SARATOGA SPRINGS — New York dirt continues to be kind to Lunar Victory.
The New York-bred who raced his first eight starts in Great Britain pushed his winning streak in his home state to four with an easy victory in the $100,000 Evan Shipman under jockey Junior Alvarado at Saratoga Race Course on Monday.
“I guess his European races on the grass weren’t as good,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said. “But it looks like he’s turned into a good dirt horse. I guess it’s a bonus being a New York-bred.”
After morning-line favorite Fiddlers Afleet scratched early, Johannesburg Smile inherited the favorite role in the 11⁄8-mile race for state-bred horses 3 and older, until betting began.
Lunar Victory, though, went off as the 6-5 favorite and showed it was deserved, as he broke with Johannesburg Smile and they quickly put some of that New York dirt between themselves and the rest of the five-horse field. The pair drew away through early fractions of 23.54 and 46.85, more than nine lengths ahead of the remaining horses at the half-mile.
Mott said the 46-second half-mile didn’t bother him.
“Well, you always wonder about it. But I looked at the way the rest of them were going, and I thought he was still OK,” Mott said. “It looked like he was going to be able to put whatever pressure he needed to put on the horse on the lead whenever he wanted to. It looked like the others were so far back, I didn’t see anybody making up any ground.”
Lunar Victory took his first lead rounding into the stretch and began to distance himself from Johannesburg Smile in the deep stretch. Meanwhile, Sailmate had gained on the fading Johannesburg Smile and got up for second by 11⁄2 lengths.
Lunar Victory was 21⁄2 lengths ahead of Sailmate and easing across the wire.
He is now 4-1-0 in five races in North America, prompting Mott to consider running him in open company.
“He’s a pretty nice horse,” Mott said. “Those things will be discussed in the future.”
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has CashCall Futurity winner Liaison ready for the Grade II $600,000 Jim Dandy on Saturday, the traditional prep race for the Travers. He confirmed the entry of the Indian Charlie colt, who was second in the Grade III Affirmed at Hollywood Park on June 3 and third in the Grade II Swaps on July 4.
In the Swaps, Liaison booked a Beyer Speed Figure of 102, his career-best. He worked six furlongs in 1:12.40 under Martin Garcia at Del Mar.
“Liaison worked really well today, and we thought he earned his trip today to the Jim Dandy,” Baffert told the New York Racing Association. “Martin Garcia worked him, and said he really felt great.”
Liaison is expected to arrive at Saratoga today with Gun Boat, who is headed to the Grade II $200,000 Amsterdam on Sunday.
Neck ‘n Neck worked under Julien Leparoux on Monday morning in his final prep for the Jim Dandy. He was joined, suddenly, by a pair of horses breaking from the gate and coming up behind him. He finished the five furlongs in 59.76.
“He’s growing up, that’s the biggest thing,” said trainer Ian Wilkes. “He’s doing things more professionally. He’s more of a racehorse now, not the big kid that wanted to play around.”
SANFORD HORSES WELL
A day after winning the Grade II Sanford, Bern Identity is in good shape, according to trainer Kelly Breen.
“He’s doing quite well,” Breen told the New York Racing Association.
The New Jersey-based trainer said he will be staying in Saratoga through Wednesday’s optional claimer start for 2011 Belmont winner Ruler On Ice, who has not won since.
Sanford favorite Rose Junction faded badly and finished last. Rider Javier Castellano said afterward she got uncomfortable between horses.
“That’s what Javier said,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “I’d like to think he’s a little more brave than that, but that’s what we’ve got to go with at the moment.”
He said both Rose Junction and Onetwentyeight — who came on late to finish third, three-quarters of a length behind Handsome Jack — looked good Monday morning.
“Both of them appear to be in good order this morning,” he said. “We thought that Onetwentyeight ran really well, closed well. The other horse, we don’t have much of an excuse for. It was just a disappointing effort.”