Giant Game returns to winning ways in an allowance May 11 at Churchill Downs (Coady Photography)
Battle of Normandy Takes on G1 Foes in Saratoga Derby Invitational
Signator Ready for Saturday Return to the Races
NYRA Press Office
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds has been around long enough to know that Saratoga Race Course can provide upsets at a high level, which is one reason why an audible was called with Grade 1, $1 million Whitney aspirant Giant Game as he pursues a breakthrough win in the historic nine-furlong test at the Spa.
Trained by Dale Romans and co-owned by Albaugh Family Stable, Giant Game appears to be rounding into form as he enters the Whitney from a pair of two-turn gate-to-wire victories. After defeating allowance company on May 11 at Churchill Downs, he shipped to Iowa to capture the Grade 3 Cornhusker on July 8 at Prairie Meadows, earning a career-high 99 Beyer in the latter.
Giant Game will have his work cut out for him Saturday as he faces Cody’s Wish, who enters from a string of four Grade 1 wins. Giant Game drew post 3 in the six-horse Whitney and is tabbed the longest shot in the field at 20-1 odds.
Giant Game was initially under strong consideration for the Grade 1 Pacific Classic on September 2 at Del Mar or the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic on August 25 at Charles Town.
“It was a matter of a short field and when we looked at the probables, Dale thought we’d have a shot to be the lone speed in here,” Finley said. “The Albaughs are great partners and true sportsmen. They have a great program. This is a game where you’ve got to compete, and that’s what we’re going to do on Saturday. He’s a very talented horse with a very good year. Dale Romans has said it many times: ‘Saratoga is the Graveyard of Champions.’ He said it before he won the 2015 Travers with Keen Ice. I know one thing, he feels very good that we’re going to run our race.”
Giant Game is one of three progeny from the final crop of multiple Champion-producing sire Giant’s Causeway.
“The last two times he’s run, he’s shown he can get into a street fight turning for home,” Finely said. “When you get a good Giant’s Causeway, you don’t want to get engaged into a street fight with them. They’re tough and very courageous horses with great constitutions. I think this horse fits that mold and he’s an exciting colt to own.”
Giant Game was a promising 2-year-old, finishing third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November 2021 at Del Mar after breaking his maiden in his two-turn debut at Keeneland. Following a pair of eighth-place finishes on the 2022 Kentucky Derby trail, Giant Game was sidelined and recorded one fourth-place finish and two runner-ups at one-turn allowance level at Gulfstream Park this winter.
“It took us a little bit of time, but I think he’s got his confidence. Dale’s record of success speaks for itself, and I know he’s always thought highly of this colt,” Finley said.
West Point also will be represented by Battle of Normandy in the Grade 1, $600,000 Saratoga Derby Invitational, one race before the Whitney. Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, the son of City of Light is in search of his first win since a triumphant debut over the Spa’s inner turf last August. The $500,000 purchase at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale followed up with a narrow defeat in the Grade 3 With Anticipation at the Spa followed by unplaced efforts in the Grade 2 Pilgrim at Belmont at the Big A and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland.
Battle of Normandy finished second in his two starts this year, both nine-furlong allowance turf tests. That latter of the pair, a late-closing effort at Pimlico Race Course on Preakness weekend, gave his connections the confidence to try the Saratoga Derby.
“He’s always acted and trained and looked like he’d be an upper-level horse,” Finley said. “I was surprised a couple weeks ago when Shug said we should consider the Saratoga Derby. He’s not one to make decisions and moves that are not calculated. This colt has really given him good signals, especially in the race on Preakness weekend.”
Finley spoke high volumes of Battle of Normandy’s second-crop sire City of Light.
“We’ve been fans of City of Light from the very beginning,” Finley said. “We’ve been very supportive of him at the sales and some of our partners are shareholders in him. He’s a horse that we knew wouldn’t have as many early 2-year-olds, but we’re starting to see them really perform in the middle of their 3-year-old years. I think he has a shot to be a very impactful stallion in the coming years.”
In the race following the Whitney, West Point’s Signator will make his first start since a 4 1/2-length maiden victory in October going a one-turn mile at Belmont at the Big A. The Shug McGaughey-trained Tapit gray was a $1.7 million purchase at the 2022 OBS April 2-Year-Olds In Training Sale and is out of the multiple black type producing Seeking the Gold mare Pension.
“We’re happy with his progress,” Finley said. “It could be a cool day. We’re in three straight races with three horses that we’re hoping can show their talent.”