The fields are coming into focus for Saratoga’s seven graded stakes over Labor Day weekend, the concluding days of the Spa’s meet.
Saturday’s $600,000 Woodward (G1) will likely feature the speedy Liam’s Map, last seen being caught by Honor Code at the wire in the August 8 Whitney (G1) over this track and 1 1/8-miile trip. The Todd Pletcher trainee will be joined by as many as three stablemates — Brooklyn (G2) winner Coach Inge, most recently third in the Suburban (G2); Protonico, who has not raced since capturing the Alysheba (G2) May 1, and was scratched on the track during his warm-up for the August 2 Monmouth Cup (G2); and classic-placed veteran Mylute.
Jimmy Jerkens will be double-handed with Wicked Strong, fourth in the Whitney, and Effinex, who edged Tonalist in the Suburban. Tonalist, coming off a third in the Whitney, is listed as possible for the Woodward. Rounding out the projected cast are the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Bay of Plenty, successful over Mylute in the August 9 Alydar here, and last year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up Commanding Curve, who seeks to rebound from a Mountaineer flop (caused by a lung infection).
All eyes will be on Rachel Alexandra’s daughter by Bernardini, Rachel’s Valentina, in Saturday’s $350,000 Spinaway (G1). The seven-furlong contest serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). Rachel’s Valentina looked like a budding star when driving home late to take her Spa debut going a furlong shorter August 9, and the added ground should benefit the Pletcher pupil. Stablemate Tonasah, who was worn down late in the August 15 Adirondack (G2), is also in the mix, along with Wesley Ward’s Banree, the runner-up in the Schuylerville (G3).
Rachel’s Valentina isn’t the only hot-shot Saratoga maiden winner stepping up in the Spinaway. Constellation was much the best by 4 1/2 lengths in her unveiling for Steve Asmussen; Tap To It overcame a troubled passage to win first time out for Ralph Nicks; Linda Rice’s Big Thrill was a resounding last-to-first winner in an off-the-turf maiden; and the Jeremiah Englehart-trained Anna Rae trounced $65,000 maiden claiming foes here.
Saturday’s supporting stakes are a couple of Grade 3s on turf. In the $200,000 Glens Falls (G3) for distaffers over 1 3/8 miles, Goldy Espony bids for her fourth straight win. The Chad Brown filly has scored front-running thefts in the July 5 River Memories at Belmont and the August 8 Waya (G3) at the Spa, beating likely Glens Falls rivals Eastern Belle, White Rose and Evidently. Tom Proctor is expected to send out Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3) winner Ceisteach, who could keep Goldy Espony honest this time. Christophe Clement plans to run Maximova, with stablemate Courtesan regarded as possible. The other possibles are Bocaiuva and Woodbine-based Llanarmon.
Brown also holds a strong hand in the $300,000 Saranac (G3) for sophomores, with recent National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2) hero Takeover Target and fast-finishing Kent (G3) runner-up Money Multiplier both likely to go, and French import Winter Springs (sixth in the Hall of Fame) possible. Also exiting the Hall of Fame are Courtier (third), World Approval (fourth) and Vision Perfect (seventh). A fascinating new shooter on the scene is Niarchos Family homebred Tale of Life, unraced since his 13th in the May 10 French 2000 Guineas (G1). In his prior start, he was second to eventual French Derby (G1) winner New Bay, making him a smart recruit for Graham Motion. Recent Lamplighter winner Nonna’s Boy is another expected, while Billy’s Star could invade from Woodbine for Roger Attfield.
Sunday’s feature, the $300,000 Prioress (G2), serves up a rematch between Test (G1) victress Cavorting and runner-up Bar of Gold. The latter was still in front with a furlong remaining in the Test, but it would be facile to suggest that a cutback to six furlongs would suit her better than Cavorting. Irish Jasper, fourth in the Test, is “possible” to make her first start for Brown here. Promise Me Silver, who’s dropped her last two after winning her first eight; Ekati’s Phaeton, who has been freshened since going off form in the spring; Fusaichi Red, exiting a score in the Miss Woodford; Al Stall Jr.’s promising Paid Up Subscriber; Hot City Girl; and Sky Gold round out the probables. Tricky Zippy, winner of three straight versus New York-breds — capped by the Union Avenue last out — is possible for Jerkens.
Another rematch comes on Labor Day, in the $350,000 Hopeful (G1), where Magna Light and Uncle Vinny will renew their Sanford (G3) rivalry. To be accurate, there wasn’t much of a rivalry, since Magna Light was convincingly the best in the Sanford. But he was disqualified for his errant passage down the stretch, and Uncle Vinny — who was unaffected by any waywardness on the outside — was awarded the win via disqualification. As ever, the Hopeful is a deeper race than the Sanford. Unbeaten Mountaineer Juvenile romper Bullet Gone Astray ships up from Gulfstream for Henry Collazo. Restricted Graduation Stakes hero Mrazek goes east for Doug O’Neill. Also invading from Del Mar is Keith Desormeaux’s game maiden winner Go Long, a stablemate of Exaggerator, who took a similar path to victory in the Saratoga Special (G2). Kiaran McLaughlin fields a pair of contenders in Sticksstatelydude and Sallisaw, both coming off Spa maiden scores. Tom’s Ready, a closing fourth to Sallisaw in their mutual debut, aims high second time out for Dallas Stewart. So might the Tony Dutrow-trained Set the Trappe, who’s possible in the wake of his debut second here.
Ironicus tops the probables for the $250,000 Bernard Baruch (G2) over 1 1/16 grassy miles. A smashing winner of the Dixie (G2) on Preakness Day, the Shug McGaughey charge was a wide-trip, near-miss second in the August 15 Fourstardave (G2) on the inner turf. Seek Again, third as the defending champion in the Fourstardave, is possible for the Bernard Baruch, but Hall of Famer Bill Mott also has the option of the Woodbine Mile (G1). Mott’s likelier candidate at this stage is Vyjack. Heart to Heart just wired the Oceanport (G3) on Haskell Day, and Under Control comes off a rallying score in the August 8 Lure over this course and distance. Pletcher has two penciled in, the veteran Charming Kitten (second to Under Control in the Lure) and lightly raced Wertheimer homebred All Included.