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.
Sunday’s featured race at Woodbine is the Nijinsky (G2), a $175,000 turf affair going 1 1/2 miles with a field of eight. The favorite is the speedy multiple graded stakes-winning front-runner Tiz a Slam and whether or not he’s beatable seems like it will hinge on whether he gets challenged up front on the pace. If it is a contentious and solid pace, the potential exists for an upset. If not, Tiz a Slam should do what he does best recorded a wire-to-wire win.
Here’s a brief look at the Nijinsky field:
PUMPKIN RUMBLE (#1) (4-1) really got good and came into his own last fall at Woodbine on the synthetic and came back off the winter layoff last time with a solid race, finishing third in the Dominion Day (G3) back on Tapeta. Now switches gears back onto the lawn and has run well over the course and distance, finishing second in last year’s Singspiel (G3). Pumpkin Rumble owns four career turf wins and more earnings on the grass than synthetic, so it would be a mistake to ignore this horse today based on the surface switch. Crusty veteran can run and is ready to roll in his second race off the layoff.
ARTHUR KITT (#2) (15-1) is a three-year-old shipping from England who finds a tough spot against salty older horses and solid veterans. Looked like a promising two-year-old winner last year at Royal Ascot but has not won ever since then, and he doesn’t seem to have trained on as a three-year-old. Picked out this spot for its 1 ½-mile distance and has a good pressing/stalking running style that fits. However, he’ll need a big effort in order to ship in and handle this caliber of older horses.
SIR SALIB (#3) (8-1) won his Canadian debut two races ago for trainer Kevin Attard and then stepped up in class for the first time ever last time out in the Singspiel (G3), turning in a solid effort where he was not embarrassed finishing third by less than three lengths. Chased an agonizingly slow pace last time to no avail, and his chances for improvement here today hinge on same pace contentiousness up front.
SOUPER TAPIT (#4) (3-1) exits a main track Grade 2 win here at 1 1/16 miles and this will be an entirely different kind of challenge at 1 1/2 miles on the grass. Primarily a dirt horse in this career until that big switch to Woodbine’s Tapeta, Souper Tapit essentially has proven throughout his career that he can run on anything. The question really is whether or not he is as good on turf as on synthetic (or dirt), and unlike with Pumpkin Rumble, the answer so far has been “no.” Also must prove that this 1 1/2-mile distance is his cup of tea and the odds won’t provide any value hailing from the barn of Mark Casse.
BOURBON RESOLUTION (#5) (10-1) drew post 12 of 13 last time out in the Wise Dan (G2) at Churchill and never got into the race en route to an eighth-place finish in a tough field. This competition might not be as difficult, but the assignment might prove to be even tougher given today’s distance of 1 1/2 miles, uncharted territory for him. Plus, he’s a late runner that does not project to get a good pace set-up in this race.
TIZ A SLAM (#6) (8-5) went wire-to-wire to win the local prep (1 1/2-mile Singspiel) and also captured the 1 1/2-mile Louisville (G3) at Churchill Downs wire-to-wire. Owns a 4-for-8 record on the Woodbine turf course and looms the defending champion in this race. If he gets beat in this race, it’s likely that his downfall will be pace pressure pace since Tiz a Slam does his best running with easy leads. And, he is may not get that scenario today due to the presence of speedy Dark Templar directly to the outside. Deserving favorite certainly could win, but could also get cooked up front and go down in flames as a result.
DARK TEMPLAR (#7) (20-1) switched to the turf for the first time two races ago at Monmouth Park, speeding to the lead at 1 1/16 miles and leading all the way. He exits a victory in an off-the-turf spot at Laurel and stretches out to 1 1/2-miles for the first time. It looks like an extraordinarily difficult spot with a more accomplished speed horse to the inside (Tiz a Slam) and while Dark Templar seemed to have improved when adding blinkers three races ago, he takes the blinkers off today. Tough to envision him winning, but he’s the key to the race. If he runs with Tiz a Slam, Dark Templar could compromise the favorite’s chances. If he doesn’t send, it will probably result in an easy wire-wire win for Tiz a Slam.
AVIE’S MESA (#8) (6-1) chased Tiz a Slam all the way around the track last time out in the Singspiel to be second best. Seems to be taking turns getting beat by the principal contenders in this field, with recent losses also against Souper Tapit and Pumpkin Rumble. Hoping for a dream stalking trip if a fast-paced battle up front sets up on the lead between Dark Templar and Tiz a Slam.
