High Oak Follows up debut with a win in Saratoga Special

August 15, 2021

High Oak, fresh off a debut win by a neck in June, left even less doubt in his stakes debut, overtaking Gunite when straightened for home and powering to a 4 1/4-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special presented by Miller Lite for 2-year-olds sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga Race Course.

The 116th edition of the race – which helped launch the careers of Hall of Famers such as Regret [1914], Whirlaway [1940] and Native Dancer [1952] – saw LRE Racing and JEH Racing Stable’s High Oak stalk the pace under jockey Junior Alvarado as Gunite led the 10-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in 21.82 seconds with 3-2 favorite Doctor Jeff poking his head in front for the half in 44.93 over the fast main track.

Gunite, ridden by Ricardo Santana, Jr., was kept to the inside out of the turn, but Alvarado maintained High Oak three-wide heading into the top of the stretch, providing an open lane to overtake both Doctor Jeff and Gunite before surging to the wire, completing the course in a 1:16.53 final time. 

“He broke very sharp today,” said Alvarado, who won his third Saratoga Special and second in the last three runnings after piloting Green Light Go in 2019. “He was a whole different horse today. He was mentally prepared and sharp. To be honest, I was just a passenger today. He put me in the spot that I wanted and he took me all the way around. When I turned for home, I just had to ask him a little bit and he took off.

“He broke great so I wasn’t hustling to get there, but I wasn’t going to slow him down either,” he added. “He was going in a good rhythm for my horse. I know they were going fast but my horse was in a nice rhythm and he wasn’t going as fast as he can go. He was pretty happy there. He finished up strong and galloped out great.”

High Oak, bred in Kentucky by Catherine Parke, notched a first-out win going 5 1/2 furlongs nearly two months ago over a fast Belmont Park track and handled the slight stretch out in distance for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott to improve to 2-for-2.

“We were just off the pace so he was right behind them,” Mott said. “He was running plenty fast enough himself. When they hung up those fractions, I thought he’d have to be pretty good to hang in there himself.”

Off at 10-1, High Oak returned $22.40 on a $2 in wager. The Gormley colt improved his career earnings to $159,500. High Oak could next target the Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne on October 2 at Belmont, which offers a “Win and You’re In” automatic berth to the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 5 at Del Mar.

“You certainly would look at him and say that a one-turn mile is going to be OK,” Mott said. “I guess you find all those things out as you go along. It’s usually guesswork until you do it.”

Gunite, one of two sons of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner entered in the Saratoga Special for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, was 3 1/4-lengths clear of Nakatomi for second in his stakes debut.

Nakatomi, making his third career start and first since running eighth in the Group 2 Norfolk at Ascot in England in June, acclimated back to the United States with a third-place effort trainer Wesley Ward, outkicking Double Thunder by three lengths.

“I had a perfect trip behind the leaders and off the speed,” said Nakatomi jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. “He was right there, close. The winner was much the best. My horse ran a good race. He came running.”

Doctor Jeff, Stolen Base, Ottoman Empire, Glacial, Dance Code and Red Run completed the order of finish. Kitodan and Midnight Worker scratched.

Live racing resumes Sunday at Saratoga with a 10-race card highlighted by the $120,000 Galway for 3-year-old fillies sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf in Race 9 at 5:39 p.m. Eastern. First post is 1:05 p.m.

NYRA Press Release

Photo: High Oak ( Elsa Lorieul Photo)

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