Of nine graded stakes trainer Shug McGaughey has won in 2012, eight have been on the turf. On Sept. 1 at Saratoga Race Course, the Hall of Famer looks to add to that total when sending Data Link postward as the 7-5 morning line favorite for the $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. IIT).
The 4-year-old son of War Front has annexed two of McGaughey's turf stakes scores: the Maker's 46 Mile (gr. IT) in April at Keeneland, and the June 10 Monmouth Stakes (gr. IIT) at Monmouth Park. In the latter, Data Link set a course record of 1:45.93 for 1 1/8 miles when paired for the first time with recent Hall of Fame inductee John Velazquez, who will be back aboard as part of a 122-pound impost from the rail.
"He's a solid horse," said McGaughey of Stuart S. Janney III's homebred, who began his career in 2010 with a fourth and a sixth on the dirt at Saratoga. "I was kind of disappointed the first couple of times I ran him on the dirt, but that all changed when I put him on the turf."
Data Link, who opened 2012 with a third in the Canadian Turf (gr. IIIT) and was scratched from the Aug. 11 Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT) when the race came off the lawn, should not be bothered by the shortening of the Bernard Baruch this year, to 1 1/16 miles from 1 1/8 miles.
"The distance probably doesn't matter with him," said McGaughey. "I think anywhere from a mile to 1 1/8 miles is his best."
Making his turf debut is stakes winner Dominus
, who on Aug. 4 returned from nearly a year off to post a 4 1/4-length victory in a seven-furlong optional claimer at Saratoga for George Bolton, Stonestreet Stables, and Spendthrift Farm. As a 3-year-old, the Smart Strike
ridgling won the Dwyer (gr. II), finished third in the Jim Dandy (gr. II) behind Stay Thirsty
, and ran fourth in the Foxwoods King's Bishop (gr. I) won by Caleb's Posse
"He's got a bit of turf pedigree and apparently had breezed on the turf at Ocala and acted like he liked it," said Todd Pletcher, who took over Dominus' training from Steve Asmussen this year. On Aug. 27, he sent Dominus through four furlongs in :47 flat.
"We're just sort of exploring some options," Pletcher said. "We worked him on the turf here and liked the way he breezed."
Pletcher also will saddle Mill House's consistent Queen'splatekitten
, who has two seconds and a third in four starts this year. The 4-year-old Kitten's Joy
colt, runner-up in the July 29 Oceanport (gr. IIIT) at Monmouth, finished second in the Saranac (gr. IIIT) last year in his lone appearance at the Spa.
"He always shows up and runs hard," said Pletcher. "We feel he's capable of winning one of these when things go right."
Dominus, who drew post position 4 as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line, will carry 112 pounds, including Julien Leparoux. Javier Castellano will ride Queen'splatekitten, 8-1 on the morning line, from post 3.
Returning from almost 14 months off is multiple graded stakes winner Prince Will I Am
, unraced since running ninth in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) for Casa Farms last June at Belmont Park
"He started to get a little wear and tear, and it was time to give him a break," said trainer Michelle Nihei.
As a 3-year-old in 2010, Prince Will I Am won the Jamaica Handicap (gr. IT) at Belmont. "With some horses, you worry about them wanting to come back from a break," Nihei said. "But when the van pulled up at the farm in May, he ran to the front of his stall, dragged the groom up the ramp, went right into the box stall, and said, 'I'm ready!'"
Nihei originally had planned on bringing the son of Victory Gallop back Aug. 3 in the 1 5/8-mile John's Call presented by Sportech, but simply ran out of time. With the exception of his maiden victory at 6 1/2 furlongs on the dirt, all of Prince Will I Am's victories have come at 1 1/8 miles or longer.
"It's a little short, but if I don't run him, he's going to go crazy," said Nihei. "He wants to run, and we don't have a lot of choice."
Saratoga's leading rider, Ramon Dominguez, will be aboard Prince Will I Am, who drew post 7 and is 10-1 on the morning line.
Rounding out the field are Joyce B. Young and Gerald McManis' Sky Blazer
, sixth in the Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Arlington Park
last time out, and supplemental entries Crimson China
, most recently fifth in an Aug. 5 optional claimer for Team Valor International, and Michael Bruder's Guys Reward
, fourth in the Fourstardave. Alma d'Oro
will run for Bourque Goldstein Thoroughbreds only if the race is moved to the main track.
PP., Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Data Link (KY), J.R. Velazquez, 122, C R McGaughey III, 7-5
2. Crimson China (KY), A. Garcia, 114, H G Motion, 20-1
3. Queen'splatekitten (ON), J. Castellano, 115, T A Pletcher, 8-1
4. Dominus (VA), J.R. Leparoux, 112, T A Pletcher, 3-1
5. Guys Reward (KY), J. Rosario, 117, D L Romans, 5-1
6. Sky Blazer (KY), R. Napravnik, 115, B Tagg, 6-1
7. Prince Will I Am (KY), R.A. Dominguez, 117, M Nihei, 10-1
8. Alma d'Oro (KY ) (MTO), TBA, 124, T A Pletcher, 8-5