SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will have two chances to secure a record-equaling fifth victory in the Grade 2, $200,000 Amsterdam when he sends out reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Corniche and graded stakes winner My Prankster in Sunday’s 6 1/2-furlong sprint for sophomores at Saratoga Race Course.
Pletcher’s four Amsterdam winners include Quality Road , Discreetly Mine , Forty Tales  and Coal Front . Corniche, who made three starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert before being transferred to Pletcher, will look to continue on a similar path as his sire, Quality Road, whose Amsterdam victory came in his first start for Pletcher after starting his campaign with conditioner Jimmy Jerkens. Quality Road set a new track record in his stellar 2 1/4-length victory, completing the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.74, a record that still stands.
“We’re hoping that with the good fortune we had with his sire Quality Road and him making his debut for us in the Amsterdam, which produced a track record performance, that hopefully some of that good fortune will follow through here,” said Pletcher.
Corniche, owned by Speedway Stables, will look to kick off his sophomore campaign on a high note as he makes his first outing since a prominent 1 3/4-length triumph in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November at Del Mar. The strong performance was an exclamation point on a short but brilliant juvenile campaign in which he posted a perfect 3-for-3 record that began with a 4 1/4-length romp on debut sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs in September at Del Mar.
Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles in his next outing proved to be no issue for Corniche as he coasted to an open-lengths victory in the Grade 1 American Pharoah in October at Santa Anita. There, he defeated returning rival and graded stakes winner Pappacap, whom he faced again and defeated in the Juvenile.
There were hardly any nervous moments for Corniche in the Juvenile, leading each step of the way under Hall of Famer Mike Smith and never looking back. The effort garnered a 91 Beyer Speed Figure and wrapped up championship honors for his three perfect efforts.
Corniche got back to work in April at WinStar Training Center before joining Pletcher’s string at Belmont Park for the early summer. He has posted two works at Saratoga, most recently working a half-mile in 48.03 seconds over the main track on July 24.
“He’s trained well and I thought watching his breezes that they are consistent with what I’ve seen watching videos of his breezes when he was with Baffert,” said Pletcher. “He’s a solid workhorse, but it also looks like he’s one that knows the difference between the morning and the afternoon.”
Pletcher said he opted to bring Corniche back in a sprint to ease him back into a racing schedule.
“There are no soft spots to land with a horse like him that’s already won three races, so we’re hoping we have him ready enough for a good showing in here,” said Pletcher. “We didn’t want to run him in a race like the Jim Dandy or the Curlin off a lengthy layoff going nine furlongs.”
Pletcher also noted the Amsterdam may be a stepping to the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial on August 27 at the Spa.
“We’ll focus on this one and see how he comes back,” Pletcher said.
Luis Saez has the call from post 7.
Robert and Lawana Low’s My Prankster will look to turn the tables on fellow Amsterdam aspirant Gunite after a narrow loss to him last out in the Maxfield on July 3 at Churchill Downs.
A son of Into Mischief, My Prankster dazzled on debut last summer at Saratoga with a resounding 10-length victory sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs and earned a 92 Beyer. He was soundly defeated by Jack Christopher in the Grade 1 Champagne when facing winners for the first time, but bounced back to earn a stakes placing in the Bowman Mill at Keeneland and a win in optional-claiming company in December at Gulfstream Park to close out his juvenile season.
My Prankster enjoyed graded success to kick off his sophomore season, closing from fifth-of-6 to capture the Grade 3 Swale sprinting seven furlongs at Gulfstream two starts before a game third behind Jack Christopher in the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile on the May 7 Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill. He came up a half-length shy of Gunite in his most recent outing and outdueled Hoist the Gold, whom he will see again in the Amsterdam, by a head to hold onto place honors.
Pletcher said My Prankster’s off-the-pace tactics should not put him at odds with Corniche.
“They won’t compromise each other’s chances with their running styles,” said Pletcher. “My Prankster has been a solid citizen. He always shows up and runs hard. We look forward to him getting a chance here. He seemed to like the track here last year in his debut.”
Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez picks up the mount from post 8.
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred Grade 1-winner Gunite will make his third start off an eight-month respite for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. One of three entrants for leading second crop sire Gun Runner, Gunite was last seen posting his half-length score over My Prankster in the Maxfield to earn his first victory since taking the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga in September.
