Private Emblem Returns to New York for West Point Handicap

Edited from track reports
If Private Emblem had enrolled in a frequent-flyer program, he would probably have earned enough points to bring him here to Saratoga Race Course at no cost. And probably had come first class.

Private Emblem comes back to Saratoga where he could be facing as many as 14 other NewYork-breds in Friday's $100,000-added West Point Handicap on the grass at nine furlongs.

Friday is also "Proud to be an American Day" at Saratoga. In recognition of the contributions of the servicemen and servicewomen of the United States military, Saratoga Race Course will honor all veterans, active and retired members of the armed forces with featured races, events and exhibits. Activities include the Army climbing wall, Air-Force mini jet, Air National Guard Baby Herc and Marines Corps chin-up contest. Free grandstand admission to anyone with a military ID.

Private Emblem has racked up a lot of miles for trainer Steve Asmussen. In just 16 career races, the 4-year-old has raced at nine different tracks - all of them east of the Rocky Mountains - and has appeared in the winner's circle six times for owners James Cassels and Bob Zollars. Private Emblem has also earned $681,490, a majority of it coming from his victory in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby last year.

"He must have traveled 10,000 miles in last year's campaign," Asmussen said. "He has went everywhere and has a lot of money to show for it."

With the amount of success Private Emblem had through his travels, some of it came at a cost. On the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs, Private Emblem was bumped around badly in the 2002 Kentucky Derby and finished 14th. Four races at four different tracks in New York and Louisiana, including his Albany victory here at Saratoga, followed, although Private Emblem failed to menace in the grade I Super Derby.

"The Derby knocked him out," Asmussen said. "We were fortunate that the weather wasn't that bad for him here last year when he won the Albany. But the campaign did catch up to him. After his race in the Super Derby, we decided to give him a vacation. He was exhausted."

When he came back for his first race this year at Oaklawn Park in an optional claiming event, Private Emblem put in a winning performance that was similar to when he won the Arkansas Derby.

Asmussen then had Private Emblem in two graded stakes races at Lone Star Park -- the grade III Texas Mile and the grade III Lone Star Park Handicap -- where he finished fourth to multiple graded stakes winner Bluesthestandard and multiple middle-distance stakes winner Pie N Burger.

"He's an older horse who has gotten better," Asmussen said. "He's always been a tall horse, but the problem has been his weight. He has been facing better competition and should do well here, regardless if this race stays on the grass or not."

Private Emblem is no stranger to turf racing. Along with his third-place finish in an allowance race at Churchill Downs in his last start, Private Emblem won his grass debut in the Black Gold Handicap at Louisiana Downs on Jan. 4, 2002. He is also a half-sister to Rhum, who was last year's New York-bred filly and mare grass champion.

"Since there are numerous opportunities coming up, we wanted to try him on the grass again," Asmussen said. "Since he hadn't been on the grass in a while, I decided to give him one under allowance conditions at Churchill Downs. He should move forward off that race."

Asmussen said the main goal for Private Emblem is the Empire Classic --the marquee race for 3-year-old and older New York-breds on New York Showcase Day at Belmont Park on October 18.

Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day is scheduled to ride Private Emblem for the West Point. Private Emblem will carry 118 pounds if the race remains on the grass; otherwise, he will carry 124 pounds if the race is transferred to the main track.

If the West Point remains on the grass, Private Emblem's main foe is expected to be Dogwood Stable's Finality, who will carry the highweight of 120 pounds with John Velazquez riding for Todd Pletcher.

Last year as a 3-year-old, Finality had three wins in six starts. He easily marched through the allowance conditions for state-breds and later finished a close second in the grade III Saranac Handicap here at Saratoga before winning the grade II Jamaica at Belmont. Shortly after that race, Pletcher noticed that Finality had a problem.

"The horse had a slight tear in his tendon of his left leg," Pletcher said. "We gave him some time off to recover and brought him back slowly."

While Finality was slowly coming back, Pletcher was trying to find a spot for him to race. The only available spot that Pletcher could find for the colt was the grade III Poker Handicap at Belmont where he finished last in the11-horse field after contesting the pace early.

"We were trying to find an allowance race and there was none available," Pletcher said. "We knew it was going to be tough bringing him into a graded stakes race off the layoff. He was there early before tiring badly."

Pletcher also had Anstu Stable's I'm All Yours nominated for the West Point. But Pletcher said the 6-year-old gelding is still recovering from knee surgery earlier this year. I'm All Yours has not raced since his last-place finish in the grade II Knickerbocker Handicap last November.

Celtic Sky has not won a race since winning last year's West Point for Waterville Lake Stable and Christophe Clement. However, in two grass starts this year, the 5-year-old by Sky Classic had finished second in the Kingston Handicap and third in an allowance race. Celtic Sky will start from post No. 7 and carry 118 pounds and Edgar Prado.

Captain Nicholas comes back to the east coast after spending the last eight months in the Midwest and south. The 5-year-old gelding has dramatically improved since Rebecca Maker acquired the horse earlier this year. Capitan Nicholas is coming off a fourth-place finish in a listed stakes race at Arlington Park in June. Frank Lovato Jr. will ride Capitan Nicholas, who will carry 119 pounds while breaking from post No. 8.

If the race is switched to the main track, Sherpa Guide draws in from the also eligible list. Sherpa Guide has finished third in both races this year, including his most recent race in the Evan Shipman Handicap on closing day of the Belmont spring meet.

The Field for Friday's West Point Handicap:

Post Position -- horse, jockey, weight (weight in parentheses is for main track if race is not run on turf)
1--Platinum Setting, Shane Sellers, 114 (112)
2--No White Flags, Shaun Bridgmohan, 115 (112)
3 -- Finality, John Velazquez, 120 (112)
4--Haggs Castle, Mike Luzzi, 116 (113)
5--Private Emblem, Pat Day, 117 (124)
6--Quiet Ruler, Robby Albarado, 115 (112)
7--Celtic Sky, Edgar Prado, 118 (112)
8--Capitan Nicholas, Frank Lovato Jr., 119 (112)
9--Quantum Merit, Jean-Luc Samyn, 114 (112)
10--World of Wonder, Richard Migliore, 114 (113)
11 -- Statement, Jerry Bailey, 122 (112)
12--Reluctant Groom, Javier Castellano, 115 (112)
13(ae)--Sherpa Guide, Jose Santos, 112 (119)
14(ae)--Cold Blow Lane, Cornelio Velasquez, 112 (111)
15(ae)--Light Up the Sky, Jose Espinoza, 110 (114)
16(ae)--Well Fancied, no rider, 113 (123)
Note: Well Fancied is entered for the main track only.
(ae) -- Indicates also-eligibles