Eric Guillot’s phone rings … it’s James Brown.
No, the ghost of the Godfather of Soul was not calling the Louisianan to ask him about his Whitney champion, Moreno, who will run in today’s Grade I Woodward at Saratoga Race Course. It was Guillot’s ringtone, announcing an incoming call with James Brown’s voice shouting “Wow! I feel good,” which echos Guillot’s feelings about Moreno.
His win here in the Whitney was the third of his 20-race career and first since the Grade II Dwyer on July 6, 2013, but the front-running 4-year-old has always been a threat.
“People seem to forget, the last 10 starts, he’s run seven triple-digit Beyer [Speed Figures],” Guillot said. “Seven. No one else in there has done it. None of the other good horses have done that recently. Consistency is the key. Horse training, when you’re a good horse trainer, you can make horses run consistently good.”
One of the speed figures that was sub-100 was a 96 in the Grade II Suburban at Belmont, his last start before the Whitney. In that race, he was second to Zivo, who will take another shot today after being idle since the that win.
The Woodward is full of horses that Moreno beat in the Whitney or the Suburban. Micromanage was seventh in the Suburban, Norumbega eighth. Last Gunfighter was ninth in the Suburban, fifth in the Whitney. Prayer for Relief was third in the Suburban, fourth in the Whitney. Romansh was fifth in the Suburban, seventh in the Whitney. Itsmyluckyday was second to Moreno in the Whitney by 11⁄4 lengths.
It’s no surprise, then, to see Moreno as the 2-1 morning-line favorite. Itsmyluckyday, winner of three straight stakes before the Whitney, is the 5-2 second choice, and Zivo is the 5-1 third choice.
Guillot doesn’t worry too much about Zivo repeating his feat from the Suburban, as this race sets up a little differently. In the Suburban, which Guillot called the best race Moreno has ever run, Moreno had to break from the 11 post in a gate set up on the turn at an odd angle. Jockey Junior Alvarado had to hustle Moreno out even faster than usual to gain the early lead.
“How did Zivo beat me last time?” Guillot said. “I was in the 11 hole, I was outside, the gates are set up three lengths back at an angle. I had to go 22 and three to go 23 and three. Went 46 and four, I got pressed by one of the favorites. I got pressed again, 1:10 and three going a mile and a quarter, and he beat me inside the sixteenth pole going two minutes and change, which is a fast mile and a quarter. So good luck to him.”
Eddie Pleas Jr., trainer of Itsmyluckyday, will hope for someone to put similar pressure on Moreno today.
“We’re just hoping for more of an honest pace,” Plesa said during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association conference call. “I thought the pace [in the Whitney] certainly demonstrated Moreno — not to take anything away from him; he did what he needed to do to win the race. I think we were kind of compromised because of it. I’m just hoping for a little bit swifter pace and maybe a little bit more pressure put on whosoever on the lead, which I’m sure will be Moreno.”
Plesa added blinkers for Itsmyluckyday, saying the colt tends to look toward the grandstands down the stretch.
“Since his last race, we’ve been training him with them,” he said. “He’s worked twice with them. He’s relaxed with the blinkers on, so we’re just doing something a little bit different.”
Itsmyluckyday has been training at Monmouth Park, going four furlongs in :48 on Aug. 16 and in :494⁄5 on Aug. 23.
Moreno’s fired bullets each of his last four works, all at Saratoga. He’s only had one published breeze since the Whitney, going five furlongs in :591⁄5, the fastest of 46 that day.
“We’re good; straightforward, everything’s good, doing his regular program,” Guillot said. “No changes. He worked the other day, easy, galloped out good and came back happy.”
‘CLEARLY’ THE FAVORITE
After setting a track record at Belmont Park in the Grade III Belmont Sprint on July 5, Clearly Now is the 7-5 favorite for the Grade I Forego today.
He has won three Grade III’s at this seven-furlong distance, winning the Belmont Sprint in 1:194⁄5 .
“You’d love to duplicate that sort of race,” trainer Brian Lynch said on the NTRA call. “There was so much speed in that race in the first part, in the early stages, though I don’t know that there’s going to be that sort of speed in this race the way it’s shaping up.”
Lynch, based at Woodbine in Ontario, Canada, is 2-2-1 from six starts at this Saratoga meet. He has kept Clearly Now in training, but has not run him back since the Belmont Sprint.
“I’ve had a bit of luck if I give him a little bit of time between races,” he said. “We’ve done that, and he’s had an uninterrupted work schedule coming into it and seems to be in good form, so, you know, very excited about taking him down. It’s been such a good lead to his — so far down there this summer; you’re hoping that you can just continue for things to go your way.”
Palace is the 3-1 second choice for Linda Rice, who claimed the son of City Zip in the fall of 2012 and has seen him hit the board in all but two starts since. He most recently won the Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt here on Aug. 2. He was second to Clearly Now in the Belmont Sprint, back 61⁄4 lengths.
Falling Sky is the 6-1 third choice after a third-place finish to Palace in the A.G. Vanderbilt. Every other horse sports double-digit odds.