The “Turf Trinity” is a series of 3 races at NYRA in order to showcase the very best that grass racing has to offer. This Saturday the “middle” of that series is on parade. Positioned between the Belmont Derby and the Jockey Club Derby, which are both held in Elmont, this contest is a highlight of the SPA Meet for turf fans. Re-inaugurated in 2019, a pair of stout routers have visited the winner’s circle over the past 2 years. Last year, it was Chad Brown’s excellent distance specialist, Domestic Spending who secured the victory. That win served as a stepping stone to many great performances in 2021. Before that it was trainer, turned agent, Kiaran McLaughlin’s A Thread of Blue, who thrilled in the very first “modern” running of the race. Its namesake was last run all the way back in 1906. A good group of colts has once again assembled for a nice long run on The SPA turf, but it takes on a decidedly European flavor this year.
Now, let’s find out about this field…
#1 Soldier Rising (GB) (Jky: I. Ortiz/Trn: C. Clement):
Trainer Christophe Clement, Madaket, and Michael Dubb are together again as they bring this former French router in for his U.S. debut. The thing of it is … though this gelding is well-bred for the turf out of super sire Frankel (GB), he did not run against much class at Chantilly and Longchamp. Those are celebrated courses, but the races were hardly up to scratch. The saving grace is the conditioning ability of Clement, and the employment of pilot Irad Ortiz. I marvel at a jockey who can climb aboard a grass horse for the 1st time in competition and ride them to victory. Not going to happen Saturday …
#2 Du Jour (Jky: J. Rosario/Trn: B. Mott):
The Bafferts teamed up and proceeded to rattle off 3 straight wins … not too shabby for a barn that doesn’t do much on the green. Baffert’s wife probably knew he could do it ... and he did, when this colt, out of Temple City, surprised many (including this turfwriter) with a score in the American Turf (G2) on Derby Day. Baffert had quite a day that Saturday, didn’t he? Now, after transferring title to Bill Mott, the 3-yr-old is trying to correct what was a miss last time out in the Belmont Derby (G1). I doubt the switch to Joel Rosario will make that big a difference (odd rider change, since Flavien Prat is in for the weekend). The pedigree speaks to turf routing, but my sense is that this one should be a sprinter.
#3 Palazzi (Jky: T. Gaffalione/Trn: M. Casse):
The breeding of HnR Nothhaft and his broodmare Kindle made this excellent turf router possible. Out of Pioneerof the Nile, the colt already has quite a number of quality races under his saddle. John Oxley and Mark Casse have a long relationship as owner-trainer, so you know when you are betting on this 3-yr-old you are getting the total package. Tyler Gaffalione will be riding him for the 4th time, and should know his tendencies by now. The real question is can he get this distance? I am not sure. I would like to see something a little shorter because he has that big late kick that is available. If Gaffalione can get some major pace to run into, it will help immensely. Maybe just too much to do … but one I am rooting for ardently.
#4 Cadillac (IRE) (Jky: S. Foley/Trn: Mrs. J. Harringon):
Mrs. Jessica Harrington needs no introduction, since her renown as a flat trainer in Ireland is impressive. She regularly ships to the UK and onto the Continent. Over the years, her barn has possessed some wonderful turf routers (Albigna won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) in 2019). I am hoping she ships once again to BC because her eye and conditioning abilities are second-to-none, in my estimation. The last time we saw this colt, out of the superb sire Lope De Vega, he was up against Maker’s Fire At Will in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). A 4th place finish by Shane Foley, Mrs. Harrington’s regular rider, was not a poor effort whatsoever. After a winter break, the colt returned to the gallops, and made his 3-yr-old debut at The Curragh in late June. Winning by a head, Foley’s mount was impressive in the Group 3 win. I give the team at Alpha top marks, and winning the day is entirely feasible at The SPA.
#5 Yes This Time (Jky: L. Saez/Trn: K. Breen):
It is time for Edge Racing and trainer Kelly Breen to put up their 5/5 record, and jump into this shark-laden class pool. Rising through the ranks was steady at Gulfstream Park (4 races), and then in the Grade III Kent S. “Jersey Joe” Bravo, now “SoCal” Bravo, took this colt home nicely. Well-bred for turf (but maybe not deep routing), Breen will turn the controls over to leading SPA rider Luis Saez. His budding aggressiveness on the turf is inspiring, and quite a match to that of Irad Ortiz. Whether this one can make the class jump is the major question … probably too much firepower in here.
