Saratoga Notebook: No Lull for Pletcher; Tagg Talks Bonuses; Birdstone's Timing Right; During's Dandy Test

By Mike Kane and Phil Janack

After setting a record with 40 victories at the Belmont spring/summer meeting trainer Todd Pletcher wasn't sure what to expect at Saratoga.

Pletcher's fear was that his powerful stable might have peaked and suffer a lull. He knew that it might be hard to maintain that momemtum because all those winners were moving up a class level in competition.

"It hasn't happened. It could happen," Pletcher said. "That's why we were concerned. When you come into a meet like this you never want to count your chicks before your eggs hatch."

The Pletcher stable rolled on through the opening days of the Saratoga. He won the Shuylerville (gr.II) with Ashado and the Sanford (gr.II) with Chapel Royal and is on course toward a second-consecutive training title with a meet-high 11 wins.

"I felt like we were holding a strong hand in the 2-year-old races, with the two fillies that had broke their maidens impressively going into the Schuylerville," he said.

"But you just don't come into Saratoga and expect to win stakes every time you go over there. Fortunately, those things went well.

"I thought we had some live horses that had run second or were coming off races where you think they'll come back and run well here. But these races are a little tougher than they are anywhere else, not only Belmont, but wherever you go."

Pletcher, who has about 135 horses in training, will be represented in the four remaining 2-year-old stakes during the meeting. He said Lakoya is headed toward the Adirondack (gr.II) on Aug. 11. Stakes winner Limehouse and possibly impressive maiden winner Value Plus or Heckle could go in the Saratoga Special (gr.II) on Aug, 13.

Unbeaten Chapel Royal is being pointed for the Hopeful (gr.I) on Aug. 30 and Ashado will run in the Spinaway (gr.I) on Aug. 29.

Pletcher said he was especially pleased with Smoke'n Frolic's performance while running third in the Honorable Miss (gr.II) on Friday.

Appearance Bonus Not a Good Idea, Says Tagg
Although trainer Barclay Tagg will receive a $50,000 bonus when Funny Cide runs in the Haskell Invitational (gr.I) Sunday, he isn't sure that the incentive payments are a good idea.

To attract the stars of the Triple Crown series to the Haskell, Monmouth Park officials pay the owners and trainers that run in their marquee race $25,000 for each Triple Crown victory.

Regardless of the outcome of the Haskell, that means $50,000 for Sackatoga Stable and $50,000 for Tagg because Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

"Personally, even though I'd love to have the money, I don't think you should have bonuses like that," Tagg said Saturday. "I think it could distort a person if they weren't really honest with themselves.

"If something was wrong with your horse, you might rather have the $50,000 than worry about the horse for the next six years. I'm not that way.

"I don't know if it's a good practice or not. Like I say, I'm happy to have it. I'd have like to have had a $50,000 bonus in the Belmont. I lost $500,000 there."

If Funny Cide had won the Belmont Stakes to sweep the Triple Crown, he would have earned a $5 million bonus sponsored by Visa.

"But that bonus is a little bit different. The horse earns it. I guess he earned this one, too."

Timing Perfect for Whitney's Birdstone
The timing was perfect for Birdstone and trainer Nick Zito on Saturday, Whitney Handicap Day at Saratoga Race Course.

The 2-year-old half-brother to Kentucky Oaks (gr.I) and Acorn (gr.I) winner Bird Town won his debut by 12 1/2 lengths, earning owner-breeder Marylou Whitney a trip to the winner's circle.

The son of Grindstone out of Whitney's mare Dear Birdie covered thbe six furlongs in 1:10.32.

"That was pretty cool," Zito said. "Especially on Whitney Day, it's so important. That's what the business is about. You've got Bird Town, who's a wonderful filly. Hopefully, she'll be going straight into the Alabama (gr.I). Now her half-brother doing this is really exciting."

Zito said he is so excited by the colt that he might break away from his conservative approach with young horses.

"You know me and I hate to say it, but I might even run this horse in the Hopeful (gr.I)," he said. "We'll see what happens in the next two weeks. If not, we'll find an allowance race and go from there. But he was real impressive, real impressive. This is a special horse, I think."

Has During Turned Corner?
Of Sunday's Jim Dandy horses, During has the most recent victory, beating Belmont runner-up and Travers prospect Ten Most Wanted in the Swaps (gr.II) July 13.

But his speed figure of 96 is the second-slowest in the field, and 14 points behind the top last figure of 110, shared by Empire Maker, Nacheezmo and Strong Hope.

Unlike Empire Maker, who has thrived in the slop winning both the Belmont and Wood Memorial on off tracks, During hated the Aqueduct mud in April, finishing seventh of 11 in the Bay Shore (gr.III).

"He should handle anything fine," said Tonya Terranova, an assistant to her husband, John, who cares for California-based Bob Baffert-trained horses when he ships them East. With him staying behind, she will saddle During for the race.

"I know the Aqueduct track that day was a little slippery for him, but he's a lot different now. He's really matured in the last few months since I've seen him. He's gotten bigger and filled out and looks really tight. He seems to have a lot of confidence. That last race really brought him on."

Jerkens Will Try Shine Again in Ballerina
Though disappointed Shine Again didn't run her Honorable Miss (gr.II) win streak to three years, Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens was pleased with his 6-year-old mare's performance.

Jerkens said Saturday morning that Shine Again, the beaten favorite, came out of the race well and will be pointed toward the Ballerina (gr.I) Aug. 24.

"You always want to win, especially when you get that close," Jerkens said.

Shine Again was second, three-quarters of a length behind Willa On The Move.

"She made a good effort. She was giving the winner six pounds," he said. "I thought she did very good. The winner has been improving all the time. Improving horses win the races usually."

Under Jean-Luc Samyn, Shine Again was uncharacteristically close to the pace in the Honorable Miss. That change in tactics was by design, Jerkens said. She hung on to second by a nose over Smok'n Frolic.

"We thought we had to get her over a little bit because the rail was pretty good and we thought we had her pretty sharp, so we tried it," he said. "We thought it would be better off not getting back and getting too much dirt and slop. We came up three-quarters of a length short. What can you do? No excuses."