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Comical gives Avalanche's Johnson first Spa win

Comical gives Avalanche's Johnson first Spa win

NHL defenseman compares a victory at the Spa to "winning at Lambeau, if you're a football player"
Comical gives Avalanche's Johnson first Spa win
NHL defensman Erik Johnson, center, celebrates Comical's win in the Schuylerville at Saratoga.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Comical shoots and scores.

The 2-year-old filly, co-owned by veteran NHL defenseman Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche, made her move to the front coming off the turn and slid over the goalline -- er, past the finish line -- to win the 101st Grade III Schuylerville on a muddy opening day of the 151st Saratoga Race Course meet on Thursday.

Johnson races under the ERJ Racing, LLC banner and co-owns Comical with Gary Barber, Dave Kenney and Madaket Stables LLC.

A Minneapolis native who spends most of his summers hanging around Del Mar Racetrack in southern California, he was making his third trip to Saratoga, and said he has a deep appreciation for how challenging it is to win any race here, much less a graded stakes.

"Unbelievable feeling. It's like winning at Lambeau, if you're a football player," he said. "A lot of work goes in for this filly, and I couldn't be more honored to own her and run her here.

"It's an unbelievable feeling to win at Saratoga, and we're blessed. These horses are amazing animals and get the best care in the world, probably better than humans, so to get a win here means a lot, and they're special animals. They're part of your family when you run at a racetrack. To get a win here feels absolutely amazing. Hopefully, I can win a Stanley Cup next year and get a daily double."

For the record, many Las Vegas early odds on the Avalanche have them around 10-1 as the fifth choice to win the Stanley Cup in 2020.

In the Schuylerville, Comical was 5-1 on the morning line and was bet down to 3-1 off a nice win by six lengths at Santa Anita in her career debut on May 26.

Ridden by Javier Castellano, she stalked Integral early, then made a charge on the outside at the three-sixteenths pole, holding off Kiss the Girl by a neck.

"She moved fast out of the gate and attended the pace and went forward," Castellano said. "Turning for home, I was able to save a little ground, and I'm very lucky she's a good enough filly to win the race, because the other horse was coming at her. She was very determined today."

Kiss the Girl's rider, John Velazquez, said she ran greenly. She almost got there anyway.

"She ran the spots, but when they opened up a length and a half, she didn't know what to do. She was running and stopping."

QUICK CALL

Listing made it a California sweep of the opening day stakes races when he and jockey Joel Rosario rallied on the outside to win the Grade III Quick Call turf sprint.

Due to heavy rain in the middle of the afternoon, the field scratched down to seven horses, but Listing didn't have any trouble with a course listed as "yielding."

"The turf is soft, but he handled it fine," Rosario said. "I rode him once on the dirt in California, and he went to the grass after and won easy."

WAR OF WILL WORK

Trainer Mark Casse said that Preakness winner War of Will, who is pointing toward the Jim Dandy and Travers, will get his first timed breeze at Saratoga, under regular jockey Tyler Gaffalione, at 5:45 Saturday morning.

War of Will has breezed twice, once each at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, since finishing ninth to stablemate Sir Winston in the Belmont Stakes.

"That breeze on Saturday will decide whether we're Jim Dandy or not," Casse said. "I want to see a good, solid work and see what Tyler has to say, too."

After the Churchill Downs work, assistant trainer David Carroll told Casse that the gallop-out after a half-mile in 49.40 seconds was impressive. "David said that he was amazed that he never took a deep breath. So we're just looking for fitness level, see how tired he gets," Casse said.

Sir Winston is still in Ocala, Florida, recovering from an ankle issue after the Belmont, and he will miss the Travers and point toward some races at the end of the year, Casse said.

"I was with him yesterday in Ocala. He looks great. I'm not so sure that when you see Sir Winston again he's going to be a much bigger and stronger horse. I think he's going to be a great 4-year-old."

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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