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 one of highlights of The Spa Meet for turf fans. Re-inaugurated in 2019, some stout routers have visited the winner’s circle over the past 3 years. In 2020, it was Chad Brown’s excellent distance specialist, Domestic Spending who secured the victory. That win has served as a stepping stone to many great performances in 2021. Before that, it was Kiaran McLaughlin’s A Thread of Blue, who thrilled in the very first “modern” running of the race. His namesake last ran all the way back in 1906. The Europeans came calling last year, when Joseph O’Brien surprised a well-matched field with his import, State of Rest (IRE). 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 Main Event (Jky: J. Ortiz/Trn: G. Weaver):
George Weaver has an excellent turfer that is ratcheting back up the class ladder after the colt by Bernardini shipped to Delaware Park for the Grade 3 Kent S. He waltzed on to that green and controlled the pace up front. No one could challenge him, enroute to the winner’s circle. Jose Ortiz has a new agent this week, and he is going to try and elevate this mount. He has ridden this one before at Gulfstream during their Championship Meet, but these are some pretty deep waters that he has found himself in.
#2 Grand Sonata (Jky: T. Gaffalione/Trn: T. Pletcher):
A Whisper Hill Farm homebred, this well-bred son of Medaglia d’Oro has competed against some tough company at Gulfstream Park, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and last time out, at Belmont. Todd Pletcher has watched this colt route deeper and deeper, throughout the spring. Always ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, the 3-yr-old is a mark of consistency, and that speaks to his budding talent in this division. Against the likes of Coinage, Sy Dog #8, Kitodan, and Smokin T, these were character-building moments. In the 1st leg of the “Triple,” Pletcher’s turfer fought for every inch down the lane—ending up 4th. That was something to build-on, and you can expect that he will not be 32/1 this time around. A chance … watch out!
#3 Emmanuel (Jky: F. Prat/Trn: T. Pletcher):
There were many horseplayers that were skeptical that Todd Pletcher’s son of More Than Ready could take to the turf in the Pennine Ridge (G2) at Belmont. I was against him, but he proved that he could cut to the lead, and hold it from wire-to-wire. That was his 1st try on the grass, and from a bloodline perspective, it makes a ton of sense. A former Derby Trail runner, his speed can be a major weapon. The problem is that being an “on the engine-type” can be a distinct disadvantage if the pace is hot. Certainly having Flavien Prat in the irons appears to be a good choice, since Irad Ortiz will ride the last of the Pletcher entries, Annapolis #6. At this point, I am still skeptical …
#4 Nations Pride (IRE) (Jky: W. Buick/Trn: C. Appleby):
Making his U.S. debut in the Belmont Derby (G1) on 9 July for Charlie Appleby, it looked like Frankie Dettori was going to catch Classic Causeway #9 down the stretch … it did not happen. The Godolphin homebred had the proper class to dominate that field, but lone speed won the day. That isn’t what the European style is all about in turf racing, so it will be interesting to see how Part II works out. Dettori is participating in the Racing League in the UK, so having regular rider William Buick come over is a major plus. Expect Appleby to have his son of Teofilo (IRE) all cranked up and ready … he is the leader when it comes to conditioning for the “Boys in Blue” after all … Will be my top pick …
#5 Stolen Base (Jky: D. Davis/Trn: M. Maker):
Mike Maker’s streaky son of Bodemeister returns to a NYRA track ready to try and improve on his performance in the Belmont Derby (G1). Based on his ability, ending up last out of 12 in that race would qualify as a disappointment. Three Diamonds is a superb owner, and Maker knows how to get horses ready to outrun their odds. The barn is making the switch to Dylan Davis, and maybe he can breathe some new life into this colt. It will not be an easy task, but if anyone in that jock’s room can do it … it is Davis. His mount has a sizable late kick that is available … I suggest he use it … otherwise, the result in here might be the same as last time. It should be noted that he is double-entered in Friday's running of the Hall of Fame Stakes (G2).
