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Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner 

With Super Saturday in the rear view mirror on both coasts, racing turns to Lexington for the Fall meeting at Keeneland with several key prep races for the Breeders' Cup (BC), two that will include 2012 BC winners Wise Dan and Groupie Doll this weekend. 

Some of the divisions are still pretty close, including the 3-year-old males where it appears to be a 3-way race between Orb, Palace Malice and Will Take Charge. If any of those three win the Classic or fare very well in the race, they should claim the crown. Orb can claim two Grade 1 victories (Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby).  Palace Malice has a Grade 1 Classic (Belmont Stakes) a Grade 2 (Jim Dandy), and a second in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup against older horses. Will Take Charge has a Grade 1 (Travers) win and two Grade 2 victories (Rebel, Pennsylvania Derby). This will be a tough decision to make with this year's Eclipse ballot.  

I admit I'm partial to Palace Malice, as a big fan of his sire, Curlin, but there is still one big race left on the calendar that will have some say in this division, so hopefully it will be decided on the track.  

Horse of the Year is Game On Dude's to lose in my humble opinion. He's been terrific all year, but will have to win the Classic to stave off last year's winner Wise Dan, who will likely run in the BC Turf.  The Dude has only lost once on his home track at Santa Anita, last year's debacle in the Classic, which makes this race all the more difficult to project. He'll likely be a low-priced favorite again, so it may pay to try and beat him.  

But with who is the question? Mucho Macho Man may be the likeliest candidate based on last year's terrific performance in the Classic and him getting off the Grade 1 schneid on Santa Anita's opening weekend with a win in the Awesome Again. Defending Classic winner Fort Larned was unimpressive in his prep race, the Homecoming, at Churchill Downs, having to hold off a fairly mediocre field and seems to need the perfect pace scenario, as does JCGC upset winner Ron the Greek.  

It should be a fun couple of weeks sorting out that handicapping puzzle.  

Royal Delta will run in the Distaff and it looks like Princess of Sylmar will likely be sent to the farm and skip the Cup after besting the defending older female horse champion in the Grade 1 Beldame, running for the first time against open company. She's got the 3-year-old female title wrapped up tighter than a holiday present.  

The countdown to Breeders' Cup Friday is at 28 days and my arrival on the west coast is at 26 days, here are my top five things about The Great Race Place (aka Santa Anita Park) as an east coast racing guy.  

1 - The Seabiscuit statue in the paddock. With the Breeders' Cup purple and gold blanket draped over him over the big weekend, it's one of the coolest statues in horse racing. It's Seabiscuit for gosh sakes!

2 - The I'll Have Another bar.*  Not really, but a truly genius name for a watering hole at Santa Anita named after last year's Santa Anita and Kentucky Derby winner. Hoping to grab a Kirin or Sapporo after a hard day of work.

3 - The San Gabriel Mountains as the track's backdrop. You have to see it live to believe it. Pure heaven on earth.

4 - The 100-1 bar (around the corner from SA). Where else can you find track personalities after the races hanging out with the locals talking racing? Are you starting to see a pattern here?

5 - The Downhill Turf course. To watch the horses coming down the hillside and cross over the dirt for turf sprints is a sight to behold. It's one of the more unique configurations in all of horse racing.

6 - The Art Deco style throughout the physical plant. The place has a very cool vibe and color scheme throughout that gives it that California feeling. It's a clean, crisp and exciting place to be to watch the ponies.

(*Ok, I know I said five, but No. 2 is asterisked as a throw-out).

28 days to go.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Super Saturday undercard is loaded

By Gene Kershner 

Super Saturday at Belmont Park serves up a plethora of graded stakes races, six in total, for racing fans on the east coast this weekend. Starting at 3:09 p.m. with the Grade 1 Beldame Stakes through the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup which will go postward at 5:49 p.m. each of the six stakes races are Breeders' Cup Win and You're In (WAYI) races.  

The Beldame and Gold Cup will be covered in tomorrow's print edition of The Buffalo News so we'll preview the other four races here with our thoughts on the stuffing of the day's Oreo. 

