SARATOGA SPRINGS — Artorius had the potential and the regal breeding but, much like his late sire, Arrogate, didn’t make his racing debut until April of his 3-year-old season.
And, much like his sire, a first trip over the Saratoga Race Course surface showed just how much that potential could pay off.
For Arrogate, that came in his record-setting victory in the 2016 Travers Stakes. For Artorius, it was a dominant 4 3/4-length victory in Friday’s $135,000 Curlin Stakes that came in just his third career start and should set the tone for trainer and Mechanicville native Chad Brown to send him into this year’s Travers on Aug. 27.
“I always thought he could be in a conversation with some of my better 3-year-olds getting on the Derby trail,” Brown said. “There were a few minor things, and we were patient with him. To see him start to finally develop, albeit a little bit late, hopefully it’s a little like his father. You know, better late than never. If he can show up on the big day like his father, I’d be honored.”
A Juddmonte homebred, Artorius broke his maiden in his last start at Belmont Park on June 10 and stepped up into stakes company in the Curlin. He stepped up brilliantly, taking the lead from A.P.’s Secret at the quarter pole and pulling away under Irad Ortiz Jr. to win in 1 minute, 50.34 seconds over the 1 1/8-mile distance.
“He [Brown] told me to try to save ground on both turners, so I just tried to do what he told me,” Ortiz said. “They didn’t like the post, so my horse broke OK and I was able to go over fast and I know the one [Western River] and two [Gilded Age] don’t show speed. Those kind of horses don’t have the speed. The other horses went out ahead of me, so I was able to drop in quick, and I go from there and got a perfect trip.”
Gilded Age made a late run to finish second, with favored Creative Minister in third and A.P.’s Secret holding on for fourth. Western River, Golden Glider, Make It Big and Be Better rounded out the order of finish.
Creative Minister was sent off as the favorite while coming off a fifth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes and a fourth in the Preakness, but was largely a non-factor before nosing out a fading A.P.’s Secret for third.
“I thought he’d show a little more punch late,” said Creative Minister’s trainer Kenny McPeek, “but it looked like he was kind of struggling to find his spot and get a rhythm.”
In 2016, Arrogate had only made four career starts — none in stakes company — before his scintillating 13 1/2-length Travers victory that saw him break the Saratoga track record for 1 1/4 miles.
Artorius didn’t make his debut on the track until April 16 at Keeneland — one day shy of the six-year anniversary of Arrogate’s debut — but Brown has long had the colt in high regard because of his pedigree.
“We were pretty high on the horse. We got a late start, but we always liked the horse,” Brown said. “You can’t say enough in appreciation for Juddmonte . . . they bred such a great racehorse, broke him and sent him to us in fine shape. It’s just a real pleasure to train a horse so well-bred and so well-raised and cared for.”
The Curlin proved a perfect stakes debut for Artorius. Rather than taking on a higher-profile field in Saturday’s Grade II Jim Dandy over the same 1 ⅛-mile route, the Curlin served as a proving ground for what’s to come.
It’s a path Brown’s taken before, as Artorius gave the trainer his fourth Curlin victory.
“It’s a race we’ve had success with using in the past,” he said, “either winning or a close defeat to go onto the Travers.”
Fifth-place finisher Western River was scratched from the Jim Dandy in favor of a start in the Curlin, while Wolfe County scratched Friday and is entered in an allowance race on Saturday’s card.
As for Artorius, all signs point to a run at the Travers, giving Brown another contender to finally give the area native his long-awaited first victory in Saratoga’s signature race.
“If he comes out of it in good shape, yeah [we’ll go to the Travers],” Brown said. “That was the point, just to get around two turns over the track, and to get him a good prep for the Travers.”