Gunite’s Hopeful victory provided Gun Runner with his first Grade 1 winner, a full-circle moment for Asmussen, who conditioned Gun Runner to six top-level victories. There, Gunite took command from Headline Report at the half-mile call and never looked back, opening a 5 3/4-length advantage on multiple graded stakes-winner Wit and completing the seven furlongs in 1:23.08.
Among Gunite’s other standout moments of his six-start campaign last year were a strong maiden win at third asking that June at Churchill and a second in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special to High Oak. He completed the year with a distant fifth in the Grade 1 Champagne.
“He was always a very mature 2-year-old. He’s got a great mind and is very professional,” said Asmussen. “He’s really beautiful and I think he had a lot of runs for a 2-year-old. In the Champagne, he was a little over the top. The Hopeful was obviously the pinnacle for him.”
Gunite will emerge from post 2 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons.
Rustlewood Farm’s homebred Pappacap has been unlucky to run into horses like Corniche and Jack Christopher in three of his Grade 1 outings, finishing second behind the former in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and American Pharoah, and behind the latter in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun in his latest outing, as well as in the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile.
But the son of Gun Runner has held his own at the top level, making the grade with a frontrunning 4 3/4-length romp in the Grade 2 Best Pal in August at Del Mar en route to his two game finishes behind Corniche. His other graded placing was a close third in a three-way photo with Call Me Midnight and Epicenter in the Grade 3 Lecomte in January at Fair Grounds Race Course.
Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse said Pappacap continues to train forwardly in preparation for the shortest race of his career. His latest drill was a sharp half-mile in 47.22 seconds over the Saratoga main track on July 23.
“He’s doing well. He’s just a very solid horse that shows up all the time,” Casse said. “We’re cutting him back farther. The good news is that there’s no Jack Christopher in the race. He’s handling the track and trained well up here.”
Joel Rosario will attempt to engineer a winning ride from post 4.
Conditioner Dallas Stewart will also be represented by two contenders in Dream Team One Racing Stable’s Hoist the Gold and Nancy Stanley and Mark Stanley’s Surfer Dude.
Hoist the Gold was narrowly defeated by Gunite and My Prankster in the Maxfield, closing from fourth-of-6 to come up just a half-length shy of his accomplished rivals in his first start off a three-month layoff. He broke his maiden at third asking when subsequent Grade 1 Haskell Invitational winner Cyberknife was disqualified from a six-furlong maiden special weight in September at Churchill Downs.
“I thought he ran well at Churchill Downs off the layoff,” said Stewart. “He was a little unlucky not to win, but ran competitively. It’s a step up, but he’s nice campaigner.”
Surfer Dude is in search of a breakthrough win after finishing third in the Gun Runner in December at Fair Grounds and second in the Lafayette in April at Keeneland. The son of Curlin has found the winner’s circle once in four outings this year, taking a first-level optional claimer by a half-length on the Kentucky Derby undercard. He was last seen finishing third behind Conagher and Gunite in an allowance on June 3.
“He won an allowance at Churchill Downs and came back to run third in that tough race,” Stewart said. “He’s a nice Curlin horse that we’re excited about, too.”
Junior Alvarado has been tasked with the ride aboard Hoist the Gold from post 3 while Jose Ortiz will ride Surfer Dude from post 9.
SF Racing, Starlight Racing and Madaket Stables’ Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity winner Pinehurst will make his first outing since being transferred from Baffert to John Terranova after a trip to the Middle East this spring. A bay son of Twirling Candy, Pinehurst won the Group 3 Saudi Derby in February before a distant off-the-board finish in the Group 2 UAE Derby in March at Meydan.
Pinehurst will exit the inside post with Flavien Prat aboard.
Completing the field are The Estate of Scott Zimmerman’s Runninsonofagun [post 6, Kendrick Carmouche], who enters from a second-place finish behind runaway winner Charge It in the Grade 3 Dwyer on July 2 at Belmont Park for trainer John Toscano, Jr.; and maiden winner Accretive [post 5, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] for owner Klaravich Stables and trainer Chad Brown.
The Amsterdam is slated as Race 9 on Sunday’s 10-race card, which also features the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green in Race 8. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
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