Race 6 - Grade 2 Kelso Handicap (1 mile - dirt)

One of the qualifying races for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile has attracted seven older males looking for a share of the $400,000 purse. The morning line favorite 2-Graydar (7-5) has not raced in six months since the New Orleans Handicap at the Fair Grounds in March. He is on a three-race winning streak for trainer Todd Pletcher and his only career defeat came at Belmont Park in an allowance race last September. His main two challengers are 1-Easter Gift (5-2), who is coupled with 1A-Jackson Bend; and 5-Souper Speedy (7-2). Is Graydar worthy of a single play in multi-race bets off the long layoff? That's the question in my mind and I think Royal Delta in the Beldame is the better play when looking for a single. I'll likely include Easter Gift, with Mike Smith aboard, who has had success at a mile along with Graydar in the Kelso. 

Race 7 - Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational S. (6 furlongs - dirt)

This race will put the winner in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and is a very deep race. I tend to struggle with the sprint races in multi-race sequences and will spread in this race. 1-Forty Tales is undefeated in two races at the distance for loaded trainer Todd Pletcher and sports a win over Big Sandy on Belmont Stakes day in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens albeit at 7 furlongs. From a pure speed figure notion, it's hard not to include 2-Justin Phillip with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard. He touts a 7-3-2-0 record at Belmont Park. Grade 1 Forego winner 4-Strapping Groom who has never missed the board at Belmont, is worthy of a look and will be on my tickets. 5-The Lumber Guy hooked up in a speed duel on Travers weekend off a layoff and could be more of a factor at his favored 6-furlong distance coming in second off the layoff. I could be talked into going five deep in here with 8-Private Zone, but hesitate on west coast sprinters shipping in, although he appears to have the class and speed to contend.  

Race 8 - Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational S. (1 1/4-miles on the inner turf)

This $600,000 race will put the winner in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita. At first glance, the entry with 1A-Laughing (8/5) looks to be the one to beat even though she has lost her only effort at the distance. Her breeding suggests the 10 furlong distance shouldn't be an issue, but the lack of a win gives me pause. Back up selections would include 6-Qushchi (3-1) who should be coming late to catch the front running favorite and Christophe Clemente's 2-Mystical Star (4-1) who comes off a victory at Kentucky Downs. Clemente is a 25 percent winner after winning his last race.

Race 9 - Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational S. (1 1/2 miles on the outer turf)

Another race loaded with quality horses including several Grade 1 winners. This race serves as a WAYI for the Breeders' Cup Turf. I'm favoring the Brown entry (2-Big Blue Kitten, 2B-Real Solution) over the Shug entry (1-Imaging, 1A-Boisterous) and will include 3-Nutello (first time Lasix) and 5-Twilight Eclipse in case a wicked pace scenario unfolds. Little Mike hasn't been himself since going to Dubai in March and King Kreesa seems to be more of a miler. There's lots of speed in here, but the Brown duo looks extremely strong. 

It should be a terrific day of racing on Super Saturday, be sure to check out tomorrow's News for coverage of the bookend races, the $1 million Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Grade 1 Beldame Stakes for fillies and mares. 

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Philly takes racing's center stage

By Gene Kershner  

Racing turns its sights to the east coast this weekend where Philadelphia will host the weekend's biggest action. Parx Racing features three big graded stakes races highlighted by the Grade 1 Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies and anchored by the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby for 3-year-old colts. The day will feature $3 million in purse money over the 12-race card. The Pennsylvania Derby will serve as the stage for the rematch of the 1-2 photo finishers in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga as Will Take Charge and Moreno will face off in the $1 million race. 

Close Hatches (5-2) is the morning line favorite for the $1 million Cotillion, a race many thought Princess of Sylmar would be running in due to her Pennsylvania breeding roots. The Princess' connections decided to pass in favor of the Beldame on Super Saturday at Belmont Park and a date with Royal Delta. The race also has attracted Test champion Sweet Lulu, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, who will stretch out to 8 1/2-furlongs for the first time.

The late Pick-3 is an all graded stakes Pick-3 kicking off with the Grade 3 Gallant Bob Stakes, a 6-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds. Let's see if we can string three races together for you on Philly's biggest race day.  

