It’s a speed sandwich on the outside of the Grade I Test today.
Contested will contest the $500,000 seven-furlong sprint from the 8 post as the 2-1 favorite. To her inside, 15-1 speed demon Gypsy Robin. To her outside, 15-1 afterburner Ullapool.
There’s no telling until they break from the gate who will jump out to the early lead, but that doesn’t matter much for Contested, who can get the job done tactically, as well.
“You’ve got to kind of play it like it comes up,” said Jimmy Barnes, assistant to Contested trainer and Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. “If you catch a flier, it’s not like you’re going to be grabbing her and taking her back. So you’ve really just got to play the break and see how it comes up. We’ve got an outside post, there is speed, there’s speed to the outside of us, but she doesn’t necessarily have to be on the lead.
“She’ll sit off the pace. Javier [Castellano], in both [the last two] races, just kind of sent her along, so she was speed. But she doesn’t need to be sent. In the Eight Belles, she stalked, and I’d rather run like that, personally.”
Castellano will switch over to ride 5-2 second choice Book Review for trainer and Mechanicville native Chad Brown in this one. Rafael Bejarano will ride Contested, as well as every other Baffert horse on the card.
Contested won four straight after a runner-up finish in her debut last September. Then she ran into an off track in the Grade I Mother Goose at Belmont on June 23, and finished fifth. She had won the Grade I Acorn there May 28 and the Grade III Eight Belles at Churchill Downs on May 4.
“She didn’t like the track that day,” Barnes said. “It had rained the night before, and the track was pretty deep that day. It was much different than the day she ran in the Acorn. It’s one of those where you just draw a line through it, freshen her up and run her right back.”
Barnes said she has been running well on Polytrack back in California and galloped over the Saratoga track on Thursday. He thinks she’s ready to go.
“We look for her to show up and run a big race,” he said.”
Of the speed surrounding Contested, who wired the field in a mile-long 1:343⁄5 in the Acorn, Gypsy Robin may be the wild card. The Wesley Ward trainee has covered the first quarter-mile in half her six North American starts in less than 22 seconds. She’s gone a half in under 45 as many times, and she won her lone start at this distance in the Grade II Beaumont at Keeneland on April 15.
“You try, you plan, you think and all that, and three-quarters of the time, it never works out the way you think it’s going to come out,” Barnes said. “I’ll just leave it up to Rafael. He’s our main rider, he’s a smart rider, and he’ll take care of her. He’ll put her in the right spot to win.”
Castellano was aboard for that win in the Acorn, but he’ll be trying to beat his old mount this time with a 3-year-old daughter of Giant’s Causeway.
Book Review may have to work early to lay close to the pace, which is how she’s won her two races out of five career starts.
“I’m going to leave that up to Javier,” Brown said. “I’m drawn toward the inside, which I’m not crazy about. He’s going to have to work a trip out through traffic in there, but he’s having a great meet. He’s a top rider and one of my go-to guys, so I’m going to totally leave it up to him for this race. There’ll be no instructions.”
Book Review is 2-2-1 in her career, and she has not run in a race bigger than an $82,000 allowance optional claimer in her last, when she beat Ullapool here on opening day at this distance.
“She’s definitely going to have to improve and run her career-best race. But the way she’s been training, she looks like she’s capable of it,” Brown said of Book Review’s step up in company. “Looking at the field in this race, I think she belongs in this race. She doesn’t belong as the favorite in the race, but she
belongs as one of the major players in the race, on paper. Although it’s coming from an allowance into a Grade I, if I just put aside that it’s a Grade I and look at the field, she deserves to be in the race. She’s going to be one of the top three choices in the race.”