Trainer Chad Brown stood with his assistant as another long set of horses took turns stopping in front of them for exercise rider instructions and one last inspection before heading out to the Oklahoma training track on Friday morning.
The Mechanicville native is close to the final stages of cranking up his barn for the 145th Saratoga Race Course meet, but there’s still plenty of business to take care of downstate as Brown heads into another busy weekend of stakes action.
He’s got the 2-1 morning-line second choice, Last Gunfighter, in the Grade II Suburban and 4-1 third choice, Saint Vigeur, in the Grade II Dwyer at Belmont Park, as well as the 4-1 co-third choice, Big Blue Kitten, in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park.
Last Gunfighter is riding a six-race winning streak, but will have to contend with the Belmont-philic Flat Out, and Saint Vigeur is improving, but faces a tough pair from Todd Pletcher.
Big Blue Kitten has his own problems, as Arlington Million and Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Little Mike is entered in the United Nations, but Brown is nevertheless poised for another terrific extended weekend, which started off with a bit of a bang when Samitar won the listed Fairy Garden at Belmont on the Fourth of July Thursday.
He seems particularly pleased with the progress made by Saint Vigeur, a “tall, kind of gawky” son of Smart Strike out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Sweet Way who needed time to fill into his frame and mature mentally.
“Now, I see all the moving parts kind of coming together on that horse,” Brown said. “Where is the limit on that horse? I don’t know. I don’t know, ultimately, where his peak number is going to be. But, to me, he looks like a horse who’s continuing to improve, and his best races have to be ahead of him, the way he’s training. I don’t know if it’s [today], but he will run faster as he gets older.”
One significant component to Saint Vigeur’s development was the addition of blinkers three starts back.
He debuted on the Saratoga turf last summer and lost another turf start at Belmont, in the Grade III Pilgrim to what was then an emerging turf standout in Brown’s barn, Noble Tune.
Brown added blinkers and put him on the dirt to start his 3-year-old season in February, and Saint Vigeur immediately broke his maiden, followed by an allowance win before finishing a well-beaten second to Freedom Child in the Peter Pan.
“I think it was an important piece of equipment,” Brown said. “I’m not a guy who uses them a lot. Everyone has their own training methods. Only when I really need them. That horse really was looking for those blinkers, so when I put them on, it really helped right away. It helped him along the whole process of focusing up a little bit.”
Brown said the Dwyer’s mile-and-a-sixteenth is probably a little short for Saint Vigeur, but he hasn’t had a race in eight weeks, he’s ready to run, and there aren’t many options.
A victory could be a steppingstone to the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, but Saint Vigeur, who has been working very well in the morning, needs to prove himself some more in the afternoon.
“He needs to develop further and get faster,” Brown said. “His numbers need to get faster to fit with that group. But he’s certainly capable of it. He’s got a wonderful pedigree, he’s got wonderful physical tools, as far as being a tall horse with a big stride. He’s a strong horse. If he can get a little bit faster, he would work his way into that ‘A’ group, I’d say.”
The Dwyer field came up short, but competitive.
Pletcher has two of the six — Battier, who hasn’t missed the board in seven career starts, and Abraham, who was third in the Sunland Derby and fourth in the Illinois Derby and Peter Pan.
The 96th Dwyer will go off after the 127th running of the Suburban, which has drawn a field of five, but should also be competitive.
Previously trained by Helen Pitts and undefeated in six starts for Brown, Last Gunfighter will break from the middle, with Travers dead-heat winner Alpha and Brooklyn runner-up Percussion to his inside, and Flat Out and Travers third-place finisher Fast Falcon outside.
Last Gunfighter’s winning streak began at Belmont when he broke his maiden in October, and his last two victories came in the Grade III Excelsior at Aqueduct and Pimlico Special on May 17.
“This is a pretty big test, particularly against Flat Out, although there are a couple other horses in there that I think are talented, also,” Brown said. “But Flat Out is a horse, if he runs his ‘A’ race, I think all the other horses are probably running for second. That said, if he doesn’t bring his ‘A’ game and my horse does, Last Gunfighter is capable of winning that race.”
Flat Out has won four of five starts at Belmont, suffering his only loss when he was third to Sahara Sky in the Met Mile last time out.
