SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – A host of probable starters for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers at Saratoga Race Course recorded works at the Spa as they each turn their attention to the 1 1/4-mile historic test for sophomores on August 27.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher watched Grade 3 Dwyer winner Charge It soar through an “awesome” five-furlong bullet over the main track, completing the solo exercise in 1:01.01. It was the third work for the son of Tapit since dominating the Dwyer by 23 lengths to earn his first graded stakes victory on July 2 at Belmont Park.
“Super work. Loved the way he did it, moving great and galloped out really strongly on a track that’s not real fast,” said Pletcher.
Pletcher added that Charge It has shown no signs of regression or tiredness since his eye-opening romp in the Dwyer, and he expects another strong showing in the Travers.
“I don’t think he’s going to win by 23,” said Pletcher, with a laugh. “[But] I think he’s very confident and he’s doing well. Mentally, he’s made big strides, so he’s a horse that I think has continued to develop and get better and better. This morning’s work was another indication of that.”
Also, on the tab for Pletcher was Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama probable Nest, who Pletcher had considered for the Travers but ultimately said the Alabama on August 20 is the more likely target. The dual Grade 1-winner breezed a half-mile in 50.60 in company with debut maiden winner Up to the Mark [50.02].
“I thought she did very well. [She] went a little bit easy the first part and picked it up at the finish and galloped out really well,” said Pletcher. “She seems to be holding her form. We did talk about it [the Travers], but we just felt like as long as she was ready to run back in the Alabama, a mile and a quarter was perfect for her. We felt like it was too good of a spot to pass up.”
Nest was last seen posting a sublime 12 1/4-length triumph in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 23, making a grand return for the first time since a game runner-up finish behind stablemate Mo Donegal in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 11.
Pletcher said Nest continues to train forwardly following her CCA Oaks coup.
“You always worry about coming back off a big win. It seemed like she did it easy, but it was still a big effort. Just like after the Belmont, every indication since then is she’s in good form,” Pletcher said. “She looks terrific and she’s doing all the things you want to see them do in between races. We’re really happy with her.”
Aside from his star sophomores, Pletcher also sent out reigning Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Malathaat to breeze in company with Grade 2 Suburban winner Dynamic One on Friday. The pair posted a bullet five-eighths in 1:01.12 over the main track.
“Awesome. I was really pleased with both of them,” Pletcher said. “It was one of the better breezes I’ve seen from Dynamic One, so they’re doing good.”
Malathaat, winner of last year’s Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, suffered a disappointing loss to Clairiere in the Grade 2 Shuvee last out on July 24, finishing second when sporting blinkers for the first time.
Pletcher said he does not believe the blinkers were to blame for the dull outing and added he will keep them on for her likely next outing in the Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign on the August 27 Runhappy Travers undercard.
“We’ll go in the Personal Ensign if she comes back and breezes good again this weekend,” Pletcher said. “We’ll leave the blinkers on. I really felt like she wasn’t herself that day. She seemed to get hot and irritated in the paddock, which is unlike her. She was awfully quiet. Credit to the winner, she ran a great race, but we didn’t feel like that was Malathaat at her best.”
The Iowa-bred Travers hopeful Ain’t Life Grand had his first work on Saturday over the Saratoga main track since arriving from Prairie Meadows on August 7 for trainer Kelly Von Hemel. The dark bay son of Not This Time coasted through a half-mile in 48.23.
A homebred for Ray and Peggy Shattuck’s RPM Thoroughbreds, Ain’t Life Grand was an emphatic winner as the heavy favorite in the one mile and 70-yard Iowa Stallion on July 23, rallying from 1 1/2 lengths off the pace to score a seven-length victory. His other stakes wins include the Iowa Derby on July 9 and last year’s Richard Radke Memorial and Iowa Cradle. From 8 lifetime outings, his lone start outside of Prairie Meadows was a fourth in the listed Bachelor at Oaklawn Park to kick off his sophomore campaign in April.
“He’s settled in and doing really good. He worked well this morning, so, so far so good,” said Von Hemel. “I’m not there, but everybody that was there was happy with the work. It was a solid time, and everything was good.”
