Saratoga Race Report: The Grade Brigade

Published in the Aug. 31 issue of The Blood-Horse
While most of the attention was focused on the Travers (gr. I), the firm of Evans, Hennig, and Velazquez quietly came within a half-length of sweeping the other grade I stakes on the next-to-last weekend of the Saratoga meet. If not for trainer Allen Jerkens, the legendary "Giant Killer," they would have had all three.

Summer Colony started the parade to the winner's circle for owner/breeder Edward Evans, trainer Mark Hennig, and jockey John Velazquez with a victory in the Personal Ensign (gr. I) on Aug. 23. Gygistar followed the next afternoon with an emphatic three-length win in the King's Bishop (gr. I).

When Bohemia Stable's Shine Again collared Raging Fever inside the sixteenth pole to win the Ballerina (gr. I) for the second consecutive year on Aug. 25, the run of success ended about 10 feet shy of perfection.

"We aren't going to go home and cry. We're very satisfied," Hennig said after the Ballerina. "The main thing we can ask for is they all run their race and come back in good shape. She ran her race and just got beat."

Summer Colony continued her relentless drive toward a division title with a 4 1/2-length victory over Transcendental in the Personal Ensign. Dancethruthedawn, winner of the Go for Wand (gr. I) on July 28, finished third after contesting the early lead with Summer Colony through six furlongs in 1:13.06.

Since breaking her maiden by 32 3/4 lengths on Aug. 17, 2001, at Saratoga--in her seventh career start--the now 4-year-old daughter of Summer Squall out of the Pleasant Colony mare Probable Colony, is 9-2-0 from 11 starts.

"She hasn't done much wrong in that time frame," Hennig said. "We've been able to manage her and keep her fresh and she continues to respond."

The Personal Ensign was Summer Colony's first grade I victory as well as Hennig's first grade I at Saratoga.

Hennig said the race did not unfold the way he had expected when jockey Jerry Bailey took Dancethruthedawn to the lead out of the gate of the 1 1/4-mile race. "I didn't anticipate Jerry would be up there with us," he said. "I felt like somebody would probably show some speed besides us, but I thought Jerry would try and let us go and move up to our outside. I felt like the horse to beat was Dancethruthedawn. To be sitting right outside of her, I felt pretty confident when it developed that way in the first turn."

Dancethruthedawn led the way by two lengths through opening splits of :24.37 and :48.71 as Bailey took an aggressive position.

"I didn't think I could give Summer Colony a half in :48 or :49 and beat her," Bailey said. "If Johnny would have let me take it, I would have gone a little better than that. He gave it to me going slow, so I was going to take it."

Summer Colony charged on the turn, and opened a two-length lead at the quarter pole. She cruised to the wire in 2:03.15 without a challenge. Transcendental closed in the stretch to pass Dancethruthedawn to finish second in her third consecutive grade I event.

NO DOUBT A STAR

One of the few Thoroughbreds in training this year who has been more consistent than Summer Colony is Gygistar. The Prospector's Music gelding is five-for-five this year and has won six of seven career starts. The seven-furlong King's Bishop Stakes was his first grade I and third consecutive graded stakes win.

The King's Bishop had the most depth of any of the stakes fields on the Travers program, yet Gygistar won easily by three lengths over Boston Common in 1:22.85 on the sloppy track. Thunder Days was another nine lengths back in third.

Labamta Babe, making his first start since winning the Santa Catalina (gr. II) on Jan. 19, never got involved in the race and finished last in the field of eight.

As he did in the Amsterdam (gr. II) on Aug. 3, Boston Common led the way through a quarter in :22.26 and a half in :44.91. Velazquez allowed Gygistar to settle in to a stalking position, while running third, about 1 1/2 lengths off the pace.

Again, Hennig was somewhat surprised by the scenario that unfolded. "I thought there was going to be more horses up close early and he might be a little further back," he said. "But I was pleased to see him so close early because I felt confident he was handling the mud."

Gygistar surged to the lead in a three-wide move on the turn and gradually wore down Boston Common in the stretch.

"I was a little bit concerned about the track and he handled it perfectly," Velazquez said. "He was pushing all the way around on the backside, so it made it easy for me. As soon as he came out of the gate he was tough. He was on the bridle all the way around, so he always was comfortable. There was never a doubt."

The only real question was where Hennig was going to run Gygistar at Saratoga. After Gygistar stretched out successfully to win the 1 1/16-mile Dwyer (gr. II) on July 7, trying the Jim Dandy (gr. II) and the Travers became a possibility. However, after the Dwyer, Gygistar got sick and missed nearly two weeks of training, making it nearly impossible for Hennig to have him ready for the Aug. 4 Jim Dandy.

"We were always considering passing on the Jim Dandy and waiting on this after he won the Dwyer. It just seemed like the better spot," Hennig said. "Then when we had the illness and everything wasn't 100%. It just made our decision that much easier."

Again and Again

Last summer, Shine Again, was a 21-1 surprise in the Ballerina Handicap, beating Dream Supreme, who was three-for-three over the track, Spain, and Country Hideaway. When she tried for the repeat, she was the 3-1 third choice behind Raging Fever and Mandy's Gold, whom she had finished second to in the Honorable Miss (gr. III) on Aug. 2.

Mandy's Gold went to the lead, setting fractions of :21.91 and :44.11 over a track that had been opened up two races earlier after being sealed the morning of the race. Raging Fever sat 1 1/2 lengths off the pace and moved up to challenge Mandy's Gold near the top of the stretch. Meanwhile jockey Jean-Luc Samyn was guiding Shine Again off the rail to take her run at the dueling leaders.

Just as Raging Fever was putting away Mandy's Gold inside the eighth pole, Shine Again appeared on her outside in a nicely timed ride by Samyn.

"I was proud of the effort she put in," Hennig said of Raging Fever. "She just keeps fighting. Johnny said he felt like if he'd have let the other one go, he might not have got to her. He was kind of just stuck in the middle with two decisions to make. Either one could have been wrong because he was just caught in the middle with one nice horse in front of him and one sitting there waiting to pounce."

Continued...

(Chart, Equibase)

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