SARATOGA SPRINGS — Royal Ascot was a major disaster for Golden Pal.
Fortunately for him and jockey Irad Ortiz, they were able to avoid a minor one in the Grade III Troy at Saratoga Race Course, helped in part by a recent shift in training approach.
And the fact that Golden Pal is just really fast.
Leaving behind a last-place finish on the international stage in June, when Golden Pal missed the break and was essentially eased by Ortiz in the Group 1 King’s Stand, Golden Pal shook off an awkward start in the Troy and edged ahead of True Valour late, while also holding off a charge from long shot Thin White Duke, to win.
Ortiz has been on Golden Pal for his last two breezes, works that Ward tailored to condition Golden Pal to manage trips from behind horses, instead of just blasting to the front and running the field off its feet — his usual style.
They would’ve been satisfied with one of those types of trips on Friday, but the choppy step out of the gate forced Ortiz’s hand, so he let the new training kick in early and Golden Pal’s speed kick in late.
“I liked it,” Ward said. “When he got to the outside, a lot of times you stumble and get behind horses and get stuck in the crowd, then you’re in trouble. But we were fortunate when that happened that we drew an outside post and there was nothing in front of him.”
“He was moving at the same time they opened the gate,” Ortiz said. “Then they were in front of us, and that’s not his style. He’s always in front of everyone the first couple jumps.
“We’ve been working covered up by horses. That was the way we wanted to work the horse, and today, when that happened, I wasn’t afraid to take a hold and drop in or whatever, to sit and wait, because I was working the horse. It was no problem in the morning to sit behind horses.”
Golden Pal, the Breeder’s Cup Turf Sprint winner last year and Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint winner in 2020, improved to 3-for-3 at Saratoga, with victories in the Skidmore as a 2-year-old and in the Quick Call last year.
He was bet down to 1-5 in the Troy and came close to being upset, but was able to get just clear of front-running True Valour and jockey Feargal Lynch to his inside.
Thin White Duke came flying on the outside and was just a neck behind True Valour at the wire.
“Yeah, I saw somebody [on the outside], but my horse was fighting with the other horse, so I wasn’t hitting my horse,” Ortiz said. “He was responding well. I knew he was going to be there whenever I asked him to.”
“I was expecting Golden Pal to go, but when I saw I cleared him out of the gate I wasn’t going to disappoint the horse in his grind,” Lynch said. “He got it very easy in front, and when we kicked I thought we’d won it. For an 8-year-old, we’re two old men in the twilight of our career and we’re just enjoying it.”
Ward said Golden Pal needed to get back to winning form after the Royal Ascot debacle.
“When he came back, he was a little dejected initially, after the race, and for the first five or six days at the barn at Ascot before we got home, he just wasn’t himself,” he said. “He’s always a real happy horse, charged up, but he had a demeanor that was kind of sad. Because he didn’t really know what happened to him.
“Then, once we started breezes, you could see him come back to himself, and today, that’ll really help a lot, as well.”
Golden Pal has run exclusively on turf since he broke his maiden first time out on the dirt in 2020, but Ward and the owners are now contemplating a dirt start in the Grade II Phoenix at his home base of Keeneland in October, with the idea of enhancing his stud value.
He’ll still point toward a return to the BC Turf Sprint, but they’re also considering a trip to Australia to race there afterwards.
“It’s important to them to show what the horse can do on dirt, as well,” Ward said. “There were all these issues he’s had throughout his career that have kept him on the grass to keep him sound. He’s never been as sound as he is right now, so it would be a good time to try him.”
READY TO PURRFORM WINS
Also on the card, Ready to Purrform and jockey Joel Rosario used a front-running trip to win the Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame for 3-year-olds on the turf.
Ready to Purrform found himself on the lead early for the first time in his career and had plenty of gas to get to the wire first.
“This was a good group of horses in here,” trainer Brad Cox said. “He showed up and put them away turning for home and he really ran well.
“I do think he’ll stretch out. I think he’s bred to stretch out. He showed the new dimension today of being forwardly placed and we’ll start talking about races a mile and an eighth and beyond that, even. It may be more of a benefit and an advantage because sometimes there is a lack of pace in these turf races at a mile and an eighth and beyond.”
Wit, the 2021 Sanford winner and Hopeful runner-up, was solid in his turf debut by getting up for second by a length and a quarter.
“I thought he ran really well,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He closed super fast, we just didn’t get it. He handled it [turf] really well, just closed too late and had a little too much to do turning for home.”