Is it possible Saratoga will provide an early sneak preview of next year's classic scene, or are the heavy-duty arsenals of Todd Pletcher and D. Wayne Lukas merely today's weapons?
That's what racing fans likely will find out in the Sanford, Saratoga Special, and Hopeful Stakes. Pletcher has four highly promising 2-year-olds nominated for the 6-furlong Sanford on July 24, while Lukas has five. And all nine youngsters come with impressive credentials.
Pletcher's forces are headed by the undefeated Limehouse, winner of all three of his starts, including victories in the Bashford Manor and Three Chimneys Stakes at Churchill Downs. Limehouse, owned by Dogwood Stable, is a son of Grand Slam, out of the Dixieland Band mare Dixieland Blues, and was purchased for $140,000 at the Saratoga yearling sale. He possesses a lot of speed in his tail-female line through his second and third dams, Blue Jean Baby and Jones Time Machine, and he is inbred close up (3x3) to Mr. Prospector. His highest Beyer Speed Figure has been a sharp 92 in the 5-furlong Three Chimneys.
Another undefeated Pletcher colt is Chapel Royal, winner of both his starts by a combined 14 1/2 lengths. The son of Montbrook was purchased for $1.2 million as a yearling and is owned by Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. He won the Flash Stakes at Belmont in his second start, blazing the 5 furlongs in :57 flat, while earning a sensational 99 Beyer Speed Figure. He has a solid mile to 1 1/8 mile-pedigree, and is inbred 4x5 to Handicap Triple Crown winner Tom Fool.
One Pletcher colt who should have no problem with distance races is Dogwood Stable's Heckle. Purchased for $90,000 at Keeneland July, he is by Hennessy, whose offspring still are unproven over a distance of ground. His broodmare sire, however, is Spectacular Bid, who has emerged as a solid influence on the female side. In addition, Tom Rolfe in his tail-female line gives him additional stamina. His dosage index is 2.56 and he is inbred three times to Bold Ruler. Heckle broke his maiden in the mud at Keeneland going 4 1/2 furlongs, winning 12 1/2 lengths. After a toss-out performance in the Three Chimneys when he broke terribly, he rebounded with an impressive 3 1/4-length score in the 5 1/2-furlong Tremont Stakes in a solid 1:04 3/5, earning him an 88 Beyer number.
Pletcher's final Sanford colt is Deputy Storm, a Forestry colt who was purchased for $340,000 by James Spence. After finishing fourth in his debut in the slop, in which he had to alter course in the stretch, he broke his maiden in the mud by almost 5 lengths with blinkers added. He covered the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04 1/5, which earned him an 89 Beyer number. Another colt inbred three times to Bold Ruler, the jury is still out as to how far he'll want to go. His dam, Deputy Jane West, was champion 2-year-old and 3-year-old filly in Canada, and the dam of stakes winner Bag Lady Jane.
As for Lukas' quintet, there is Overbrook Farm's Adage, a son of Tale of the Cat who finished a fast-closing second to Heckle in the Tremont Stakes. He has not been worse than second in three career starts. His maternal great-grandsire is Halo, and he has the seldom-seen Gun Bow in his fourth generation. He has a 3.00 dosage index.
Another Overbrook colt is Boston Brahmin, a Boston Harbor colt who put on a tremendous display of speed breaking his maiden at Belmont. After bursting out of the gate, he opened up a 12-length lead at the eighth pole, winning by 9 1/2 in :57 3/5, earning a sharp 96 Beyer number. Although his sire is not known for distance horses, his broodmare sire is Unbridled, and he has the top-class filly champion Forward Gal in his fourth generation. His dosage index is a strong 1.91.
A third Overbrook representative is Bustin' Out, who was fourth in the Bashford Manor after a poor start. Previously he had broken his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths at Churchill in :57 2/5. A $235,000 yearling purchase, he is by the Danzig stallion bianconi, out of a Gold Stage mare.
Yes, there is a fourth Overbrook colt, and he definitely is one to watch. Desert Patrol is by Cherokee Run, out of a Cherokee Colony mare, and looked awesome breaking his maiden by 11 3/4 lengths going 6 furlongs after bobbling at the start, with blinkers on for the first time. His time of 1:11 2/5 at Belmont earned him an 87 Beyer number. His sire is one of the top stallions in the nation, while his broodmare sire is a son of top stamina influence Pleasant Colony. His granddam is by Secretariat, out of an Exclusive Native mare, and he has a strong 1.91 dosage index.
Finally, Lukas has Hasslefree, a $425,000 yearling purchase, owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis. The son of Forestry broke his maiden at Keeneland by almost 6 lengths before placing in the Flash and Tremont Stakes.
Regarding some of the others to watch at Saratoga, Steve Asmussen is well represented with Kentucky Breeders' Cup winner Cuvee, who had a disastrous trip when finishing third in the Bashform Manor. Patrick Biancone has a live one in Pomeroy, a 6-length maiden winner at Belmont who followed that up with an 11 1/2-length romp in an allowance race at Monmouth. Pat Byrne has an Awesome Again colt named Royal Force who won his only start by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:04 at Churchill Downs. And Eoin Harty has two colts, Flushing Meadows and Old Kent Road, for Darley Stud who are both coming off impressive maiden victories at Hollywood and Arlington, respectively.