By Jerry Bossert
Ring Weekend appears to have found a home on the grass after taking the $300,000 Saranac Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) by 2 3/4 lengths over longshot Smooth Daddy in the final stakes of the 2014 season at Saratoga Race Course Sept. 1.
Although the 3-year-old gelding by Tapit won the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) earlier this year, Ring Weekend had been in a lull recently until running second in the Sir Cat Stakes over grass at Saratoga July 18.
"I thought he ran all right on the dirt," said Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, which owns Ring Weekend. "He's a beautiful moving horse, but I thought he was probably a little better on the grass. He broke his maiden at Gulfstream on the dirt, so we pushed on and ran him in the Tampa Bay Derby. When you win the Tampa Bay Derby, you've got to push on to the (Kentucky) Derby (gr. I) and the Triple Crown.
"But in the back of our minds, we talked all the time about that (turf). I think he's such a good mover on the turf, I think we've found a home, at least for now."
Graham Motion trains Ring Weekend, who is also owned by St. Elias Stable.
Ring Weekend was bred by Gainesway Thoroughbreds and is out of the dam Free the Magic. He was purchased for $310,000 at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Seven 3-year-olds contested the Saranac, with Ring Weekend sent off as the 3-2 favorite.
Saving ground while racing in third under John Velazquez, Ring Weekend was tipped out by Velazquez turning for home before reeling in pacesetter Smooth Daddy. The chestnut gelding took command in the final sixteenth of a mile, running the 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.48 over a turf course labeled good.
Smooth Daddy, maintaining a two-length advantage into the final turn with Jose Ortiz at the controls, turned in quarter mile fractions of :23.24, :47.39, and 1:11.20 and fought the winner past the eighth pole before yielding.
"I rode home very nice horses today and they showed up at the right time and made me look good," said Velazquez, who won three races on closing day at Saratoga including a victory aboard Competitive Edge in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I).
"There was not much speed other than the two horses that were on the lead here," Velazquez said. "I was a little concerned that I might be a little stuck inside and I was right behind the horse that I thought at least had a chance to take me to the quarter pole. I was pretty tight on the hedge all the way around and he handled that really well. I got to the five-sixteenths pole and got him to the clear and the rest was pretty easy."
Ring Weekend returned $5.10 to win, $3.30 to place and $2.70 to show. Smooth Daddy returned $12 to place and $6.60 to show, while Cabo Cat, 4 3/4 lengths farther back in third, returned $3.80 to show.
Bashart, who pressed the early pace of Smooth Daddy, weakened to fourth and was followed by Storm, Wallyanna, and Predicting.
Beyond Smart was scratched while Life in Shambles and Lunar Rover were entered for the main track only.
Winless as a 2-year-old, Ring Weekend broke his maiden in his fifth start Feb. 8 at Gulfstream before taking the March 8 Tampa Bay Derby.
He finished a distant second in the April 5 Calder Derby, fifth in the May 17 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) won by California Chrome , and was eased in the June 15 Pegasus Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth Park before returning to the grass for the Sir Cat.