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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Sunday, May 15, 2016) – Steve Landers Racing’s Dazzling Gem had his third Churchill Downs work since finishing fourth in the Arkansas Derby (Grade I), breezing a half-mile in :49.60 Sunday morning.
With exercise rider Fernando Espinoza aboard, Dazzling Gem was one of the first horses on the fast track after it opened for training a little before 6 a.m. Working on his own, Dazzling Gem produced fractions of :12.60, :24.60, :49.60 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.80 and six furlongs in 1:16.40.
The work was the 16th fastest of 30 at the distance.
“I thought he worked really well; nice and steady,” trainer Brad Cox said. “He is fit and I didn’t want to do a lot with him. It was just a maintenance work.”
Cox said no decision had been made whether Dazzling Gem would run in Saturday’s Preakness (GI) or on the Pimlico undercard that day in the Sir Barton Stakes.
Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s Acapulco, winner of Saturday’s featured event the Unbridled Sidney Overnight Stakes, exited the race in good order according to trainer Wesley Ward.
“I’m standing in front of her right now and she looks good to me,” Ward said via telephone. “She did beautiful and she kind of took the worst of it being on the inside, but the most important thing is that we came out with a win so confidence-wise we can really push forward on to Royal Ascot. She galloped out strong and came out in good order. She came back tired, which is a good thing. It was her first race since February, but she came out great and gave it 100 percent.”
Acapulco is one of six horses that Ward plans on sending to Royal Ascot, a contingent that also includes Kentucky Juvenile victor Silvertoni. She will race in either the King’s Stand on June 14 or the Commonwealth Cup on June 17. Both races are Group I events.
“I would certainly lean toward the Commonwealth,” Ward said. “It’s straight 3-year-olds and would be the easiest of the two you would think, but the decision lies with Coolmore and whatever decision they want to make. We’re excited about her; she’s a really great filly.”
Jockey Robby Albarado piloted the daughter of Scat Daddy in Saturday’s race and shares the same level of excitement as her trainer.
“She’s a real nice filly,” Albarado said. “Before I even worked her Wesley [Ward] thought that she was special and he’s had some great 2-year-olds in the past and fast ones. He thought she was one of the better ones that he’s trained. She felt really good. It was her second race back off her long layoff and Wesley was pretty confident in her as I was because I had been on her quite a few times in the mornings.”
Albarado was aboard Acapulco in her career debut, a third-place effort in a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs last May.
“Physically she’s gotten a lot bigger since then,” Albarado said. “I can’t say that she’s matured much because she was mature before she even ran. She was a constant professional since I first got on her and she felt strong yesterday beating a good bunch.”
Albarado discussed the possibility of riding the filly in her next start at Royal Ascot, a racetrack where he has yet to ride.
“It’s one of the few places I’ve never been,” Albarado said. “It would be nice to be able to go out there and ride someone live like her. I’ve been to Dubai, Hong Kong and a lot of other places but I’ve never been to Royal Ascot. It would be exciting.”
Albarado was given the opportunity to ride Acapulco at Royal Ascot last year when she ran in the Queen Mary (Group II).
“He wanted me to go ride her last year in her second start and I didn’t go,” Albarado said. “I said, ‘I don’t know, she’s a maiden in a stake,’ and she went and won it. I’m mad at myself for not going but hopefully I’ll get to this year.”
Trainer Chris Hartman is in the process of finding the next spot for Alsvid, a runner-up to Rocket Heat in the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (GIII) on the May 6 Kentucky Oaks undercard.
The son of Officer is possible for Pimlico’s $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint on May 20, the $200,000 Maryland Sprint (GIII) on the May 21 Preakness undercard or the $100,000 Aristides (GIII) on June 4 at Churchill Downs, which he won last year.
“I haven’t completely figured it out yet, but right now we’re looking at going to Maryland or the Aristides,” Hartman said. “He came out of [the Twin Spires Turf Sprint] good so we’re looking for more.”
While Alsvid is still in search of his first victory this year, he has finished on the board in all six starts, which consist of three seconds and three thirds.
“He’s very versatile, he can do just about anything,” Hartman said. “It makes things a lot easier because he’s fast and you can do whatever you want with him. I don’t give him too much, I just keep him happy and he does the rest. He makes my stable look good.”
Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg has returned to Churchill Downs for the 2016 Spring Meet with high hopes for his stable of 30 horses following a successful winter at Oaklawn Park.
“We got some decent horses,” Van Berg said. “We claimed some and got a good stable put together and got some really good owners. I got confidence in my stable, my help and myself. I wouldn’t trade with anyone else. I haven’t forgotten anything.”
Van Berg is most well-known for training 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Alysheba. While he doesn’t have horses of such high caliber, he does have faith that his stable has what it takes to help him have a successful meet.
“I had good owners and I claimed horses and put a good stable together,” Van Berg said. “I don’t believe in buying $300,000 or $500,000 horses. If you’re a good horseman, you can pick horses out. You could go to the sale and get $500,000 for one. A blind man could get a horse for that kind of money.”
Throughout his training career, Van Berg has served as a mentor for well-known trainers such as fellow Hall of Famer Bill Mott, as well as Tom Amoss, Frank Brothers and Wayne Catalano.
“I tell them everything and show them everything that I do,” Van Berg said. “I had the best teacher in the world in my father [Marion Van Berg]; he was a genius with horses. He led the country for 14 years and he taught me well, so I figured that I would be a failure if I didn’t pass that on to other young people.
“I taught them to keep their horses sound. As my dad always said, ‘If you don’t give them time, they’ll make you take time.’ You have to work on them. You have to keep them happy and keep them sound.”
One horse that Van Berg expressed excitement about is One King’s Man, who he claimed from Joe Sharp on May 4.
“We claimed him for $50,000 last week and we think that the horse has a lot of ability,” Van Berg said.
Van Berg will saddle two horses Sunday with Asleepinchurch (Race 3) and Counton Claire (Race 10).
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