Tiz a Slam is the horse to beat at short odds, but it’s difficult to rely on that horse by keying him alone on top due to the presence of another speed horse in Dark Templar. The two horses that finished right behind after chasing a loose Tiz a Slam through glacier-slow fractions last time, Sir Salib and Avie’s Mesa, could turn the tables this time, and the veteran hard-knocker Pumpkin Rumble could very well turn out to be the horse to beat and should be bet accordingly.
Bet the race covering both possibilities, 1) Tiz a Slam gets loose and goes all the way, or 2) Tiz a Slam gets cooked up front and sets it up for an upset.
In scenario No. 1, key #6 Tiz a Slam in the trifectas over #1 Pumpkin Rumble, #3 Sir Salib, and #8 Avie’s Mesa.
In scenario No, 2, play exacta boxes with #1 Pumpkin Rumble, #3 Sir Salib, and #8 Avie’s Mesa.
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 first part of a three-part series.
Albertrani is most dangerous at Saratoga with his high-priced stock, including mostly allowance horses. He also wins doing second-time anything, including second off the layoff and second-time starters.
Bet: Second off the layoff, second starters
Bet against: Claimers
Neutral: Turf sprints
One of the country’s top trainers, Asmussen is hot-and-cold at The Spa. The time you want to play Asmussen is in dirt sprints, especially when he sends out his expensive juveniles in either their first- or second-starts.
Bet: Dirt sprints, 2-year-old first- and second-time starters
Bet against: All turf races
Neutral: Dirt routes
Not as much of a day-to-day factor at Saratoga as he was several years ago since Del Mar brought back dirt racing, Baffert still ships top stakes horses and expensive 2-year-olds and first-time starters.
Baker runs good horses both upstate at Finger Lakes and downstate at Belmont and Aqueduct, and he will take his shots at Saratoga with live horses from both categories. Baker’s best area of expertise is with the kinds of long layoff horses that you’d toss out from other barns. He also has been known to pop at The Spa with first-time starters, particularly versus New York-breds.
Bet: First starters, horses returning from long layoffs
Bet against: Turf routes
Neutral: Turf sprints
Bruce Brown struggled to win a race – any kind of race – in many recent Saratoga meets. Who he is at Saratoga is a guy who can win an occasional dirt claiming race. No big surprises, stick to his horses in good form only, and don’t expect positive turnarounds.
Bet: Older claimers with good form
Bet against: Maidens and first starters; turf
Neutral: Dirt routes
Brown is the heavy favorite for the Saratoga training title, with dozens of wins rolling-in in all categories including maidens, allowances and stakes, and every kind of turf route race. You can be guaranteed that all of Brown’s horses at The Spa will be live. His wins tend to come early in the meet, and you know he’ll be pointing many good horses for Saratoga stakes.
Bet: Maiden special weights on turf, dirt sprints (not maidens), and every kind of turf router
Bet against: Maiden claimers, maidens on the dirt
Neutral: Turf sprints
Bush has main been ice cold in some recent years, but he still can heat-up at the Spa for a win or two. He’s been known to jack-up his game at Saratoga and is quietly a trainer to watch in terms of ROI, especially on the dirt. When his number of turf starters increase, so do his number of turf wins.
Bet: Dirt routes
Bet against: Cheap claimers
Neutral: Turf races
Mark Casse has expanded his operation nationally in recent years and has also expanded his reach at Saratoga, but will have fewer stalls at Saratoga in 2019. You can count on Casse for some turf winners, but he is a notorious Spa snail – a trainer who starts slow but whose horses win their second or third starts of the meet Casse has particularly upped his game at Saratoga with 2-year-olds, first-time turf starters, and horses making their career debut in grass races.
Bet: 2-year-olds, turf career debuts, first-time turf, horses making 2nd or 3rd start of meet
Bet against: Dirt sprints for 3yo & up, horses making first start of the meet
Neutral: Turf sprints
Turf ace trainer Clement’s game is on the grass, of course, and he is good in turf stakes wins. Expect 25% wins or better in turf routes, and Clement also focuses on turf sprints at this meet (he unseated Linda Rice’s multi-year domination to lead all trainers with six turf sprint wins in 2015). Clement isn’t usually much of a factor on the dirt at Saratoga. He occasionally throws in a dirt sprint winner here and there.