“We didn’t get it done in the Met Mile, and maybe we’d give him another opportunity here,” trainer Bill Mott told the New York Racing Association. “I would think the Suburban might not be as tough as the Met Mile was. If we were to wait for the Whitney, we’d have to wait another month, and I’m not sure the horse needs another month.”
Alpha will be making his first start in North America since finishing 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
He was fifth in the Godolphin Mile at Meydan in Dubai in March after a prep race there in February.
Little Mike also raced twice in Dubai with no success, finishing 11th in the Dubai Duty Free.
Brown said he believes there should be enough pace in the United Nations to challenge the front-running Little Mike and help set it up for Big Blue Kitten
Big Blue Kitten won two straight allowances before finishing second to Boisterous in the Grade II Monmouth.
“I love the way the horse is training,” he said. “It’s back a touch quick for me, 27 days. Normally, I give my horses a little bit more time, particularly my grass horses. I like time. But the race is right for him. He’s doing well, I like the way the race sets up for him, pace-wise.”
Big Blue Kitten also will again get the services of “Jersey” Joe Bravo in the saddle.
“I think he knows the track better than perhaps any jockey in the history of Monmouth Park, so any time you can get him, especially in a Grade I, it’s a great opportunity,” Brown said. “He rode him last time, he really liked him and he thinks the distance won’t be a problem. I trust his feedback.
“It looks like there’s a few different candidates that could mix it up early and hopefully set a solid pace for him.”
Final Gold Cup
With Hollywood Park set to close this year, today will mark the final running of the historic Hollywood Gold Cup, first won by Seabiscuit in 1938.
Game On Dude, owned in part by Joe Torre, is the 4-5 favorite and will try to become the first repeat winner since Lava Man won three in a row from 2005-07. Native Diver also won three in a row, from
Other winners include Skip Away, Cigar, Best Pal, Affirmed, Gallant Man and Citation.
Game On Dude has won the San Antonio, Santa Anita Handicap and Charles Town Classic this season, with Clubhouse Ride second in each. He’ll try again today and break just inside of Game On Dude.
Calder is hosting its Summit of Speed today with six stakes, four of which are graded, highlighted by the Grade I Princess Rooney and the Grade II Smile Sprint, which has drawn champion Trinniberg and Grade I winner Jackson Bend in his second start since un-retiring.
Judy the Beauty, 4-5-0 from nine career starts, is 5-2 in the Princess Rooney.
She was second to Grace Hall in the Spinaway as a 2-year-old and second by a nose in the the 2012 Prioress at Saratoga to Emma’s Encore, who was retired this week, according to the Daily Racing Form.
The DRF also reported that Reneesgotzip, the 4-1 second choice in the Princess Rooney, missed a connecting flight from California and will scratch.
Woodbine will host the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Queen’s Plate, on Sunday.
Trainer Mark Casse, a five-time Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s top trainer, will send four out in the Queen’s Plate in an attempt to win it for the first time.
The 2-1 favorite is the Malcolm Pierce-trained Up With The Birds, a three-time listed stakes winner at Woodbine who was second to Jack Milton in the Grade III Transylvania at Keeneland.
The unpredictability of first-time starters was evident at Belmont on Thursday, when Starlight Racing sent out two promising 2-year-old progeny of More Than Ready and got unexpected results from both.
The colt All in Blue won by 6 1⁄4 lengths in the second race, and the filly Ready’s Legend was last of eight on the turf in the fifth, leaving the connections, including co-managing partner Don Lucarelli of Duanesburg, mystified.
“Not a little [disappointed], we were a lot disappointed,” he said. “We thought she would race well, and she never lifted a foot.”
Ready’s Legend’s poor race was tempered by a nice one from All in Blue that has Starlight thinking he could come back in the Grade II Saratoga Special.
“We wanted to get a race in at Belmont so we’d have a shot at the $100,000 bonus,” Lucarelli said. “We got delayed with this one because some races didn’t fill. You don’t know until they run and show their true colors. He exceeded our expectations, for a first race.”
As of last year, NYRA has offered the bonus to 2-year-olds who break their maiden at a NYRA track prior to Saratoga, then win a NYRA graded stakes before the end of the year. Starlight’s Shanghai Bobby capitalized on that last year when he won the Hopeful.
