Saratoga Notebook: Howard Watch; Stakes Trifecta Rule Changes; Lady Tak's Breather; Sights Lowered for Wonder Again; Pletcher On Fire

Saratoga Notebook: Howard Watch; Stakes Trifecta Rule Changes; Lady Tak's Breather; Sights Lowered for Wonder Again; Pletcher On Fire
Photo: AP/NYRA Adam Coglianese
Trainer says Lady Tak might just see you in September.
By Mike Kane

Mineshaft's trainer Neil Howard will be paying close attention Saturday when the Whitney Handicap (gr.I) is run at Saratoga Race Course.

After Mineshaft defeated Volponi in the Suburban Handicap (gr.I) on July 5 to affirm his position as the top handicap horse in the country, Howard opted to skip the Whitney and wait for the Woodward (gr.I) on Sept. 6 at Belmont Park.

The Whitney features leading contenders for the older horse championship such as Medaglia d'Oro and Volponi.

"I know what those horses are capable of and I'll be watching to see how they're doing," Howard said, "but at the same time just taking care of my horse and getting ready to meet them in September."

Though he isn't racing, Mineshaft is spending the summer in Saratoga.

"He's doing great. He's loving it up here," Howard said.

However, Mineshaft's stay in Saratoga really isn't a vacation. He breezed a half-mile in :53 3/5 Friday morning.

"You can't really give him any full time off, he gets too high," Howard said. "He's just galloping and we backed off the breezes a little bit, just to give him a little freshening. But you've got keep him going every day because he gets too high."

Wagering Board Loosens Stakes Trifecta Requirement
The New York State Racing and Wagering Board announced Friday that it had approved an emergency rule permitting trifecta wagering on graded stakes races with five betting interests. The change took effect immediately.

In all non-graded races, the minimum number of betting entries for trifecta wagering remains at six.

NYSRWB spokeswoman Stacy Clifford said that the New York Racing Association requested a change to a minimum of five betting interests for all races, but that the board decided to make the adjustment for graded stakes only. Should wet weather force a graded turf stake be moved to the main track and lose its graded status, there will need to be six betting interests for NYRA to have a trifecta.

The emergency rule will expire after 90 days, Clifford said, but that the board will discuss making a permanent rule change at its regularly scheduled August meeting in Saratoga Springs.

Lady Tak's Dance Card Clear
The connections of Lady Tak, who set a stakes record while winning the Test (gr.I) on July 26, have not made any plans for her next race.

"Lady Tak went back to the track and she's come out of her race lovely," said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Seve Asmussen. "We're just going to look at our mare and decide what to do with her.

"It's a little too early, considering she hasn't breezed back. We're monitoring her weight. With her size, that's definitely something you want to keep an eye on, off such a strenuous race and her very best effort.

"How quick you run one back is definitely very important because we're talking about a Grade I-type filly. You want to give her plenty of time to recover from a race like that."

Following the Test, Asmussen did not rule out running the 3-year-old filly against older fillies and mares in the Ballerina (gr.I) on Aug. 24, but suggested that Lady Tak might not start again until September.

"We're just going to look at here and within a couple of weeks she'll tell us which way she's wanting to go," Blasi said. "Over the next two weeks she'll breeze back an easy half-mile , a maintenance-type work. The next two weeks are pretty routine for her before we decide to crank her back up for a race like that. So it's really not going to change what we do right now, so there is no reason to make that decision yet."

Sights Lowered for Wonder Again
Since Wonder Again finished fifth in the Diana Handicap (gr.IT) on July 26, trainer Jimmy Toner has decided not to send the 4-year-old filly to Beverly D. (gr.IT) on Aug. 16 at Arlington Park. Toner said he will keep Wonder Again in Saratoga and run her in the Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT) on Aug. 23.

"I had to win the Diana or finish a close second in order for me to go to the Beverly D.," Toner said Friday. "As it is, I'm not going. Then if she didn't win I'd feel that I'm doing something to her, I'm trying to take her someplace that she's not ready to go. I think right now we have to let her take us someplace. I was trying to take her someplace and she wasn't ready for it. Now I have to wait for her to take us."

Toner blamed himself for not having Wonder Again properly prepared for the Diana. He said the filly didn't get much out of the Just a Game (gr.IT) because she was only able to run for an eighth of a mile after escaping traffic and probably need another start prior to the Diana.

"We were thinking about running her back in the New York Handicap and we decided against so we could have a fresh horse for here," Toner said. "The problem was having a fresh horse for this race here left her a little bit on the short side. In that sense, I came up empty with her. It wasn't her fault. I just didn't do enough to make up the difference."

After the Diana, Toner said it was clear to him that Wonder Again's rigid schedule of races was a mistake.

"We stayed with the plan and we should have made an adjustment on that end of it because she just came up wanting that last sixteenth of a mile," he said. "No excuses. The jockey rode a perfect race. The pace scenario was perfect. She was right where she was supposed to be, turning into the lane put a head in front, looked like she was going to kick and she was flat. They came home the last eighth in :11 1/5 and she just wasn't up to the challenge of doing it that day."

Pletcher Rolling Along
Todd Pletcher continued to his sprint toward a second-straight trainer's title, getting his 10th victory of the season Friday with Pollard's Vision in the fourth race.

After nine days, Pletcher has a seven-win advantage over Mark Hennig, Bobby Frankel and D. Wayne Lukas.

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