OK, Voodoo Song, break’s over.
The hardest-working horse in Saratoga Race Course show business last year hasn’t been able to get in a race this meet, but that will change on Saturday, as long as it doesn’t rain any more.
He’ll tackle Grade I company for the first time in his career in the Fourstardave, and will be doing it on familiar turf.
Voodoo Song raced four times in 43 days at Saratoga last season … and won all four.
The last time anyone can remember a horse doing that was in 1952, when the 2-year-old Native Dancer won the Flash, Saratoga Special, Grand Union Hotel and Hopeful. He returned to Saratoga as a 3-year-old and won the Travers, then closed his career in 1954 with a victory by nine lengths in a handicap at the Spa.
“It is pretty extraordinary,” trainer Linda Rice. “You need a perfect storm to come together. It’s one thing to run four times, that’s quite unusual by itself, but to win four will go down as one of my special memories at Saratoga.”
Speaking of horse-for-the-course, of Fourstardave’s 100 career starts, 21 were at Saratoga for a record of 9-3-1. The so-called “Sultan of Saratoga” won a race at the Spa eight straight years before wrapping up his career by finishing off the board in three starts at the 1995 meert.
He squeezed in three starts for the meet on four occasions.
After Voodoo Song’s busy 2017 meet, he ended the season with a second in the Grade III Commonwealth and a fifth in the Hawthorne Derby on a soft course in Chicago.
That reinforced for Rice that Voodoo Song prefers a firm course, which has been hard to come by at this meet.
He was scheduled to start earlier in the meet, but the turf came up soft, so Rice decided to wait for the Fourstardave or the West Point for New York-breds on Travers weekend.
“Last year we had a beautiful meet, we had a firm course the whole meet and he loved it,” she said. “I am concerned about the weather. Last fall we shipped him to Chicago and ran him on a bog, and that did not go well.
“It seems like every time I look at the forecast, it’s different, but I am concerned about a soft turf. You can’t fight Mother Nature. Our intention is to run if we can, if the circumstances are reasonable.”
This year, Voodoo Song, owned by Barry Schwartz, has two wins from four starts, most recently in the Forbidden Apple at Belmont Park.
He’s 9-2 on the morning line against a tough field that includes Yoshida, who lost by a neck to Voodoo Song in the Saranac.
“It’s a solid race, but that’s the Fourstardave for you. It’s a Grade I,” Rice said. “I’ve been pleased with his progression as a 4-year-old.”
His progression at Saratoga is rarely seen, but Rice couldn’t find any good reason not to run, so Voodoo Song ran. And ran. And ran and ran.
He came to Rice’s barn when trainer Mike Hushion retired, and Voodoo Song’s first start for Rice was for $40,000 claimers.
After winning that, the front-running Voodoo Song came back with two allowance races before the Saranac. His combined winning margin in those three races was less than two lengths.
“That was pretty exciting, to win a Grade III with a horse that you started with in a forty, non-winners-of-two [claiming race],” Rice said. “I just kept entering and he ran great. I saw opportunities. I run horses back on short rest when I find it to be a good opportunity. You’re not going to run a horse back on short rest unless you feel good about the spot. I just saw opportunities lying in front of him and I just kept taking them.”
The Fourstardave field includes Heart to Heart, the 2-1 favorite known for a heart-shaped star on his forehead.
He won the Bernard Baruch at Saratoga last year and is a two-time Grade I winner this year, in the Gulfstream Park Turf and the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland. Most recently, he was second by a neck to Hunt in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita on May 28.
Saturday’s card also includes the Grade II Adirondack for 2-year-old fillies and the Lure on the turf, which was supposed to be run last weekend but was canceled because of heavy rain.