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2023 John’s Call Stakes Preview | British Royalty Ships To Saratoga From Woodbine
British Royalty (Michael Burns Photo)

2023 John’s Call Stakes Preview | British Royalty Ships To Saratoga From Woodbine

Canadian-bred British Royalty has been productive in each of his three previous trips to New York and will look to breakthrough south of the border for the first time in Wednesday’s $135,000 John’s Call, at Saratoga Race Course.

The John’s Call is slated as Race 7 on Wednesday’s 10-race card, which kicks off with the Grade 1, $150,000 Jonathan Sheppard over the hurdles in Race 1. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.    

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Trained and co-owned by Barb Minshall with Bruce Lunsford, the 5-year-old English Channel gelding will make the 380-mile trek Tuesday from his homebase at Woodbine Racetrack with a pony and traveling assistant Chad Elder.

“He can’t travel solo. He’s a quirky animal. For a couple years I had a little filly named War Empress that would travel with him, but now she’s in foal. She used to just travel with him as a friend – we used to say we had to pack her bikini for the beach while British Royalty runs,” said Minshall, with a laugh.

British Royalty enters the 13-furlong Mellon turf test restricted to older horses yet to have won a Grade 1 or Grade 2 on turf this year from a rallying third-place finish at 59-1 odds in the two-mile Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup on June 9 at Belmont Park.

With Kazushi Kimura up, British Royalty tracked in 11th-of-13 before squeezing up the rail in upper stretch and launching a stout bid to finish two lengths back of the victorious Siskany. He missed place honors by a neck to a late outside rally by The Grey Wizard.

“I was happy with it, especially coming off a seven-month layoff,” said Minshall, who won the 2017 Grade 3 Schuylerville here with Dream It Is. “Kazushi rode him real well. Overall, it was the race we were looking for. He got him in a good spot early. The horse needs some cover. He can get a little bit headstrong, but he got a little cover and got him to relax. He made a good run. I think he could have been second. I don’t think he realized there was a horse creeping up on the outside those last couple jumps, but he ran a good race.”

British Royalty returns off a two-month layoff with seven breezes over the Woodbine Tapeta, including a half-mile effort Wednesday in 49.60 seconds.

“I entered him in an allowance race here in July and it came off the turf,” explained Minshall. “So, he’s had an umpteen number of breezes on hold waiting for this race. There was nowhere else to go. He’s ready to go again. We know he can run off a layoff. He’s real sharp right now.”

The late-running bay was a similar second in last year’s Belmont Gold Cup won by Loft and returned to Belmont one start later to finish an even fourth when cut back to 12 furlongs in the Grand Couturier landing two lengths back of the evergreen multiple Grade 1-winner and fellow Canadian-bred Channel Maker. British Royalty made the bulk of his earnings with a four-length score in the 2021 Breeders’ at Woodbine, the third leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

Kazushi Kimura, an Eclipse Award-winner as the 2019 Outstanding Apprentice Jockey, will have the call from post 5. The three-time Sovereign Award-winner [2018, 2021-22] as Canada’s Outstanding Jockey currently leads the Woodbine jockey standings with a record of 301-65-62-35 and will be making his first start at Saratoga.

Minshall said she expects Kimura to find cover and be involved when the real running starts.

“He just wants to have a mid-pack stalk type of trip and make his run,” Minshall said. “It really depends on the race setup. He’s quite rideable once a rider gets to know him. He’ll move when you want to move him. If a rider feels like he’s too far back, you can ask him to move and gear him down a little bit. Once you ask him, it’s not like that’s the only ask you’ve got.”

Bred in Ontario by Richard Lister, British Royalty has banked $411,532 through a record of 18-2-4-1.

Trainer Graham Motion will send out a strong pair in Head of Plains Partners’ graded stakes-winner Sy Dog [post 8, Manny Franco], who makes his first start beyond 10 furlongs; and Wertheimer and Frere’s Kentucky homebred Serifos [post 2, Florent Geroux], an off-the-turf allowance winner.

