Racing at Saratoga is great, in part because the best horsemen are involved, well-meant horses are coming from everywhere, everyone is trying, and good prices and prime betting opportunities can be found day-by-day and race-by-race on good horses. When you can pair up the best jockeys and trainers with the best horses, you will have the recipe for success. Here are some examples of some hot and cold jockeys and trainers at The Spa meet so far in 2019.
The trainers’ standings through August 15 at Saratoga contain very few surprises. Chad Brown is running away with the title at present with 20 wins from 111 starters for 19%. It’s a long way back to Todd Pletcher in second with 9 wins and a surprisingly low (for him) 13% win percentage. His slower than usual meet has also affected Johnny Velazquez’s numbers. Steve Asmussen has 9 winners from only 44 starters, making his win percentage better at 20%. Bill Mott, Christophe Clement, Jason Servis and Jeremiah Englehart each have 8 wins and all are dangerous. Of that quartet, Clement (23%) and Servis (22%) are winning at particularly high win percentages. Both do great in turf sprints, among other spots.
The other standout trainer to bet at Saratoga this season has been Danny Gargan, who had 7 wins from his first 25 starters and is among the leaders in terms of ROI and winning percentage at 28%. Another trainer you’ve gotta bet pretty much whenever you see him entered is Robertino Diodoro, who owns 5 wins from his first 17 starters at the meet (28%). With fewer starters, you can also put Jorge Navarro (4-for-11, 36%) and Rusty Arnold (3-for-10) into the “hot” category.
It should also be noted that H. James Bond, who is based year-round at Saratoga, has been loaded this season and it shows with his 6-for-24 record (25%). Finally, Mark Casse, who normally starts slow and finishes fast up at The Spa, has already reached 7 wins from his first 40 starters (18%) and is only expected to improve further upon those numbers has his horses make their second and third starts of the meet.
Trainers to steer clear of betting who really struggled the first month of the 2019 Saratoga meet include George Weaver (1-for-19, 5%); Gary Contessa, who had a couple early winners but now is 2-for-52 for 6%; and David Donk, who is just 2-for-32 for 6%.
In the jock’s room, the first couple weeks at the Saratoga meet were notable because of the ice-cold start that perennial leading rider contender Irad Ortiz Jr. had at the meet. However, after a losing July, Irad Ortiz has gone on a tear in August and has quickly made up ground on the upper echelons of the jockey standings to be in hot pursuit of Jose Ortiz for top honors. Currently, Irad Ortiz is second in the jockey race with 31 wins from 150 starters for 21% to trail only Jose Ortiz, who leads with 36 wins from 162 mounts and a 22% win percentage.
It’s a long way back to third place in the jock’s standings where Javier Castellano has passed Luis Saez with 22 victories over 21 for Saez thanks to a very good 20% win percentage (plus 57% ITM). Aside from the Ortiz brothers and Castellano, no other rider is even approaching the 20% mark. The next tier of riders who have more than 10 wins, as of August 15, all have winning percentages between 13%-16% including Saez (13%) and Joel Rosario (18 wins, 13%), Jose Lezcano (16 wins, 16%), Junior Alvarado (15 wins, 16%) and Ricardo Santana (13 wins for 13%).
The Ortiz brothers and Castellano are all riding the Chad Brown wave and generally have the choice of the plumb mounts for other barns, as well. Junior Alvarado benefits from Bill Mott having a strong meet, and of course, as Steve Asmussen goes, so goes Santana who rides his first call.
Jockeys having tough meets at Saratoga in 2019 include Manny Franco (9-for-151, 6%); Tyler Gaffalione who has not yet cut it in NY with a record of just 9-for-104 (9%); Dylan Davis, who is 4-for-102 (4%); and Rajiv Maragh, who is 3-for-52 (6%).
Julien Leparoux, who has perennially struggled mightily at Saratoga throughout his career, is 2-for-32 for this typical type of Spa 6% win percentage. Another rider surprisingly having a tough 2019 Spa meet is John Velazquez, who has only 9 wins from his first 82 mounts for 11%. Other than blue chip Todd Pletcher runners, Johnny V. really hasn’t done much so far this season.
Elate loves a 1 ¼-mile distance and has never been better than she was in the July 13 Delaware Handicap (G2). Fifth entering the far turn, she received her cue from jockey Jose Ortiz and the race was over before the completion of the bend.
Her turn of foot proved sensational as Elate blew by a couple of respectable foes (Escape Clause and Blue Prize) into a clear lead rounding the far turn and Ortiz began easing up his mount about a sixteenth of a mile from the wire. The final winning margin (4 ½ lengths) didn’t illustrate her dominance.
This classy five-year-old mare loves a route of ground, so much so that 1 1/16 miles is too short for her. The Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider homebred has dropped all five starts at 1 1/16 miles, including a pair of decisions to Midnight Bisou earlier this season. She’s had some success at 1 1/8 miles, posting a pair of stakes wins including a 1 ½-length triumph over Blue Prize in the June 15 Fleur de Lis (G2), but Elate owns an overall two-for-five record at the distance.
The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro prefers the distance of the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), winning three stakes starts at 1 ¼ miles by a combined 13 ¼ lengths. If the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff were held at 1 ¼ miles this fall, Midnight Bisou and the rest of the field would be competing for second.
However, 1 1/8-mile Distaff distance favors Midnight Bisou, who is four-for-four in 2019. The race offers $4 million less than the Classic and looks like a more difficult assignment for Elate given the quality of this year’s projected Classic field.
In the latest Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings, compiled by a panel of 36 Thoroughbred racing media, the top three contenders are:
1 McKinzie (Met Mile runner-up was 12th in last year’s Classic and 0-for-2 at 1 ¼ miles)
2 Thunder Snow (winless from four U.S. starts)
3 Seeking the Soul (winless in stakes races outside of Churchill Downs)
Barring a three-year-old emerging as a legitimate threat over the coming months, Elate won’t have any rivals to fear in the 2019 Classic field. Bill Mott knows how to ship horses to Santa Anita, recording four of his 10 Breeders’ Cup race wins in Southern California, and Elate’s BRIS Speed numbers (104 in Del ‘Cap) are on par with her male opponents.
