SARATOGA SPRINGS - If you want to see most of the country's best horses, check out Saratoga's workouts. Among the stars spending the summer at the Spa are two-time defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan; the early favorite to dethrone him, Palace Malice; Belmont Stakes hero Tonalist, and last year's Travers winner, Will Take Charge.
D. Wayne Lukas sent out Will Take Charge for a 5-furlong breeze on the training track Monday at 5:30 a.m., about two hours after the 78-year-old trainer usually gets out of bed. The time was 1:01.02, a solid move in preparation for facing Palace Malice in the $1.5-million Whitney Handicap here Aug. 2.
The Coach can be most entertaining, and he was in rare form joking about the work. He goofed on "trainerspeak," in which the default comment always has been "Perfect, just what I wanted."
"He looked good," Lukas said. "Actually, he was three-legged lame. He didn't eat up last night. He's got a temperature. And I think he's got the hives, but I think I'm going to run him."
Saratoga will showcase steeplechase racing in the first race Wednesday and Thursday, with post time at 12:25 p.m., 35 minutes earlier than usual. The jumpers are tremendously popular on the other side of the Atlantic, with England's Cheltenham Festival in mid-March the highlight. In Ireland, steeplechasers are even more popular than flat runners. The slogan over there is, "Flat racing for the head, jump racing for the heart."
Over here, most handicappers lack enthusiasm for steeplechasing because they are nervous about betting on animals that must leave the ground and land on the other side of obstacles. Jump races are surprisingly formful, but many bettors wouldn't think of playing them.
Bluegrass Summer, trained by 73-year-old jumps genius Jonathan Sheppard, tops a field of 10 for Thursday's 2 1/16-mile Jonathan Kiser Novice Steeplechase. He could extend Hall of Famer Sheppard's record streak of winning at least one race, flat or jump, at Saratoga to an amazing 46 years.
Upset in feature
Even on a quiet Monday, two 5-year-old millionaires, My Miss Aurelia and Grace Hall, ran at Saratoga. Neither won, though, with Better Lucky ($12.20) coming from far back under Javier Castellano to take the 7-furlong, $100,000 Shine Again Stakes for fillies and mares.
Better Lucky, the longest price in a field of four, surged in the final 100 yards to beat Grace Hall by a head, with Miss Aurelia half a length behind her and a length in front of pacesetter Bridgehampton.
My Miss Aurelia was making her first start for trainer Todd Pletcher and coming off a 16-month layoff. She was 6-for-9 for Steve Asmussen, winning her first six races before running second behind Royal Delta in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic.
Grace Hall has lost six in a row but has been second in all three of her starts for trainer Bill Mott. She was 6-for-13 in Tony Dutrow's barn.