Von Hemel said jockey Tyler Gaffalione will pick up the mount for the first time as Ain’t Life Grand makes his New York debut.
“He’s a really good rider and when you start going through the lineup, you can’t go wrong there in New York,” Von Hemel said. “We were trying to see who might be available and we got lucky.”
Ain’t Life Grand will face a tall order in the Travers, trying the 1 1/4-mile distance for the first time and making his first appearance in graded company. But Von Hemel, who started his first horse in 1985 and has conditioned four graded stakes winners, said he and his team are up for the challenge.
“We thought a lot of him last year, and Mr. Shattuck didn’t care if he was a Triple Crown horse or not,” said Von Hemel. “We just gave him some time off over the winter and brought him along. He wanted a good, fresh horse for the summer. We took our time bringing him around and the Iowa Derby was our first goal.
“We really believe he wants to run farther than a mile and a sixteenth,” Von Hemel added. “We’re jumping in the deep water, and we understand that we’re taking a shot, but we thought he earned it and it looks like a good spot. We don’t get in that situation often, so we’re taking advantage of it.”
Gold Square’s Cyberknife worked five-eighths in 1:01.05 over the main track Saturday in company with the 4-year-old Constitution colt Supremacy [1:01.90] for trainer Brad Cox.
Cyberknife, by Gun Runner, captured the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in April at Oaklawn Park ahead of an off-the-board effort in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. He exited that effort to win the Grade 3 Matt Winn by a nose over Howling Time in June at Churchill Downs. The $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase purchase will enter the Travers from a game head score over Taiba and Jack Christopher in the Grade 1 Haskell on July 23 at Monmouth Park.
Chad Brown breezed several Runhappy Travers Day hopefuls over the main track Saturday led by Zandon, who covered a half-mile in 49.77, while Early Voting drilled a half-mile in 49.78 in company with Klaravich Stables’ graded stakes-placed Accretive, who is targeting the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial. Runhappy Travers contender Artorius went an easy solo half-mile in 50.09
“It went great. They all worked good. Zandon went first and he went a half of a mile in 49 and change, out in 1:01 and change. He looked really good,” Brown said. “Early Voting went a half of a mile outside of Accretive, who will run in the H. Allen Jerkens. They went excellent. I thought Early Voting was really moving over the track today. He is very much in consideration for the Travers after this work today.”
Klaravich Stables’ Early Voting, by Gun Runner, captured the Grade 3 Withers in February at Aqueduct Racetrack and followed with a game second in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino in April at the Big A which was won by eventual Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets champ Mo Donegal.
He returned with aplomb to win the Grade 1 Preakness in May at Pimlico Race Course but was a non-threatening fourth last out in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 30 here.
Brown noted that Early Voting is likely to start in the Travers with the nine-furlong Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby on September 24 at Parx as a backup plan.
“If he’s doing really well, I don’t see a reason to give him another layoff – an eight-week layoff – to wait for the Pennsylvania Derby,” Brown said. “He was off a 10-week layoff [for the Jim Dandy] and I am wondering if he needed a race. Maybe I didn’t have him that fit off the Preakness.
“These horses are different. He’s a big, heavy horse that eats and sleeps all day. That’s what he does,” Brown continued. “These other horses can maintain their fitness level a little better. That could be an angle. Plus, the track has been challenging this meet. Some horses like it and some don’t. I just want to make sure the horse is sound and moving well, training well, breezing well, galloping out well, recovering well from the work. I’ll go through all that and see.”
Jeff Drown’s Zandon, by Upstart, captured the Grade 1 Blue Grass in April at Keeneland ahead of a strong third-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs. He chased home Travers rival Epicenter last out in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy.
Juddmonte’s Kentucky homebred Artorius has won 2-of-3 starts, including the restricted nine-furlong Curlin last out on July 29 at the Spa. Artorius bested probable Travers rival Gilded Age by 4 3/4-lengths in the Curlin. The regally bred Arrogate colt is out of the Brown-trained multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Paulassilverlining, who is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Dads Caps.
Brown said he will ask for more from Artorius next week.
“It was perfect,” Brown said. “I wanted to stretch his legs. He will do something a little stronger next week, maybe even in company.”