The Classic is shaping up to be a better fit for Elate than the Distaff.
The Saratoga meet is filled with extremely competitive fields and difficult handicapping puzzles. One of the best ways to make your handicapping easier and better is by following trainer trends, which can be useful in narrowing down the races to their few top contenders.
All trainers have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of following the trainer angles, stats and trends, is that they help you identify these strengths and weaknesses to give you the advantage over the rest of the betting public.
Bet trainers at their strengths and bet against them at their weaknesses, and your win percentage and return on investment (ROI) will go upward quickly.
Read onward for an easy-to-use pocket reference for the best times to bet on, and bet against, most of the top trainers throughout the summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course. The opinions are based on recent trends and statistics pertaining specifically to this time of year – the racing season at Saratoga. These preferences may differ elsewhere and at other times of the year.
Apologies if a particular trainer is not mentioned in this guide; it’s impossible to feature everyone. The 32 trainers listed will account for the vast majority of starters at the Spa meet. This is the second part of a three-part series.
Honk if you like Donk, because he is always dangerous in Saratoga turf routes and often at a nice price, the vast majority of his Spa wins will come on the grass. Completely avoid his first- or second-time starters, and turf sprints and dirt races really aren’t his wheelhouse.
Bet: Turf routes
Bet against: First-time and second-time starters
Neutral: Turf sprints, dirt races
Chris Englehart is making a living on the main New York circuit with his claiming stock, including recent claims, and New York-breds. The shorter the race, the better, since he is much more reliable in sprint races than in routes, especially at Saratoga where routes begin at 1 1/8 miles. Against this caliber of competition, don’t expect him to win a lot of turf races, except for an occasional turf sprint.
Bet: Claimers and New York-breds, dirt sprints
Bet against: Dirt routes, turf routes
Neutral: Turf sprints
Jeremiah Englehart enjoyed a breakout meet at Saratoga 2019, winning tons of races and landing in the top 5. He can surprise you at Saratoga in turf sprints, but his turf route numbers are likely to be low. At The Spa, his best game is with claimers and maiden claimers, and 3yo & up at any distance on either surface, with the exception of turf routes.
Bet: 3yo & up claimers and maiden claimers, dirt sprints
Bet against: Turf routes
Neutral: Turf sprints
Jimmy Jerkens is not usually a high-percentage trainer up at Saratoga. He doesn’t win much on grass and with distance horses on dirt, but he remains dangerous in stakes. He can win dirt sprints at The Spa, particularly if it’s with a maiden second-time starter.
Bet: Second-time starters in dirt sprints, 2yos and maidens (not first-starters)
Bet against: Route horses, first starters
Neutral: Turf sprints
Kimmel is hot and cold at Saratoga, and he is generally one of the streakiest trainers at the meet. You can also count on him to have a few stakes horses well spotted at The Spa. Kimmel also does well at this meet with first-time turf horses. Other than that, you’ve gotta ride the wave when it comes to Kimmel and watch for one of his hot streaks to begin.
Bet: First-time turfers, hot streaks
Bet against: 2yos
Neutral: Turf sprints
Not too many fireworks up at Saratoga. The winners he does catch will probably be in sprints, mainly on dirt, and he may even show up with some recent Monmouth Park winners who are in peak form. His Saratoga dirt routers haven’t been good. Always bet the “Bruce Juice” (first-time Lasix).
Bet: Monmouth shippers in top form, first-time Lasix
Bet against: Dirt routes
D. Wayne Lukas
In recent years, Lukas has been running tons of horses at Saratoga and winning at a very low percentage. Most of his big-money owners have gravitated toward other trainers, meaning he is no longer a big factor in Saratoga’s juvenile races, even though he does show up with a nice two-year-old here and there. Lukas hasn’t been a factor on turf at Saratoga lately, so stay away from him on the green. His Saratoga wins these days tend to come in dirt sprints with expensive horses. His winning ROI at Saratoga will be skewed for a long time thanks to a $230 win horse he had a few years back. Take that win away and his ROI is a disaster.
Bet: 2yo stakes-caliber horses and second-time starter sprinters
Bet against: Turf races
Neutral: Dirt routes
Maker will be a major factor in Saratoga turf races of all kinds, and he’s always a major factor first off the claim, even though his stable these days tends to be filled with more classy horses. He shipped a smaller barn to Saratoga in 2019 than he has in recent years, so his win total will drop.
Bet: Turf routes, first off the claim
Bet against: Dirt races not involving claimers or recent claims, dirt sprints
Neutral: Turf sprints
Shug is more known as a Belmont trainer, but he is deadly at Saratoga in dirt routes (he won four-of-five such races in 2015). As good as Shug is on the dirt at Saratoga, however, he is awful on the grass. He’s also not a player with first-time starters.
Bet: Dirt routes
Bet against: All turf races, first starters
Neutral: Dirt sprints
McLaughlin steps up his game at Saratoga and usually wins a bunch of races, including plenty of turf races and turf stakes. Bet with caution in all dirt sprints, because he’s much better in routes (dirt). He’s one of the most lethal turf sprint trainers on the grounds, so expect at least 25% wins in this category. Besides the grass, the best time to catch McLaughlin is with his very potent maiden second-time starters.
Bet: Turf sprints, Turf routes, dirt routes, and maiden second-time starters
Bet against: Dirt sprints
Neutral: First starters and 2yos
Motion rarely wins on the Saratoga main track, but he starts all kinds of live grass horses from a variety of circuits plus foreign imports. He has a generally low percentage in Saratoga dirt races, but on turf it’s a totally different story. His winners are mostly older horses, and horses other than 2-year-olds trying turf for the first time.
