Chad Brown could not have known how prophetic he was.
Citing a quote from his former mentor, the late Bobby Frankel, Brown balked at a question about how many horses he could potentially get to the Breeders’ Cup on the first weekend in November:
“Frankel always used to tell me, ‘These horses are like strawberries; they spoil overnight,’ ” he said Monday morning, before the closing-day card at Saratoga Race Course. “I don’t plan too far ahead.”
Subsequently, a horse who represented a breakthrough in Brown’s career by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf in 2008, the broodmare Maram, died suddenly of an acute illness in Midway, Ky., on Thursday while in foal to Elusive Quality.
So it doesn’t make sense for Brown to try to tip his hand yet, but the fact remains, it could be another interesting Breeders’ Cup for the Mechanicville native, who has been a head trainer since 2007.
He has three horses — the undefeated and lightly raced 4-year-old filly Awesome Feather, the 5-year-old turf filly Zagora and the 2-year-old filly Balance the Books — on track for the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on Nov. 2 and 3.
He has about a half-dozen others who range in the murky territory between possible and on-the-bubble.
It could be a busy weekend.
“That’s up in the air,” he said. “I hate to say, because things change with these horses. Right now, I definitely have a handful of promising Breeders’ Cup prospects, but until we actually get there, I don’t want to speculate how many I’ll have.”
He is pleased with the progress made by Awesome Feather, who worked on the Oklahoma training track in Saratoga Springs on Thursday, covering six furlongs in 1:14.80.
She hasn’t lost in nine career starts, but it’s been exceedingly difficult getting her to the races in light of the fact that Brown and owner Frank Stronach have patiently waited for her to be 100 percent healthy and training flawlessly for an extended period of time.
In fact, she has raced just three times in almost two years since Stronach bought her after she won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
She won two stakes last fall, including the Grade I Gazelle at Belmont Park, and won the Florida Sunshine Millions Distaff at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28, but hasn’t raced since.
Nevertheless, Brown believes she’s on target for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
“She continues to train very well,” he said. “I don’t have a definite spot for her yet, but we’re going to take it week to week. I’m trying to get her to Breeders’ Cup. She’ll have a prep somewhere.”
Zagora won the Diana at Saratoga last year, giving Brown the first Grade I of his career as a head trainer, and was third this year, but came back to break a track record in winning the Grade II Ballston Spa.
Balance the Books has just two lifetime starts, but one was a victory in the Grade II With Anticipation, an automatic qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf through the “Win and You’re In” series.
Some other Brown horses perhaps flirting with Breeders’ Cup participation include Dayatthespa, a four-time stakes winner this year, including the listed Riskaverse at Saratoga; Center Divider, who was second in the Grade I Man o’ War and seventh in the Grade I Sword Dancer; P.G. Johnson winner Watsdachances; and Corporate Jungle, second in the Fourstardave.
Another in the recent string of European horses who have come to Brown’s barn is Samitar, who was third in the Lake George and is nominated to the Grade I Garden City next weekend.
Last year, the Brown-trained Stacelita was a beaten favorite in the BC Filly and Mare Turf while still recovering from an eye injury.
Despite the loss, she still won the Eclipse Award for turf female, Brown’s first championship horse as a head trainer.
He is coming off a spectacular Saratoga meet in which he increased his win total from 22 last year to 29, and finished second to Todd Pletcher in the standings again. Brown’s horses won over 30 percent of the time.
“I’m just going to try to build every year, like we have, and learn from it,” Brown said. “There’ll be some reflection this week and some studying, a lot of notes made by me to plan for next year.
“I actually only broke a handful of maidens first time out, and a lot of them ran well and didn’t win. A few others missed the meet with minor growing pains. I just didn’t get them here, but I’m not going to push them for a personal goal, I want to look at these horses’ careers as a whole. So I’m proud of the fact that we protected our horses and did the right thing by them. And that’ll always be the case. It would be nice to someday win a training title up here, and I think we’re inching closer, but at the same time, I have to look at these horses on our clients’ behalf for a career, not just a meet. I feel like we did that.”
Maram, who raced for Karen Woods and the late Prince Saud bin Khaled, left behind one offspring, a colt by Giant’s Causeway who was born on April 30.
She was at Sheltowee Farm in Midway when she died on Thursday.
Maram earned $900,320 during her racing career, which ended due to a suspensory tear in 2010. She broke her maiden first time out at Saratoga in 2008.
Pletcher won a whopping 23 races with 2-year-olds, so the natural question was how this crop stacks up against previous groups of 2-year-olds who emerged at Saratoga for him.
He said that assessment will have to wait until they perform as 3-year-olds, but in the meantime, Pletcher has plenty of options in the juvenile divisions, including Hopeful winner Shanghai Bobby, owned by Starlight Racing.
“We have had some that I would think are very exciting prospects,” Pletcher said. “Horses like Archwarrior and Violence, who won first time out, but also have pedigrees that are stoutly bred for staminia, and a filly like Dreaming of Julia, an A.P. Indy filly.”
Dreaming of Julia, owned by Stonestreet Stables, broke her maiden by 101⁄2 lengths at Saratoga, then was scratched from the Spinaway.
She’s the 4-5 morning-line favorite in the Meadow Star at Belmont Park on Sunday.
Pletcher also has Palace Malice, a debut winning colt who is by Curlin, and Kauai Katie, an undefeated Malibu Moon filly who won her debut at Saratoga and followed up with an easy win in the Adirondack.
Other first-time winners at Saratoga for Starlight were Lawn Man and Park City, and Overanalyze, fourth in the Hopeful, was a winner first out for Mike Repole.
“You like to see them develop from there, and, hopefully, they can stay sound,” said Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, Pletcher’s first-call rider. “One thing I can say is we have a lot of 2-year-olds that seem better than last year and the year before because they’re not extremely fast, they’re more steady horses that might need a little bit more distance.”
In gauging last year’s 2-year-olds by looking at their results this year, Pletcher said, “I thought they performed really well until about May, and then the wheels sort of came off [because of injuries].”
One encouraging development is that two of them, Algorithms and El Padrino, are due to start breezing again on Oct. 1.
The undefeated Algorithms looked like a good Kentucky Derby prospect for Starlight off his win in the Holy Bull, but he had splint surgery heading into the Fountain of Youth, wiping out his summer and most of the fall schedule.
Pletcher said he’d like to get one start for both Algorithms and El
Padrino before the end of the year, then point to promising 4-year-old seasons in 2013, perhaps including the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream.
PAYNTER HANGING ON
Haskell winner Paynter continues to fight through a variety of life-threatening conditions at the Upstate Equine Medical Center in Schuylerville.
He developed a fever after the Haskell which forced him to miss the Travers.
Owner Ahmed Zayat said on Thursday that Paynter was comfortable, but he still suffers from colitis and its complications, including laminitis in three of his feet.
AROUND THE TRACKS
Air Support is the 8-5 favorite and Brilliant Speed, third in the Sword Dancer, is 2-1 in the Grade II Bowling Green as Belmont Park begins its summer/fall meet today.
Sean Avery, on the shelf since winning the A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga 13 months ago, is 9-5 in the Affiliate on the undercard. . . .
Groupie Doll, winner of the Grade I Vinery Madison and Grade I Humana Distaff, returns for the first time since May 5 as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade II Presque Isle Downs Masters. . . .
Jockey Mario Pino, who has eight mounts at Presque Isle Downs today, is on the verge of passing Earlie Fires for 10th on the North American all-time victory list.