Bird Town, winning the Acorn Stakes.

Bird Town, winning the Acorn Stakes.

NYRA/Adam Coglianese

Saratoga Notebook: Bird Town Off Schedule; Friday Jog for Funny Cide?; Volponi's Blood Test; Shug on Possibility

By Phil Janack and Mike Kane
Still needing to get one more work into Bird Town before the Alabama (gr. I), trainer Nick Zito is keeping his fingers crossed.

Zito had to scrap a scheduled breeze for his multiple stakes-winning filly Thursday morning after overnight rain turned the Oklahoma training track into a quagmire.

"I had to cancel it. We went to the wire and it was full of water, so we just had her gallop," Zito said. "What else am I gonna do? The main track was actually worse than this one."

Initially, Zito had hoped to get two works into his Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Acorn (gr. I) winner after she ran second to Lady Tak in the seven-furlong Test (gr. I) July 26.

Now, with rain in the forecast here through the weekend, Zito will be lucky to get one more.

"I would have liked to have done it today. That would have been ideal," Zito said. "She's fit, thank God. She's ready. If I can do it tomorrow or Saturday, I'm fine. She doesn't need much. I've got to work her, obviously, but I can't work on a river."

Zito didn't speculate on whether Bird Town would run if she wasn't able to have one final morning tuneup.

"I don't know. I guess I'll have to make a decision," he said. "Let's just hope we can work her."

Buckram Oak Farm's Najran is being considered for the A.G. Vanderbilt (gr. II) on Sunday. Zito said the weather will be key factor whether the Runaway Groom colt runs.

"He worked good the other day, so we'll see. We're thinking about it," Zito said. "The track has put a damper on everything to be honest with you. When you run in stakes, you want to have good, safe weeks."

Friday Jog Possible for Derby Winner
His temperature normal and his attitude good, Funny Cide may return to the track for a light jog on Friday, trainer Barclay Tagg said Thursday morning.

It would be the first time back to the track for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, who walked the shedrow for the fourth straight day on Thursday, three days after spiking a fever of 102.

Tagg said if Funny Cide does go out, it will be on Clare Court, the small gallop track behind the seven-furlong chute on the main track backstretch.

"I'll see how he is in the morning," Tagg said. "We may jog him if his temperature is normal tomorrow and he's eaten up his dinner and eaten up his late-night feed and all that.

"If he doesn't get too excited and comes back and doesn't spike a temperature tomorrow night and everything's fine the next day and he's eating his food and doing well, I might give him a little gallop. It's just common sense."

A normal schedule would have Tagg work Funny Cide 10 days from a race and every six days thereafter. A dull third in the $1 million Haskell (gr. I) Aug. 3, the pattern would call for his first subsequent work to be Aug. 13 and a second on Aug. 19, four days prior to the $1 million Travers (gr. I).

"That would be nice if I could, but I don't think it's absolutely
necessary," Tagg said. "You have to go slow and hope he catches up with everything and by the time the Travers comes around, he's kicking the barn down and you just can't resist running him."

Funny Cide was still being treated with antibiotics on Thursday, which Tagg hoped would be his last day on medication. Outside of a downpour, Tagg said the weather would not affect Funny Cide's return.

"He never usually misses any training," Tagg said. "He usually handles everything as it comes. If it's a really, really bad deluge day, I'll skip the work and wait for a better day. He can work in the wet or dry or anything."

Volponi Undergoing Blood Test
Pending the outcome of a blood test scheduled for Friday, trainer Phil Johnson is still planning to run Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Volponi in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) on Aug. 17. Volponi finished second for the fourth consecutive time this season in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) on Aug. 2.

Johnson has run the colt back quickly at other times in his career. During a 15-day span last summer, Volponi ran second in the Bernard Baruch (gr. II) and third in the Sword Dancer.

"If he doesn't give us the right signs, I wouldn't even put him in," Johnson said. "Sometimes you think you're right coming back close with a horse, all the signs are good, and at the eighth pole you find out you're not all right."

Johnson expects to prep Volponi for the Classic the same way he did last year, in the Meadowlands Cup.

Frankel Sees Loss as Positive
The way trainer Bobby Frankel explains it, Empire Maker's narrow loss in the Jim Dandy (gr. II) on Sunday may turned out to be a positive .

"We learned a lot in that race. I really believe," Frankel said this week. "Now I feel a little more confidence in him."

Empire Maker traveled up the backstretch well off the pace set by Strong Hope before making a run that fell short of overtaking the front-runner. Frankel said that after reviewing the Jim Dandy he's convinced the colt has to be ridden more aggressively, but with minimum use of the whip by jockey Jerry Bailey. It's a question of tactics, Frankel said, not ability.

"It takes me time to figure him out," Frankel said. "He's got it figured out. He knows how to beat you. It took me a while to figure him out. I really don't believe he wants to be hit, especially hard. You might tap him or something."

Frankel said that Empire Maker either ducked in or ducked out, when Bailey went to the whip to get into contention and really didn't his best run until Bailey put the stick away.

"I think we're going to put him up closer to the pace where you don't have to (use the whip)," Frankel said. "He might just pull you around there. The races he has won have all been when he's right there.

"It was a learning experience. Sometimes you've got to get beat to learn. I always look at it as a positive because if he had won the race I wouldn't have been thinking that much. And, who knows, maybe he would have ridden him the same way in the Travers and get beat."

Frankel noted that Empire Maker was in a competitive position pressing the pace in his maiden victory and in wins in the Florida Derby (gr. I), Wood Memorial (gr. I) and the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Frankel said he and Bailey agree that the colt should be ridden that way, and that they need not get hung up overanalyzing pace scenarios.

"Hopefully, I'm on the right track," Frankel said. "If he gets beat doing what I'm saying, then I'm at a loss for words."

Pletcher, Dogwood Face Decision
Limehouse and Heckle, both trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by Dogwood Stable, breezed five furlongs together in 1:01 Thursday morning on a muddy main track.

While Limehouse will definitely run in the Saratoga Special (gr. II) on Aug. 13, Pletcher said Heckle would be considered probable. Limehouse has been off since winning the Bashford Manor (gr. III) July 6, while Heckle was last of seven, beaten 33 lengths, in the Sanford (gr. II) here July 24.

"I was very happy with the breeze," Pletcher said. "I'll have to get with Mr. (Dogwood president Cot) Campbell and decide whether we run both or not."

Heckle is 2-for-4 in his career, both wins coming gate to wire. In each of his losses, the Hennessy colt was compromised by a poor start.

"He's been hit or miss," Pletcher said. "We added the tongue-tie and thought we had it fixed, but it looks like he needs the tongue tie and also needs to get away from the gate well. My theory is, he's one of those horses who's so quick, the ground breaks out from under him a little bit. He's so fast, he kind of outbreaks himself."