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Program Trading won the 2023 Saratoga Derby (G1) at Saratoga after digging in late to fend off Webslinger. The Chad Brown trainee is now perfect through 3 career starts following his stakes debut.
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Klaravich Stables’ Program Trading looked to be second-best in mid-stretch as a loaded Webslinger ranged up to challenge for the lead, but the Lope de Vega ridgling dug in gamely to fend off his rival and claim a wire-to-wire victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Saratoga Derby Invitational, a 1 3/16-mile Mellon turf test for sophomores, at Saratoga Race Course.
In victory, Program Trading earned an automatic berth into the Group 1, $AUD 5 million Ladbrokes Cox Plate on October 28 at Moonee Valley Racing Club in Victoria, Australia.
Trained by four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, Program Trading earned the first stakes win of his career while remaining undefeated in three lifetime outings, adding to a debut score in May against elders at Monmouth Park and a first-level allowance optional claiming coup in June at Belmont Park, both going 1 1/16 miles. The win was Brown’s second in this event after taking the 2020 edition with Klaravich Stables color-bearer Domestic Spending.
“This horse really dug in and showed a lot of heart. It’s only his third start moving right into a major race like this,” Brown said. “We always thought he had the ability. He probably had the advantage of fresh legs so to speak, because the horses that were behind him have had long seasons and such, but he did have some inexperience he overcame. A lot of credit goes to the horse. Sometimes these horses aren’t made to be 2-year-olds and they get their careers started later. If you’re patient, you’re often rewarded.”
Away well from post 2 under Flavien Prat, Program Trading was urged to take command passing the stands for the first time and marked splits of 23.74 seconds and 49.59 over the yielding footing with Lion of War and Mondego battling for second position. The Javier Castellano-piloted Webslinger enjoyed a patient trip in sixth down the backstretch before he began to pick off rivals into the final turn.
Prat asked Program Trading for more as he swung out from the inside after three-quarters in 1:14.41 and faced a strong challenge on the far outside from the rallying Far Bridge, along with Webslinger, who posed the greatest threat in the middle of the racetrack. It appeared Webslinger would sweep past his pacesetting foe with ease at the sixteenth pole while drawing clear of an all-out Far Bridge, but Program Trading found enough late to regain command and land the head victory in a final time of 1:56.63.
Far Bridge finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Webslinger for third with Battle of Normandy another 2 3/4 lengths back. The filly Aspen Grove, last-out winner of the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational, The Franchise, Mondego and Lion of War completed the order of finish. Truly Quality was scratched.
Prat, who was aboard Program Trading in his last victory, said his mount’s early foot is his best weapon.
“He showed good speed and got us into the race. I was traveling well all the way around,” Prat said. “He was very happy on the lead and that horse on the outside [Webslinger] made a move and got the jump on me and I couldn’t get him to go as much as I wanted to, but once he got the target, he really was game. He fought back. He never had any issues with the ground. Some European breeding definitely helps. I felt like he had one more gear and it was a matter of whether that horse could fight back. Fortunately, he didn’t. The way he ran today, I think he could stay farther.”
Brown added that he was pleased to see Program Trading alone up front when the Christophe Clement-trained Mondego did not challenge for the lead from the inside post.
“Me and Flavien talked about if the one was going to leave out of there or not. He was the only other speed horse. We were just a little faster on paper,” said Brown. “We decided to break, stay off the rail and just see if we could nurse him along. He was passed in early stretch. For an inexperienced horse to come back on the inside, he showed a ton of heart and I think it might be even a little softer down on the inside where he was. He really overcame a lot in the stretch to show his heart and ability.”
Brown said he will wait to decide if Program Trading will target the Grade 3, $500,000 Jockey Club Derby going 1 3/8 miles on October 7.
“I’m not sure. I’ll have to think away,” said Brown. “That’s an awful long way to go. We’re just going to enjoy this win here. He’s only ran three times and he’s 3. I’m hoping to have this horse for many years down the road.”
Bred in Great Britain by Fittocks Stud and Arrow Farm and Stud, Program Trading banked $330,000 in victory, boosting his total career earnings to $415,250. The $356,551 Tattersalls October Yearling Sale purchase returned $9.20 for a $2 win ticket.
Javier Castellano praised the effort from Webslinger, trained by fellow Hall of Famer Mark Casse.
“Perfect trip, I like the way he did it,” said Castellano. “Unfortunately, the winner got away with some slow fractions and was able to slow down the pace. I think that’s why he won the race. But I came from behind and tried to catch up. I almost did it, but I’m satisfied with how my horse did it.”
Live racing resumes Sunday at Saratoga with a 10-race card, featuring the Grade 3, $200,000 Adirondack in Race 8. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.
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