Grade 3 Gallant Bob 

We're going four deep here in the Gallant Bob, which drew 14 horses and turned several away. It should be a great betting race that has plenty of speed in it. We'll mix it up with some speed horses and stalkers as Parx usually has a super fast track on PA Derby day. Our top choice is 11-Rainbow Heir (3-1) will try and rebound from a sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Amsterdam after two big performances at Monmouth Park. He's working well and the shorter distance should help the son of Wildcat Heir who will be on the engine at the start. 

We'll stay outside and include 12-Clearly Now (4-1) who could pick up the pieces if the race falls apart. I like the cutback in distance here and Luiz Saez has had a good summer riding at Saratoga. Another horse who should be near the lead and has good middle speed stalking the pace is 2-Distintiv Passion (8-1) who returns to dirt after winning two turf sprints at Del Mar. Trainer Jeff Bonde ships him in with Edwin Maldonado in the irons on the With Distinction colt.  

It wouldn't be right if I didn't include my favorite sprinter, the minute I exclude him he'll win going away, so here we go again with 8-Majestic Hussar (20-1). If the track is off, definitely include him, but I'm taking one more shot with him here. The Majestic Warrior colt did not have the best of trips in the King's Bishop and 6-furlongs appears to be his preferred distance.  

Grade 1 Cotillion

When 6-My Happy Face (9-2) was swung 7-wide in the Test and came charging down the lane to lose by a neck, it was one of those races to make a note of and remember the next time she runs again. Well here she is stretching back out to 1 1/16-miles and should provide a challenge to the favorite, 9-Close Hatches, who is a formidable foe in this race. Trainer Chad Brown is winning 25 percent of the time when he ships in. I'm also going to play against 7-Sweet Lulu on the stretch out and hope that 5-Seaneen Girl ran her top last out. So we'll go two deep in the Cotillion with My Happy Face and Close Hatches. 

Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby

The two top horses are hard not to include, Travers winner 7-Will Take Charge (2-1) strictly based on class and the runner-up 3-Moreno (5-2) who could easily run away with the 1 1/8-mile race on a speed favoring track. To try and catch lightning in a bottle we'll add two more horses (actually three for the price of two) by including the 1-McLaughlin entry and the 2-Speak Logistics who has a trip over the track, albeit over an off track and comes in third off the layoff. The McLaughlin coupled duo of 1-Transparent and 1A-Romansh, both took money in the Travers, but both carry key angles that could put them in the winner's circle. Transparent is running on lasix for the first time and Romansh will be running third off the layoff on the form cycle, both solid handicapping angles to get behind.

Post Time Outlook: The Pick-3 wager is 2,8,11,12 with 6,9 with 1,2,3,7 which will cost $32 for a buck and $16 for 50 cents.

Good luck!

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner 

Your chance to see the 2012 U.S. Horse of the Year on one of racing's premier turf course is within traveling distance of Buffalo this weekend. Wise Dan, winner of his last eight races back to last year's Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga, will be at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack on Sunday racing in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile.

He will attempt to defend his 2012 Woodbine Mile title as the 2-5 favorite for owner Morton Fink. Woodbine is full of stakes races this weekend, with the $300,000 Northern Dancer to be on the Woodbine Mile undercard to be run at a mile and a half. On Saturday, two Breeders' Cup Win and You're In races are scheduled  - the $200,000 Natalma Stakes for fillies and the $200,000 Summer Stakes, both to be contested at one mile on the grass.

The stakes record time for the Woodbine Mile is 1:32.04, set by Ventura in 2009 when she became the first and only filly or mare to win the race.  Quiet Resolve ($91.10 in 1999) is the longest-priced winner while Wise Dan is the shortest-priced winner ($3.10 in 2012).  Leroidesanimaux established the largest margin of victory, seven and three-quarter lengths, in 2005. He is the sire of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom.

Only four favorites have won the Mile in its first 16 editions - Soaring Free in 2004, Leroidesanimaux in 2005, Shakespeare in 2007 and Wise Dan last year.