Lucarelli said that the 2012 2-year-old champion colt is on schedule to begin breezing in Saratoga in a few weeks in preparation for the King’s Bishop after a layoff due to injury.
OLD FRIENDS FUNDRAISER
Old Friends (Frankel Division) at Cabin Creek will offer a very interesting auction item at its Kickoff Cocktail Party fundraiser on Saturday, July 20, a parade ring pennant bearing the name of Frankel, autographed by jockey Tom Queally and his late trainer, Sir Henry Cecil.
The pennant was used at the 2011 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, the eighth of the undefeated Frankel’s 14 career victories. The son of Galileo, owned by Juddmonte Farms, ran his last race last October. Cecil, considered one of the greatest trainers in the history of the sport, died of cancer at the age of 72 on June 11.
The Old Friends at Cabin Creek division, and the eponymous horse, were named after the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, who trained many of Juddmonte’s star horses in North America.
Jockey Rosie Napravnik will host the Old Friends Cocktail Party, which will run from 7-11 p.m. at the Saratoga Golf & Polo Club in Wilton. The event will include hors d’oeuvres, buffet stations and dessert catered by chef John Ireland and live music performed by the jazz combo Fresh.
The pennant from the 2011 Goodwood is the first significant piece of Frankel memorabilia to come to the U.S. Also up for auction will be the silks worn by Jerry Bailey when Cigar won the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic, among other items. The silks are framed and signed by Bailey, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and owners Allen and Madeleine Paulson.
All funds raised by the live auction will help support the retired horses at Old Friends at Cabin Creek. Tickets for the fundraiser are $75 in advance and $85 at the door. To purchase tickets online, visit www.oldfriendsatcabincreek.com or call 518-698-2377.
AROUND THE TRACKS
The 7-year-old winning machine Ben’s Cat did it again on Friday, coming from way out of it to win the Parx Dash by 1 1⁄4 lengths over Tightend Touchdown.
He improved to 22-3-2 from 33 career starts and pushed his earnings over $1.5 million. . . .
Delegation, third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, set a track record for a mile and a quarter on the main track at Woodbine on Monday, running a 2:01.51 to win the Grade III Dominion Day Stakes by
9 1⁄4 lengths. . . .
Spicer Cub, who became a YouTube sensation for bolted so wide in the stretch at Pimlico that he wound up running between the rail and the starting gate, finally broke his maiden in his 10th start, at Delaware Park on Monday.
In his eighth start on April 13, Spicer Cub bolted sharply at the three-sixteenths pole, causing Xavier Perez to lose his irons. After skipping through to the right of the gate, which was parked parallel to the rail, Spicer Cub back into the middle of the track and still almost pulled out a win, finishing second by a nose despite the adventure.
On Monday, he stalked the pace under Perez and pulled away by 3 3⁄4 lengths.
HERE AND THERE
On Wednesday, Kentucky Derby winner Orb had his first published workout since finishing third in the Belmont. He went three furlongs in 36.00 at Fair Hill in Maryland. . . .
Daisy Devine has been disqualified from her runner-up finish to Centre Court in the April 13 Grade I Jenny Wiley at Keeneland after testing positive for clenbuterol.
Trainer Andrew McKeever was suspended 15 days and fined $500 by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and the $60,000 in purse money Daisy Devine, who won the Jenny Wiley last year, was set to earn was redistributed accordingly. . . .
Groupie Doll, last year’s champion female sprinter, appeared on the worktab for the first time this year and breezed a bullet three furlongs in :35.80 on the fast main track at Churchill Downs last Saturday.
Trainer Buff Bradley said that she could start in the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga on Aug. 23 or the Grade II Presque Isle Downs Masters on Sept. 9, which she won last year.
Three-time Grade I winner Mecke was euthanized last Friday at Hidden Springs Farm in Indiana in light of complications of old age. . . .
A Florida-bred sire of 14 stakes winners, Mecke was 12-7-9 from 40 starts for purses totaling $2,470,550.
His Grade I wins included two on the turf, the Early Times Turf Classic and Arlington Million, and one on dirt, the Super Derby, in which he equaled the Louisiana Downs track record for 10 furlongs in 2:00.34.