Saratoga Notebook, Con't

Sky Mesa's Near Miss
In his final work before the Aug. 23 Travers (gr. I), Sky Mesa survived a scary trip Friday morning around the main track.

With regular exercise rider Danny Ramsey up, the Pulpit colt had to alter course sharply to narrowly miss a collision when a 2-year-old horse suddenly bolted near the quarter pole.

Trainer John Ward, who watched the work, said Sky Mesa was timed in 1:01 1/5 for five furlongs. He had delayed a scheduled breeze on Thursday to wait for a dry track.

"What I wanted was just a nice, consistent, even work, which we were getting," Ward said. "He went off in :12 and change and went in :24 and was just kind of building. He was at about a 35-second lick and, boom.

"He was breezing, just coming by the quarter pole. Three babies had worked out of the gate and they were galloping out, kind of fanned out across the racetrack. The inside baby ducked straight to the fence in front of us. We had to check hard to avoid that one and the one next to it and angle through the third one."

Ward said Sky Mesa appeared no worse for wear for the experience, and hopes he stays that way.

"It looked like he came back all right out of it, but you never know until the morning," Ward said. "That's the last thing we needed, something like that to happen. He had to adjust him back and try to finish and make something out of the rest of the work. Those kinds of adjustments are really hard on a big horse in full stride. You worry about that ankle he hurt last year when you have to make those sudden adjustments.

"It was not a pretty work, but he got everything out of it he needed. We weren't looking for a fast work, but we weren't looking to get clipped, either."

Ward also sent Hero's Tribute and Snow Dance to the main track Friday morning ahead of Sky Mesa. He is still looking for a spot for Hero's Tribute, who went five furlongs in 1:00 4/5. Snow Dance, who will go next in the Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr.III) on Aug. 23, breezed in 1:02.

"She went really nice," Ward said. "If they ducked in front of her, she'd have galloped up over their backs. They'd have hoofprints on them.

"Hero's Tribute is doing really well right now. We really haven't picked a spot. Those last couple of races were really hard on him and now he's finally back to himself. Depending on how he works, we'll start looking for something."

Birdstone Breezes for Hopeful
Impressive maiden winner Birdstone tuned up for a possible run in the Aug. 30 Hopeful (gr. I) with a five-furlong breeze in 1:02 3/5 on the Oklahoma training track Friday morning.

Trainer Nick Zito said he was pleased with the work, which came with assistant and regular exercise rider Maxine Correa aboard.

"He went very good, came home real fast," Zito said. "I told her to go real slow and she said, `I don't even know how fast I go with him because he acts like he's doing nothing.'

"He just went easy for him, you know. I didn't want anything faster than that."

Zito waited all week for a good track to get another work into Birdstone, who romped in his debut by 12 1/2 lengths Aug. 2

"I'm trying to do everything right," Zito said. "The reason we're considering the Hopeful is because we think he's a special horse. The timing is right, but it's still a big step. The only reason we're considering it is because of the type of horse he is."

Zito also had Spinaway (gr. I) candidate Dixie Waltz out on the main track Friday morning, going a half-mile in :47 3/5. She was a one-length winner at odds of 16-1 on July 30, defeating Stoic, Ana's Lady Bird, favored Renaissance Lady, Sweet Vision and Bikini Wiggle.

"I didn't want to work her over here," Zito said. "She was a little robust in the paddock the last time, so we thought we'd take her over there and school her. They said she was fine."

Awesome Humor Alabama Longshot
She was unbeaten as a 2-year-old, including a pair of Saratoga stakes wins, but after winning one of three so far this year, Awesome Humor enters Saturday's Alabama (gr. I) almost a forgotten horse.

Much of the attention for the Alabama has focused on Spoken Fur and her attempt at sweeping the filly triple crown and its accompanying $2 million bonus. Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Acorn (gr. I) winner Bird Town, owned by Saratoga socialite Marylou Whitney; and even Island Fashion, making his first start for trainer Barclay Tagg after beating Awesome Humor in the
Delaware Oaks (gr. III) July 19, have gotten more notice as well.

"They're three very nice filles," said Ryan Van Tilburg, assistant to trainer Elliot Walden, "but we think that we have a very nice one in ours, too. There's nothing wrong with being the underdog.

"People have very short memories. It's a game of, what have you done for me lately. They don't remember the filly that was the second-best filly in the country last year. Unfortunately, her campaign got stopped by ankle chips or she might have been Eclipse champion last year. You never know."

Awesome Humor had the chips removed after winning the Spinaway (gr. I) last summer, her second start for Walden after being purchased privately by WinStar Farm. Eighteen days earlier, she won the Adirondack (gr. II).

"She's doing good. Very well," Van Tilburg said. "We couldn't really ask for her to be doing any better. She's been training great and, obviously, we know she loves it up here. We feel very good about our chances on Saturday."

Saratoga Dates to be Submitted
NYRA's Board of Trustees will submit another 36-day racing schedule for next summer.

The proposed 2004 Saratoga meeting would run from July 28 to Labor Day, Sept. 6.

Dates must be approved by the state Racing and Wagering Board, which will look at the proposal later this year.