SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Jordan Wycoff’s Practice Squad captured his stakes debut with a tenacious drive to the wire under Flavien Prat in Thursday’s $125,000 Rick Violette for sophomore New York-breds travelling 1 1/16-miles over the inner turf at Saratoga Race Course.
Trained by Joe Sharp, Practice Squad entered from three consecutive on-the-board allowance efforts, the last two against open company, at Belmont Park. The dark bay son of Malibu Moon is a half-brother to multiple graded stakes-winner and sire Upstart, who was trained by Violette.
Violette was a respected NYRA horseman and former president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. He was also an instrumental founding member of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.
“We are big into aftercare and he was definitely on the forefront of that,” said Sharp. “We’re proud to win it, of course. He was a wonderful horseman, so it’s an honor to win a race like that, especially with a New York-bred.”
Practice Squad broke from the outermost post 5 and settled into fourth while Stop the Spread skimmed the rail from the inner post to take command from Coinage and post an opening quarter-mile in 24.59 seconds and a half-mile in 50.02 over the good turf.
The running order remained unchanged down the backstretch before Coinage made his move at a tiring Stop the Spread with Dakota Gold under a strong ride from Irad Ortiz, Jr. Practice Squad rallied down the middle of the racetrack as he straightened for the drive to the wire and was then tucked into the rail with a half-length advantage.
Dakota Gold showed an impressive turn of foot and overtook second from a drifting Coinage and gained with every stride down the center of the lane. But Practice Squad continued to find more under strong urging, turning back the bid from Dakota Gold and reaching the wire just in time to hold on by a head in a final time of 1:44.69.
Coinage finished another three lengths back in third with Sundaeswithsandy and Stop the Spread completing the order of finish. Timbuktu, Seaver and main track-only entrant Compromiser were scratched.
Sharp said he was proud of Practice Squad’s gutsy run to hold off the Danny Gargan-trained Dakota Gold.
“It was exciting. When he squeaked off inside the eighth pole it looked like he was going to win and then Danny’s horse [came] up outside, and he dug back in and had to fight for it,” said Sharp. “He showed some grit and determination. He’s a forwardly-progressing 3-year-old. He’s a little bit late-blooming, but that’s OK. He’s getting good at the right time.”
Prat said Practice Squad handled the softer going just fine in his second start over turf rated as good.
“The track was a little softer. I just broke and I felt comfortable there,” said Prat. “It just felt comfortable where he was.”
Claimed for $30,000 out of a second-place effort in February at Fair Grounds Race Course, the consistent Practice Squad has finished on-the-board in 6-of-9 outings. His other win was a maiden score at second asking going the Rick Violette distance in December over the Fair Grounds lawn.
Sharp said Practice Squad’s New York-bred status caught Wycoff’s attention.
“He was a New York-bred with all his conditions. Jordan Wycoff, the owner, actually called me and picked him out,” Sharp said. “We were down there and this is the first horse I actually ever claimed for Jordan. It was a good first claim together.”
Practice Squad, who was bred in the Empire State by Joanne Nielsen, returned $12.60 for a $2 win wager and banked $68,750 in victory, boosting his total purse earnings to $135,799 and improving his record to 9-2-3-1.
Gargan said he was pleased with the effort from Dakota Gold, who was sent to post as the 1-5 favorite after a close fifth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in November and a determined score in the NYSSS Spectacular Bid last out on June 19 at Belmont.
“The three [Coinage] came out and floated him, but that’s horse racing. Sometimes, you have to overcome things. He didn’t overcome it today,” said Gargan. “We’ll come back later on in the meet, there’s another stakes race. He ran his race, but we lost the head bob. We took a little bit of the worst of it. I don’t know particularly if he’s a soft turf horse, but it is what it is. I’m happy he ran and showed up. You can’t win ‘em all.”
Gargan added that the son of Freud is still on target for the $150,000 NYSSS Cab Calloway on August 17.
Live racing resumes on Friday at Saratoga with a 10-race card, featuring the Grade 3, $175,000 Lake George in Race 9. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Live will present daily coverage and analysis of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Saratoga Race Course, and the best way to bet every race of the summer meet. Available to horse players nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.
By Mary Eddy
Photo by Janet Garaguso