Bet: Turf routes, turf sprints, turf stakes
Bet against: Dirt routes
Neutral: Dirt sprints
Contessa is one of the most prolific trainers on the New York circuit in terms of starters, but he’s generally a very bad bet at Saratoga with low percentages in dirt routes, turf sprints and turf routes. His wins will come mostly with dirt sprinters in claiming races. One sneaky angle for Contessa at Saratoga is with first-time turfers, who can occasionally win and pay giant prices when they do.
Bet: Dirt sprints, claimers, first-time turf (only at Saratoga)
Bet against: Dirt routes, turf sprints, allowance and stakes races
Neutral: Turf routes
Cox regularly achieves winning percentages around 30% wherever he goes, with around 55% in-the-money (ITM), and 2019 so far has been his best year yet. Basically capable of winning in all categories, his win percentage will drop at Saratoga in turf races due to the stiff competition at the meet. His winning percentage with 2YO and first starters will also fall short of his standards at this meet.
Bet: Dirt routes, dirt sprints, second off a layoff
Bet against: First time starters and 2-year-olds
Neutral: Turf sprints
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.
PHOTO: Saratoga starting gate (c) Harold Roth/Horsephotos.com
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
An important race for older horses, Saturday’s $600,000 Stephen Foster (G2) has attracted one of the most competitive fields in years. It’s the centerpiece of an outstanding 11-race Downs After Dark card that includes six stakes.
Here are my strongest opinions on the evening:
Race 2: #8 High Road got off to a slow start and weakened late against a tough maiden group last time, with the winning With Dignity coming back to crush allowance foes next out and runner-up Dos Vinos winning last Sunday by open lengths at 3-5 odds. She should appreciate the significant class relief and looks poised to graduate in this spot. The Rusty Arnold-trained Quality Road filly recorded a pair of commendable efforts going one-turn at Gulfstream Park earlier this season and I won’t count the unplaced showing going two turns in the mud at Keeneland against her. High Road will be forwardly placed in a field lacking pace.
Race 4: #7 Bridaled Temper may wind up a short price (7-2 morning line) but it’s easy to appreciate the pattern she displayed last year on Churchill Downs’ turf, running a big race in the second start back from a layoff. The four-year-old filly returned last time from nearly a six-month break against a solid bunch and lacked the needed acceleration after advancing into a threatening position by the top of the stretch, but she still managed to give a decent account of herself finishing sixth. Bridaled Temper rolled to a 3 ½-length maiden tally when making her second start over the course following a similar layoff last year and the Mark Casse pupil can clear the entry-level allowance condition Saturday evening.
Race 6, Wise Dan (G2): #3 First Premio was bet down as a lukewarm 3-1 favorite but came up short behind wire-to-wire upsetter Siem Riep in the May 2 Opening Verse. The five-year-old will receive a better set-up in this 14-horse affair and I won’t hesitate to back him in the second start over Churchill Downs’ turf this meet. A sharp allowance scorer behind a face pace in a stakes-quality Keeneland allowance two back, First Premio finished second when trying Churchill’s turf last summer and followed with superb victory over the course, registering a career-best 97 BRIS Speed rating. I expect similar improvement and the Casse runner should be in position to strike after receiving a ground-saving trip from his inside post.
Race 8, Stephen Foster: #9 Tom’s d’Etat makes his second start off a freshening following an excellent second to McKinzie in the May 3 Alysheba (G2). The six-year-old horse looked poised to be a major factor at the graded stakes level when posting a nine-length allowance win at Saratoga in July 2017 but wasn’t seen again for 16 months, returning with a romping win at Churchill Downs last November. He made his stakes debut a winning one in December’s Tenacious at Fair Grounds three starts back but nothing went right for him when stepping up for the Pegasus World Cup (G1) in January.
Al Stall Jr. gave the son of Smart Strike some time off in advance of the Alysheba and I loved how Tom’s d’Etat held for second to a quality rival after giving way in upper stretch, winding up 3 ¾ lengths clear of Seeking the Soul in third. There’s not a lot of speed in the Foster field and while tractable, Tom’s d’Etat likely will be showing the way early with regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan. I’m tabbing Tom’s d’Etat wire to wire.
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.”
