14 furlongs on the main track.
Fearless cranked it up a notch off his win in the mile-and-a-half Brooklyn at Belmont Park by coming from off the pace established by Lone Rock to win the Birdstone by three-quarters of a length.
Ridden by Luis Saez, Fearless added to his solid 2022 season by upping his record to 3-3-0 from six starts, all in graded stakes.
“To be honest, I was concerned first time by the stands,” Pletcher said. “It didn’t seem like he was loving the track. He was off the bridle pretty early for him.
“I was worried until he made a little spurt down the backside where he picked up a couple lengths and I thought maybe we were OK, but then he came off the bridle again. Luis just stayed with him – a really courageous effort for a horse that I don’t really think was loving the going out there.”
“It was a pretty tough trip,” Saez said. “He’s kind of a little lazy, but he ran all day. The main thing was to try to keep him going, and it was a long race. It got a little humid, too, but he did the job and got there in time. It was a magnificent race.
Fans can pick up the first of three giveaways at the meet on Friday, when the Saratoga picnic blanket will be available at the track.
The black-and-red plaid patterned blanket is free with paid admission, while supplies last. Fans will receive a coupon with paid admission to present at designated locations.
AROUND THE TRACKS
Besides Life Is Good, Pletcher is also considering entering Happy Saver and Americanrevolution in the Whitney on Aug. 6.
All three will breeze on Saturday, after which Pletcher and the owners will decide on where to go with Happy Saver, who might run in the Alydar on Thursday, and Americanrevolution. …
Country Grammer, who hasn’t raced since winning the Dubai World Cup on March 26, is the 5-2 favorite in the Grade II San Diego at Del Mar on Saturday.
Mandaloun, the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner by virtue of Medina Spirit’s disqualification, is also in the field, after a fourth to Olympiad in the Stephen Foster on July 2.
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Categories: At The Track, Sports