Snake Mountain Can Ease Owner's Pain

(from track report)
Doug Koch, owner of Berkshire Stud in upstate Pine Plains, N.Y. knows exactly how bad things can go at times in racing. Last Saturday in the Distaff Breeders' Cup (gr. II) at Aqueduct, his Saskya was to make her last start before retiring to broodmare duties.

Saskya, a daughter of Maria's Mon, had just won her first stakes, the $60,000 Safely Kept on March 9, boosting her value as a broodmare. The Distaff Breeders' Cup was to be one last shot at a graded stakes.

But Saskya suffered a serious injury in the race and could not be saved as a broodmare.

"Days like last Saturday really rock your foundation," Koch said. "We had Saskya for four years and we were counting on her to keep the farm going in the future. It was about as brutal a loss as could be."

One of the great things about the track is that there is usually an opportunity right around the corner to make up for misfortunes.

Saturday, Berkshire Stud's Snake Mountain will try for his fifth straight stakes win when he goes to the post as the 122-pound highweight in the $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) at 1 1/8 mile for 3-year-olds and up.

"I'm not quite ready to go back to Aqueduct yet," said Koch, who owns the 5-year-old Snake Mountain in partnership with Chester Broman, John Nerud, Jack Shelley and trainer Jimmy Jerkens. "One way to get over a tough loss is to look forward to things in the future. I'll be rooting for Snake Mountain on TV and we've got a group of two-year-olds coming to the farm next week."

Snake Mountain has provided his owners and fans with many thrills recently. He won three grade III races – the Stuyvesant, Queens County and Aqueduct handicaps – before getting his stiffest challenge in the listed Stymie March 16.

Returning from just under a two-month layoff, Snake Mountain was all out as the 1-2 favorite to cut down the sharp Classic Endeavor. With a three-length lead in the stretch, Classic Endeavor appeared to be a likely upsetter, but a determined Snake Mountain dug in and would not be denied.

"Watching him run is as exciting as could be," Koch said. "He really showed tremendous heart and determination in the Stymie. He had to catch a very good horse and I didn't think he had a chance until the sixteenth pole."

Herbert Schwartz' Classic Endeavor just got beat a nose going for his first stakes win in the Stymie, who hopes to turn the tables in the Excelsior. A winner of a $20,000 claiming race in November, Classic Endeavor has steadily improved to take four of last six starts. His good run may be aided by the racing surfaces at Aqueduct.

"He's here year-round and he happens to like both the main track and the inner track," trainer Scott Schwartz said. "He's just coming into his own as a five-year-old. He's always been a nice horse, but just hadn't filled his potential."

Schwartz is hoping that if the Excelsior comes down to Classic Endeavor and Snake Mountain, his charge can last this time.

"That was a real tough beat for us in the Stymie," Schwartz said. "He was drifting in the stretch and got beat four inches. If he stayed straight, he might have won."

Apprentice Luis Chavez has been aboard for Classic Endeavor's last five races, even without getting a weight allowance in the Stymie. For the Excelsior, Schwartz has made a change to journeyman C.C. Lopez.

"Luis is very capable and he did nothing wrong," Schwartz said. "I wanted to give him a shot in the stakes last time because he'd ridden the horse five times, but there's no need to use a` bug' in a stakes race."

Despite his close finish to Snake Mountain in the Stymie, Classic Endeavor will still get nine pounds from his rival.

Classic Endeavor and Anstu Stables' Balto Star share a similar type of speed or stalking running style. Balto Star, who was based in Florida over the winter but ran twice at Fair Grounds, is a new face to contend with for Classic Endeavor and Snake Mountain.

At Fair Grounds, Balto Star won the Whirlaway (gr. III) by 2 1/2 lengths, but faltered in the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II), finishing ninth, beaten 17 lengths as the favorite.

"He broke poorly and got shuffled at the start," trainer Todd Pletcher said of the New Orleans. "It's just not his style to come from behind. He needs to be prominent from the start."

Balto Star won his last start at Aqueduct, a November 21 allowance in which he prevailed as the 1-2 favorite over Country Be Gold and Saint Verre.

The second highweight in the Excelsior, Balto Star has been assigned 119 pounds with jockey Javier Castellano up.

Saint Verre ran one of his best recent efforts coming from off the pace to be second in the Hal's Hope (gr. II) in January. He had no rally behind Harlan's Holiday in the Donn (gr. I) a month later. A former speedster, Saint Verre changed tactics in his last two starts.

Tempest Fugit exits a win in the John B. Campbell at Laurel February 23rd. He was beaten by four lengths by Classic Endeavor the last time they met on February 2.

$200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III), 3 & up, 1 1/8 mile
PP. Horse, Wgt., Rider, ML Odds PP Horse Wt. Jockey Owner Trainer
1. Classic Endeavor(L), 113, Lopez, C C, 5-1
2. Tempest Fugit(L), 114, Gryder, Aaron, 8-1
3. Iwin(L), 110, Chavez, Luis, 30-1
4. Snake Mountain(L), 122, Luzzi, Mike, 6-5
5. Balto Star(L), 119, Castellano, Javier, 8-5
6. Saint Verre(L), 114, Arroyo Jr, Norberto, 8-1