Four horses which raced in the Woodbine Mile have won the Breeders’ Cup Mile.  However, Wise Dan is the only one to win both Grade 1 races in the same year. The others are 2007 Woodbine runner-up Kip Deville and 1999 fifth place finisher Silic, who both went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile the same year. 2010 Woodbine Mile winner Court Vision captured the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Here are this week's racing notes as we wait patiently for Super Saturday at Belmont Park in two weeks…

  • Fort Erie Racetrack has scheduled a press conference for 9 a.m. this morning to discuss the status of the 2013 race season at Fort Erie and the outlook for 2014. 
  • Sad news being reported out of Belmont Park on Thursday.  Mentor Cane, second in the Grade 1 King's Bishop on August 24 at Saratoga Race Course, was euthanized yesterday following an injury he incurred during a workout earlier in the day. The 3-year-old suffered a right-hind lateral condylar fracture and a comminuted right-hind P1 fracture, according to NYRA's Chief Examining Veterinarian. 
  • One customer on Wednesday had the sole winning ticket on Belmont Park's Pick 6, which paid $423,424. The Pick 6 had carried over to a third day before being hit. Not a bad day at the office. 
  • Discreet Marq (7-2) and Emollient (3-1), a pair of New York-based horses exiting Grade 1 wins in California, will face each other for the first time on Saturday in Belmont Park's Grade 1, $500,000 Garden City for 3-year-old fillies. Both horses will attract west coast riders to fly in for the big race. Garret Gomez will ride Discreet Marq and Hall of Famer Mike Smith will be aboard Emollient. 
  • In the admit you were wrong department, it looks like Verrazano will be pointed towards the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. Projections of his retirement have been greatly exaggerated. 
  • How impressive was Groupie Doll on Monday night, rolling late to win the Grade 2 Presque Isle Downs Masters?  She won her second straight Masters as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, a race she won last year at Santa Anita. The Masters has proved to be a key race for the F&M Sprint the past few years, so keep an eye on place and show horses, Purely Hot and Judy the Beauty, respectively. 
  • A recently formed Buffalo-based horse racing partnership called Buffalo Thoroughbred Company announced that the trainer for the group is Jasmine (Jazz) Napravnik, sister of top flight jockey Rosie Napravnik. Their approach reminds me of the Joe Mesi - Third Franchise marketing drive, looking to jump into the horse racing game with Buffalo roots. We'll be watching closely as the group matures and they add more horses to its current stable. 

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner 

We move from the summer places to be back to the some of the tracks with the largest grandstands in Belmont Park, Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. The Great Race Place will not start its Autumn meeting in Arcadia, California until Sept. 27, which will lead up to the Breeders' Cup World Championships on Nov. 1 and 2. Santa Anita will host the Breeders' Cup for the second consecutive year and has been awarded the 2014 races as well. Churchill (Friday) and Belmont (Saturday) open up this weekend with their respective Fall meetings.

Some thoughts as we head into the weekend…

  • The New York Racing Association released final handle and attendance figures on the recently 40-day Saratoga meet. All-sources handle declined 0.3 percent to $568.7 million down from $588.4 million in 2012. On-track handle was off 2.1 percent from 2011. Attendance for the meet was 867,182, a 3.9 percent decrease from 901,033 in 2012.  
  • Todd Pletcher won the Saratoga trainer title for the fourth consecutive year and the tenth time in his career winning 36 races. Javier Castellano won his first jockey title with 66 wins, falling three short of Ramon Dominguez' record set last year. Ken and Sarah Ramsey took down the owner's title with a record-breaking 22 victories in achieving their third career Saratoga owner's title. 
  • How impressive was Strong Mandate's Hopeful victory for trainer D. Wayne Lukas who also won the Grade 1 Travers the week before? Lukas celebrated his 78th birthday in style, winning the Grade 1 race for the seventh time and first since 2009, when Dublin won the race for him. The Tiznow colt decimated the field by 9 3/4-lengths in the slop. 
  • The win by jockey Jose Ortiz aboard Strong Mandate was his first in a Grade 1 race and he was very excited about his colt's performance.  "I asked him a little bit because I knew [Corfu] is a tough horse," said Ortiz. "I cracked him one time on the shoulder and he put me right beside him, so I knew I had a lot of horse. At the eighth pole I looked back, and nobody was coming. I'm very happy, very excited." 
  • Believe it or not, the Road to the Kentucky Derby starts this weekend with a race at Churchill Downs. Saturday's Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes will be the first race that kicks off the second year of the points system utilized to determine the 20 starters for the Run for the Roses. 
  • The NYRA will offer a new Pick 5 wager every race day. The 50-cent minimum, 15-percent takeout wager will span the first five races of each race day. This wager should be popular with horseplayers, a bet that has been well received on the west coast at Del Mar and Santa Anita. 
  • Another  NYRA wager which will only be available on Thursdays will be a joint Pick-4 with Penn National, which will also feature a 50-cent minimum and low 15-percent takeout. The Thursday Pick 4 will link the final two races at Belmont Park with the first two races at Penn National Race Course. The wager will commence Thursday, September 12.  You ask why Penn National? Well, NYRA's former media director is now the director of racing operations at Penn National, so draw your own conclusions. 
  • The biggest day of the Belmont meet is Super Saturday on Sept. 28 when Big Sandy will host six stakes worth $3.4 million: the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational, the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, the Grade 1, $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational, the Grade 1, $400,000 Vosburgh Invitational, the Grade 1, $400,000 Beldame Invitational, and the Grade 2, $400,000 Kelso Handicap. The News will have a preview of Super Saturday in print that morning. 
  • The News visited with winning Spinaway trainer Leah Gyramati during the Saratoga meet while watching a workout for Bona Ventures Stables' Smooth Bert. We happened to meet her Spinaway winner Sweet Reason at the barns that morning, and found a very feisty filly in her stall.  She blew away the talented field on an off track by 5 3/4 lengths which was similar to her maiden breaking victory earlier in the Saratoga meet. In her debut, also on a sloppy track, Sweet Reason dropped 18 lengths off the pace in a 5 1/2-furlong sprint and rolled by the entire field to win by 6 1/4 lengths. It was the first Grade 1 victory for Gyramati, who was nursing a baby squirrel back to health at her barn during the News' visit.  

