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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – Trainer Chad Brown won one for the proverbial thumb, notching his fifth victory on the card when Peter Brant’s Serve the King overtook Ry’s the Guy in deep stretch and pressed on for a 1/2-length win in Wednesday’s $120,000 John’s Call going 1 5/16 miles over Saratoga Race Course’s Mellon turf.
The 17th running of the John’s Call – for 4-year-olds and up who have not won a graded stakes on turf in 2021 – saw Brown extend his meet total to 27, putting him in the top spot among conditioners with 10 race days remaining in the 40-day meet.
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Serve the King, under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., broke from the outermost post and stalked in third position as Ry’s the Guy led the seven-horse field through an opening 1/4-mile in 25.85 seconds over firm going. Conviction Trade took the lead on the first pass in front of the grandstand, logging a 1/2-mile in 50.92, and maintained the advantage through 3/4 in 1:15.09 and a mile in 1:40.55.
Heading out the final turn, Ortiz Jr. tipped Serve the King out, allowing him to take aim at Ry’s the Guy. Under right-handed encouragement, Serve the King steadily gained before taking the lead for good in the final 1/16, completing the course in 2:43.49 for his first win in his last 5 starts.
“We’ve been trying to get this horse around three turns since last year and we just didn’t have the races available,” said Brown, who is aiming for his fourth career Saratoga training title. “He got started a little late last year and by the time we were really ready to start him, it was going to be in the Red Smith and he got injured so I had to stop on him. Mr. Brant has just been so patient, he always is with these horses and lets us give them the time and he came back really well this year.”
The British-bred Serve the King capitalized on class relief after consecutive fourth-place finishes in the Monmouth (G3) on June 5 and the United Nations (G1) on the same track on July 17. The 5-year-old son of Kingman improved to 4-1-1 in 9 starts and increased his career earnings to $196,180.
“I thought this horse should have been second in the United Nations,” Brown said. “He got in some trouble around the 1/8 pole and we thought he should’ve been second. That went into my decision to bring him up here to Saratoga for a race of this caliber. Even though this isn’t the Sword Dancer, it’s still a real race at Saratoga. If I’m going to bring that horse all the way up here off a fourth on paper in the U.N., it better be a good fourth.”
Brown said Serve the King could now target the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) on October 9 at Belmont Park.
“Domestic Spending might train up to the Breeders’ Cup maybe, so that race might be a little bit open for a horse like this,” Brown said. “He used this restricted race to really have his coming out party so to speak, so it’s time to go back in a real race again. I think that’s probably the most logical.”
Serve the King was the third consecutive win Brown saddled on the card and fifth overall. Off at 3/1, he was the lone non-favorite winner on the day for the 4-time Eclipse Award winner, returning $8.90 on a $2 win wager. Pocket Square ($2.30) won race 3, Digital Future ($4.20) was the race 5 winner, Gandy Dancing (race 7, $6.50), and Winter Pool (race 8, $4.50) also earned winner’s circle trips.
“It’s one of those things that I put in the pile of highlights of my career so far,” Brown said. “Five really diverse winners, too. Long, short, dirt, turf. My team and my horses were able to showcase today. When the weather is right and the horses are there, we can get the job done with any type of horse. It was really on display today.”
Ortiz Jr. teamed with Brown for 3 of his wins, riding Pocket Square and Digital Future. The veteran rider won his fourth career John’s Call after posting 3 straight victories from 2015-17.
“I got a perfect trip,” Ortiz Jr. said. “Honestly, I saved all the ground. I was outside and by the first turn I was already on the rail. He broke so good I was already in position right there. I saved as much ground as I could. I had to move a little early because they opened up a little bit on me but he was catching up, little by little. He’s not the kind of horse that you’re going to ask and he’s going to respond right away. He takes some time, so I started moving a little early. When I hit him, he let me know that I had some horse, and when I tipped him out, he just went on from there.”
Ry’s the Guy, trained by Ian Wilkes and ridden by Luis Saez, bested Argentinian-bred Fantasioso by 2 lengths for second.
“We had a pretty nice trip,” Saez said. “We broke from there and we had some pressure early. I guess that was the plan. I had to take a little hold. He went pretty quick, but he still ran big. I’m pretty happy with him. He was very tired but he tried hard.”
Shamrocket, the 5/2 favorite, finished fourth. Ajournettofreedom, Red Knight, and Conviction Trade completed the order of finish. Moretti, entered for the main track only, scratched.
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