Bet: Turf races, first-time turfers
Bet against: All dirt races, 2yos
Bill Mott will annually be one of the top turf trainers, and he can still win allowances on the dirt as well, primarily in routes. Surprisingly, however, Mott doesn’t start many dirt routers up at Saratoga (except off-the-turf). He gets a good win percentage in dirt sprints during his good seasons upstate. Mott is not effective with turf sprint winners at Saratoga, however, once they stretch out on the turf, betting Mott’s horses is a no-brainer.
Bet: Turf routes, dirt sprints, stakes races
Bet against: Turf sprints
Neutral: Dirt routes
Many handicappers believe the “trainer angle” is the most important piece of the handicapping pie, especially when top-rung racing takes place, like in New York during the heart of summer in July and August. All trainers have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of following the trainer angles, stats and trends, is that they help you identify these strengths and weaknesses to decisively give you the advantage over the rest of the betting public.
Best of luck, and enjoy summer racing in New York.
It’s not too early to start thinking about the Saratoga meet, which opens earlier than usual this season on Thursday, July 11. Saratoga will run five days a week in 2019, Wednesdays through Sundays. As usual, the meet will continue until Labor Day, which this year falls on Monday, September 2.
The Saratoga racing season attracts the best horses and horsemen, not only from New York but from everywhere. Trainers from many circuits point their best horses to Saratoga, and the competition for winners is stiffer there than anywhere. With the best barns bringing their best stock to the Spa, there will be some very good trainers excluded from the top 10 in the standings. Here is a look at the cream of the crop – the projected top 10 trainers for the upcoming 2019 Saratoga meet.
The first thing to mention in any Saratoga trainer’s guide is that it is a safe bet that the standings will be dominated by Chad Brown, and that the “exacta” in the trainer’s race should be rounded out by Todd Pletcher. That projected 1-2 finish atop the trainer’s standings would probably be the safest exacta bet you could make at the entire Saratoga meet.
Chad Brown dominated the trainer’s standings like never before in 2018, winning 46 races which smashed the previous all-time Saratoga training record of 40. Brown’s win total was more than double the amount of winners Pletcher had in second place with 19. Rudy Rodriguez was next with 14 winners, followed close by Bill Mott and Steve Asmussen, each with 13 wins. Brown accomplished his 46-win season from 171 starters, for a strong win percentage of 27% and a startling in-the-money (ITM) rate of 64%.
Pletcher had edged out Brown by a single win on the final day of the meet for 40 wins in 2017, and Brown had won the training title at Saratoga in 2016 meet with 40 wins. Pletcher had won the title for five consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2015 (13 overall Saratoga trainer titles).
Behind Pletcher and Brown, it once again should be a battle between Rodriguez, Mott and Asmussen as well as other Saratoga stalwarts like Linda Rice and Kiaran McLaughlin. Jason Servis also had a giant meet at Saratoga in 2018, going 10-for-40 in the win column and an amazing 20-for-40 in the exacta. Jeremiah Englehart also must be respected after a big 2018 meet in which he went 12-for-84 in the win column, good for sixth in the standings.
All of the aforementioned trainers should be respected in all spots, but all have their specialties. Brown wins turf routes and stakes races at an alarming rate. Pletcher reels off two-year-old maiden wins and stakes wins like they are going out of style. Asmussen wins with two-year olds and maidens and mainly a variety of sprinters. Rodriguez wins mostly claiming races and New York-bred races, as does Englehart. Rice is the queen of the turf sprints and also wins with New York-bred maidens and grass horses. Mott wins mainly turf routes, and McLaughlin is one to watch in turf sprints and dirt routes. Servis crushes turf sprints.
The aforementioned nine trainers should all land in the 2019 final top 10 in the trainer’s standings. The last slot in the trainer’s top 10 is up for grabs and could go to any one of a dozen or more top trainers. Perhaps turf ace trainer Christophe Clement is due for a rebound meet with good horses lined up for both turf sprints and routes. Or maybe it will be Joe Sharp, who is lethal in one-mile turf races and turf sprints at Saratoga. Mike Maker brings a wide variety of horses to Saratoga and is always dangerous.
But the edge to sneak into the top 10 amongst everyone else goes to Mark Casse, whose national profile has also risen to elite status the last few years. Casse is a notorious Spa snail, however, who starts slowly but wins the majority of his races in the second half of the meet, and with horses making their second or third starts of the meet.
Stay tuned for more info on even more trainers as the run-up to the start of the 2019 Saratoga meet continues.
PHOTO: Saratoga Race Course (c) Adam Coglianese Photography
A pair of stakes races for two-year-olds will take place on Saturday at Churchill Downs. The $125,000 Bashford Manor (G3) is for the boys, while the fillies will compete in the $125,000 Debutante. While they only ran in maiden events, we witnessed two youngsters over the weekend that would have been formidable foes in the upcoming stakes races.
In the 1ST Race on Friday, Frank Fletcher’s homebred FRANK’S ROCKETTE put on quite a show for conditioner Bill Mott. The daughter of Into Mischief went postward as the 5-2 favorite in a cast of well-bred fillies and left little doubt who was best.
The bay broke alertly and tracked the pace while in close range early on. Given her cue by jockey Julien Leparoux nearing the turn for home, Frank’s Rockette was on level terms at the top of the stretch and demolished her foes late to the tune of an 8 3/4-length waltz. The Kentucky-bred earned a strong 93 BRIS Speed figure for her work, and she could be a force in the two-year-old division this campaign with expected growth.
Frank’s Rockette is from the same female line as the routinely brilliant Indian Blessing. The two-time champion notched five Grade 1 victories and retired with a 16-10-5-0, $2,995,420 career line.
A two-year-old colt was unveiled in the 2ND Race on Sunday beneath the Twin Spires from the barn of Tom Amoss. The Kentucky-bred LONG WEEKEND was sent off at 8-5 in his debut, and the son of Majesticperfection gave his rivals little chance.
Breaking best beneath Miguel Mena, Long Weekend was two lengths clear at the first call, four lengths best at the top of the lane, and then cruised home a most facile winner. The bay colt registered a solid 81 BRIS Speed figure, but he had plenty left in the tank late and his conditioner spoke very fondly of him prior to his debut performance.
