Saratoga Roundup: Whitmore closes strong to capture Forego

SARATOGA SPRINGS — After a pair of agonizingly close second-place finishes in graded stakes sprints, Whitmore earned a return trip to the winner’s circle – and a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile – by making a strong move from the inside at the top of the stretch and outkicking City of Light and Limousine Liberal to capture the 39th running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego on Saturday, Travers Day, at Saratoga Race Course.

One of six Grade 1 stakes on a 13-race card highlighted by the 149th running of the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers, the Forego was a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup in November at Churchill Downs. 

Whitmore, somewhat fractious in the gate, settled under jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. and tracked the early speed as Heartwood led the eight-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in 22.48 seconds with the half going in 44.84 on the fast main track.

Turning for home, Santana found a big opening near the rail and grabbed the lead in upper stretch.

City of Light made a late bid but Whitmore prevailed to win by 1 ½ lengths, completing seven furlongs in 1:21.46. Whitmore won a graded stakes for the first time since the Grade 2 Phoenix in October at Keeneland, building on strong efforts when he ran second to Limousine Liberal by a neck in the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship on July 7 and by the same margin to Imperial Hint in the Grade 2 True North on June 8 at Belmont Park.

“To run that well here, he’s as consistent as they come and he tries every time,” said trainer Ron Moquett, who co-owns Whitmore with Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners. “He’s made a career out of outrunning his trainer and I just hope he keeps doing it. He’s a cool dude. He’s fun to be around. He’s a challenge. He brings that same tenacity on the track.

“He [Santana] has confidence in him. You know you live by the sword you die by the sword. Last time, we didn’t make it. This time we look like geniuses.” 

Off at 8-1, Whitmore paid $19.60 on a $2 win wager. He improved his career bankroll to $1,991,000 and is on target for his second straight Breeders’ Cup appearance after running eighth in last year’s Sprint at Del Mar.

 “We got a perfect trip,” Santana said. “That was the trip I wanted. We saved all the ground, and we got lucky that a whole opened on the turn for home. That’s when I let him run and he was feeling good today. Last time we got in a little trouble and today we got a clean trip. Everything was perfect and we’ll take the victory.” 

Moquett said Whitmore could next run in this year’s edition of the Phoenix on October 6.

“We’ll probably look at the Keeneland race, he liked that track, he liked that race, and we’ll go from there,” he said.

City of Light, the 4-5 favorite making his Saratoga debut after shipping from California for trainer Mike McCarthy, finished a nose in front of Limousine Liberal for second, moving to 4-4-1 in nine career starts.

“I thought the race kind of shaped up as we planned,” McCarthy said. “It looked like leaving away from there the ground kind of broke out from him a little bit. He broke real hard and kind of went down half a step and then gathered himself up. I think had we drawn inside it might have been a lot different but he was traveling comfortably throughout, he cut the corner and put in a run but the other horse had already gotten away from him. He put in a super effort; I can’t be upset with that.” 

C Z Rocket, No Dozing, Heartwood, Awesome Slew and Warrior’s Club completed the order of finish.

Ketel One Ballerina

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Cicero Farm’s Marley’s Freedom gave the Hall of Fame jockey-trainer team of Mike Smith and Bob Baffert their second straight stakes win on the Travers undercard posting a 3 ¼-length victory in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One Ballerina for filly and mare sprinters.

Breaking from post 7, Smith sat patiently aboard the post-time favorite on the backstretch while Grade 2 Honorable Miss winner Finley’sluckycharm took a slight lead in the field of eight, covering a quarter-mile in 23.11 seconds and a half in 45.44. Lewis Bay challenged the leader as the field reached the turn, but it was Marley’s Freedom who came with a serious, five-wide move to hit the front at the top of the lane. 

The 4-year-old Blame filly dispelled her competition and drew off in the final sixteenth of a mile, completing the seven-furlong sprint in 1:21.39.

“Winning her last two races was pretty impressive,” said Baffert, who won the Grade 1 Personal Ensign one race earlier with Smith and Abel Tasman. “The quality is there and you have to come to Saratoga if you are looking for a championship. That is why I brought her, to see how she fits [and] this is a pretty good field.

“[It was an] unbelievable race today,” he added. “When I saw her at the top of the stretch on the outside, I felt pretty good. She had an extra gear, that’s how she works. She and Abel have been working unbelievably. I didn’t think she would win by that far.”

Still There recovered from a stumble at the break to finish a strong-closing second, 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Lewis Bay in third. Union Strike, Ivy Bell, Tequilita, Finley’sluckycharm, and Cairenn completed the order of finish. Highway Star was scratched.

Favored at 9-5, Marley’s Freedom returned $5.80 for a $2 win wager. 

The victory was the fourth in a row for Marley’s Freedom this spring, beginning with a 2 ¼-length optional claiming win in April while under the care of trainer Bob Hess.

She moved to Baffert’s barn soon after and quickly registered wins in the Grade 3 Desert Stormer and the Grade 2 Great Lady M.

“When I got her, she was in great shape,” said Baffert. “She just came off a very big impressive win and I really can’t take a lot of credit for that. She came to me in great shape, and running really well and I just kept her in that form.”

