A compact but quality field led by top sprinters Delaunay and Gentlemen's Bet will line up at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 4 for the $400,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I), which has attracted just five older horses.
Multiple graded stakes winners Justin Phillip and Caixa Eletronica, along with grade II winner Bahamian Squall, complete the field for the six-furlong event, which will be run as Race 9 of 11 with an approximate post time of 5:12 p.m. EDT.
Gentlemen's Bet, a 4-year-old Florida-bred son of Half Ours
who races for Harry Rosenblum, earned his first stakes score in the June 28 Iowa Sprint Handicap at Prairie Meadows
and snapped Delaunay's six-race winning streak in the process. The only other outing in such company for the Ron Moquett trainee resulted in a third in the April 13 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park
In the Iowa Sprint, Gentlemen's Bet was part of a three-way scramble for the early lead, racing a length from the front along the rail in third before he was angled off the fence. After putting away the top two, the colt was challenged by Delaunay, briefly lost the lead while racing between horses, turned back that opponent, and reclaimed the advantage en route to a 1 3/4-length victory.
Victory in the Vanderbilt could go a long way toward securing divisional honors for either Gentlemen's Bet or Delaunay, both considered top contenders at this point.
"Delaunay is a great horse, and like any athlete they can have better days," Moquett said. "We respect them, but at the same time we look forward to the opportunity. These...are the fastest horses around, so you better bring your 'A' game. You know nobody is coming to Saratoga for the Vanderbilt if they don't think they can win. These are the fastest horses in the United States, and we want to state our case."
Gentlemen's Bet, 9-5 on the morning line, will be ridden for the first time by Joel Rosario. He drew post 2, between Bahamian Squall on the rail and Delaunay in the 3 hole, and carries 116 pounds.
"He's ratable. I love him sitting right off of horses," Moquett said.
Delaunay has won seven of nine starts, all stakes, since being claimed by trainer Tom Amoss for owner Maggi Moss. After dominating minor and listed stakes in Kentucky and Louisiana, the 6-year-old Smoke Glacken
gelding easily handled graded stakes competition when he won the May 4 Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) by four lengths. The 111 Beyer Speed Figure Delaunay received for his March 9 Duncan F. Kenner triumph in March at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots
is the fourth highest among all horses who have competed at a mile or less in 2013.
In the Iowa Sprint, Delaunay broke outwardly and brushed an opponent, raced two lengths off the lead in fourth, made a three-wide bid for the lead, and failed to match strides with Gentlemen's Bet.
"He didn't break all that well and he gave the field a few lengths," said Amoss. "In fairness, Gentlemen's Bet ran a great race and we're going to have to improve in order for us to win."
Amoss said he was disappointed with Delaunay's first breeze over the Saratoga main track (four furlongs in :52.24 on June 20), but he was encouraged by how the gelding handled the surface in his second breeze (four furlongs in :48.10 on July 27).
"Transitioning him to the Saratoga track has been a bit of a process," admitted Amoss. "He didn't work all that great in his first work over the track, but his second work was better. We're hopeful he's going to handle the track."
Rosie Napravnik will ride Delaunay, 8-5 on the morning line, once again in the Vanderbilt. He carries top weight of 120 pounds.
The Vanderbilt will be the first start outside Florida for Donald Dizney's Bahamian Squall, who stalked the pace and made a three-wide run to capture the Smile Sprint Handicap (gr. II) on July 6 at Calder Casino & Race Course
. It was Bahamian's Squall's first victory from four starts as a 4-year-old. At 3, he won the Sunshine State Stakes for Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park
"He's growing up and getting stronger," said trainer David Fawkes. "Don't get me wrong—he was nice as a 3-year-old, but he had a nice break this spring and came back stronger. [Delaunay and Gentlemen's Bet] are probably the best in the country, but I expect my horse to improve. If we're going to go to the Breeders' Cup, we're going to have to face them at some point."
Luis Saez retains the mount aboard the 4-year-old Gone West colt, who was assigned 119 and is 7-2 on the morning line.
Justin Phillip seeks his first win since his 3/4-length victory in the Count Fleet. In two starts for trainer Steve Asmussen since then, the Zayat Stables color-bearer was second in the RTN True North Handicap (gr. II) in June at Belmont Park
and fourth in the Smile. Hall of Famer John Velazquez has the call aboard the 54-year-old First Samurai
runner, 5-1, part of a 118-pound impost from post 4.
Racing for Repole Stable is four-time graded stakes winner Caixa Eletronica, who won a 1 1/8-mile starter allowance on July 28 at the Spa. Javier Castellano gets the mount on the Todd Pletcher trainee, a 7-year-old son of Arromanches who was assigned 116 at odds of 10-1 from the far outside.
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Bahamian Squall (FL), L Saez, 119, D Fawkes, 7-2
2. Gentlemen's Bet (FL), J. Rosario, 116, R Moquett, 9-5
3. Delunay (MD), R. Napravnik, 120, T M Amoss, 8-5
4. Justin Phillip (KY), J.R. Vleazquez, 118, S M Asmussen, 5-1
5. Caixa Eletronica (KY), J. Castellano, 116, T A Pletcher, 10-1