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Travers undercard full of big races

By Gene Kershner

The three graded stakes races preceding the $1 million Grade 1 Travers Stakes on Saturday afternoon will feature competitive racing at Saratoga Race Course. The Grade 1 Test Stakes, a sprint for three- year-old fillies, the Grade 2 Ketel One Ballston Spa Stakes for fillies and mares three-years-old and up and the Grade 1 Foxwoods Kings Bishop, a 7-furlong sprint for three-year-olds will highlight the undercard on the Spa's signature day.

There will be 14 races in all with the first race going to post at 11:35 a.m. The "Summer at Saratoga" series continues with a national telecast on NBC (Ch. 2, 4:30 - 6:00 p.m.), the Travers is scheduled to go off at 5:45 p.m. local time. The Travers preview will be in Saturday's News, be sure to check it out.

Let's take a look at the three undercard races and some thoughts when building a Pick-4 ticket that starts with the Test in Race 9.

Race 9: Grade 1 Test Stakes. This is a loaded field with some very talented 3-year-old fillies, including west coast shipper 5-Sweet Lulu (5-2) who has Julien Leparoux in the irons. She hasn't run on anything other than a synthetic surface, but she is showing a tremendous workout pattern and Jerry Hollendorfer thinks enough of her to ship her east for this spot. While she's not my top choice, it would be hard not to include her on a multi-race ticket. I'm looking for 9-Wildcat Lily (6-1) to have her breakout race, she sports a bullet workout at Gulfstream on Aug. 17 (best time out of 100 starters working 4-furlongs that day). She finished only a half length behind 6-Lighthouse Bay in the Grade 1 Prioress and has not finished outside of the exacta in seven straight races. 8-My Happy Face (3-1) will be cutting back off her second place finish in the CCA Oaks where she finished six lengths behind the likely 3-year-old filly champion Princess of Sylmar. With Rosario in the irons for a white-hot Chad Brown, she's on my ticket.

Race 10: Grade 2 Ballston Spa Stakes. Whenever I look at a turf race the three jockeys I focus on are Lezcano, Castellano and Johnny V. They happen to be on the three horses that should land on my P4 tickets Saturday afternoon. 1-Laughing (7-2) was the class of the Diana and she comes in third off the layoff for Alan Goldberg and has Lezcano in the irons, a 20 percent winner on the weeds. 5-Hungry Island (5-2) has never missed the board at 8 1/2-furlongs and Castellano is a hot jockey right now, also wins 22 percent of the time on the grass. Has been rested since Belmont Stakes day for Shug McGaughey and shows some sharp workouts in her past performances. Johnny V is aboard 4-Centre Court (3-1), who will look to rebound from her disappointing performance in the Diana. She too has never been out of the exacta in five starts at the distance. If you're looking for a long shot to put on your ticket and have room for her 8-Embarr could steal it on the front end. She also has finished in front of Laughing in the past so she has some class.

