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2023 Hall Of Fame Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Nagirroc Takes On 2 Shippers, 3 Browns At Saratoga
NAgirroc (Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

2023 Hall Of Fame Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Nagirroc Takes On 2 Shippers, 3 Browns At Saratoga

Aaron previews the 2023 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (G2) from Saratoga, then gives his top picks & long shots. The Graham Motion-trained Nagirroc takes on 2 overseas shippers & 3 tough entries from trainer Chad Brown in the Friday co-feature race.

Can the consistent son of Lea go toe to toe with some of the toughest rivals he’s faced to date? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The press release:

Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown will send out three top contenders in Appraise, Mischievous Angel and Carl Spackler as he looks for a record-equaling seventh score in Friday’s Grade 2, $500,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, a one-mile inner turf test for sophomores at Saratoga Race Course.

The Hall of Fame is slated as Race 8 on Friday’s 11-race card which also features the Grade 3, $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Oaks Invitational in Race 7. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern. 

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Brown, who is one victory shy of Hall of Famer Bill Mott’s record, has enjoyed previous success in this event with Big Blue Kitten [2011], Takeover Target [2015], Camelot Kitten [2016], Bricks and Mortar [2017], Raging Bull [2018] and Public Sector [2021].

Klaravich Stables’ Appraise [post 3, Flavien Prat], by Kodiac, graduated in a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint here last July ahead of a fourth-place finish in the Skidmore that August over firm Spa turf. He finished a distant second to returning rival Mysterious Night in the Grade 1 Summer, a one-turn mile in September at Woodbine Racetrack to close out his juvenile campaign.

“We rested him last year with sore shins after the race in Canada and the horse came back fine. We were just patient with him,” Brown said. “He’s grown a bit and I’m really pleased with the way the horse has developed physically.”

Appraise made a triumphant seasonal debut on July 8 at Belmont, posting a prominent three-quarter length score in a seven-furlong turf allowance versus older company that garnered a career-best 86 Beyer Speed Figure.

“I was very pleased with it and he came back fitter and stronger from the race,” Brown said. “I think he’s set up to do fine. I do believe he’ll handle the two turns no problem.”

Peter Brant and Parkland Thoroughbreds’ impressive maiden winner Mischievous Angel [post 5, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] pounced to a three-quarter length debut win in a six-furlong maiden special weight on June 17 over firm Belmont green. The stylish score garnered a lofty 87 Beyer Speed Figure.

“He only has the one start at a sprint. He has to handle two turns, so we’ll see,” Brown said. “His number was very fast, so I gave him time from that race to get over it and just pointed him right to a stakes – primarily because he can run against straight 3-year-olds.”

The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief gelding, a $600,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale purchase, is out of the New York-bred Scat Daddy mare Sabrina’s Angel, who is a half-sister to Empire State-bred 2018 Grade 1 Florida Derby-winner Audible.

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The well-regarded Carl Spackler [post 10, Tyler Gaffalione] lost a heartbreaker in his January debut traveling 1 1/16-miles over firm Gulfstream turf, taking the lead at the stretch call only to be collared by eventual Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational-winner Far Bridge in the final jumps.

The Lope de Vega chestnut exited that effort to graduate by 8 3/4-lengths traveling one mile over the same course ahead of a last-out eighth in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 American Turf on May 6 at Churchill.

“He’s a horse we’ve always been very high on. He went to Churchill and didn’t handle the turf at all,” Brown said. “He came out of the race sick and I had to rest him a little bit and get him healthy. He came back training well. The prize money is big this year, so we’re going to just take a shot.”

Carl Spackler is out of the graded stakes-winning More Than Ready mare Zindaya, who is a half-sister to 2011 Grade 1 Jamaica Handicap-winner Western Aristocrat.

Courtlandt Farms’ General Jim [post 6, Luis Saez], a dual graded-stakes winner on dirt, will switch back to turf for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.

The Into Mischief bay posted his first two wins traveling 1 1/16-miles over turf, graduating at second asking in September at Saratoga ahead of a sharp allowance score one month later at Keeneland. General Jim made his next four starts on dirt, taking the seven-furlong Grade 3 Swale in February at Gulfstream Park and the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile in May at Churchill Downs.

He enters Friday’s one-mile inner-turf test for sophomores from a distant sixth-place finish in the seven-furlong Grade 1 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on June 10 at Belmont Park.

“He broke his maiden here on the turf and he was very impressive in an ‘a other than’ at Keeneland, so why not,” McGaughey said.

McGaughey said he expects Luis Saez will be able to engineer a close stalking trip when they exit post 6.

“He’s got speed, too. He’ll be laying up close,” McGaughey said.

General Jim has breezed three times over the Oklahoma training turf, including a half-mile move in 52.34 on Friday.

“He breezed good and galloped out good,” McGaughey said.

The $850,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase is out of the stakes-placed Curlin mare Inspired by Grace, a full sister to multiple graded stakes winner Off the Tracks and a half-sister to dual graded stakes-winner Concord Point.