In addition to an all-fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint on November 3 at Churchill Downs, the Ballerina improved her record to six wins and two seconds from 12 career starts for earnings of $628,000.

Allen Jerkens

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Bob Baron’s Promises Fulfilled led eight others from gate to wire to win the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial presented by Runhappy for 3-year-old sprinters by 1 1/4 lengths over stablemate Seven Trumpets.

The colt’s first Grade 1 victory was his second win at the meet, having won the Grade 3 Amsterdam July 28. The Dale Romans-trained son of Shackleford now owns five victories from nine career starts.

“That was very special,” Romans said. “Of course, most people in the game know that Allen [Jerkens] and I were very close. He was a good friend and mentor in life. Everybody knows what a great horse trainer he was, and he was a better person. It’s an honor to win this race and I think to get up for second we might have had a little divine intervention.”

Jockey Luis Saez sent Promises Fulfilled straight to the front, where he was prompted by Gidu through an opening quarter-mile in 22.66 seconds, with the half going in 44.34. Turning for home, with Engage beginning to rally to his inside, Saez went to work on Promises Fulfilled as Firenze Fire launched his bid from midpack and Seven Trumpets cut the corner on the rail under jockey Robby Albarado. 

Holding on to his lead through three-quarters in 1:08.44, Promises Fulfilled would not be denied. Seven Trumpets outgamed Firenze Fire by a half-length for place, with Engage a neck back in fourth. The final time was 1:21.44.

“When they put the second quarter up, I wasn’t worried,” Romans said. “I thought that was slow for him. He’s been going 43 [seconds] the last two races. He’s special. It’s just going to be who has the most stamina and we know the kind of stamina he has to win. 

“I’m very proud of Seven Trumpets,” he added. “At 35-1, I can’t believe he was that big a price. Two good horses and a lot to look forward to down the road.”

Saez, aboard Promises Fulfilled for the third time, said he got what he needed from his colt at every stage of the race.

“It was pretty nice,” Saez said. “I was the speed in the race and my plan was to break and run him from there. He looked like he was very comfortable when he came to the stretch, he stretched the lead and took off.”

Promises Fulfilled began his sophomore season with a gate-to-wire victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 3 at Gulfstream Park before finishing last of nine in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 31. After a tiring trip to finish 15th in the Kentucky Derby on May 5 at Churchill Downs, the colt was shipped north to Belmont Park, where he finished third in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens.

Voorheesville native Bob Baron, a close friend of Dale Romans is enjoying the success his colt has brought him.

“It’s a great day. I’m glad for the horse,” Baron said. “After the Woody Stephens, Dale says, ‘We’re going to run in the Amsterdam and this race.’ You never think about where you’re going to finish, only that you’re going to run. It worked out great.”

Completing the order of finish were Still Having Fun, Telekinesis, Gidu, Givemeaminit and Funny Duck.

Sent off as the betting choice at 6-5, Promises Fulfilled returned $4.50 for a $2 wager.

Personal Ensign

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Abel Tasman held off a determined stretch-long bid by rival Elate, and then survived a jockey’s claim of interference for a thrilling victory in the Grade 1, $700,000 Personal Ensign for fillies and mares.

In one of six Grade 1 stakes highlighted by the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers later on the blockbuster card, Abel Tasman pulled off a second close win over Elate, having outdueled her in capturing last year’s Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at the Spa by a head.

This time, Abel Tasman, trained by two-time Triple Crown winner Bob Baffert, won by a neck. The 4-year-old bay by Quality Road took the lead from pacesetter She Takes Heart, a 55-1 long shot, after a half-mile contested in 46.62 seconds and looked to be in control under Hall of Famer MIke Smith heading into the final turn.

But Elate, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, came flying off the turn and the showdown began. Abel Tasman never surrendered the lead but the two were just noses apart before the 3-5 favorite hit the wire first.

“She’s just phenomenal,” said Baffert of Abel Tasman, who then saddled Marley’s Freedom to victory in the Grade 1 Ketel One Ballerina in the next race. “She’s just getting better with age and she’s brought us so much satisfaction. I could have easily run her at Del Mar, but I wanted to come to Saratoga. It doesn’t get any bigger than this, when you can win here in front of all these people on Travers Day.”

With the victory in the “Win and You’re In” race, China Horse Club International and Clearsky Farms’ Abel Tasman gained an automatic berth into the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

The winning time was 1:47.19 for the 1 1/8-mile race. Abel Tasman, the 3-year-old filly champion who won the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont on June 9 in her last start, improved to 8-4-0 in 14 starts with earnings of more than $2.7 million.

Elate’s jockey Jose Ortiz filed an objection after the race, claiming interference in the stretch. It appeared that Abel Tasman, on the inside, moved out a bit and came in contact with Elate, who had moved in slightly. After a review by the racing stewards, the order of finish stood.

“I didn’t see that [contact] during the race,” said Baffert. “I thought she was going to get by us there, but I could tell by the way Mike was riding he wasn’t really worried. As soon as she saw her, Mike said she just took off. She’s an incredible mare. She was champion and she’s one of the best I’ve ever trained, and she just keeps showing it.”

