The $250,000 Forego Handicap (gr. I) came up very strong field of 11, with many of the top East Coast-based sprinters lining up for the Sept. 4 contest.
But they all could be running for minor placings against the powerful one-two Godolphin coupled entry of Vineyard Haven and Girolamo, who each excel at Saratoga and at the Forego distance of seven furlongs. The entry is the 2-1 morning-line favorite.
Vineyard Haven is the one to beat based on his last effort and his success at the Spa. The 4-year-old son of Lido Palace, who was bought privately for $12 million by Godolphin as a 2-year-old, enters off a dominating victory in the James Marvin Stakes July 23 at Saratoga in his season debut. The gate-to-wire score in the slop was done with ease after an eight-month layoff and was his third time crossing the wire in front at seven furlongs.
The only blemish at the distance for Vineyard Haven, who won the Three Chimneys Hopeful (gr. I) as a juvenile, was when he was disqualified from the King’s Bishop (gr. I) last summer at Saratoga for interference in the stretch.
A three-time grade I winner at distances from six furlongs to one mile, the versatile Vineyard Haven will likely be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) in November at Churchill Downs. But his ideal distance might be seven furlongs, which makes him a major Forego threat. Alan Garcia will have the mount for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
“We got the comeback race we wanted, and he’s had a few good workouts since that race,” said assistant Rick Mettee.
Vineyard Haven, who was bred in Florida by Lynne Scace and is out of the Aloha Prospector mare Princess Aloha, has earned $746,500 from nine starts—five of them wins.
Girolamo popped onto the national scene late last year when he won three straight races—two in allowance company, followed by a victory in the one-mile Jerome Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park. The son of A.P. Indy tired badly in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride in November and has been off ever since.
Trained by bin Suroor as well, Girolamo has been on a steady work tab at Saratoga this summer for his much-anticipated return. The 4-year-old colt turned in a bullet four-furlong work in :47.12 Aug. 18—the best of 46 works that day—and was tightened with a six-furlong move Aug. 27. The dark bay/brown colt is two-for-two at the Spa and has won two of three starts at seven furlongs. Cornelio Velasquez will have the mount for the first time.
“He’s won at seven-eighths before, and we’re going to keep him in races on the dirt between six furlongs and a mile,” said Mettee.
A. Steven Miles Jr.’s Warrior’s Reward tallied his grade I win in the Carter Handicap in April, and then came back to run a solid second in the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) on Kentucky Derby day. He enters out of a sixth-place effort in the Metropolitan Mile Handicap (gr. I) where he was no match for Quality Road.
“I took him out of his game in the Met Mile,” said trainer Ian Wilkes. “I had him lay too close.”
Warrior’s Reward also excels at the distance, having produced a pair of wins and two seconds at seven furlongs.
Seven-year-old Bribon has remained in good form for some time now, and has shown no signs of slowing down. The French-bred son of Mark of Esteem is a three-time graded stakes winner, including the Met Mile in 2009 and the True North Handicap (gr. II) in June. He comes into this race off a third-place finish in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. II) Aug. 8 at Saratoga. Trainer Todd Pletcher has assigned Garrett Gomez to ride.
“We’re hoping with Bribon that we can go to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, so if we felt like we were going to run off four weeks’ rest that we had better do it now and come into the Breeders’ Cup fresh,” said Pletcher.
Pletcher will also saddle Checklist, a three-time graded stakes placed son of Gone West. The 4-year-old colt enters of an optional claiming win at Saratoga on July 26.
“If there’s not a lot of speed, that could work out in Checklist’s favor, while Bribon would benefit from a fast pace scenario,” said Pletcher.
Harold Queen’s Florida-based Big Drama also remains in good form with two wins in three starts this season. On July 10, he won the Smile Sprint Handicap (gr. II) for his second graded stakes victory. Two other graded wins narrowly eluded the son of Montbrook, as he was disqualified from the Swale (gr. II) and missed by a neck in the West Virginia Derby (gr. II) as a sophomore. Last out, Big Drama was runner-up in the Vanderbilt—his Saratoga debut. Eibar Coa will be aboard for David Fawkes.
Charitable Man, winner of the Peter Pan (gr. II) and fourth in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) last year, made his return from a nearly one-year layoff on Aug. 2 at Delaware Park when finishing second in an optional claimer for Tony Dutrow. The son of Lemon Drop Kid worked a bullet four furlongs in :47.55 at Saratoga on Aug. 31.
Here Comes Ben has won three in a row—all at seven furlongs—for Charles Lopresti, who will saddle his first starter at Saratoga after more than 15 years as a trainer. The Kentucky-based son of Street Cry comes in off a narrow victory in the Kelly’s Landing Stakes June 25 at Churchill for his first black-type triumph.
$250,000 Forego Handicap (gr. I, Race 9, 5:14 p.m.), 3 & Up, 7 Furlongs (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Bribon (FR), G K Gomez, 124, T A Pletcher
2. Vineyard Haven (FL), A Garcia, 124, S bin Suroor
3. Girolamo (KY), C H Velasquez, 124, S bin Suroor
4. Big Drama (FL), E Coa, 124, D Fawkes
5. Here Comes Ben (KY), A O Solis, 124, C Lopresti
6. Charitable Man (VA), R A Dominguez, 124, A W Dutrow
7. Omniscient (KY), C H Borel, 124, S M Asmussen
8. Starforaday (KY), R Maragh, 124, G C Contessa
9. Warrior's Reward (KY), J R Leparoux, 124, I R Wilkes
10. Checklist (KY), J R Velazquez, 124, T A Pletcher
11. You and I Forever (KY), J Castellano, 124, T M Bush