Long Weekend is bred to be a dynamic one, too. His dam, the stakes-placed Liza Too, counts herself as a half-sister to a pair of Grade-1 winning sprinters. Paulasilverlining made good in the 2017 Humana Distaff (G1) and Madison (G1), while Dads Caps took the 2014 and 2015 editions of the Carter H. (G1).
It is obviously too early to predict what each of these impressive juveniles will evolve into. But they are in the right hands to make their presence felt in 2019 and beyond. Don’t take either of this duo lightly when they face stakes foes in their next assignments.
The two leading contenders for Saturday’s Belmont S. (G1), War of Willand Tacitus, are using different training regimens for the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion.” That’s as it should be, given their contrasting circumstances.
War of Will training
War of Will, who wheeled back from his Kentucky Derby (G1) misfortune to capture the Preakness (G1), is the only one to compete in all three jewels of the 2019 Triple Crown. Trainer Mark Casse initially penciled in a breeze for the May 31-June 1 window, but then decided to keep him fresh by just galloping up to the race.
“He’s not going to breeze,” Casse told NYRA publicity. “We kind of feel like he’s in a very happy place and relaxed right now and we want him to be that way going 1 1/2 miles so I don’t really see any reason to. We know his Preakness was good and I didn’t breeze him into that. We are going to do it our way. So he is not going to breeze.”
Casse’s strategy recognizes the needs of this particular colt. Considering his tendency to take a strong hold early – especially if stalking a moderate pace as forecast in the Belmont – War of Will doesn’t need to be sharpened up or have any more speed put into him. He’s also been kept in the tranquil confines of Keeneland before planning to arrive in New York Monday.
Tacitus, on the other hand, hasn’t raced since he was fourth across the wire (promoted to third) in the Derby. Accordingly, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has prescribed a series of drills in company to bring the Juddmonte homebred back up to a peak performance on Belmont Day.
Returning to the worktab on Preakness Day, May 18, Tacitus negotiated a half-mile in :48.57 on the Belmont main track, alongside companion Multiplier who clocked the same. The pair teamed up for a five-furlong move May 26, and although again timed in an identical 1:00.16, Tacitus powered clear on the gallop-out with jockey Jose Ortiz.
“It was very good, very even,” Mott said of the May 26 work. “I liked the rhythm of it – 12, 12, 12, 12. Each furlong was in about 12 seconds and he went out six furlongs in about 1:12, so I thought it was a very steady, solid work.”
Tacitus fired a bullet in his final move in company on June 2. With Ortiz aboard, the son of Tapit and champion Close Hatches used Tide of the Sea as his target, readily passed his workmate, and opened up in 1:00.42. Tacitus posted by far the fastest of 16 Sunday works over five-eighths on the main oval, with the second best being the 1:01.19 recorded by Steve Asmussen’s filly Regal Retort. Tide of the Sea finished in 1:01.50.
“He was moving very good, very level and very even,” Mott said. “He went along in ’12s’ every furlong and went out strong enough. It was very similar to last week. Once he gets in his rhythm he moves very nicely.”
Hero of the Wood Memorial (G2) and Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on the road to Louisville, Tacitus appears to have filled out nicely since the Run for the Roses.
“I haven’t weighed him,” Mott said, “but visually it looks like he’s in good flesh. I think he’s done well. He’s a good eater.”
Master Fencer (JPN) Belmont updates
The connections of Japanese shipper Master Fencer have been similarly enthusiastic about his well-being since his fast-finishing seventh (elevated to sixth) in the Derby. It became more difficult to get caught up in the vibe after his first work at Belmont Park, in the wake of a pair of easy half-miles at Keeneland (:52.80 on May 15 and :52.00 May 22).
In his May 29 exercise on the Belmont main track, Master Fencer stumbled and lost his action inside the eighth-pole. Although he got back into stride and completed five furlongs in 1:01.48, assistant Yosuke Kono wisely pulled him up rather than pressing ahead on the gallop-out.
“Up until the eighth pole, he was breezing really well and I was so satisfied,” Kono said May 29, according to translator Mitsuoki Numamoto. “All of a sudden, he stumbled, and gradually shifted to the left by the rail. I switched my whip to make him aware and focus to the end of the breeze. We then recovered but it was feeling a little weird so I tried to stop him as soon as possible.”
Numamoto tweeted the same day that Master Fencer checked out fine:
Master Fencer is doing good even after breeze today. It was just unfortunate stumble that happened when he was speeding the most. So just in case, we asked vet to exam & got second opinion. We hope you will not be influenced by inaccurate info & rumors. https://t.co/4f1Y2rboVM
#MasterFencer#マスターフェンサー is very fine today as usual. Worked both training & main track and his movement was great.
After he changed the lead at the stretch, his kick got even stronger, rider, Yosuke Kono says. We’re satisfied for his movement. pic.twitter.com/RNul0NHxsL
Master Fencer is slated to have his final breeze, with Julien Leparoux up, on Wednesday.
Wood Memorial runner-up Tax, officially 14th in the Derby, is possible for the Belmont at this writing. Trainer Danny Gargan continues to mull plans for the Arch gelding, whose future is likely to include turf.
Tax, a hard-fought winner of the Withers (G3) back in February, has worked twice since the Derby. On the Belmont training track May 25, he toured a half-mile in :49.87, and on the main June 1, he covered the same ground in company in :49.03. Tax caught workmate Blurred Line, who took :49.44.
June 3 update: According to the NYRA notes, Tax is good to go after getting new glue-on shoes. “He looked like a million dollars out there this morning,” Gargan said Monday.
Spinoff and Intrepid Heart Belmont notes
Derby participant Spinoff, who spun his wheels in 18th in the Churchill slop, is on course for the Belmont along with his Todd Pletcher stablemate, Intrepid Heart.
Spinoff, a close second in the Louisiana Derby (G2) two back, breezed four furlongs in :48.72 on the Belmont training track May 19 and stepped up to five panels in his two subsequent moves over the main oval. The well-bred son of Hard Spun sped in :59.91 on May 25 in tandem with Last Judgment, the duo tying for the second-fastest of 28 on the day.
