Sky Mesa, to be ridden by Robby Albarado in the Haskell Invitational.

Sky Mesa, to be ridden by Robby Albarado in the Haskell Invitational.

Associated Press

Saratoga Notebook: Albarado on Sky Mesa; Favorites Rule; No Decision on Congrats; Sackatoga Stable Grows

By Mike Kane and Phil Janack
Trainer John Ward has given the mount on Sky Mesa in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) Sunday to Robby Albarado.

Ward needed a replacement when regular rider Edgar Prado decided to stay with Peace Rules. Ward offered the colt to Richard Migliore, but Migliore had to decline because of a commitment to ride Tafaseel for longtime client Kiaran McLaughlin in the Jim Dandy (gr. II).

"Robby's a top rider and a very aggressive rider when the time comes," Ward said Tuesday. "He's got that long, lean body that fits the horse, too."

Albarado is the regular rider for the Neil Howard-trained Mineshaft, the top handicap horse in the country, a factor that played into Ward's decision.

"I said all he's got to do is make believe he's on Mineshaft, and hopefully it's a similar result," Ward joked. "But, they're both similar animals.

"Sky Mesa's running style mirrors that of Mineshaft, so it was a pretty logical fit. And, Neil Howard's and our program are very similar, too."

Favorites Rule
Decades ago, Saratoga Race Course was dubbed the "Graveyard of Favorites" mainly because so many elite horses, like Man o'War and Gallant Fox, lost stakes on the track.

In fact, Tom Gilcoyne, the historian at the National Museum of Racing, said his research shows that through the year favorites at Saratoga have won at roughly the same clip that they do at other tracks: 33-34 percent.

Through the first week of the current season, which ended Monday, Saratoga has been the "Garden Spot for Favorites," with the favorites in the betting winning at a remarkable 47 percent rate.

The average win price for the 57 races run during the first six days was $10.97. The highest winning payoff was the $71.50 for Tiaga Two in the fourth race on Monday. The lowest payoff, one that might last the meeting, was the $2.30 return for Sightseek's win at odds of 1-9 in the Go for Wand (gr. I).

Sackatoga Gets More 'Roses'
Sackatoga Stable, owner of Funny Cide, expanded to a three-horse operation Monday with the private purchase of Won Dozen Roses, a 3-year-old New York-bred filly, managing partner Jack Knowlton said Tuesday.

Won Dozen Roses has two victories and a second and earnings of $32,000 from six starts, all this year. She was winless in three races at Aqueduct before being sent to Finger Lakes, where she broke her maiden and won an allowance race before finishing second in the Niagara Stakes, a restricted race for New York-breds.

In early July, Sackatoga lost its 3-year-old New York-bred filly Wed in Dixie, who had to be euthanized after breaking down in training at Belmont Park.

Knowlton said recently that the Sackatoga partners were trying to buy another horse who could run at the Saratoga meeting. Sackatoga's 2-year-old colt, Saratoga Episode, finished second in a Saratoga maiden race on July 25 and is likely make another start during the meet. Funny Cide is being pointed for the Travers (gr. I) on Aug. 23.

Won Dozen Roses, a daughter of Air Forbes Won, was bred by Gallagher Stud in Ghent and was owned by Henry C. Gregory.

Grass May Be in 'Saint's Future
A switch to a different surface is a possibility for Kissin Saint, who has not raced since finishing last in the Preakness on May 17.

Trainer Lisa Lewis said Tuesday morning that she is considering turf for the son of Kissin Kris, who was a multiple stakes winner on grass.

"We're going to try it and see how that goes," Lewis said. "He worked twice at Belmont on the grass with Richie Migliore, and he worked really well. I'm not sure what our plans are yet."

Though she nominated Kissin Saint to the Jim Dandy (gr. II) on Sunday, Lewis said she had little intention of running in such a tough spot his first race back.

"No, not really," she said. "Not with Empire Maker in there."

A lung infection sidelined Kissin Saint for several weeks following the Preakness, which was run over the wet track at Pimlico.

"He's been OK. We gave him a little time," Lewis said. "He had a pretty good infection and we gave him plenty of time to get over that and he's been good since. It could have affected him, but I don't think he liked the racetrack that day. He just couldn't get a hold of it."

No Decision on Congrats
Wherever Congrats runs Sunday, trainer Shug McGaughey said the colt won't disgrace himself.

McGaughey said he is leaning heavily toward staying in Saratoga for the Jim Dandy, but has not ruled out going to New Jersey for the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, which carries twice the purse money.

"He's gonna fit in with them. Whether or not he's gonna beat them I don't know, but he's gonna fit in fine," McGaughey said. "Maybe he's a race behind, but he's a pretty good horse."

A 3-year-old son of A.P. Indy, Congrats improved to 2-for-3 this year by winning a mile-and-a-sixteenth allowance July 10 at Belmont Park by 5 1/4 lengths. He broke his maiden at first asking last July 27 in Saratoga, a factor McGaughey is considering.

On Tuesday morning, McGaughey said he had not made a decision whether to ship to Monmouth Park or stay in Saratoga.

"We want to figure out what's the easiest spot for him to be," McGaughey said. "It's sort of a speed-conductive racetrack down there. We've run over this track and run good over it. We're here. It's not a money-type thing.

"When you look at it from all those ends, it's the best place for him to be, even though Empire Maker is here. I don't know how he stands up to him, but I think he can stand up to the rest of them."

Strong Hope, During and Tafaseel are considered definites for the Jim Dandy. Trainer Jim Bond is still considering whether to enter Nacheezmo in the race, while Christine's Outlaw and Saint Liam are possible.

Backstretch 'Community Leader' Honored
The 2003 Dogwood Dominion Award will be presented Wednesday to Neftali "Junior" Gutierrez, an employee of the New York Racing Association's night cleaning crew.

Described as a self-appointed "community leader" of the Belmont Park backstretch, despite his battle with cancer, Gutierrez was selected as the recipient of Dogwood Stable's 11th annual award given to the unsung heroes of racing. He will receive a $5,000 check and a bronze statue of Dominion, Dogwood's stakes-winning horse in the 1970s during a luncheon at noon at the Reading Room.

"As with many of our recipients, Junior -- and his truly do-gooder activities -- defies a neatly turned phrase explaining the many benefits he has brought to his backstretch community. He is simply there for everyone," said Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable.