After winning the Grade I $250,000 New York Turf Writers Cup for the 14th time on Thursday at Saratoga Race Course, Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard said it still doesn’t get old.
“Not really, no,” Sheppard said. “I hope I can do it again.”
This time, Sheppard did it with a horse he bred and owns, Italian Wedding, who was second in the A.P. Smithwick Memorial earlier at the meet.
In the New York Turf Writers Cup, jockey Bernard Dalton kept Italian Wedding off the pace, but close enough to make his move entering the final turn of the 23⁄8-mile steeplechase for horses 4 and older. He had the lead early in the stretch, and held off the late charge of All Together to win by a length.
“He ran really well last time in the Smithwick off about a year and a half layoff,” Dalton said. “I didn’t feel like he got tired the last time, and Mr. Sheppard said he felt like he had a horse that improved off that run. I had a lot of confidence going into the race. The horse jumped and traveled the whole way. I felt one come to me after the last [jump], and the horse did, too, and he came back on the bridle and kind of won a little easy in the end, you know?”
All Together was a head better than Martini Brother, another of Sheppard’s horses and part of a three-horse entry that also included seventh-place Divine Fortune. Sheppard also trained eighth-place Hunt Ball.
“[Italian Wedding] had been training very well,” Sheppard said. “We’ve worked hard with all of these horses trying to get them ready for this meet. Obviously, it’s kind of a showcase for our sport. We do the best we can to get them ready, and then the chips fall where they may. You never quite know how it’s going to unfold. I had three other horses, and I was very proud of Martini Brother for his first time in open company. The other two were a little more disappointing, but let’s savor the moment for the time being.”
Pacesetter Brave Prospect seemed poised for a good finish despite losing the lead around the seventh jump. Heading over the ninth jump, though, he bumped another horse and stopped, leaving the course and not finishing.
The Lumber Guy is set to make his return to racing today in the $100,000 Chowder’s First, a New York-bred restricted stakes for horses 3 and older going 6 1⁄2 furlongs.
The race is for horses who have not won a stakes this year.
The Lumber Guy, though, won last year’s Grade I Vosburgh and was second in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint by three-quarters of a length for trainer Michael Hushion.
He was given time off after a pair of less-sparlking finishes for Neil Drysdale in California. Hushion said since The Lumber Guy has returned to his barn, he has been impressed with his works.
“There are a lot of positive vibes from him,” Hushion said. “They did a good job bulking him up on the farm. He came here looking tremendous. I had been to the farm [about a week before he arrived at the track], and my jaw dropped. It looked like a stallion show.”
LONG WAY ‘ROUND
Vitoria Olimpica made a wide trip work for him in the overnight Alydar Stakes, a $100,000 race for horses 3 and older over 1 1⁄8 miles.
The 4-year-old trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez was about a half-length to a length off the nose of pacesetter Percussion through the first mile, on the outside of a three-horse pack as Percussion ran inside of Csaba, who was just off his outside shoulder until fading to last of five horses in the stretch. Vitoria Olimpica stayed outside and found some kick in the stretch to get past Percussion.
He needed as much kick as he could get, because Easter Gift — trained by Mechanicville native Chad Brown — was coming even farther outside with a closing effort that earned runner-up honors. Percussion held on for third, but just barely over Aussi Austin, who was caught behind four horses at the top of the stretch and made a wide bid.
FRAC DADDY TO TURF
The top two finishers from the Arkansas Derby are running at Saratoga on Travers Day on Saturday, but neither is in the Travers.
Overanalyze is in the King’s Bishop, and Frac Daddy, the Arkansas Derby runner-up who was up the track in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont, will try turf for the first time in nine career starts.
Trained by Ken McPeek and owned by Magic City Thoroughbred Partners, whose Golden Ticket won the Travers in a dead heat with Alpha last year, Frac Daddy is 8-1 on the morning line in the eighth race, which will go a mile and a sixteenth on the inner turf course.
The son of Scat Daddy hasn’t run since finishing almost 64 lengths behind Palace Malice in the Belmont.
“We just thought we’d try him on the grass,” McPeek said. “We’ve trained him over the turf course here at the Oklahoma, and he acts like he likes it. The horse is a real physical animal. He’s big and strong and does everything right. He does what he does, but he’s tricky to ride in a race, and if things don’t go his way, he’s a little problematic. This is a good time to try him.”
Although Frac Daddy is graded stakes-placed twice, his only win was a maiden race at Churchill Downs in November.
McPeek said he trains like a good horse in the morning, but hasn’t translated that to his races, especially because he doesn’t handle kickback well.
“There are times I’ve relegated him to a morning glory, because he can outwork about any horse I have in the morning, when there’s no dirt in his face and he’s in cruising mode,” McPeek said. “He’s been known to outwork Golden Ticket on a regular basis, he outworks
Atigun, all my good horses. Then we put him in a race, and he tends to melt down a little bit. But maybe the grass is a good spot.”
Besides the Belmont, Frac Daddy melted down in the Kentucky Derby, never getting out of the back of the pack on a day when a fast pace allowed late runners to close into the money.
Frac Daddy finished 24 1⁄4 lengths behind Orb.