“I thought he (Spinoff) worked well,” Pletcher said on May 25. “I think the main track was a bit fast, but he galloped out in one (minute), twenty-four (seconds) and change and a mile in one (minute) thirty-seven (seconds) and change so it was the kind of big work we were looking for from him today.”
Spinoff came back to exercise five-eighths in 1:02.16 on June 1 alongside Principled, who posted the same time but didn’t keep up on the gallop-out.
“I thought he went well,” Pletcher said of Spinoff’s final work. “He seemed very relaxed and got into a good comfortable rhythm. He stayed steady all the way around and put in a nice seven-eighths gallop-out. He had a really strong workout last week, so we didn’t have to do quite as much today. He seemed happy and moving well.
“It looked like he never really appreciated the off going in that race (the Derby). Since then he’s seemed to continue to move forward and he’s been training well so we’re expecting a better effort.”
Intrepid Heart was two-for-two before a stumbling start contributed to his third in the May 11 Peter Pan (G3). The Tapit half-brother to 2014 Belmont near-misser Commissioner has experimented with blinkers in his two ensuing works.
Taking to Belmont’s main track May 25, Intrepid Heart breezed a half-mile in :49.16 outside of Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Outshine.
“I thought his (Intrepid Heart’s) workout was very good,” Pletcher said May 25. “It was his first time with blinkers and he seemed to be a little bit more focused, but not headstrong, so we got the response we were looking for. I thought he put in a nice move toward the end of the work and he had a nice gallop-out as well.”
Intrepid Heart again partnered with Outshine in a five-eighths drill June 1, with Intrepid Heart on the inside. Each was timed in 1:00.92, before Intrepid Heart pulled away from his coasting companion on the gallop-out.
“I thought he (Intrepid Heart) had another good work and strong gallop-out,” Pletcher said June 1. “I had him finish a mile in 1:38 and change. I think we got a solid work out of him. He seemed to be happy and moving well. He worked on the outside last time, so I just wanted to work him again with the blinkers on and have him on the inside this time and thought it went smoothly.”
Additional Belmont training notes
Another contender emerging from the Peter Pan, hard-charging second Sir Winston, has developed a closing style in his recent starts for Casse. Thus he complements stablemate War of Will’s handier running style, giving their trainer a one-two punch in the Belmont.
Sir Winston mowed down Catch a Thrill in their five-furlong move on the Belmont main May 25, clocking 1:01.48 beneath Joel Rosario. Catch a Thrill was caught in 1:02.31.
“I was very happy with Sir Winston this morning,” Casse said May 25. “He’s never been much of a work horse, but since he’s started running better recently he’s become a better workhorse. I would call that an A+ work for him this morning – it might be a ‘B’ for most horses, but for him it’s an ‘A+’.”
“We work him the way he likes to run,” assistant trainer Jamie Begg said. “Let him fall away from the pole and then run when you need to run and he gets a lot more out of the gallop-out. He seems to have responded to that in his works.”
The winner of the Display at Woodbine last December, Sir Winston turned in a maintenance half in :50.16, on a “good” main track, May 31. Rosario was back in the saddle.
“He worked an easy half-mile with a good gallop-out,” Begg said May 31. “He did it the way he likes to do it and he did it the right way. Joel was very happy with the breeze.”
Fountain of Youth (G2) runner-up Bourbon War, fourth in the Florida Derby (G1) and eighth in the Preakness, was added to the Belmont field after his May 31 spin. The Mark Hennig trainee, without the blinkers he tried in the Preakness, covered four panels on the good main track in :48.74.
“I was happy with him. I thought he did well, looked sharp and galloped out strong,” Hennig said of the well-bred colt, the third Tapit in the race following Tacitus and Intrepid Heart.
Everfast, the shocking Preakness runner-up, went a half-mile May 29 at Churchill Downs in :50.20.
“He really surprised a lot of us in a good way after running so well in the Preakness,” trainer Dale Romans told Churchill publicity. “We’ll see what lies ahead of him the rest of the three-year-old campaign.”
Romans hopes that Calumet Farm’s “potential star” can continue his progress in the Belmont.
June 3 update: Everfast breezed five furlongs in 1:01.00 at Churchill. Recording fractions of :12.80, :24.40, and :48.60, he galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.60 and seven in 1:28. “Everfast worked great today,” Romans said in the NYRA notes Monday. “It’s a mile and a half race so we crammed two works back to back to make sure he is plenty fit. The way he worked out there this morning he looked great. He went even early and finished fast and didn’t want to pull up, which might be key going into the Belmont. He’s coming into it as good as he could be.”
Long Branch winner Joevia has tuned up at Monmouth Park, breezing four furlongs in :48.80 May 25 and drilling five in 1:00.00 June 1.
“It’s a talented group of colts, but our colt is talented as well,” trainer Greg Sacco told NYRA publicity. “He ran very well in the Long Branch. He trained at Belmont all winter and really went well over the surface, which can be a tricky surface.”
With the exception of Japan Road invitee Master Fencer, who continued his routine exercise at Keeneland, the other 19 Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders turned in workouts between last Thursday and Monday.
MONDAY, APRIL 29
At Palm Meadows, unbeaten Florida Derby (G1) winner Maximum Security was credited with a half-mile move in :53.80. In trainer Jason Servis’ methodology, however, that was simply the finale to a gallop.
“He went a mile in 1:58 and came home, I want to say, in 25 (seconds) for the last quarter,” Servis said. “He galloped out a mile and an eighth in 2:12 and cooled out good. All systems are, ‘Go.’”
Servis commented on how the Palm Meadows clocker timed the move.
“They’re getting the last (half-mile) when the horse is breezing a slow mile,” Servis said. “That’s something that probably needs to be addressed at some point.
“I think it was after his second race that I took him off the rail, so to speak, and started doing the open miles. It’s just a maintaining thing, trying to avoid injuries that would set us back. Maybe in a fast breeze there is more risk than what I’m doing.”
