Seldom does trainer Mark Frostad take the seven-hour drive from Toronto through the Queen Elizabeth II Express Way in Canada and the Northway to get to Saratoga Race Course. But when he does, it's not for just the scenery or a vacation.
Last year, Frostad made two trips to Saratoga with just one horse, Dancethruthedawn, who won the Go for Wand Handicap and finished third in the Personal Ensign Handicap (both gr. I).
On Monday's Labor Day, Frostad will help close the 2003 Saratoga Race Course meet as he sends out Shoal Water to run against six other 3-year-olds in the $100,000-added Saranac Handicap (gr. IIIT) at 1 3/16 mile on the turf.
Frostad brought Shoal Water to Saratoga about a week ago, right after a workout. Shoal Water is currently stabled in the stakes barn to acclimate to the surroundings for the past week.
"We brought him to Saratoga for this race because he's a really good turf horse and there aren't many turf races left for him in Canada," Frostad said. "He has really adapted and galloped well over the track. I'm bringing him here early for the race to let him get used to the area."
Shoal Water comes into the Saranac after facing Wando, the best 3-year-old in Canada. Wando became the seventh Canadian Triple Crown winner and the first since Peteski in 1993 to win the Breeders, the Prince of Wales and Queens Plate Stakes.
Frostad knows that Shoal Water has class. His sire, Smart Strike, was a horse that Frostad had trained to win the 1996 Philip Islin Handicap at Monmouth Park, and has grass in his pedigree. Frostad had Shoal Water in the Cup and Saucer Stakes for two-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the grass. Shoal Water was close to the pace before being caught by Mobil.
"I think that race was a little for far for him, especially being his first race," Frostad said. "If he had a race under his belt, he would have done better."
After a sixth-place finish in the Coronation Futurity, Frostad brought Shoal Water to reality with a 6 ½-furlong maiden race in which he won. Right after that race, the Sam-Son homebred had a chip in his left ankle and was sent to Florida to have it removed.
Shoal Water did not come back to Frostad's barn until late January. Four months later, Shoal Water finally made his return to racing in a two-turn allowance race at Woodbine, which he won easily by more than four lengths.
Frostad then decided to take a shot at the $1 million Queens Plate Stakes at 1¼ miles. Breaking from post 10 in the field of 12, Shoal Water was close to the pace before tiring to fourth. He later followed up with a third-place running in the Prince of Wales.
"It took us a little longer to bring him back," Frostad said. "He had only one start going into the Queens Plate and he hung in there. He keeps improving; he just keeps getting better and better."
At the beginning of the Saratoga meet, it appeared Hall of Fame trainer Robert Frankel was going to dominate the stakes program with the team of horses stabled in his barn such as Medaglia d'Oro, Empire Maker, Peace Rules Sightseek, Wild Spirit and Denon, just to name a few.
However, since Frankel won three grade 1 races, the Go for Wand with Sightseek, the Whitney Handicap with Medaglia d'Oro and Monmouth's Haskell Invitational with Peace Rules, it has been a challenge for him to have a horse finish in the winner's circle.
Frankel is hoping to salvage the last day of a difficult run at Saratoga with Urban King in the Saranac. Urban King is coming off a second-place finish to Stroll in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga four weeks ago.
"He finished strong out of that race," Frankel said. "He just got outrun by Bill Mott's horse (Patrol). The public was right. His horse was the favorite and mine was the second choice, and we finished that way. Still, I thought he ran a great race."
Urban King has yet to win a race here in the United States since being purchased by John Amerman, who also owned multiple grade 1 stakes winner Lido Palace, in France. But he has managed to finish second to Sharp Impact in the Lexington (gr. III) and third in the LaPuente Stakes at Santa Anita.
"He's been developing well since I'd got him," Frankel said. "Who knows what he can develop into. We're just going to take another chance here and see what happens."
Sharp Impact takes another shot in a stakes race at Saratoga after finishing seventh in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, where he set the pace through the first half-mile. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is willing to dismiss that race because of the turf condition.
"He just didn't like the yielding turf course," McLaughlin said. "The ground should be much firmer for this race. Also, he doesn't have to be on the lead. If someone else went out there, I would have no problem having the horse just behind the pace. Ideally, I would be nice to have no one bothering him on the lead."
Before his race in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, Sharp Impact had won back-to-back races on the lead over the dirt and turf – an allowance race over a muddy track and the Lexington -– since returning from the United Arab Emirates.
If there is going to be a horse to contest Sharp Impact for the lead, it would be Burchfield. Trained by Tom Albertrani for Darley Stable, Burchfield led from the start to win his turf debut at Saratoga four weeks ago.$100,000-added Saranac Handicap (gr. IIIT), 3-year-olds, 1 3/16 mile on turf
PP. HORSE, TRAINER, JOCKEY, WEIGHT
1. Urban King, Robert Frankel, Jerry Bailey, 115
2. Regal Bear, Ralph Ziadie, Mike Luzzi, 114
3a. Sharp Impact, Kiaran McLaughlin, Eibar Coa, 116
4a. Burchfield, Tom Albertrani, Pat Day, 114
5. Five Eighty Four, Richard Violette Jr., Shaun Bridgmohan, 114
6. Shoal Water, Mark Frostad, John Velazquez, 116 Main track only
7. Newfoundland, Todd Pletcher, no rider, 117