The fifth race on Friday at Churchill Downs is a 4 1/2-furlong maiden special weight dash. Eight colts and a gelding will contest the sprint, including John Oxley’s ENFORCEABLE.
Trained by Mark Casse, the gray son of Tapit ran a big one on debut when a clear runner-up in the slop at Churchill on May 2. Enforceable tracked the pace while four wide early on, and he made a bold move in the lane to give us a glimpse of his abilities. He shows a pair of solid half-mile morning breezes in the interim and figures to be ready to roll on Friday.
Enforceable is bred to be a really good one, too. By the mighty Tapit, the colt was produced from the Dixie Union mare Justwhistledixie. The multiple Grade-2 winning lass was very good on the track and has carried that success over into her next career.
Her first foal was New Year’s Day, who captured the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) in his final race. The son of Street Cry has come to prominence of late, buoyed by the emergence of Florida Derby (G1) victor Maximum Security.
Mohaymen, her third foal, was a four-time Grade 2 hero with wins in the Holy Bull (G2) and Fountain of Youth (G2) among his triumphs. He retired to stud at Shadwell Farm in 2018.
The fourth foal out of Justwhistledixie is the Tapit colt Kingly, winner of the 2019 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields. The bay was also runner-up in the El Camino Real Derby and third in the Alcatraz this campaign.
Enforceable could surely be the next stakes winner in this highly productive family like his pair of full brothers. His first outing was very impressive and improvement is expected from a 17% second-out conditioner. Shaun Bridgmohan will once again guide the youngster who seems poised to graduate on Friday.
The Preakness Stakes (G1) deservedly took the lion’s share of the horse racing headlines since last week. But there was other racing, of course, and a pair of two-year-old fillies with Preakness ties caught my eye with their debut wins.
Tracy Farmer’s PERFECT ALIBI entered the 4th Race at Churchill Downs on Thursday in a five-furlong dash for juvenile fillies. The debuter from the barn of Preakness-winning conditioner Mark Casse was sent postward at odds of 3-1 and that price appeared quite generous following her impressive triumph.
Perfect Alibi drew the five post in the eight-horse contingent for a conditioner who not only saddled the winner on the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown but also does very good work with youngsters. The daughter of Sky Mesa ranged up into contention nearing the five-sixteenths mark and blew past her foes in the lane. The Kentucky-bred finished more than nine lengths clear under the wire beneath Shaun Bridgmohan.
Out of the Maria’s Mon mare No Use Denying, who did her best work going long and on the turf, Perfect Alibi has the breeding to be any kind. She’s certainly eligible to evolve into a really good one.
At Presque Isle Downs on Monday, Stonestreet Stables’ homebred CAMBRIA closed boldly for a debut tally beneath winning Preakness pilot Tyler Gaffalione. Trained by two-year-old wizard Wesley Ward, the Speightstown filly was the 1-2 choice in the six-horse field and visually impressive when driving clear inside the final furlong.
Named presumably for the Cambria Estate Winery, the filly is out of the Grade-2 winning Tapit mare Teen Pauline. In her first outing in 2012, Teen Pauline set a five-furlong track record at Saratoga that still stands today. The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.
What makes this particular duo so intriguing to me is that both were produced from mares that excelled going longer distances. Each of the juvenile fillies will step up to face stakes foes in their subsequent races, presumably, and I am hopeful their paths will cross in a race later this season.
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
Whether Sunday’s seventh race at Fair Grounds stays on the turf or is moved to the dirt following forecasted rain earlier in the weekend, #3 NOBLE FEVER (10-1) appears an interesting candidate in the one-mile maiden event for three-year-old fillies.
Trainer Mark Casse was off to a good start at Fair Grounds, winning with eight of his first 30 starts, and this Dixiana Farms homebred was part of his Woodbine string last fall.
Noble Fever debuted on December 1 going seven furlongs over the Tapeta and was compromised at the start by some early bumping. While she didn’t reach win contention, she did pass some rivals late to finish fifth. On top was the more experienced Souciologist and in second Sister Nova, both of whom had been competitive in earlier starts.
By European star Noble Mission, Noble Fever nonetheless has plenty of dirt influences on the other half of her pedigree. Her dam was twice graded-placed on dirt early in her career and is a half-sister to Jerome (G2) winner Noble Moon.
With a little more luck in running and some minor improvement, Noble Fever can be a square-priced contender on Sunday.