At Churchill Downs, Long Range Toddy, victorious in the first Rebel (G2) division before a sixth in the Arkansas Derby (G1), breezed a half-mile in :47.80. The Steve Asmussen pupil was caught in fractions of :12.60, :24.20, and :35.80, and proceeded to gallop out five furlongs in 1:01.20 and six in 1:12.40.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a fast track like we had (Monday) morning,” the Hall of Fame trainer said, unlike the sloppy going in the Arkansas Derby. “He worked beautifully this morning. At this time of the year, the three-year-olds have to step up. He stepped up big time in the Rebel and hopefully can continue to improve. He’ll need to put up the race of a lifetime in the Derby.”
SUNDAY, APRIL 28
Churchill’s Sunday worktab was busier with six Derby hopefuls out for major moves.
Bill Mott’s duo of Wood Memorial (G2) hero Tacitus and Country House commenced a five-eighths drill in company, bursting through to the inside of Maryland shipper Win Win Win and his workmate as they tooled along. But Win Win Win sailed past the Mott duo in deep stretch in his half-mile work. Tacitus and Country House caught back up with Win Win Win entering the clubhouse turn as they matched strides until Win Win Win eased to the outside with his task accomplished.
Country House on the rail, and Tacitus flanking him, clocked five furlongs in 1:00. The tandem posted fractions of :12.20, :24.20, :35.80, and :48, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.80, seven furlongs in 1:26, and a mile in 1:39.80.
“My team was ready to break off,” Mott said, “and they (Win Win Win and workmate) probably didn’t know we were going to work. All the riders did a really good job and I really have to commend all of them. It’s not going to hurt them and they better get used to (traffic) if they’re not already or they’ll get a surprise on Derby Day. It’s pretty crowded out there.
“We have a week to go until the Derby and we look like we’re in good shape. They finished up right together. They may have been a head apart. I told them if they could work together, that would help each other during the work. Both of my horses have pretty laid-back dispositions and they probably needed their company to encourage each other. For me, it worked out perfectly.”
Win Win Win, who dusted his company in :47.60, was caught in splits of :24.20 and :36. The Mike Trombetta trainee galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.20.
“That was a little different, but it worked out well,” jockey Julian Pimentel said of the work that unfolded unexpectedly when the Mott pair barreled through on the inside, when Win Win Win surged by, and when they all re-engaged. “He went about his business and he wanted to go get them.”
Louisiana Derby (G2) winner By My Standards continued to tout himself in the mornings with a strong half in :48.40. After initial fractions of :12.40, :24, and :36.40, the Bret Calhoun pupil galloped out with good energy, covering five furlongs in 1:00.60, six in 1:12.80, and polishing off seven in 1:26.60.
“Well, that couldn’t have gone any better,” Calhoun said. “It’s just a blessing how well he’s doing entering the Derby. He’s doing everything we’ve asked him to do and just moves so effortlessly around the racetrack.”
Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) hero Improbable, runner-up in the Arkansas Derby, rolled through five furlongs in company in 1:00.60. A touch overeager early as he dragged Florent Geroux up to, and past, his workmate, the Bob Baffert runner recorded splits of :11.80, :23.60, and :36.40. He kept motoring six furlongs in 1:13 and galloped out seven, in hand, in 1:25.60.
“He loves this track,” Baffert said. “I just love the way he kept on galloping out today.”
“I don’t think he was rank,” said Geroux, who will ride stablemate Roadster in the Derby as Irad Ortiz Jr. picks up Improbable. “He was just maybe a little bit keen and feeling good. He’s very easy (to ride) actually. Down the lane he was responding exactly to what I was asking him to. I could have gone faster if I wanted to. I could have gone a touch slower if I wanted to. He was just very cooperative.”
Fountain of Youth (G2) victor Code of Honor, third in the Florida Derby, zipped four furlongs in :46.80 to post the second fastest of 76 on the day. The Shug McGaughey pupil reeled off splits of :11.80, :23.20, :35.20, and galloped out five in :59.40 and six furlongs in 1:13.20.
“I told (exercise rider Brian Duggan) to go in :48,” the Hall of Famer said, “but the track was pretty good this morning.”
SATURDAY, APRIL 27
Arkansas Derby star Omaha Beach likely solidified Kentucky Derby favoritism by working five-eighths at Churchill in :59. The second best of 43 at the distance, eclipsed only by four-year-old multiple Grade 1 winner McKinzie’s :58.60, Omaha Beach showed push-button tractability as he rated off workmate Kowboy Karma before dismissing him rapidly.
“He felt good, very good,” said Julien Leparoux, who was subbing for Derby rider Mike Smith after the work was postponed to the weekend for better weather. “When I asked him, he went.”
Omaha Beach recorded fractions of :12, :23.60, and :35.40, and capped the move with a six-furlong gallop-out in 1:12.80.
Hall of Fame horseman Richard Mandella, looking for his first Derby victory, was delighted.
“I just wanted him to have one more good work; that’s all he needed,” Mandella said. “He got it today. They were supposed to go off together, but it all worked out fine. He went and got him. I really liked that he settled right down after the work. He acts like a professional racehorse. I don’t think this work took much out of him at all. It couldn’t have gone better. It’s all working out just right.
“I’ve never had a three-year-old doing this well this early. He’s just special. Since (capturing the second division of the) Rebel (G2) he’s filled out and just gotten better. He’s pure class. And he’s a kind horse. A horse that’s easy to be around.”
Trainer Mark Casse was likewise happy with War of Will’s bullet half in :47.60, joint-fastest of 79 on the day. His company no more than a target, the Risen Star (G2) and Lecomte (G3) hero was caught in :12, :24 and :36.20 with jockey Tyler Gaffalione aboard. War of Will opened up at will as he galloped out five furlongs in 1:00 and six furlongs in 1:13.60.
“What you got to see this morning, if you weren’t impressed with him this morning, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” Casse said.
UAE Derby (G2) winner Plus Que Parfait also bested his company in a five-furlong move in 1:02.00. Trainer Brendan Walsh was satisfied that after opening splits of :12, :23.60, and :36.20, he settled down to clock a half in :49.40 and stayed on steadily to gallop out six furlongs in 1:15.60.
“He has become more aggressive now than how he used to be, which I think is a good thing to see,” Walsh said. “He went a little faster than we wanted early on and the last thing I wanted to do was do too much with him right now. Then, when he left the lead horse, he lazed a little bit and it was fine. I wanted 1:02 and out in 1:15 and that’s exactly how he went.
UAE Derby runner-up Gray Magician, tuning up at trainer Peter Miller’s San Luis Rey base, worked five-eighths in 1:00.40. With Derby rider Drayden Van Dyke up, he overtook his workmate and drew off.
“He worked super and came home really well,” Miller said. “I couldn’t be happier with how he did it. He came home (his final quarter-mile) in :23 1/5 and that was very good. He galloped out another eighth (to get six furlongs) in 1:12 2/5. This is a fast race track here, but it was the way he did it.
“Drayden came and worked him and the horse really did it on his own. He just shook the reins at him once and he opened up on his workmate. He started out about three lengths behind him and finished about 12 lengths ahead.”
FRIDAY, APRIL 26
At Santa Anita, Baffert’s one-two from the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Roadster and Game Winner, pulled away from their respective workmates in a pair of stiff drills beneath Martin Garcia. Each was positioned on the inside and set the pace themselves on the deep surface.
“I had them inside just to keep the pressure on,” Baffert said.
Roadster went out first, after the 6:45 a.m. (PDT) renovation break, and covered six furlongs in 1:13.80.
“I loved the way he went,” Baffert said. “Martin said he felt great and didn’t take a deep breath. That’s one thing about this horse – he’ll go a mile and a quarter. We just don’t know how fast. He handles a deep track, and the really good ones will do that.
“He’ll be fit when he leaves here, because I think the Santa Anita Derby got him pretty fit. After that, I could see a big change in him. He really needed that race.
“As soon as I told him to pick it up, he took off. He was controlling the work and just cruising along…if the horse is good enough, he’s ready.”
File photo of Game Winner working at Santa Anita April 20
Game Winner, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) champion at Churchill, took to the Santa Anita track after the 7:45 a.m. break and strode relentlessly through seven furlongs in 1:27.
“Game Winner looked awesome; it was perfect,” Baffert said, significantly for a horse who’s not the flashiest worker.
Friday’s other three Derby works came at Palm Beach Downs.
Blue Grass (G2) winner Vekoma breezed a bullet five furlongs in :59.95 in company with fellow George Weaver trainee Majestic Dunhill, who shared the bullet. Derby jockey Javier Castellano was astride for the joint-best of eight moves on the day.
Todd Pletcher’s duo of Cutting Humor and Spinoff also geared up at their winter base.
Sunland Park Derby (G3) winner Cutting Humor blitzed a half-mile in a bullet :48.01, fastest of 15 at the distance. Posting fractions of :13 and :24.80, he galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.80.
Louisiana Derby runner-up Spinoff tied workmate Last Judgment when clocking five-eighths in 1:00.77. Splits were reported in :13, :25, and :37, followed by gallop-out times of 1:13.60 for six furlongs and seven in 1:27.
THURSDAY, APRIL 25
Belmont Park hosted both Derby workers, Tax and Haikal, the respective second and third from the Wood.
Tax, the Withers (G3) winner, sped a half in :47.80 on the training track while blowing by his workmate. His time was the fourth-best of 79 on the day.
“I thought he worked really tremendous,” trainer Danny Gargan said. “We put a target in front of him because he likes to run at something and :47 and change is fast today. I worked a few horses earlier today and no one worked that fast. Divine Miss Grey went :48 and change and she’s a good work horse. The gallop-out was impressive and he’s training really well.”
On the main oval, Gotham (G3) hero Haikal negotiated five furlongs in company in 1:01.21, matching strides with Taamer before edging clear.
“I loved what I saw this morning,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “He kept going out and finished strong. It was an excellent work.
“He went a little fast last week (bullet half in :47.59 on April 19), but it was probably the track. This week was really nice. The way he galloped out and the way he worked he looked really good. In hand. I really like this work better this week.”
Top photo of Omaha Beach in routine exercise April 22 (c) Rickelle Nelson/Horsephotos.com
With less than a week to go before the 145th Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 4, here are five things to know going into what must be considered a fascinating and contentious renewal of the 1 1/4-mile classic.
1. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has the gloves off in his quest for a record-tying sixth victory in the Run for the Roses as reigning juvenile champion Game Winner, Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Roadster, and the Grade 1-winning Improbable all figure to be among the top four or five betting choices. While Game Winner and Improbable were his two leading prospects entering the winter, both finished second in their respective two preps, and no Baffert trainee has turned in his first win of the season in the Derby since Real Quiet (1998). Roadster, on the other hand, has perhaps come to the fore after defeating Game Winner in the Santa Anita Derby and belatedly living up to Baffert’s reported belief last summer that he might be the best colt in the barn. The record Baffert seeks to tie is that of Ben Jones, who won six Derbies from 1938 through 1952, primarily for the Calumet Farm juggernaut.
2. The streak of winning favorites could be extended to seven if, as seems quite possible, Omaha Beach goes favored and runs to the positive vibes he’s given off since arrival at Churchill Downs. Owned by Rick Porter, whose horses have run second in the Derby on two previous occasions, Omaha Beach is trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, a highly-respected member of his profession but one who hasn’t taken too many serious shots at this race in the past 30-plus years. Mandella’s enthusiasm for this colt as been evident and infectious in many respects. Though Omaha Beach lost his first four races, three of which were on turf and two of them in photo finishes, the son of War Front has turned the corner with three straight victories over a variety of surfaces including a division of the Rebel (G2) and the Arkansas Derby (G1) against two of the Baffert colts.
