Ask trainer Mark Casse to sum up how his summer has gone thus far at Saratoga Race Course and, for the sake of brevity, he'll direct you to the recent past performance lines of his graded stakes-winning charge Salty.
A missed break here, a troubled trip there. Those in front of the daughter of Quality Road in her past three outings have proven themselves more than worthy, but Casse wonders what the outcomes would have been if just a hint of better fortune had come along.
"If you look at Salty's last few races, that pretty well would describe our Saratoga meet," said the Canadian Hall of Fame trainer, whose operation sported three wins from 53 starts at the Spa heading into the Aug. 17 card. "We could have easily won six or seven races by now and it's just been one frustrating thing after another."
Some relief appeared in the entries for the $600,000 Alabama Stakes (G1) Aug. 19, as it confirmed that Salty's main source of angst, nemesis Abel Tasman, is sitting this dance out. If the bay filly can get a touch of racing luck to go her way in the nine-horse field Saturday, she might be able to provide a salve for both her season and her shedrow.
After she suffered three straight defeats at the hands of multiple grade 1 winner Abel Tasman, Salty has a chance to snag a top-level score for herself in the 10-furlong Alabama, provided she can turn back the wall of determined distaffers also looking to take advantage of the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner's absence.
Since she captured the April 1 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) in just her third start, Salty has delivered a trio of admirable runs but hasn't been able to get the best of the long-striding Bob Baffert trainee who has taken command of the 3-year-old filly ranks. During her fifth-place run in the Kentucky Oaks, Salty had a troubled outing that saw her bumped and stopped twice. When she and Abel Tasman reunited in the June 10 Acorn Stakes (G1), the latter got a masterful ride from Hall of Famer Mike Smith that powered her to a one-length win over her rival.
The July 23 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) was another exercise in frustration for Salty, as she broke in the air, trailed the field early on, and ended up third, while Abel Tasman got her head down for a third consecutive top-level score. As much as Casse would love to see his protégé prove she can beat any member of her class on the square, he isn't sad that the only grade 1 winner in the Alabama field is New Money Honey, who will be trying dirt for the first time.
"I think that, given some different circumstances, the shoe could be on the other foot (in beating Abel Tasman). But that being said, I'm not going to miss her," Casse said. "Salty doesn't have as much to show for it as you would like, but one thing about her—she's been very consistent. She's run hard and I think the biggest concern is, she's been so consistent, (so) you wonder how long can she continue with that consistency. It would be nice to pick one of these grade 1s off finally."
Not every horse in the Casse barn has thrived in Saratoga—most notably champion Classic Empire who was shipped to Winding Oaks Farm in Ocala, Fla. earlier this week after his training quirks reared up again. Salty, however, has been loving the Spa life according to her trainer, something she backed up during her bullet four-furlong workout in :47.89 Aug 11.
"She still has some questions to answer about her preferred distance, but we know she likes it here and likes the racetrack," said assistant trainer Norman Casse, son of Mark Casse. "Had she not broken so poorly, she would have been right there in the Coaching Club, so she deserves every opportunity to run."
Having already proven herself one of the superior members in the sophomore turf division, e Five Racing Thoroughbreds' New Money Honey is going to test her versatility by seeing how her kick translates on the main track. The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro showed she could handle the 1 1/4-mile distance when she won the Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (G1T) at Belmont Park July 8 and has shown trainer Chad Brown enough in her dirt training that this attempt seemed like one with little downside.
"I'm excited about trying her on the dirt. This filly has been training super," Brown said. "It's something I've always thought about. Running her on the dirt now seems like the right time to try it. The distance of the race should really suit her."
Brian Lynch-trained Unchained Melody heads into the Alabama off an impressive three-length win in the July 1 Mother Goose Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park, which marked her first stakes appearance and third victory in four starts. All of her wins have featured her either serving as the pacemaker or racing just off the lead, which Lynch said could play into the strategy in the Alabama.
"She needed to get over this track to get used to going a mile and a quarter," he said. "If she improves again, I think we'll be in good shape."
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott will saddle a pair of entries looking for their first graded stakes wins after numerous close finishes in Lockdown and Elate. Lockdown finished second to Unchained Melody in the Mother Goose, building on a third-place effort in the Kentucky Oaks, while Elate finished second to Abel Tasman in the Coaching Club American Oaks.
The field also features Stronach Stables' homebred Holy Helena, who in her previous start defeated males in the Queen's Plate Stakes on the all-weather track at Woodbine going 1 1/4 miles. The daughter of Ghostzapper has won on dirt, scoring her maiden win in May at Belmont Park.
Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, August 19, 2017, Race 9
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1New Money Honey (KY) Javier Castellano 121 Chad C. Brown 6/1 2 2Holy Helena (ON) John R. Velazquez 121 James A. Jerkens 4/1 3 3It Tiz Well (KY) Drayden Van Dyke 121 Jerry Hollendorfer 12/1 4 4Lockdown (KY) Manuel Franco 121 William I. Mott 5/1 5 5Unchained Melody (KY) Joel Rosario 121 Brian A. Lynch 3/1 6 6Salty (KY) Tyler Gaffalione 121 Mark E. Casse 9/2 7 7Elate (KY) Jose L. Ortiz 121 William I. Mott 6/1 8 8Mopotism (KY) Florent Geroux 121 Doug F. O'Neill 20/1 9 9Actress (KY) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 121 Jason Servis 15/1
Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, August 19, 2017, Race 9