Sy Dog, a 4-year-old Slumber bay, has been assigned a field-high 124 pounds – six pounds more than all his rivals but Pioneer Spirit [120 pounds]. He captured the Grade 3 Transylvania last April traveling 1 1/16-miles over good Keeneland turf and followed one month later with a closing third-place finish in the Grade 2 American Turf going the same distance at Churchill Downs.

Bred in Kentucky by his owner and Madaket Stables, Sy Dog competed in two-thirds of NYRA’s Turf Triple series last year, finishing sixth in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational and fourth in the 1 3/16-mile Saratoga Derby Invitational to close out his sophomore season.

After an off-the-board effort in his seasonal debut at Belmont, he finished a close third last out in a nine-furlong optional claiming tilt on August 3 at Colonial Downs.

Serifos, a 4-year-old Into Mischief gelding, is out of the Maria’s Mon mare Soldata, who is a full-sister to dual graded stakes-winner Exhi. Serifos is a half-sibling to graded stakes-placed Alda and stakes-winning stablemate Dataman.

The bay sports a ledger of 13-2-3-1 for purse earnings of $101,260 topped by an off-the-turf allowance score last August at Delaware Park.

Pioneering Spirit [post 4, Jose Ortiz] has won four straight starts since being switched back to turf by trainer Linda Rice.

Owned by A. Bianco Holding Limited, Rice claimed the 4-year-old American Pharoah gelding for $40,000 out of a maiden event in March at the Big A and saw him graduate at the same level three starts later traveling one-mile over the Belmont green in what was his first turf start since December 2021.

Pioneering Spirit followed with a pair of allowance wins on the Belmont green, scoring at nine-furlongs on June 4 and at 10 furlongs on June 24. He stretched out one more furlong last out and closed from 10 lengths off the pace to win an optional-claiming tilt by 3 3/4-lengths on July 27 over firm Spa turf.

AJ Suited Racing Stable and D C Racing’s regally-bred Burning Bright [post 3, Luis Saez] is by Empire Maker and out of 2008 Champion Grass Mare Forever Together, who won the Grade 1 Diana in 2008-09 at the Spa.

Trained by Norm Casse, the 6-year-old gelding was haltered for $50,000 from an off-the-board effort in October at Keeneland. He has since hit the board in 2-of-4 starts, including in a nine-furlong turf optional-claimer in February at Fair Grounds.

Peachtree Stable’s Tawny Port [post 6, Joel Rosario] was a dual Grade 3-winner on dirt last year when taking the Lexington at Keeneland and Ohio Derby at Thistledown while in the care of trainer Brad Cox.

The 4-year-old Pioneerof the Nile colt moved to the barn of Christophe Clement last out and finished fifth in his turf debut when 4 1/2-lengths back of the victorious Channel Maker in the 11-furlong Grade 2 Bowling Green. Tawny Port tracked the pacesetting Channel Maker from second position but was bothered when Rebel’s Romance clipped his heels at the five-sixteenths.

“I think he ran OK. He finished fifth and it was a very tough race on paper. He’s doing well,” Clement said.

Flying P Stable’s Tide of the Sea [post 7, Javier Castellano] brings graded stakes-winning credentials for trainer Tom Morley. The 7-year-old English Channel gelding made the grade in the 2021 Grade 3 William L. McKnight at Gulfstream Park and captured that year’s Japan Turf Cup at Laurel Park as his last winning effort. He has hit the board in 3-of-13 starts since, including a third-place finish in this event last year.

Rounding out an ambitious group is a pair for owner Jordan Wycoff in the graded stakes-placed The Reds [post 9, Tyler Gaffalione] for trainer Joe Sharp and Good Skate [post 1, Irad Ortiz, Jr.], a four-time winning son of American Freedom trained by Mike Maker

Mystic Night is entered for the main-track only.