Wednesday, August 28, 2014
Contact: NYRA Press Office
Saratoga Race Course NotesLoPresti not thinking beyond G2 Bernard Baruch for Wise DanOptimizer makes return in Bernard Baruch for FernandezBaruch entrant Sky Blazer overcomes adversity to continue careerWeekend Hideaway can continue strong run for New York-bred sprinters in G1 ForegoVyjack returns to favorite distance in ForegoLong-time claimer Ziptronic clears first allowance condition, continues strong meet for LevineMiss Frost, Granny Mc's Kitten renew rivalry in Friday's Riskaverse
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Ten-time Grade 1 winner Wise Dan is set to race for the first time in nearly four months in Saturday's Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap. The last thing on trainer Charlie LoPresti's mind, he says, is a third straight Horse of the Year title.
A 7-year-old Morton Fink homebred, Wise Dan has earned six Eclipse Awards, voted Champion Older Male, Champion Turf Male and Horse of the Year in 2012 and 2013. En route to the honors, he captured back-to-back editions of the Grade 2 Fourstardave at Saratoga.
Forego was the last horse to win three straight Horse of the Year titles, from 1974-76.
"People keep talking to me about Horse of the Year," LoPresti said. "I don't know how many people have said, 'You need to do this,' or 'You need to do that' to get Horse of the Year. I'm not even thinking about that right now. I'm thinking how lucky we are to get him back to the races, have him out here breezing, getting the chance to get him back in a race, and then we'll go from there. I'm just glad that he's back in training and has a chance to run. Horse of the Year is the furthest thing from my mind right now."
Wise Dan has won 21 of 29 career races with two seconds and $6,802,920 in purse earnings. Seventeen of those victories have come in graded stakes, including Grade 1s on both turf and dirt.
This year, Wise Dan is 2-for-2, winning the Grade 1 Maker's 46 Mark on April 11 and Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on May 3. He underwent emergency colic surgery on May 16 and has been on the road to recovery, returning to the work tab on July 11 and breezing six times since arriving at Saratoga in mid-July.
"I think so many horses, they drill them into the ground to get Horse of the Year," LoPresti said. "They worry about making stallions rather than doing what's right by the horse. If everything goes right and you get Horse of the Year, fine. But, if you map out a campaign for a horse just to try to get Horse of the Year, I'm not that kind of trainer. It all depends on what the turf writers want, anyway, and what they think.
"There's still a lot of people that say he shouldn't have gotten Horse of the Year [in 2013], and a lot of people voted against him. It's just how they see it. I could say if he wins this race and he comes back from surgery and is undefeated, he should be Horse of the Year. How many horses have colic surgery in the middle of the year and come back? But, that's not what it's all about."
LoPresti took time to reflect on the accomplishments of Wise Dan, who won his first stakes in the Grade 3 Phoenix over Keeneland's Polytrack in 2010. He posted a career-high Beyer Speed Figure in the 2012 edition of Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland and has
has victories in successive runnings of the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita.
"It's been an unbelievable ride to have a horse like that. It's hard to describe," he said. "Every time you think about how great this horse is, it's like, 'Wow, can you believe I trained a horse like that?' Or for Mr. Fink to say, 'Can you believe I bred a horse like that?' It's really gratifying, and you just feel like you really accomplished something. There's been a lot of people that have had a big part in this horse."
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Multiple graded stakes winner Optimizer, away since a dismal 12th-place finish in the Grade 2 Elkhorn in April at Keeneland, will attempt to get his career back on track Saturday in the Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap.
A winner of the Grade 2 With Anticipation as a 2-year-old at Saratoga, and three Grade 3 races, the Calumet Farm-owned 5-year-old son of English Channel has competed well against some of the top horses in training. He was second to Point of Entry last year in the Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont Park, and second to Wise Dan in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.
He has not fared well in three starts since the Manhattan and been freshened by Calumet for this rematch with Wise Dan.
"He came in with some problems, obviously," said Jose Fernandez, the longtime on-farm trainer for Calumet, who has taken over the conditioning of Optimizer. "We worked on him. I had to work on his throat, and now he's been training pretty good. He's worked a mile twice [at the Calumet training center]. My hope is he will run good here, and there's another race I can run him back in. The end game is to get to the Breeders' Cup. He's on his toes. He's been in the feed bag."
Fernandez, however, has not been on his toes. He is currently recovering from double knee-replacement surgery. Trainer Rusty Arnold will saddle Optimizer in the Bernard Baruch.
"He's been galloping the last couple of days in New York," Fernandez said of Optimizer, who arrived Monday in Saratoga. "He schooled in the paddock yesterday, so I'm hoping he fires like he used to. This one I wanted to run in my name. I think he's going to run really well."
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Sky Blazer will be a long shot to defeat Wise Dan in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch, but the 6-year-old gelding has already beaten the odds just to race again.