Race 11: Grade 1 King's Bishop.  This race has a full field of 14 and should be the one to go deepest in. The full field sprints give me fits so I'll be going at least five deep in this one. The 7-furlong sprint features the Grade 2 Amsterdam winner 2-Forty Tales (5-2) for the Pletcher/Rosario combination that is winning 23 percent of the time and in the money 62 percent of the time together. He's put together two impressive graded stakes victories between the Grade 1 Woody Stephens and the Amsterdam and could make it three in a row. A Post Time favorite is 5-Majestic Hussar (10-1) who we saw win in person at Gulfstream at the same distance in the slop defeating a certain horse named Palace Malice that day. The son of Majestic Warrior is two for three at the Spa and comes in second off the layoff for Eddie Kenneally.  8-Declan's Warrior (5-1), Nick Zito's chance at getting back in the winner's circle finished a close second to Forty Tales in the Stephens and was closing fast in the 6 1/2-furlong Amsterdam. If he can stay closer to the pace, he may warrant a look and it doesn't hurt that Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez is in the irons. Don't overlook the performance of 10-Let Em Shine (6-1) in the Woody Stephens after three straight victories. His fourth place finish was only a  length back and he led most of the way. He gets a jockey upgrade with Hall of Famer Mike Smith and could win at a nice price. For our long shot toss in, we'll include 4-Slan Abhaile (20-1), a Hard Spun colt for trainer Dale Romans. The distance fits and he sports a nice 5-furlong workout, so he could be ultra-fit for this race.

Good luck and let's cash some tickets!

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Travers draw and trainer quotes

By Gene Kershner

This morning the post position draw for the 144th edition of the $1 million Grade 1 Travers Stakes was held in the paddock at Saratoga Race Course. The News will be in Saratoga Springs this weekend to preview the race in Saturday's paper and provide a post-race recap in Sunday's News. Verrazano was made the morning line favorite at 2-1 in the field of nine.

Here are some quotes provided by the New York Racing Association Press Office from this morning's draw and the official posts and morning line odds for Saturday's big race which will be nationally-televised on NBC (Ch. 2 4:30 - 6 p.m.).

Todd Pletcher, trainer of Verrazano:

"I thought [distance concerns] existed [for other people] until he won the Haskell the way he did. The track was very demanding that day, probably the slowest Monmouth track I had ever seen. For him to draw away like he did at the end of a mile and an eighth, to me, put away any concerns about that. Just watching the horse train over the last year and a half, I never thought he had any distance limitations."

Pletcher on Palace Malice:

"I think, ideally, you'd like to be outside of Moreno, who you think will be the most likely pacesetter. Sometimes you worry about post positions and the race doesn't unfold the way you think it will."

Pletcher on both horses coming off big races:

"We're concerned we're trying to match lifetime-best performances in four weeks. It's always a balancing act. We just hope they can come over and run their races, and everything we have seen in their training since the Jim Dandy and the Haskell indicates to us they're still in peak form. We hope it's still the case Saturday afternoon."

Claude R. "Shug" McGaughey, trainer of Orb:

"I think when we put him on the van to go to Fair Hill the day after the Belmont, he was pretty spent. He was a horse then; I think he's come back a lot more of a horse for his experience down there. He only had the tack off of him for two weeks, so it wasn't like he wasn't training very much. But, he got bigger and put on some weight, and mentally he's probably a lot sharper than he was. We'll find out Saturday whether that experiment worked or didn't work."

D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Will Take Charge:

"The Derby experience seemed to affect him mentally. He got a little bit more involved than you may want to think. He came out of that a little less focused than he should have been; then I kept the blinkers on him. When I went into the Jim Dandy, I decided to do something different - we pulled the blinkers off. I thought that made a big difference. That let him see everything."

Eric Guillot, trainer of Moreno:

"On the first turn, I'll be three in front and they'll sit back. Then they'll get confidence up on the backside, and they'll get to the bear grease again. Nah, it's the same deal - no sub-24[-second] quarters. Every quarter has to be 24 and change. If they let me get off with that, this horse has a high, high cruising speed. He's more efficient than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. How efficient is that?"