3. Bill Mott, who from 1986 through late 2017 held the distinction of being the all-time winningest trainer in Churchill Downs history, is taking what many consider his best shot at winning the Derby for the first time withTacitus. Owner-breeder Juddmonte Farms has also come close without winning, and in Tacitus they’ve given Mott a colt with the genetic tools to get the job done. By superstar sire Tapit, the gray is the first foal out of Eclipse Award-winning mare Close Hatches, who Mott also trained. After a career-opening fourth last October, Tacitus has reeled off three straight wins, including the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial (G2). Avoiding much of the trouble that compromised others in the latter prep, Tacitus has thus displayed a touch of maturity and gained valuable experience running in a race where congestion and problematic trips can arise.
4. The only undefeated colt in the field has so far proven to be one of the fastest and yet he remains a bit of a mystery and isn’t attracting much pre-race buzz. Maximum Security‘s background has much to do with the latter. The son of New Year’s Day wiped the floor with his rivals in his first three outings, but those came against $16,000 maiden claimers and in two starter allowances. However, he proved up to the challenge stepping up in class in the Florida Derby (G1), setting a moderate pace and storming home to a 3 1/2-length score in his first start beyond seven furlongs. Seeing out a 10th furlong against a much stronger field will be demanding, especially if the tempo will be significantly quicker as many expect. But whose to say Maximum Security wouldn’t be able to run the rest off their feet if allowed to a la Spend a Buck? Trainer Jason Servis seeks to emulate his brother, John, who trained Smarty Jones to a Kentucky Derby victory in 2004.
5. There are several intriguing contenders expected to start at double-digit odds. By My Standards, who seeks to become only the third horse to win the Kentucky Derby after taking the Louisiana Derby (G2), has visually impressed observers since arriving from his winter headquarters in New Orleans. A maiden graduate only five weeks before the Louisiana Derby, the Bret Calhoun-trained colt is coming to hand at the right time. Code of Honor hopped on many people’s Derby lists last year after an impressive debut win and troubled second in the Champagne (G1), but flies in under the radar after a win in the Fountain of Youth (G2) was book-ended by relatively so-so finishes in two other preps. Owner Will Farish, the master of the famed Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, last won a Triple Crown race way back in 1972 (Preakness Stakes [G1] with Bee Bee Bee). Also looking to bounce back to better form is War of Will, who dominated the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2) before disappointing as the odds-on choice in the Louisiana Derby. He virtually lost all chance a few strides out of the gate when his hind end gave way, resulting in a muscle injury. Back in better health, the colt displayed eye-catching cruising speed winning his first two preps and figures to be forwardly placed.
PHOTO: The 2019 Kentucky Derby trophy (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs
Hidden Scroll will jump straight to stakes company and stretch out to two turns following a spectacular win in his January 26 career debut over a sloppy track. A son of 2007 Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Hard Spun, the exciting three-year-old registered a field-best 102 BRIS Speed rating for the 14-length decision.
He led wire to wire after breaking on top last time but I’m anticipating a switch in tactics today. Well-drawn in post 7 with Joel Rosario, Hidden Scroll should be stalking the action behind the first flight of runners and I expect him to be in a prime position turning for home. Bill Mott isn’t known for producing Kentucky Derby contenders but Hidden Scroll appears poised to put the Hall of Fame trainer in the spotlight.
A couple of graded stakes winners from last year, Signalman and Vekoma, will make their first start of the year. I’m willing to fade both runners but won’t be surprised to see either outperform my expectations.
Everfast will try to flatter the form of the February 2 Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream after a surprising second at 128-1 odds, but he’ll need to keep improving upon a 94 Speed figure. Global Campaign looked like a possible serious player when opening his career with a sharp tally at seven furlongs in early January but netted a disappointing 92 Speed rating for a recent two-turn allowance tally
A lively pace looks probable and Bourbon War rates as the possible beneficiary. The Tapit colt displayed a commendable turn of foot drawing away to a 2 ¼-length victory last out, registering 96 Speed and 107 Late Pace numbers in the 1 1/16-mile allowance, and I expect another stout finish today.
I’ll use Hidden Scroll and Bourbon War exclusively in multi-race wagers and play a couple of exactas:
$40 exacta 7-4
$20 exacta 4-7
Here are some thoughts on the Fountain of Youth undercard:
Race 5, Canadian Turf (G3): A different pace scenario today for #1 Siem Riep (10-1 morning line). He returned from 4+ month layoff in a field loaded with speed last time and raced evenly from off the pace after breaking sluggishly. The five-year-old Tapit gelding does his best running on the front end and appears capable of dictating the action here with Albin Jimenez. I like the improving form he displayed on firm turf last season, the only poor showing coming under yielding conditions, and Ben Colebrook (a 12% overall trainer) wins at an 18% clip in the second start off the layoff from a 131-race sample. Wire to wire.
Race 7, The Very One (G3): Shug McGaughey has enjoyed a fine meet (9-for-41, 22% win) and #1 Danceland (6-1) can record her first stakes win in this spot. The five-year-old mare broke her maiden on Gulfstream’s turf two years ago but needed some time before discovering her best form. Danceland started to come on last fall, registering BRIS Late Pace ratings of 116-123-117 and a couple of graded stakes placings including a fast-closing third in the Long Island (G3) two back, but she had no chance when experiencing a troubled trip in December’s Via Borghese last out. Her Hall of Fame conditioner has freshened her 63 days (McGaughey wins at a 20% clip off a 46-90 day layoff) and Danceland should receive a ground-saving trip before finishing powerfully with John Velazquez.
Race 10: All 10 entrants have racing experience and the 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight for three-year-olds came up surprisingly light on pace. That looks like an advantage for #1 Ownitifyouwantit (6-1), who flashed speed from an inside post last time and wound up a clear second after being overhauled in the stretch by Country House, who came back to finish second in the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds. Ownifyouwantit earned the top last-out BRIS Speed rating (87) and if he makes the early lead as expected with Javier Castellano, the $435,000 son of Midshipman should receive a dream trip in his third career outing.