Golden Pal heavy favorite in Troy on busy weekend of stakes

Golden Pal wins last year's Quick Call at Saratoga.

Golden Pal wins last year's Quick Call at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Trainer Wesley Ward likes to give his horses a shot at winning big races in England, which hasn’t worked out all that well for the horse he’s called the best he’s ever trained.

Golden Pal wins everywhere else, though, including Saratoga Race Course, and, at 1-2 on the morning line for Friday’s Grade III Troy, he’s almost the heaviest favorite on a weekend heavy with stakes.

It’s Whitney Week, and besides the $1 million main event on Saturday, the New York Racing Association will offer seven other graded stakes worth a total of $3.15 million Friday through Sunday, as well as two ungraded stakes each worth $135,000.

Among the graded stakes will be the second leg of NYRA’s three-part turf series for 3-year-olds, the $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational on Saturday and the Saratoga Oaks Invitational on Sunday.

The graded stakes action kicks off Friday with the Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame on the turf for 3-year-olds and the Trroy turf sprint.

Golden Pal bombed in the Group 1 King’s Stand at Ascot in June when he missed the break while jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. was occupied with a horse that had just been scratched and was acting up behind the starting gate. Ortiz tried to hustle Golden Pal to the front but eventually waved the white flag as they finished last of 16.
He’ll face six rivals in the Troy at a track where Golden Pa is 2-for-2 in his career, winning the Skidmore by 3 3-4 lengths over stablemate Fauci as a 2-year-old in 2020 and easily winning the Quick Call by three lengths last year as the 1-5 betting favorite.

“He’s got a beautiful mind,” Ward told the New York Racing Association. “As we bring these horses up, a lot of them will get a little on edge and a little hot and sweaty. But if you notice him, he’s just really cool and composed and focused. Very few horses are like that. He knows what he’s already going to do.

“There are a lot of horses that anticipate things, so that’s one thing when you lead a horse over for a big race, a lot of them run part of their race prior to going in the gate, but you’ll never see that with this horse. He’s just dead-on ready to go.”

In the NMRHOF, trainer Todd Pletcher will give 2021 Sanford winner Wit his first try on the turf in seven career starts.

Besides his Sanford win, Wit was second to Gunite, who won the Amsterdam last weekend, in the Hopeful last year.

Pletcher has stuck to shorter distances on the dirt in two starts for Wit this year, but was convinced that it was time to test his grass pedigree when he breezed very quickly on the Oklahoma Training Track turf course on July 22.

His 47.95 for four furlongs was the fastest of 63 at the distance that day.

“He seemed to really take to the turf,” Pletcher said. “It was a good strong work and an energetic gallop-out. It just seemed that he enjoyed himself out there.”

Unlike the Troy, the NMRHOF field appears to be wide open, with Tiz the Bomb favored at 7-2.

Although he ran in the Kentucky Derby, finishing ninth, Tiz the Bomb has experience and success on the turf, winning the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile and the Grade II Bourbon at Keeneland before finishing second to Modern Games in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.


Scheduled post time for the Whitney is 5:43 p.m., and it will be bracketed by the Grade I Test sprint for 3-year-old fillies and the Grade I Saratoga Derby Invitational.

Matareya squeaks ahead of Golden Pal (and 1-2 War Like Goddess in the Glens Falls) for the lowest odds on the morning line this weekend, at 2-5 in the Test off her dominating win in the Acorn on Belmont Stakes Day.

That race had been billed as a duel between Matareya and Echo Zulu, the 2021 Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old filly, but Echo Zulu was a gate scratch with lameness in her left foreleg.

Matareya went off at 1-5 and won the Acorn by 6 1-4 lengths.

“She’s had four works here and she’s moving great,” trainer Brad Cox said. “She’s happy. She’s a very low-maintenance filly, to be honest. She’s quiet and really easy to train. She’s been very consistent this year, so I’m looking forward to the race on Saturday.”

Matareya has won her last four starts, the last three of which were graded stakes, by a combined 22 1-4 lengths.

The Acorn is a one-turn mile at Belmont Park, and Cox said Matareya will stick to shorter distances.