Mott did not agree with the decision.

“Very disappointing. Very disappointing,” he said.

Ortiz felt the same way.

“I think [Abel Tasman] should have come down, 100 percent,” he said. “I think [Elate] ran a great race. Both fillies did, but, c’mon. Last year he bumped me, this year he bumped me again, and I should have won both of them.”

Smith had a different take on what occurred.

“Down the stretch, we came together. [That was] the reason for the foul, but we didn’t knock each other outside,” said Smith. “We just came together nice and easy and then after that, we actually did the same thing again when she came [over]. It didn’t cost either filly anything and the best filly won today. What a gallant race she ran today. It was a really big race.”

Abel Tasman returned $3.50 on a $2 win bet. Elate, owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, was followed by Wow Cat, who was another 9 ¾ lengths back, Fuhriously Kissed, Farrell and She Takes Heart.

Baffert, who was inducted into Saratoga’s Walk of Fame on Friday, had won the last two Travers with Arrogate and Go West, but didn’t have a runner in the Mid-Summer Derby.

Sword Dancer

SARATOGA SPRINGS –Matt Schera’s Glorious Empire, a dead-heat winner of his first graded stakes four weeks earlier, did not have to share the first Grade 1 of his career following a front-running 1 ¾-length triumph in the $1 million Sword Dancer at Saratoga Race Course.

The 44th running of the 1½-mile Sword Dancer for 3-year-olds and up on the inner turf course was the fifth of seven stakes, six of them Grade 1, worth $4.95 million in purses on a blockbuster 13-race program highlighted by the 149th renewal of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers.

It was the third consecutive win for Glorious Empire and second straight in a graded-stakes following the Grade 2 Bowling Green over the same course July 28, earning the 7-year-old gelding an all-fees-paid berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf on November 3 at Churchill Downs.

The win also marked the first Grade 1 for winning trainer James ‘Chuck’ Lawrence II, who is based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland.

Breaking from the rail in a field of 10 and following a similar game plan, jockey Julien Leparoux put Glorious Empire on the lead, where he posted fractions of 23.16 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.18 for the half, with Bowling Green co-winner Channel Maker giving closest pursuit and Grade 1 winners Funtastic and Hi Happy leading the second flight.

Glorious Empire remained in control after going six furlongs in 1:13.88, when Channel Maker began to inch closer. The Irish-bred son of Holy Roman Emperor ran a mile in 1:38.82 and cut the corner sharply and with something left, separating from his main rival once straightened for home. Channel Maker continued to give chase but was unable to make up ground and wound up second as Glorious Empire hit the wire in 2:24.41 over a firm course.

Spring Quality, racing for the first time since his 18-1 upset victory in the Grade 1 Manhattan June 9 at Belmont Park, closed to be third, two lengths behind Channel Maker. They were followed by Hi Happy, Highland Sky, Sadler’s Joy, Funtastic, Bigger Picture, European invader Seahenge and Revved Up.

Sadler’s Joy, the defending champion and 2-1 betting favorite, was attempting to become the second straight horse and seventh overall to win the Sword Dancer in back-to-back years. Glorious Empire, sent off at 15-1, returned $33.40 on a $2 win bet.

After opening his 2018 campaign finishing sixth in the Henry S. Clark on April 21 at Laurel Park, his first start for Maryland-based Lawrence and first in nearly seven months, Glorious Empire came from a stalking position to win an optional claiming event going about 1 1/8 miles June 28 at Delaware Park. It served as a fitting prep for the 1 3/8-mile Bowling Green, where he never trailed before being caught on the wire.

Ballston Spa

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Quidura, deftly rationed up front by jockey Jose Ortiz, wired five other fillies and mares to win the Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa, the final of seven graded stakes on Travers Day.

Away well from post 5, Quidura cleared on the lead and quickly dropped over to the hedge, setting moderate fractions of 24.19 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.11 for the half while being tracked by Hawksmoor, who moved up to challenge Quidura on the far turn, pulling within a half-length.

Ortiz gave Quidura her cue turning for home, and the 5-year-old kicked clear once again, drawing off to defeat Hawksmoor by 1 ¾ lengths for trainer Chad Brown and owner Peter M. Brant. She completed 1 1/16 miles over the firm Mellon turf course in 1:39.67 and returned $9.50 for a $2 win wager as the 7-2 second choice.

Indian Blessing finished 1 ¼ lengths behind Hawksmoor and edged Quidura’s stablemates A Raving Beauty and Off Limits in a photo for third. Proctor’s Ledge completed the order of finish.

The Ballston Spa was the second start of the year for Quidura, who finished second to stablemate Fifty Five in an optional claimer contested over yielding turf July 15 at Belmont Park. She was purchased by Brant’s White Birch Farm for $3.6 million last fall at Fasig-Tipton’s November breeding stock sale after winning the 2016 Grade 3 Valley View and 2017 Grade 2 Canadian with trainer Graham Motion.

Quidura, a 5-year-old Dubawi mare, has a record of 5-3-1 from 11 starts.