Brown also breezed Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud and Peter Brant’s Jack Christopher five-eighths in 1:00.80 in company to the outside of allowance-winning 3-year-old colt Key Point. The breeze came on the heels of a half-mile in 50.20 last week.
“Jack Christopher really picked it up this week. I was very pleased with that because he worked a little slow last week with some traffic and stuff,” Brown said. “That kind of got botched a little bit. So, he needed to do a stronger piece of work today and I thought we went super.”
The Munnings chestnut is targeting the seven-furlong Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial on the Runhappy Travers undercard. He won his first four career starts, including Grade 1 scores in the Champagne and Woody Stephens at Belmont Park along with a prominent win in the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs. Last out, Jack Christopher took the lead at the stretch call of the Grade 1 Haskell but settled for third.
Brown also worked Klaravich Stables’ multiple graded stakes-winner Search Results five-eighths in 1:01.02 with an eye towards the nine-furlong Grade 1 Personal Ensign on Runhappy Travers Day.
“She went really good. I am still on the fence on what I am going to do, if I am going to run her in the Personal Ensign or not,” said Brown of the 4-year-old Flatter filly, who won the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher last out on July 23 at Monmouth Park.
Klaravich Stables’ sophomore Into Mischief filly Gerrymander worked five-eighths in 1:01.04 in preparation for next Saturday’s 10-furlong Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama.
“That’s her last work before the Alabama. I couldn’t be more pleased with her. She galloped out super strong,” Brown said.
Grandview Equine and Don Alberto Stable’s Gilded Age breezed a half-mile in 48.33 Friday over the main track for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. The graded-stakes placed son of Medaglia d’Oro is out the Grade 1-winning Bernardini mare Angela Renee, a full-sister to multiple Grade 1-winner To Honor and Serve, who won the 2012 Grade 1 Woodward for Mott.
Travers aspirant Rich Strike posted an 80-1 shocker in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs. The son of Keen Ice will look to do as his sire did and provide another upset in the Runhappy Travers.
Trained by Eric Reed, RED TR-Racing’s Rich Strike has trained forwardly since finishing a distant sixth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets. His latest move was a five-furlong breeze in 59.40 over the Churchill Downs main track on Wednesday.
“I was going to leave him at Churchill [for longer], but he did things so good and relaxed, and I didn’t need to get him aggressive,” said Reed. “He’ll be glad to be up there at Saratoga. This week, there’s been three people out to take pictures and they all said he’s put on more muscle and looks bigger and stronger.”
Reed said he has learned that the chestnut colt would prefer to have company to his outside in his races, as evidenced by his troubled performance in the Belmont when he did not secure inside position.
“I think what I learned is he needs horses to his right and I won’t get in his way like I did at Belmont,” said Reed, who had previously instructed jockey Sonny Leon to try to keep Rich Strike to the outside. “When he gets on the outside, he just wants to intimidate. I worked him Saturday on the outside and he did the same thing. He needs a horse on his outside. If he’s on the rail that might not be good if it’s deep, so he doesn’t have to be on the rail. He just needs horses to his outside.”
Rich Strike is set to arrive to the Spa on Sunday afternoon and tentatively have his first breeze on Friday.
Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking, by Exaggerator, is also expected to start in the Travers. He competed in two thirds of the Triple Crown, finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Preakness in May and third in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in June. The Saffie Joseph, Jr.-trainee enters from a 1 1/2-length score over We the People in the nine-furlong Grade 3 West Virginia Derby contested on August 6 over a sloppy and sealed main track.
Early look at Probable starters for the G1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers
• Ain’t Life Grand (Kelly Von Hemel)
• Artorius (Chad Brown)
• Charge It (Todd Pletcher)
• Cyberknife (Brad Cox)
• Early Voting (Brown)
• Epicenter (Steve Asmussen)
• Gilded Age (Bill Mott)
• Rich Strike (Eric Reed)
• Skippylongstocking (Saffie Joseph, Jr.)
• Zandon (Brown)
NYRA Press Office
Main Photo: Charge It in a August 13 work. (Susie Raisher)