“We really liked her last year,” he said. “I thought originally she would maybe stretch [out] just based off pedigree and how she trained, but we kind of see in her races that she wasn’t finishing up quite like we were hoping around two turns.

“We did ask her to run around two turns in two very good races with the Alciabiades and the allowance race at Oaklawn, which had Secret Oath in it. So, it was quality fields, but once we cut her back to one turn, she seemed to be a different horse.”

The Saratoga Derby has drawn a field of 11, including three who have done most of their racing in Europe, Nations Pride, Royal Patronage and Stone Age.

There are also two horses who were on the Kentucky Derby trail and are now testing turf.

Ethereal Road, perhaps best known for being the horse who scratched out of the Derby, allowing eventual winner Rich Strike to draw in from the als-eligible list, will make his first start on grass in 10 career starts.

“I don’t have any grandiose idea that we’re going to all of a sudden find out that we’ve got a superstar, but I do want to see how he handles the turf and what he does,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

Classic Causeway, 11th in the Kentucky Derby, made his turf debut a winning one by holding off Nations Pride and Stone Age in the first leg of NYRA’s turf series, the Belmont Derby Invitational.

“I’m real proud of how he handled himself in the Belmont Derby, and I think he’ll rate a little better in his next start,” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “He seems to be turning off a little bit and he’s a very strong-willed horse. I’m just really glad to get a Grade I out of him.”

Also on Saturday, War Like Goddess will be trying to win the Grade II Glens Falls for older fillies and mares at a mile and a half on the turf for the second year in a row.

She has only lost twice in her nine-race career, and the more recent one was by a half-length in finishing third to Loves Only You in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf that cost War Like Goddess the Eclipse Award in that division.

War Like Goddess is coming off a win in the mile-and-a-half Bewitch at Keeneland in April.

She overcame a very slow pace and kind of a jammed-up trip,” trainer Bill Mott said.

Besides the Glens Falls, War Like Goddess also won the Grade I Flower Bowl at Saratoga last year.


Unlike the Saratoga Derby Invitational, its filly counterpart, the Saratoga Oaks Invitational, didn’t draw a large field, with six entered.

The Chad Brown-trained McKulick is coming off a 1 3-4-lengths victory in the Belmont Oaks Invitational and has hit the board in four straight graded stakes.

After Summer Promise finished second as the 6-5 favorite in the Schuylerville on Opening Day, Lukas will take his second swing at the traditional three-race series of graded stakes for 2-year-old fillies with the other filly he likes in his barn, Naughty Gal.

She’s one of six entered in the Grade II Adirondack, a race Lukas has won six times, but not since 2005. He won it four years in a row, from 1985-88.

Naughty Gal is coming off a victory by 9 1-4 lengths at Churchill Downs.

“She broke her maiden by a lot, so she’ll get some attention,” Lukas said. “She has targeted this race from the beginning.”


The finish time was the only element that didn’t contribute to the sense of deja vu in Thursday’s feature, the $135,000 Alydar at a mile and an eighth on the main track.

Just as they did in 2021, Art Collector and jockey Luis Saez got to the front shortly after the start and stayed there to win by almost the same margin as last year, two lengths.

When it was pointed out to trainer Bill Mott that Art Collector’s 1:51.84 was slower than the 1:48.20 he ran in 2021, Mott grinned and said, “It was fast enough to get him to the winner’s circle.”

Art Collector hadn’t raced since Feb. 26, when he took a swing at the $20 million Saudi Cup and finished 12th, 20 lengths behind Emblem Road.

Mott wants to use the same path to the Breeders’ Cup Classic that he used last year for Art Collector, which meant getting back to a familiar spot in the Alydar.

“He had a little vacation coming into this race,” Mott said. “We had gone to Saudi Arabia with him, and we had to give him some time and get him back ready, and the timing of this race worked out well.

“He’s fine with the distance, likes the track and it was a good spot for him today. And a good comeback race, since he hasn’t been out since February.”

Art Collector won the Charles Town Classic and Woodward on his way to the BC Classic last year, and Mott said they’ll look at those races again.

Categories: At The Track, Sports


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