#6 Bolshoi Ballet (Jky: R. Moore/Trn: A. O’Brien):
The champ of the 1st Leg of the “Turf Triple” is back for more … Super trainer Aidan O’Brien designed a program for this son of Galileo, and even though that excellent sire is no longer with us, his offspring are primed for victory. Some of us tried to take a stand against him in Elmont, but it was not to be. His late kick was just devastating, and Ryan Moore timed the ride perfectly. He showed why he is one of the best in the business. This Euro-style of turf racing … “settling,” then making a giant run, is just foreign to most American riders. Irad Ortiz is probably one of the few that has come remotely close to mastering it. Expect this O’Brien entry to be in the mix late … he could be collecting the 2nd Leg of the “Triple.” Win them all … and glory, honor, and purse money is yours, raider.
#7 Secret Protector (Jky: M. Smith/Trn: C. Appleby):
“The Boys in Blue” are coming to Saratoga once again for this turf route, and as always, they are expecting victory. Their chief, Charlie Appleby, continues to rival the very best conditioners in the world. He brought a pair of turf routers to NYRA tracks already, and they went 1-2 (Althiqa/Summer Romance). This colt, out of War Front, comes to the U.S. after a 3rd place finish in the Hampton Court (G3) during Royal Ascot (GB). How good will he be in here? That is anyone’s guess, based on some fairly suspect European form. I liked him quite a bit in Dubai, but that was not as classy a spot as this one. The choice of Mike Smith to ride is disappointing. Yes, he rode Appleby’s champ in the Just A Game (G1), but I don’t think that had much to do with Smith. Don’t be fooled …
#8 Cellist (Jky: J. Leparoux/Trn: R. Arnold):
If there was a “most improved” medal in the Belmont Derby (G1), it would easily go to this runner from the barn of Rusty Arnold. At 16/1, not many believed that this Calumet Farm homebred could even hit-the-board. Out of Big Blue Kitten, the colt lost the lead at the top of the stretch, as his momentum fell apart. Jockey Julien Leparoux is now a veteran of many foreign turf wars, and he has the ability to get his mounts out early and often. That could be a useful skill, especially up against so much late speed. If he can do a better job of controlling the fractions up front, then he might have a shot to conserve enough energy in the end. Very, very tough ask against an even tougher group at The SPA …
#9 State of Rest (IRE) (Jky: J. Velazquez/Trn: J. O’Brien):
If there is one trainer in the world who knows Aidan O’Brien best it is Joseph … his son. A former jockey who rode the likes of St. Nicholas Abbey (IRE) for his father, he has turned to conditioning. He is excellent. With some amazing showings in the Breeders’ Cup already, it will be interesting to see how this son of Starspangledbanner (AUS) reacts to going longer. All of her races at courses like Naas (IRE), Doncaster (GB), and The Curragh (IRE) were 1 Mile or under. Perhaps O’Brien knows something we don’t … He is pairing up with John Velazquez, and they could surprise us all. It is going to be difficult though to even compete for the minor awards.
#10 Flashiest (Jky: J. Lezcano/Trn: L. Powell):
Trainer Leo Powell has a colt out of Mizzen Mast who might end up being a boxcar price when the tote gets rolling on Saturday. Clearly the SoCal-based trainer and the connections (Gary Barber included …) think that his victory in the Oceanside100k by a head was proof the gelding is ready for the bright lights of a Grade I. That might be an overstep of said bounds, but they are here to play. Jose Lezcano takes over the riding duties from Abel Cedillo, and I suppose that is an upgrade in the saddle. Still, class matters quite a bit, and this one is going to be on the outs … so to speak.
#11 King Fury (Jky: J. Ortiz/Trn: K. McPeek):
Beleaguered trainer Kenny McPeek has already had the toughest of SPA Meets, as his barn has already suffered under the yoke of a quarantine shutdown. His plan at this point was to have more than 3 entries hit the track, and it just has not happened. Maybe now he can get rolling, but it is not going to be easy considering the company in this Grade I. However, he brings a classy colt bred out of the magnificent Curlin, which should give his connections at Three Chimneys a fighting chance. This one ran so well at Keeneland in the Lexington (G3), and his 2nd in the Ohio Derby (G3) was more than adequate. Taking to the turf for the 1st time in his career will not be easy, especially against this European contingent. Having Jose Ortiz on board sounds especially inviting. If there is a wild card runner in this race, then it has to be McPeek’s charge. With so little to go on as far as surface, and the lacking barn record, one has to think he could be dangerous in here. Hmm …
Join us Saturday for all of our Saratoga selections! Should be a great set of races from The SPA!