Godolphin’s Irish-homebred Mysterious Night [post 8, Richie Mullen] has finished off-the-board in two starts since taking the Grade 1 Summer last year at Woodbine for trainer Charlie Appleby.

The Dark Angel gelding finished seventh in the one-mile Group 3 Craven in April at Newmarket as the wagering favorite and followed on June 24 with a 12th-place effort in the seven-furlong Group 3 Jersey at Royal Ascot.

Mysterious Night, out of the Shamardal mare Mistrusting, is a full-brother to the Godolphin/Appleby-campaigned Althiqa, who won a pair of Grade 1s in 2021 on the NYRA circuit, taking the Just a Game at Belmont and the Diana at Saratoga. He will add blinkers for his Spa debut.

“He’s looking really well,” said Chris Connett, Appleby’s travelling assistant. “He’s a Grade 1 winner at two and had two runs in the UK which have been slightly below par from what we’d like, but bringing him to America and get him on to quicker ground around the turns might just be where he really thrives. That’s what we saw a from him as a 2-year-old in Canada.”

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will be represented by Bat Flip [post 2, Jose Ortiz], who makes his first start since a prominent score on November 26 in the Central Park traveling one-mile over firm Aqueduct turf.

“It’s kind of a tall order off the bench, but we like the way he’s been training,” Pletcher said. “He seemed to really take to the grass and we’re really pleased with that, so we thought we’d give him a chance. He just had a little hiccup where we had to stop on him for a while, but he’s come back in great form.”

Owned by Harrell Ventures and Starlight Racing, the Good Magic colt made his first two starts on dirt before a runner-up finish to next-out graded stakes-winner and returning rival Nagirroc in September over firm Belmont at the Big A turf. He entered the Central Park from a gate-to-wire maiden win in October traveling 1 1/16-miles over the same course, besting eventual Grade 2 Pennine Ridge-winner Kalik by 1 3/4-lengths.

Cherie DeVaux will saddle More Than Looks [post 1, John Velazquez], last-out winner of the Grade 3 Manila on July 7 at Belmont Park, for owner Victory Racing Partners.

The More Than Ready colt, bred in Kentucky by Hinkle Farms, was purchased for $135,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He is out of the stakes-winning Harlan’s Holiday mare Ladies’ Privilege, who is a full-sister to multiple graded stakes-winner Takeover Target – winner of the 2015 edition of the Hall of Fame. His third dam, Critical Crew, produced multiple Grade 1-winning New York-bred Critical Eye.

More Than Looks graduated at second asking in March over the Gulfstream Park synthetic, besting next-out winner Hidden Path, who is entered in Saturday’s Dueling Grounds Derby at Ellis Park.

The dark bay bested older allowance company in June at Ellis Park, rallying from seventh to post a neck score ahead of a strong 1 1/2-length win in the one-mile Manila that garnered a career-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure.

Nagirroc [post 7, Manny Franco], trained by Graham Motion for Little Red Feather Racing, Madaket Stables and William Strauss, was a pacesetting third last out in the Manila.

The Lea colt made the grade in the six-furlong Grade 3 Futurity in October at Belmont at the Big A ahead of a good third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf traveling one-mile at Keeneland.

Nagirroc has hit the board in all three starts this year, finishing second in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Transylvania at Keeneland ahead of a prominent 3 1/4-length score in the one-mile James W. Murphy on May 20 at Pimlico.

Bred in Kentucky by Chervenell Thoroughbreds, Nagirroc boasts a record of 8-3-2-3 for purse earnings of $407,550.

Graded stakes-placed Behind Enemy Lines [post 9, Joel Rosario] will look to avenge a narrow defeat to Major Dude last out on June 2 in the Grade 2 Penn Mile.

Trained by Jack Sisterson, the Sioux Nation colt made the lead at the stretch call of the Penn Mile but could not stave off the bid of Major Dude, who prevailed by three-quarters of a length.

The British-bred bay launched his career in Ireland for trainer Joseph O’Brien, winning at second asking over the Dundalk synthetic. He made a winning debut in April for Sisterson, taking the 7 1/2-furlong Cutler Bay by two lengths ahead of a troubled sixth in the 1 1/16-mile American Turf on May 6 at Churchill Downs.

Sisterson said Behind Enemy Lines, who has trained forwardly with six follow-up breezes over the Oklahoma training turf, will look for a similar trip as the Penn Mile with Joel Rosario taking over the reins.

“He’ll break running. He doesn’t want to be on the lead because he might race a bit free, so Joel will probably have him forwardly placed just behind the leaders and hopefully get a jump on the closers,” Sisterson said.

Rounding out a competitive field is European invader Ocean Vision [post 4, Oisin Murphy] for trainer Tim Donworth.

The U S Navy Flag bay, who sports a ledger of 10-4-0-2, enters from a solid effort on June 11 in the Group 3 Prix Paul de Moussac over good-to-soft going at Longchamp when dead-heating for fifth with Group 1-winner Belbek.

Donworth, a graduate of the Godolphin Flying Start program, garnered his first listed stakes success when Ocean Vision captured the Prix de la Vallee d’Auge in August at Deauville.