Trained by Barclay Tagg for owner-breeder Joyce Young, Sky Blazer has trained steadily at Saratoga since finishing third, beaten less than a length, in the 1 ½-mile Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap on July 12 at Belmont Park.
Saturday's Baruch will be the 29th lifetime start for Sky Blazer, who owns a record of 5-4-4 with $342,542 in purse earnings. At Saratoga, he was fourth by three lengths in the 2011 Grade 3 Saranac, and third by 2 ½ lengths in the 2012 Baruch.
The following winter, Sky Blazer was injured in a morning mishap at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream Park's satellite training facility in Boynton Beach, Fla.
"A horse was running loose and crashed into him when he was at a standstill. He got hurt really badly," Tagg said. "It broke his tailbone and everything and he's been a long time recuperating from that. It never seemed to stop him, but he certainly wasn't at his best for about a year until all his nerves came back and his hind end filled out again. He looks beautiful now. He's not 100 percent, but he looks great. It really curtailed his career a little bit."
Tagg and Young, whose professional relationship dates back 29 years, gave some consideration to retiring Sky Blazer before making the decision to persevere with his career.
"I had this wonderful chiropractor, Shirley McQuillan, go over him and she said all his nerves would come back, but it was going to take a year," Tagg said. "She was exactly right. A year to the day is when his hind end starting to fill out again, which it wouldn't do with the nerves being damaged. He couldn't swish his tail for a year, either. It was all caved in. He's had a lot to overcome. We didn't really have to stop him, but he wasn't quite himself, either. He was probably five or 10 lengths worse than he used to be."
Young has had a particular attachment to Sky Blazer, having owned his grandmother, Highland Mills, who won three Grade 3 stakes with Tagg including the Budweiser Breeders' Cup Handicap and Daryl's Joy - now the Grade 2 Fourstardave - in 1989 at Saratoga.
"The [owner] doesn't want to put him in claiming races or anything like that, and I can't blame her," Tagg said. "She raised him, and he's a good-looking horse and an honest horse. It's either sell him for a steeplechase horse or put him in a claiming race or keep running him. He's a nice horse."
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Two New York-breds, Palace and Artemis Agrotera, have won Grade 1 sprint races so far during the 2014 Saratoga meet. On Saturday, Weekend Hideaway will attempt to join that group when he competes in the Grade 1, $500,000 Forego, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up.
Weekend Hideaway, a son of Speightstown, is a four-time stakes winner and enters the Forego off a two-length triumph in the 6 ½-furlong John Morrissey for New York-breds on August 15 at the Spa. The 4-year-old is trained by Phil Serpe for Red and Black Stable. Serpe trained for and advised Weekend Hideaway's late breeder, Carl Lizza of Flying Zee Stables.
Serpe credited Lizza for being at the forefront of the movement to improve the quality of New York-breds.
"When Mr. Lizza passed away, I bought [Weekend Hideaway for $40,000] for Red and Black Stable out of the dispersal," said Serpe. "At that time, Flying Zee Stable was one of the first operations to go really in advance on breeding better mares to out-of-state sires and coming up with better New York-breds. As you can see from this horse and [Artemis Agrotera] and horse after horse that New York-breds are something to be reckoned with now. Just like [Zivo], who came back and won the [Grade 2] Suburban [Handicap]. You have to respect horses for what they are and not where they are bred."
Weekend Hideaway is 3-1-0 in four starts on the main track at Saratoga, where he broke his maiden and won the David Stakes as a 2-year-old. He has made only one start in a graded stakes, a fifth-place finish in the 2013 Grade 2 Hutcheson at Gulfstream Park.
"We're definitely moving up in class," said Serpe. "I thought he ran a really sensational race [in the Morrissey], and we have to see how good we are."
Serpe said he expects Weekend Hideaway to relish the Forego's seven-furlong distance.
"I think this horse's best distance is six to seven furlongs," said Serpe. "We were trying to stretch things to a mile [when he was third in the Commentator Handicap in May] at Belmont, and I don't think that is his cup of tea. Against the right horses on the right day he could go farther than seven furlongs, but I'm not really looking to do that."
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Multiple graded stakes winner Vyjack will be back at his favorite distance when he runs in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Forego, contested at seven furlongs on the main track.
The 4-year-old Into Mischief gelding is 2-for-2 at seven-eighths of a mile, winning the 2012 Traskwood Stakes at Aqueduct in his second career start as well as an optional claiming allowance on April 27 at the Ozone Park track in his seasonal debut.
Overall, Vyjack has five wins and a third with purse earnings of $612,500 from 12 lifetime races for David Wilkenfeld's Pick Six Racing.
"We're taking a chance, and hopefully the seven furlongs will help him," trainer Rudy Rodriguez said. "It's a very tough field. It's not going to be easy. Let's see what happens."
