How awesome is Awesome Humor?
That question may be answered here on Friday afternoon, when she is tested against 11 others in the $200,000 Spinaway (gr. I) – the marquee race for 2-year-old fillies at seven furlongs Saratoga Race Course.
Awesome Humor has been flawless in three career races, including her most recent in the Adirondack (gr. II) at Saratoga nearly three weeks ago when she defeated Stellar by 1 1/4 lengths.
"That was a good race," trainer Elliott Walden said. "I was just surprised that she was on the lead throughout. The positive thing coming out of that race was that she has proven she can be versatile. If they want to give her the lead, that's fine. If there are others who want to get out there ahead of her, I think Pat (Day) will be able to take her back and relax. She's got enough speed to dictate what she wants to do."
Bill Casner and Kenny Trott, owners of WinStar Farms, privately purchased Awesome Humor from Tom Durant about three weeks after she won the Debutante (gr. III) at Churchill Down. That was a race where she bumped at the start and was forced to come off the pace while racing six-wide.
Awesome Humor comes from the first crop by Distorted Humor, who currently stands at WinStar. During his racing career, Distorted Humor was trained by Walden and was a proven sprint runner, capturing Commonwealth Breeders' Cup (gr. II) and Churchill Downs Handicap, as well as the Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) and Salvator Mile. Horns Gray, the dam of Awesome Humor, was a stakes winner on the Nebraskra racing circuit.
Since acquiring Awesome Humor, Walden had her working in company with older horses, including Speed Hunter, who came off a six-month layoff to win an allowance race last Saturday.
"I feel more confident now going into the Spinaway than I did when she went into the Adirondack," Walden said. "We've got a race in her and she's doing really well since coming out of the Adirondack."
Regardless of the outcome, Walden said he is going to take the filly back to Kentucky where he may stretch her out in distance and race at two turns. If she is successful, Walden will consider the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at Arlington Park on October 26 as part of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
Stellar will get another chance at Awesome Humor for owner Michael Tabor and trainer Patrick Biancone. Since the beginning of the meet, Biancone has been pointing Stellar for the Spinaway.
"This is the goal we have been trying to achieve since we've been here," Biancone said. "She'll be just perfect going in. I'm just hoping she'll be all right in the race."
Stellar received some attention on the 2-year-old scene when Biancone entered the unraced filly in the Schuylerville (gr. II) on opening day at Saratoga. But Biancone had second thoughts of running her against winners and opted to run her in a maiden race four days later.
Instead of easily winning her maiden as some might have expected, Stellar struggled to change leads during the stretch run but managed to beat the second-place finisher, Fast Cookie, by a length.
Biancone saw a similar thing happen in the Adirondack, where she made an impressive run around the far turn. When Stellar got to the top of the stretch, she again had difficulties changing leads, but still managed to finish gamely against Awesome Humor.
"If she can change her leads, she will run," Biancone said. "She never does this in the morning. She only does it when she's racing. I've been thinking about making a couple of changes that include working with other horses in the morning."
Biancone, who is still a French citizen, became a full-time trainer in the United States in December, 2000.
Edgar Prado, who is in battle with Hall of Famer and defending champ Jerry Bailey for the leading jockey title at Saratoga, will get the mount again on Stellar.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has been on the extreme ends of racing during this Saratoga meet. Along with being in contention to win his second Saratoga title, Pletcher won the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) with record-setter Left Bank and the Schuylerville (gr. II) with Freedom's Daughter on opening day.
However, those two horses, along with Warners, have served to make Pletcher's Saratoga experience horrendous. A week after winning the Whitney with a track-record performance, Left Bank was sent to Tufts University in Massachusetts for emergency abdominal surgery and is recovering.
Two days later, Freedom's Daughter suffered a case of colitis X, a disease that causes a horse's lower intestinal tract to be dysfunctional and susceptible to bacteria. Freedom's Daughter was later euthanized after not responding to treatment. Warners, a $1.05 million 3-year-old who was being pointed to the King's Bishop (gr. I) last Saturday, was also euthanized when he
suffered from laminitis.
Pletcher hopes to rebound with his second Spinaway victory. He starts Appleby Gardens, who was purchased as a yearling by Eugene and Laura Melynk for $2 million in last August's Fasig-Tipson yearling sale in Saratoga.
For Appleby Gardens' debut, Melnyk and Pletcher decided to send her to Woodbine in the Shady Well, a restricted race for Canadian-Bred fillies.
Appleby Gardens, who was the favorite of the race, contested the pace before taking the lead at the quarter-pole and dueling Mountain Dawn to win by a
"Anytime you can earn some black type with her pedigree, it makes her worth more down the road," Pletcher said. "Obviously, this is something you would
not do with every horse. We were very pleased with that race. She was really game in the stretch. When the other filly came up to her and looked her in the eye, she dug in."
Pletcher won his first Spinaway in 1999 with Circle of Life for Michal Tabor. $200,000 Spinaway (gr. I, 7 Furlongs, 2-year-old fillies, 121 pounds)
PP. Horse, Trainer, Jockey
1. Awesome Humor, Elliott Walden, Pat Day
2. Appleby Gardens, Todd Pletcher, Richard Migliore
3. Just Call Me Angel, Francis Campitelli, Frank Alvarado
4. Hope for Love, Carlos Martin, Paul Toscano
5. Miss Mary Apples, Mark Hubley, Jorge Chavez
6. Vasquez, John Veitch, Robbie Davis
7. Midnight Cry, Ken McPeek, Craig Perret
8. Traumatic, Stanley Hough, Jose Santos
9. Forever Partners, Tony Dutrow, John Velazquez
10. Manny's Gold Maker, Michael D'Amario, Javier Castellano
11. Holiday Runner, D. Wayne Lukas, Jerry Bailey
12. Stellar, Patrick Biancone, Edgar Prado