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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Preview of Week Three at Saratoga Race Course

By | Sports

Saturday’s Grade I $750,000 Whitney Invitational, run at nine furlongs at the Spa, showcases 2012 Horse of the Year candidate Ron the Greek.


Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Ron the Greek comes off an impressive win in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs back in June and the Santa Anita Handicap at Santa Anita in March. The favorite at 3-1, Ron the Greek breaks from post number six

“I think [Ron the Greek is] a real late-developing horse,” Mott said. “He’s a huge, gorgeous horse, actually, but a horse you could tell probably wasn’t going to get good until later in his career. I think it’s just a timing issue, as most things are in this business. He’s starting to come around at the right time and just landed in our hands at the right time.”

Tied for fourth in wins through Tuesday, Mott also saddles Flat Out for the Whitney.

“I thought [the Monmouth Cup] was a perfect race for [Flat Out],” Mott said. “He probably didn’t get to run full out the whole way. He was kind of stuffed early in the race and got out late. He was closing on the winner. It was a useful race. I think it was the type of race you’d like to see going into a major race like the Whitney. It was enough, but it wasn’t too much. I think sometimes we panic a little bit if a horse runs clearing the field and worry about him running a little too fast, but I think this was probably just right.”

Mott has never won the Whitney before and with the favorite and two of the nine horses in this field, his chances this year are strong.

“I’m really not sure how many times I’ve run in the Whitney; I haven’t kept track. I don’t know if I’ve ever run in it at all; I can’t remember. I know it’s a great race, and it would be a great race to win, obviously. It’s named appropriately for a race to be run at Saratoga.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher also saddles two horses in the Whitney with Caixa Eletronica at 15-1 and Rule at 5-1. Caixa Eletronica was defeated in the Grade III James Marvin on opening day back on July 20. Pletcher and owner Mike Repole are wheeling back and going long.

“I think the division is still very wide open,” Pletcher said. “You have a couple of major players on the East Coast who are not in here and will probably show up in the Woodward. It’s a division that’s waiting for someone to step up and take control of on the dirt. Maybe Game on Dude has taken control on the West Coast, but it’s kind of wide-open here, waiting for someone to reel off a couple wins in a row.”

Rule and Caixa Eletronica drew posts one and three respectively, putting them close to the fence.

“The post positions are fine. We’ll be able to save ground around the first turn. There appears to be plenty of pace in there so hopefully we’ll be able to save ground and work our way into a good position.”

Ian Wilkes trains the second choice Fort Larned at 7-2. He’ll break from the far outside in post nine.

“He really stepped it up. The blinkers really helped him. He just wanted to run a little bit. I went into the Stephen Foster with a pretty horse. I didn’t have a racehorse, so, he didn’t run much that day. The owner was willing to take a shot [two weeks later for the Cornhusker Handicap],” said Wilkes.

Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey sends Grade I Suburban Handicap runner-up Hymn Book into the fray against this accomplished group. Hymn Book charged from way behind in the Suburban but ran out of ground before losing to Mucho Macho Man.

“I’m going to say he stumbled [last time out in the Suburban],” said McGaughey, “and I think that’s just what he did. I think he just broke hard, and his right front went out from under him. When it did, [Velazquez] had to gather him up and sort of lost all position. I was pretty happy with the way he did finish. He came on against that group of horses. The winner is a very nice horse, Mucho Macho Man. He had a really good trip and been laying up there, and it’s hard when you give up that much ground to catch up to that kind of horse.”

The rest of the field includes Trickmeister, Endorsement and Hunter’s Bay.

Travers prep is in the books

This past weekend featured the three main Travers Stakes prep races in the ungraded Curlin Stakes, the Grade II Jim Dandy and the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

Paynter, second to Union Rags in the Grade I Belmont Stakes, powered to a convincing win in the Haskell. He rated off the right hip of Grade I Wood Memorial winner Gemologist and kicked clear to win by daylight.

Just like his sire Bernardini, Alpha, the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained colt, was the impressive winner of the Jim Dandy. It was his first win since the Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct over the winter.

“This was the plan the whole time,” McLaughlin said, “to run in this and back in the Travers. Hopefully, everything goes well for the next four weeks.”

Street Life, trained by Saratoga leading trainer (as of Tuesday July 31) Chad Brown, stole the Curlin Stakes on Friday, July 19. All horses are considered strong contenders for the Travers come August 25.

“As long as the horse is OK and doing well, he’ll be ready for the Travers,” Brown said.

Shack is back

Trainer Dale Romans confirmed on July 30 that his horse Shackleford will run in the Grade I Vanderbilt Handicap scheduled for Sunday, August 5. The plan is to run on Labor Day in the Forego and the Vanderbilt is a sensible prep.

“He’s a horse that likes to run, and if nothing else, it would be a good prep for the Forego,” Romans said. “He only has three or four more races left in his career, so we might as well get them.”

Shackleford will attempt to become just the fifth horse to win a Grade I race at six furlongs and longer than nine furlongs. He won the Grade I Preakness Stakes run at 9.5 furlongs in 2011 and has since won at a mile and seven furlongs. He has never raced at six.

If he wins he’ll be in rarefied air with Ruffian, Foolish Pleasure, Precisionist and Dancing Spree.

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