In his most recent effort, Vyjack was fourth, beaten five lengths by Palace, in the Grade 1, six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on August 2 at the Spa after breaking awkwardly and spotting the field an early advantage.
"We were kind of disappointed with the way he broke last time," Rodriguez said. "He ran a pretty good race that day. If he had broke with the group, I don't think he could have beaten the winner but we could have been a little closer, maybe second or third. Since then he's been training very, very good."
Despite the result, Rodriguez was pleased to see a renewed interest by Vyjack, who was a well-beaten ninth in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap and eased in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap in his other two 2014 outings.
"We were very happy to see him perform and finish the way he did," Rodriguez said. "It was encouraging to us to see that he still wanted to do it. He ran a very good race and he came back good out of the race. He's training very good. I take him every day to the main track and I school him in the paddock. I do what I can, and now it's up to him."
Vyjack won his first four starts, including the Grade 2 Jerome and Grade 3 Gotham to open his 2013 campaign. On the Triple Crown trail, he was third by a length in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, 18th in the Kentucky Derby, eighth in the Belmont Stakes and sixth in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational before getting an extended vacation.
"Sometimes, you have to give them an easy race to get them back into the rhythm again," Rodriguez said. "Sometimes, you keep putting horses in the Grade 1 races and they finish third, fourth, fifth and I think they just go through the same routine. They know when they win; they know when they do something good. Sometimes you have to show them that they can still be competitive and then they get a little better."
Rodriguez is hoping for a better start in the Forego for Vyjack, who will break from post 3 in the 10-horse field under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.
"I don't want to look for excuses," Rodriguez said. "Believe me, he's worked good and he's trained good. He's doing very good, and he looks very good. You've just got to hope that he breaks good. I think if he breaks with the group he's got a good chance."
* * *
When trainer Bruce Levine claimed the long-time New York-bred favorite Ziptronic from Gary Contessa for owner Mike Repole, he had no idea the 8-year-old gelding hadn't cleared his open entry-level allowance condition.
So, on Wednesday, in his 47th career start, the son of City Zip ripped through 5 ½ furlongs in 1:01.89 to easily beat eight other runners by 2 ¾ lengths to accomplish the task in a race with an $85,000 purse.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't realize he was eligible for that," Levine said outside his barn Thursday morning. "I thought he was conditioned out."
Ziptronic, bred by trainer Linda Rice in a partnership, is a classic New York-bred hard-knocker who has been racing on the NYRA circuit since he made his debut July 30, 2008 at Saratoga.
His win yesterday was his second in two starts for Levine and third straight. Levine plucked him from a state-bred optional claimer for $40,000 on June 26 at Belmont Park.
Overall, Ziptronic has a record of 10-5-9 from 47 starts.
[Repole] picked this horse out to claim," Levine said. "He thought he'd like the 5 ½ furlongs up here. That was the reason behind it. I thought this field [in the open allowance race] was softer than the New York race [won by a length on August 10]. In the New York-bred race, you get the [$40,000 claimers] that have won the condition a couple times. In these races, you get the horses that have just broken their maiden or don't have the seasoning."
Ziptronic is top form, and Levine expects to run him back next in a six-furlong turf sprint sometime during the upcoming fall meet at Belmont Park.
"He's pretty mellow, nice to be around," the trainer said. "He can get a little tough to train, but he's nice and at the top of his game."
Levine is having a strong meet at Saratoga with 10 wins from 36 starters, a strike rate of 27 percent, with earnings of $514,003.
* * *
Dogwood Stable's Miss Frost looks to extend her win streak to three races in Friday's sixth running of the $100,000 Riskaverse for 3-year-old fillies going one mile on the inner turf course.
Trained by Tom Albertrani, Miss Frost won an entry-level allowance on July 10 at Belmont Park before scoring by a half-length in the $100,000 Tenski on August 11 at Saratoga. The sophomore daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin is 2-for-3 lifetime at the Spa, her only loss coming when third in the P.G. Johnson last summer.
Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado will ride Miss Frost from post 2 as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line.
The winner of the 2013 P.G. Johnson, Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Granny Mc's Kitten, returns as the 9-5 program favorite for the Riskaverse off a three-quarter length victory in a 1 1/16-mile allowance on August 2 at the Spa. She also has two wins from three career Saratoga starts, losing her debut by a nose last summer to Miss Frost.
Meet-leading rider Javier Castellano will be aboard the daughter of Kitten's Joy from post 5.
Also in the Riskaverse are Prayed For, a maiden winner at the Spa in her August 9 debut; Fashion Fund, third by a length to Granny Mc's Kitten in the August 2 allowance; Latique, who returned from a six-month layoff with an allowance win at Monmouth July 25; New York Stallion Series stakes winner Old Harbor; three-time Florida-bred stakes winner Scandalous Act; and Irish-bred Nishanora making her second North American start.
Faith Hall and Vero Amore are entered for main track only.