Dallas Stewart, trainer of Golden Soul:

"You know that last race [the Haskell] was just a throwout, as we say, it just was not a good race for him. This scenario, there's very nice horses here, there should be a good pace, but they're going to finish. They're not just going to back up. He's going to need to run his race to be right there. I feel good about it."


Here are the post postions and morning line odds for the $1 million Travers Stakes:

PP Horse Trainer Jockey Odds
1 Romansh Albertrani J Castellano 12-1
2 Orb McGaughey J Rosario 4-1
3 Verrazano Pletcher J Velazquez 2-1
4 Golden Soul Stewart R Albarado 20-1
5 Will Take Charge Lukas L Saez 10-1
6 Moreno Guillot J Ortiz 12-1
7 War Dancer McPeek A Garcia 15-1
8 Palace Malice Pletcher M Smith 5-2
9 Transparent McLaughlin I Ortiz 12-1


Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Princess of Sylmar rolls in Alabama

By Gene Kershner

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- There is no question who the best 3-year-old filly in the land is after this afternoon's Grade 1 $600,000 Alabama Stakes as Princess of Sylmar rolled to an open lenghts victory over Southern Cal shipper Fiftyshadesofhay at Saratoga Race Course.

The daughter of Majestic Warrior took command at the quarter pole and cruised home under a handride by jockey Javier Castellano to complete her third straight Grade 1 victory. The Kentucky Oaks champion became the second horse in two years to complete the CCAO-Alabama double at the old Spa. Last year, Questing swept both races for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin who trained third place finisher Carnival Court.

Princess of Sylmar paid $3 to win, $2.10 to place and $2.10 to show, completing the mile and a quarter in 2:03.21. Fiftyshadesofhay, trained by Bob Baffet who did not make the trip on Saturday, paid $2.50 to place and $2.60 to show. Carnival Court returned $3.50 for the third place finish.

The win by trainer Todd Pletcher was his first in 10 Alabamas with 13 starters, who extended his lead for the Spa trainer title with the victory.

Big Blue Kitten ($7.90) won the Grade 1 $600,000 Sword Dancer on the undercard charging past Twilight Eclipse in the final furlong for leading owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey for trainer Chad Brown and jockey Jersey Joe Bravo.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.


Post Time: Breeders' Stakes not for the birds

By Gene Kershner 

Beaten a half-length by Midnight Aria in the Queen's Plate, Up With the Birds (6-5) will look to bounce back in the win column in Sunday's $500,000 Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack. The 1 1/2-mile race on the Woodbine turf is the final jewel of Canada's Triple Crown. Uncaptured, a dirt specialist, won the second jewel, the Prince of Wales, at Fort Erie Race Track last month defeating River Seven, the only horse scheduled to run in all three legs of the Crown.  

The field of 10 attracted seven newcomers to the Canadian Triple Crown trail and of the starters, five are geldings. There are no fillies entered in the race. Sam-Son Farms would hold the record for most wins by an owner in the race by notching its sixth should the morning line favorite Up With the Birds come through with a victory. Eurico Rosa da Silva, will retain the mount on the Stormy Atlantic colt for the sixth time. 

Trainer Malcolm Pierce decided not to run Up With the Birds in the Prince of Wales to point him towards the 123rd edition of the Breeders' Stakes. "He's had no reason for time off. I just felt it was the right thing to do by the horse," Pierce told the Woodbine media office. "We decided to take a pass on the Prince of Wales and point to the Breeders' and have a very fresh horse to go a mile and a half," said Pierce.

Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield will be seeking his ninth Breeders' win, holds the current record for trainer wins, will run Global Express (5-2), a Street Sense colt making just his fourth career start.He broke his maiden on the grass going 1 3/8-miles impressively last month winning by over eight lengths after two starts on the Polytrack.

River Seven (8-1), trained by Nick Gonzalez, will look to improve on his second place finish at Fort Erie, losing by only a length to the highly talented Uncaptured. The versatile gelding owned by Tucci Stables will look to show his versatility on all three surfaces. The son of Johannesburg will be ridden by Plate-winning jockey Jesse Campbell who will ride him for the first time. Da Silva rode River Seven in the Prince of Wales and opted for Up With the Birds.  

