Sweet Reason already had that extra gear in her 2-year-old afternoons, but now she’s finding it in the mornings, too.
Last year’s winner of the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga Race Course, the Street Sense filly returns for today’s Grade I Test at the same seven-furlong distance. She’s fresh off a win in the Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park, is 2-0-0 in two starts at Saratoga and 2-1-0 in four Grade I tries.
Another reason for her being the 3-1 morning-line favorite has to be the bullets she’s firing in her morning workouts. On June 29 at Belmont, she went four furlongs in :47, then on July 7 went four in :47 1⁄5. She was the fastest of 31 and 35, respectively, at those distances those mornings. In Saratoga on July 20, she went five furlongs in :59 1⁄5 and was fastest of 36.
“It’s her that’s firing them, because I’m certainly not asking for them,” said trainer Leah Gyarmati. “It’s a big turnaround from how she was last year, and even at the beginning of the winter. She never was a great work horse. Even last year, when she was running well, she never put those kind of works in. Now she just, every week, she comes out firing like that. I don’t know. I guess she’s just doing that much better than she was before.”
The Test heads the undercard for the Grade I Whitney. The card also features the Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt at six furlongs for horses 3 and up, the De La Rose at a mile on the inner turf for fillies and mares 4 and up, and the Lure at 1 1⁄16 miles on the inner turf for horses 4 and up.
Last year, Sweet Reason broke her maiden in her debut at 5 1⁄2 furlongs over a sloppy track here on Aug. 9. Then she won the Spinaway, also over a sloppy track. Her combined margins of victory in the two races was 12 lengths.
From win to win, she doesn’t change much. She keeps close to the pace, then fires around the outside either late in the far turn or early in the stretch, showing great speed in reserve.
Sweet Reason and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who has ridden her in her last three races, will have to contend with 4-1 Southern Honey, a winner her last three times out, including the Grade III Winning Colors at Churchill Downs in her last race on May 26, as well as 6-1 Sweet Whiskey, who was second to Sweet Reason by a half-length in the Acorn and won the Grade III Old Hat in January at Gulfstream Park.
The Test drew a field of 12, though the inside post will likely be vacated by Princess Violet, who is expected to scratch.
The Test is the only stakes race on the card in which Mechanicville’s Chad Brown does not have a horse. He’ll be busy the rest of the day, saddling Last Gunfighter in the Whitney, Bakken in the A.G. Vanderbilt, Pianist and Dayatthespa in the De La Rose and Big Blue Kitten in the Lure.
Bakken is the 5-2 favorite in the A.G. Vanderbilt after finishing second by three-quarters of a length in the Grade II True North on June 6, his only race this year. All four of Brown’s horses in the undercard stakes have had significant time off this year — Dayatthespa and Pianist are unraced since Dec. 1, and Big Blue Kitten is unraced since Nov. 2 of last year, when he was eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Big Blue Kitten was 4-2-1 from his seven other starts last year.
“We had a big year last year, our stable, and a lot of our top horses from last year paid the price for it, physically, in that they were tired,” Brown said. “Some of them had little aches and pains, and luckily, it was nothing serious with this group of horses; there were no surgeries involved or anything like that. They needed some extra time, so we gave it to them. They gave it to us, last year, running, so we gave them the break. It hurt us for the first half of 2014, but I didn’t see any other option, but to give them the time.”
Brown said Bakken is working well, and he was pleased with how he came off his layoff to contend for the True North. He will break from the outside in Post 8 under Javier Castellano.
He will face 3-1 Happy My Way, winner of his last three and four of his last five, including the Grade III Maryland Sprint in his last. Linda Rice’s Palace, the 7-2 third choice, was winless in his first three races in 2012, then was claimed for $20,000 when he won a maiden claiming race at Belmont by 11 3⁄4 lengths. Since then, he is 9-5-0 from 16 starts, including his first graded win in the True North, over Bakken.
The De La Rose will be the seventh race on the card and kick off the stakes smorgasbord. Dayatthespa (2-1) and Pianist (3-1) are the first two choices in the nine-horse field, followed by 4-1 Filimbi, who is 4-3-2 from nine career starts.
The two Brown trainees, both of which like the lead, have worked together for the last two weeks. Brown wouldn’t mind seeing them together again out front today, as long as they can stay there.
In the Lure, Big Blue Kitten is the 5-2 favorite. Kharafa is the 9-2 second choice, followed by Plainview at 5-1. Plainview is 3-for-3 here, all in optional claimers.
Brown said the 1 1⁄16 miles may be a bit short for Big Blue Kitten, whose last three races were at 1 1⁄2 miles, but he expects to see a good effort in his return from his nine-month absence from the races.
“This horse has always overachieved from what we would see in the mornings; he’s not a good work horse,” Brown said. “When we run this horse, he’s just continued to give us pleasant surprises as he’s developed. He has a big heart and he’s a real trier in the afternoon.”