Ahmed Zayat hopes to make an early trip to the winner’s circle after the Forego Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 31, just one race before Paynter continues on his comeback in the featured Woodward (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course.
Zayat Stables could very well have the two favorites of nine entered for the seven-furlong Forego, sending out hard-knocking veteran Justin Phillip , recent winner of the grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga, and the brilliant Fast Bullet , who hasn’t run since his victory in the True North Handicap (gr. II) back on June 8 at Belmont Park.
Fast Bullet, a winner of four of his five career starts, had been trained by Hall of Fame horseman Bob Baffert, but the 5-year-old son of Speightstown was recently turned over to fellow Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Luis Saez, who won last Saturday’s Travers Stakes (gr. I) on the Lukas-trained Will Take Charge, will be aboard Fast Bullet.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Justin Phillip will be making his 30th career start and has compiled over $1.1 million in earnings. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who rode the son of First Samurai in the Vanderbilt, has the mount once again.
Both horses will break side by side, with Fast Bullet in post 6 and Justin Phillip in post 7.
The Forego has also attracted another fast, hard-knocking veteran in Jackson Bend, who has earned over $1.6 million in his 31-race career. The 6-year-old son of Hear No Evil has not won since his nose victory in the 2012 Carter Handicap (gr. I). This will be his third straight year competing in the Forego, having won it in 2011 and finished seventh last year following a training accident at the Spa.
Jackson Bend was sidelined for nine months after the Forego, and with three starts in him this year, he looks to be rounding back into form for Calder-based trainer Stanley Gold, who had shared training duties with Hall of Famer Nick Zito.
The Florida-bred runner drew post 2, which is not ideal in the seven-furlong dash, and will be ridden by Javier Castellano, who has ridden the horse only once, back in November 2010.
Also expected to get support at the windows is Sage Valley, who is coming off a victory in the James Marvin Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga for trainer Rudy Rodriguez. The son of Discreet Cat also captured this year’s Maryland Sprint Cup (gr. III) on the Preakness (gr. I) undercard.
Perhaps the most intriguing horse in the field is the Al Stall-trained Lea, who has run eight times in his career, seven of them on grass. However, in his only dirt start, an off-the-turf allowance/optional claimer in the slop at Churchill Downs this year, he scored a 3 1/4-length victory going a flat mile. In his last two starts, he was second and third, respectively, behind defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) at Churchill and Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT) at Saratoga.
The son of First Samurai will be ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr. and will break from post 4.
A sneaky horse to watch is the Parx Racing-based Javerre, who has not been out of the money in 11 dirt starts. Trained by Cathal Lynch, the son of Outflanker , who drew the rail, won the seven-furlong General George (gr. III) at Laurel and is coming off a neck defeat in the six-furlong Teddy Drone Stakes at Monmouth Park.
The remainder of the field consists of the New York-bred Saratoga Snacks, who has been in the money in all nine of his starts; Strapping Groom, winner last time out of the restricted Kid Russell Stakes at Saratoga, earning a 100 Beyer Speed Figure; and the hard-knocking Golddigger's Boy, winner of eight of his 23 career starts.
$500,000 Forego Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, approximate post 5:12 p.m. EDT), 3YOS and UP, seven furlongs (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Javerre (NJ), K. Carmouche, C Lynch
2. Jackson Bend (FL), J.J. Castellano, S Gold
3. Sage Valley (KY), C.H. Velasquez, R R Rodriguez
4. Lea (KY), B.J. Hernandez Jr., A Stall Jr.
5. Saratoga Snacks (NY), I. Ortiz Jr., G Sciacca
6. Fast Bullet (KY), L. Saez, D W Lukas
7. Justin Phillip (KY), J.R. Velazquez, S Asmussen
8. Strapping Groom (KY), J. Alvarado, D Jacobson
9. Golddigger’s Boy (PA), A.S. Arroyo, R Preciado