Pyrite Mountain (6-1) returns after a disappointing seventh-place finish in the Plate, shows two straight bullet workouts on the turf and could be coming into the race sitting on a big one. If his morning line sticker of 6-1 manages to hold by post time, he could be the value horse in the race. Trainer Mark Frostad held out to the Woodbine media that his hors may favor the grass. "This horse is probably better on turf than he is on any other surface. We got in a lot of trouble (in his first turf start), but what convinced me that he's a good turf horse is the way he closed in that race when he finally got loose. He closed a lot of ground in the stretch. I think he'll be much better on the turf. He's ready for this dash,” he said.

Post Time Outlook: 1-Pyrite Mountain; 2-Up With the Birds and 3-Global Express

The field for the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes - Sunday August 18 at Woodbine Racetrack







Pyrite Mountain










Global Express





Highland Bay





Up With the Birds


da Silva



Faithful Rose


Dos Ramos



Bookies Nightmare





Dragon Puff





River Seven





Who's Mr. Hughes





Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The "Summer at Saratoga" series continues Saturday afternoon (NBC Sports Network, 5-6 p.m.) with a pair of Grade 1 stakes races, the $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational on turf and the $600,000 Alabama Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on dirt.

The 13-horse Sword Dancer field includes Phipps Stable star Boisterous (5-2), the morning line favorite who won the Grade 1 Man O'War last month at Belmont Park. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez has the mount for trainer Shug McGaughey.

The field is strong with top challengers Big Blue Kitten (4-1) and Jersey Joe Bravo coming in from Monmouth to ride the homebred Kitten's Joy horse for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the current leading owners at the Spa meet.  In addition, Big Blue Kitten's trainer Chad Brown has been nearly unbeatable training on the turf this summer. Stellar turf jockey Javier Castellano will be aboard Twilight Eclipse (5-1) who finished behind Boisterous in the Man O'War for West Point Thoroughbreds and trainer Tom Albertrani. D. Wayne Lukas will run the ever present Optimizer (6-1), who is still searching for his first Grade 1 victory.

If you're looking for a long shot play in the Sword Dancer, Tannery (20-1) is a consideration, as he has an excuse for his last race hitting the gate at the break, and fared very well in his two prior races. He has the pedigree to go long and might be worth putting him underneath on some exotic tickets.

Post Time Outlook: 1-Boisterous; 2-Big Blue Kitten and 3-Tannery

The Alabama is a matchup of super trainers Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert, both entering talented 3-year-old fillies with sight set on the divisional championship.  Baffert won the race in 1999 with Silverbulletday and Pletcher is looking for his first Alabama with 11 starters in nine previous Alabamas.

Pletcher's Princess of Sylmar will look to add to her Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks victories with a win in the Alabama. The 3-5 favorite has looked much the best and would likely claim the 3-year-old filly crown with a win on Saturday. Pletcher doesn't feel that the added distance should affect his filly. "She should excel with the added distance," said Pletcher of Princess of Sylmar, a Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Majestic Warrior.

Baffert will counter with his filly Fiftyshadesofhay (2-1), second choice on the morning line and winner of the Grade 2 Black-eyed Susan on Preakness weekend at Pimlico and the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows last month. The Pulpit filly out of a Real Quiet mare should have no issues with the 1 1/4-mile trip around the Spa oval. Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez will be aboard the talented filly with the Southern California connections.

Looking for a surprise in the Alabama? Don't count on it as the top two look tough to beat, but Kiaran McLaughlin has entered an interesting filly, Carnival Court (15-1) for Darley Stable, who will run on Lasix for the first time. The lightly raced Street Sense filly could surprise in the Alabama. Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. who was aboard last year's Alabama winner, Questing, will be in the irons on Carnival Court.

I'm looking for the upset in the Alabama even though the Princess looks awfully tough:

Post Time Outlook: 1 - Fiftyshadesofhay; 2-Princess of Sylmar and 3-Carnival Court 

The field for the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama:








Tell a Great Story






Montana Native






Galloping Giraffe






Princess of Sylmar






Carnival Court

Ortiz, Jr.











Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.