#6 Annapolis (Jky: I. Ortiz/Trn: T. Pletcher):
The power of Todd Pletcher and Irad Ortiz seems to reign supreme in a variety of situations. They are going to team once again, and see if this homebred for the Bass Family can raise his game. Since he started his career at Saratoga last year, the colt has had a pretty easy time of it. Granted … the Grade 2 Pilgrim at Belmont last October was a squeaker at the wire. Ortiz always seems to find more just when it counts the most. His last race in the Manila S. $100k was impressive … scoring by 2+ lengths. Keep in mind though, this is much tougher company, and I am not even sure that this is the best runner that the HOF trainer has entered. Going from being a miler to deeper routes on the grass is difficult. I would be impressed if he just hits-the-board.
#7 Royal Patronage (FR) (Jky: J. Rosario/Trn: G. Motion):
One of a pair of runners for the Maryland-Pennsylvania based trainer that has built an impressive clientele over the years is Graham Motion. He trains all kinds of runners, but turf routers are a bit of a specialty. The good folks of Highclere Thoroughbred Racing are hoping that this conditioner can take the former Charlie Johnston son of Wootton Bassett (GB) and notch this Grade 1 for them. Like the fictitious Downton Abbey from the mind of Julian Fellows, you never know what will happen. What we do know is that Joel Rosario is on fire right now, and his mount does have some impressive European form. He was second to Desert Crown in York (GB), which was no small feat. A player … one to respect—5th in the Belmont Derby (G1) …
#8 Sy Dog (Jky: M. Franco/Trn: G. Motion):
The “other” Motion entry is no slouch, and is looking to bounce back after an impressive start to his career that dates back to his 2-yr-old campaign. A son of Slumber (GB), who back in the day was solid on the grass, he was part of what had to be on of Motion’s best Keeneland Meets in sometime. Winning the Transylvania (G3) was a highlight, but since then, one could argue, that he has slipped a bit. Still, the American Turf (G2) and Belmont Derby (G1) were exceedingly tough. Motion once again goes with Manny Franco, who I find to be a feast or famine type when it comes to riding on the turf. Bet on this one at your own peril … there are better options, in other words.
#9 Classic Causeway (Jky: J. Leparoux/Trn: K. McPeek):
I am still not exactly convinced that the former Brian Lynch runner is the real deal when it comes to running on the lawn. Not to take anything away from Julien Leparoux’s decision to wrestle the lead away from his competitors in the Belmont Derby (G1) … it was a seminal choice. Was it the perfect trip though? If you ran that race a dozen more times, could the son of Giant’s Causeway hold it like he did? Unchallenged … I don’t think so. Kenny McPeek certainly inherited a talent, and the choice to try the green was bold. He knew his charge could get the distance, but against a high-class group, he certainly outdid his odds of 27/1. With Leparoux back aboard, you never know how it will shake out … still, I am skeptical …
#10 Stone Age (IRE) (Jky: J. Velazquez/Trn: A. O’Brien):
It would not be a classic international turf race without Aidan O’Brien. The Irish “super trainer” makes his annual trip to America, and he regularly comes ready to win. I would not be at all surprised to see his colt by the great Galileo (IRE) (who we lost last year) enter the winner’s circle when this race is all said and done. He has a powerful leg kick, and even though Ryan Moore is not making the trip, John Velazquez is a worthy substitute. The trick for Johnny V is going to be navigating the traffic troubles that are sure to come. The HOF rider has to wait for the right moment, but make no mistake, this mount of his has the moves to win this race. Part-owned by the ubiquitous Peter Brant, expect this colt’s European class to shine through. Going longer on the grass at The Spa, should not be an issue.
#11 Ethereal Road (Jky: L. Saez/Trn: DW Lukas):
I think we can all agree that it was great to see “The Coach” back in the limelight this past spring. Not only did he have a talented filly that wowed the crowds, but this son of Quality Road was impressive in his own right. D.W. Lukas nearly celebrated another Rebel Stakes (G2) victory, and his colt’s outright win in the Sir Barton S. $100k was excellent. However, we must all admit, and Lukas would probably tend to agree, this is a very tough spot. Running on the grass for the 1st time in his career will be … an experiment. Certainly, others have succeeded, but it is going to take a monumental effort. The ace up his sleeve is definitely Luis Saez. This accomplished rider can handle this assignment, but it is hard to make a case only on bloodlines … he will need more … Whatever the case, it is going to be fun to watch. The Coach is back …
Join us Saturday for all of our Saratoga selections! Should be a great set of races from The Spa! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter … Horseracing_USA !!!