The three-year-old colts are just four weeks out from the Grade I $1 million Travers and there are three key preps to get there.
First up is the $100,000 Curlin Stakes running July 27 at Saratoga Race Course. Street Life, a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby, Jim Dandy and Travers winner Street Sense, is the favorite at 5-2 breaking from post three. Trained by Chad Brown, Street Life breezed five furlongs in 1:01.87 at Belmont Park July 22. Jose Lezcano has the mount.
Street Life enters the Curlin off of a fourth place-finish in the Grade I $1 million Belmont Stakes, won by the now-retired Union Rags. He finished third in both the Peter Pan and Wood Memorial.
Also entered for the Curlin is Robert LaPenta’s Easter Gift. Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito conditions the son of Hard Spun who zipped through five-eighths of a mile in 1:00.83 over at the Oklahoma track July 19. In Easter Gift’s last effort, he finished second in the Grade III Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park.
“He’s only made three starts, but obviously, Saratoga’s the spot, so the Curlin’s the spot,” said Zito.
Easter Gift drew the five-hole and is 7-2 on the morning line.
The eight-horse Curlin field leads into Saturday’s feature, the Grade II $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes. Run at nine furlongs, the Jim Dandy is the traditional Saratoga prep for the Travers.
Heading up the Jim Dandy field is the Bob Baffert-trained Liaison. This Indian Charlie-colt finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby and has run twice since. He finished second in the Grade III Affirmed at Hollywood Park and three-quarters of a length short from winning in the Grade II Swaps, also at Hollywood Park. Liaison earned a 102 Beyer speed figure in his last effort. He’s training well and looks like the horse to beat.
“Liaison worked really well today, and we thought he earned his trip to the Jim Dandy,” Baffert said from Del Mar after Liaison worked 1:12 4/5 for six furlongs with Paynter. “Martin Garcia worked him and said he really felt great.”
Baffert’s horse Paynter, second in the Grade I Belmont Stakes to Union Rags, will likely run in July 29 Grade I $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. Paynter set the pace and nearly took the field wire-to-wire before giving up the fence and the lead to John Velazquez and Union Rags. Originally Baffert’s horse Bodemeister, who finished a courageous second to I’ll Have Another in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, pointed to the Haskell. A barn-wide illness made Bodemeister miss training and thus the Haskell, though he still remains an option for the Travers on August 25 at the Spa.
Zito sends out Fast Falcon in the Jim Dandy after saddling Easter Gift the day before. Zito didn’t have any horses run in the Triple Crown races - a rarity for him, but it looks as though the second half of his year could be promising.
“By the one horse running Friday, and Fast Falcon Saturday, it still gives us hope, and it’s very nice,” said Zito. “You know, for the first time not being in the Triple Crown in a long time, and I always say this, I’m lucky and blessed. When you miss a year or two, you’re supposed to. That’s just the business. I’ve been blessed, so I’m happy. I’m certainly happy to get back into this deal. Like I always say, God’s been good to me, and getting me back into the second half of the season would be great.”
Alpha, who missed the Belmont Stakes because of a fever, and Teeth of the Dog, winner of two consecutive stakes races, and Gemologist are also probable Jim Dandy starters.
Winter Memories gears up for Diana
Winter Memories, winner of last year’s Grade II Lake George at Saratoga, cranks up to Grade I-company in the $600,000 Diana on the turf.
Winter Memories drilled five furlongs on the Oklahoma turf track in 59 seconds and change and has his trainer, Jimmy Toner, thinking repeat.
“[She’s running] nice and comfortable, so we’re very happy with her,” said Toner. “We’re good to go. Every time she runs, you get excited, and the way she runs is exciting.”
In 2011 at Saratoga, she won the Grade II Lake George and fourth in the Grade II Lake Placid. Once she arrived at Belmont Park last fall, she won the Grade I Garden City.
Winter Memories finished second in her latest to Tapitsfly in the Grade I Just a Game June 9. Tapitsfly will face Winter Memories for a rematch in the Diana.
Tapitsfly, trained by Dale Romans, looked fit and ready in her latest workout.
“I hope that she’ll relax as well as she did in the Just a Game,” said Romans. “Our plan for her this year was to get her to really relax and come from a little off the pace, and then we got to the Just a Game, a Grade 1, and there was no speed, so we threw that out the window. I doubt there will be enough speed to run with her here, so she’ll probably do the same thing.”
Shackleford to target Forego, not Whitney
The multiple Grade I race-winning colt Shackelford, once considered for the 1 1/8th mile Whitney Invitational Handicap will prep for the Grade I seven-furlong Forego Stakes at the end of the meet.
After his grueling win over Caleb’s Posse in the Grade I Met Mile, trainer Dale Romans needed to give his Forestry colt some extra time.
“He came out of the Met Mile a little bit tired,” said Romans. “It took him a little longer to get back on his feet, and we were going to have to rush him to make the Whitney. This will work out well. We know his career is winding down. He’ll probably have three more starts and we’re going to try to make them all count.”
While running in the Forego, he’ll likely clash with 2011 Forego winner Jackson Bend, that most recently finished fourth in the Grade III James Marvin on Opening Day.
“He’s great this morning, but he was mad yesterday,” trainer Nick Zito said. “He just doesn’t want to run outside. He loves to run on the fence, he loves to split horses, but that’s the way it went. We’ll try to regroup and hopefully come back in the Forego.”
How they came out:
Winners of last week’s big stakes races came out in good order.
Godolphin’s horse Questing exited the Grade I Coaching Club American for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
“She looked great this morning and is happy,” McLaughlin said. “Obviously, we’ll look at the [Grade I] Alabama. It’s in four weeks. I wish there was a little more time, but things look promising if she’s doing this well.”
Grade II Sanford winner Bern Identity came out of the juvenile race without a scratch for trainer Kelly Breen. The Grade I Hopeful Stakes is an option for this colt on the Closing Day of the 2012 meet at Saratoga Race Course.