We've seen some sensational sprint performances this year. Now if only someone can actually put two of them together.
Up Hill Stable's Clearly Now will attempt to do just that in the $500,000 Forego Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 30. The Breeders' Cup Challenge race entitles the winning connections to an expense-paid starting berth in the Xpressbet Breeders' /Cup Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park.
Clearly Now takes on nine opponents in the Forego as he attempts to come close to duplicating his Herculean performance in the Belmont Sprint Stakes (gr. III), in which he demolished his opposition by 6 1/4 lengths, blazing the seven furlongs in a track-record 1:19.96.
The son of Horse Greeley had won only four of his 14 career starts going into the Belmont Sprint July 5, but had a couple of victories that indicated he did have big races in him, such as his win in last year's seven-panel Bold Ruler Handicap (gr. III) in 1:21.52.
Since the Belmont Sprint, Clearly Now breezed five furlongs in a bullet :59 3/5 over the Woodbine training track, fastest of 42 works at the distance, indicating he is still sharp enough to duplicate his last effort.
"Well, you certainly hope he can. You'd love to duplicate that sort of race," trainer Brian Lynch said. "There was so much speed in that race in the first part, you know, in the early stages, though I don't know that there's going to be that sort of speed in this race the way it's shaping up.
"Certainly off an effort like that, to me, I've had a bit of luck if I give him a little bit of time between races. We've done that and he's had an uninterrupted work schedule coming into it and seems to be in good form, so I'm very excited about taking him down."
As for his performance in the Belmont Sprint, Lynch said, "He's never really had a chance to run his race this year. He's just had an excuse or he's either got hampered at the start or he's been hung wide. You know, when he come out of the Metropolitan (gr. I), he come out of it like a horse that hadn't even ran.
"I thought it was probably the easiest group that he's faced up against this year In the belmont Sprint), and took the shot that he was sitting on a good run. It was a great effort. But he's still a bugger. He won't change leads sometimes, and I think once he gets to do that he's probably going to duplicate these performances all the time. But in the morning you can work him and he's pushbutton. But sometimes in races he'll just get a little flustered and he'll stay on that one lead, but it certainly didn't slow him down the other day."
Clearly Now, who will break from post 8 under Jose Lezcano, will have to be at his best, as he faces a field of fast, classy horses, including the Belmont Sprint runner-Up Palace , who came right back and won the six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I) in 1:08.56. With two victories in his past three starts, all graded stakes, the New York-bred son of City Zip has an opportunity to prove he is not only one of the best sprinters in the country, but perhaps the most consistent.
Cornelio Velasquez once again rides for trainer Linda Rice and will break from post 6.
Another horse who has turned heads this year is Falling Sky, who looked like a world beater when he captured the Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes (gr. III) by 5 1/2 lengths in a blazing 1:20.65. But the son of Lion Heart has managed only a half-length victory in the Don Levine Memorial Handicap at Delaware Park since, although he did zip seven furlongs in 1:21.91 and followed that up with a good third to Palace in the Vanderbilt.
Edgar Prado has the mount and will break from post 7 for trainer George Weaver.
To demonstrate the depth of this race, the field also includes the quick-footed Zee Bros, whose 2014 campaign was interrupted by a three-race visit to Dubai, where he failed to finish better than fourth. But the son of Brother Derek indicated he is back in top form when he finished second in a 5 1/2-furlong off-the-turf allowance/optional claimer at Saratoga. Trained by Seth Benzel, he picks up Joel Rosario and breaks from post 4.
And then we have the one-time Derby trail gelding Vyjack, who won the Jerome (gr. II) and Gotham Stakes (gr. III) before finishing a close third in the Wood Memorial (gr. I). However, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) did him in and he has not been the same horse since. But he did show signs of waking up in his last start, a solid fourth-place finish in the Vanderbilt. Another step forward could make the son of Into Mischief dangerous in here.
Breaking from the rail is last year's King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I) winner Capo Bastone , who has been a disappointment since, finishing far back in his five graded stakes appearances. He is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Vanderbilt and will have his blinkers removed by trainer Todd Pletcher.
Two horses coming off back-to-back victories are the New York-bred Weekend Hideaway and the allowance horse Confrontation. Both would have to step way to handle these kinds of horses. Another New York-bred, Big Business, is coming off a second in the state-bred John Morrissey Stakes. Rounding out the field is Sensational Slam, fourth in the recent Teddy Drone Stakes at Monmouth Park.
Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, August 30, 2014, Race 10
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Capo Bastone (KY) John R. Velazquez 124 Todd A. Pletcher - 2 2Big Business (NY) Junior Alvarado 124 David Jacobson - 3 3Vyjack (KY) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 124 Rudy R. Rodriguez - 4 4Zee Bros (KY) Joel Rosario 124 Seth Benzel - 5 5Sensational Slam (ON) Jose L. Ortiz 124 Patrick J. Quick - 6 6Palace (NY) Cornelio H. Velasquez 124 Linda Rice - 7 7Falling Sky (PA) Edgar S. Prado 124 George Weaver - 8 8Clearly Now (KY) Jose Lezcano 124 Brian A. Lynch - 9 9Weekend Hideaway (NY) Javier Castellano 124 Philip M. Serpe - 10 10Confrontation (KY) Rajiv Maragh 124 Barclay Tagg -
Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, August 30, 2014, Race 10