Team Asmussen mighty impressed with the performances of Yaupon, Jackie’s Warrior and Midnight Bourbon on Runhappy Travers Day

August 29, 2021

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Steve Asmussen was already back on the road scouting for new talent at the Texas yearling sales on Sunday morning, but there still were plenty of bright smiles lighting up the barn of the Hall of Fame trainer in the wake of Saturday’s back-to-back wins in the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego by Yaupon and the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial by Jackie’s Warrior, followed by Midnight Bourbon’s runner-up finish in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers.

“I was so proud of how our horses ran yesterday. It was a great day of racing,” said Scott Blasi, Asmussen’s longtime assistant. “To win two Grade 1s in a row at Saratoga on Travers Day is a great feeling. There are certain days of the year that are incredibly competitive. There’s Derby Day, Preakness Day, Belmont Day, Travers Day, Breeders’ Cup. With that level of quality racing, it’s the best of the best. On those kinds of days to do well, it’s a special feeling.”

At this stage of the season the two fastest sprinters, arguably, in North America, are stabled in this barn.

Jackie’s Warrior winning the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (NYRA/Coglianese)

J. Kirk and Judy Robison’s Jackie’s Warrior, who won the Grade 1 Hopeful at the Spa and the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont in 2020, notched the first top-level victory of his sophomore season by beating the highly regarded Life Is Good in the ninth race on the 13-race card. In the eighth race, William and Corrine Heiligbrodt’s Yaupon beat Firenze Fire in a race filled with drama. 

As the two battled in deep stretch almost stride-for-stride with Yaupon to the inside under Ricardo Santana, Jr., Firenze Fire bared his teeth, turned his head to the left, and tried to savage his rival with no fewer than seven attempts. Afterward, Asmussen said that Firenze Fire was even trying to grab Santana.

H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Replay

Jackie’s Warrior – 2021 – The H Allen Jerkens Memorial

“He [Yaupon] came out of it unscathed. No marks or anything. Luckily, Ricardo was able to continue to encourage him, although he was getting pretty close to the inside rail, which I was more worried about than the horse getting bit,” said Blasi. “I think it was a really hard thing for him [Jose Ortiz, up on Firenze Fire] to correct. The thing about it is those guys are riding hard, so they were going forward and it’s not like you have the bit in their mouth. They’re trying to persevere, and that’s a hard to thing to correct when you’re in that position. I’ve seen pictures of horses being savaged, and I’ve seen horses savage, or try to bite, but I’ve never seen any horse do it for that long. I’ve never seen it go on for that long.”

Blasi said even all that commotion could not dim the brilliance of these two sprinters.

“Yaupon is a special horse. It was a great win for him,” said Blasi. “Jackie’s Warrior gave another game effort. He’s a special talent. The horse he beat [Life is Good] is as well. You saw how they separated themselves from the rest of the field, and that just goes to show you the class and the quality of those two horses. It was a great race. Jackie is so consistent. At one turn he’s back to doing what he wants to do.”

The Forego Replay

Yaupon – 2021 – The Forego

The Heiligbrodts’ Mitole won the 2019 Forego, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, the Grade 1 Met Mile at Belmont Park and a fourth Grade 1 on the way to championship Sprinter honors that year for the barn. 

Does either Yaupon or Jackie’s Warrior resemble Mitole? 

“They’re just really fast horses and we’ve had some quality sprinters like Volatile [winner of the 2020 Grade 1 Vanderbilt at Saratoga] and Mitole. I mean they were great sprinters. These horses all have the same qualities. Both of these guys, you couldn’t be any better to be around and to train. Yaupon and Jackie’s Warrior are professionals,” said Blasi. 

Midnight Bourbon gave Essential Quality a run to the finish and came up a game 2nd place in the Travers. (Chelsea Durand) 

Though Winchell’s homebred, Grade 3 winning Midnight Bourbon, didn’t give Asmussen his first Travers victory, he finished only a neck behind 2020 Juvenile champion and Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality.

“It was by far the best race of his career. We were a little bit unlucky to lose but that horse [Essential Quality] is a champion. Once that horse gets by you, he’s not going to let anybody pass him, and he proved that time and time again. Hats off to the winner, but our horse is definitely improving. I think with the time that they ran and how they came home in the last quarter, you have to have quality to be able to do that,” Blasi said.

The Runhappy Travers Replay

Essential Quality – 2021 – The RunHappy Travers

The effort is particularly gratifying considering his last race in the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park in July. That day he clipped heels with Hot Rod Charlie in the stretch and fell. 

“I’ve got to give the credit to our team here. Everybody worked so hard on that horse after coming out of the Monmouth race. The whole barn did a great job getting him to come back around,” Blasi explained. “He was able to spend time in the round pen and we let him just be a horse up here in Saratoga, which is the great thing about Saratoga. You’ve got the environment. It’s all good.

“I’m proud of how he acted going over to the paddock. We led the pony in front of him, which I think that made a big difference,” he continued. “He was a total professional yesterday. We really are happy with how he’s progressing.” 

NYRA/Saratoga Notes

Photo: Yaupon (on the rail) winning the Forego (Joe Labozzetta)

@jonathanstettin I for one can still actually feel the pall cast over the crowd and game that day. It was palpable. Kudos 2/2

William G. Gotimer (@WilliamGotimer) View testimonials

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