Close menu
Full Field Of Juveniles To Square Off In Saratoga Special
Doctor Jeff (Credit: NYRA / Chelsea Durand)

Full Field Of Juveniles To Square Off In Saratoga Special

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NYDoctor Jeff, fresh off his debut win last month at Belmont Park, will take the step up in class and face stakes company for the first time as part of a 12-horse field of talented juveniles in Saturday’s $200,000 Saratoga Special (G2) presented by Miller Lite at Saratoga Race Course.

The 116th running of the Saratoga Special, contested at 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track in race 9, is 1 of 2 stakes on the 11-race card that will be bolstered by the $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap (G1) for 3-year-olds and up going 1 mile on the inner turf in race 10 that is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier to the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).

Michael Dubb and Michael Caruso’s Doctor Jeff won first out in a 6-furlong sprint taken off the turf at Belmont on July 10. The Street Boss colt earned a Saratoga Special field-high 78 Beyer Speed Figure for his 2 1/4-length victory for trainer Rudy Rodriguez and subsequently shipped to Saratoga, where he recorded 3 breezes over the main track, including a bullet 5-furlong work in 59.61 seconds on Sunday.

“I’m just very happy with the way he’s training over here,” Rodriguez said. “He beat some tough horses the first time and he did it the right way. We just take it day-by-day, but he’s been training over here for a while. If he doesn’t like the track now, he’s never going to like it.”

Joel Rosario, aboard for Doctor Jeff’s win and the winner of last year’s Saratoga Special riding Jackie’s Warrior, will have the return call from post 8.

Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, fresh off a whirlwind week in which he broke the record for most wins by a North American thoroughbred trainer, will have a strong chance to add to that total in saddling a pair of Winchell Thoroughbred homebreds in Gunite and Red Run.

The duo are both sons of Gun Runner, who Asmussen also trained during a stellar career that netted two Eclipse Awards, including 2017 Horse of the Year honors as well as that year’s Champion Older Dirt Male.

“It’s extremely exciting. All a part of what makes racing great,” Asmussen said. “We’re fortunate to have horses like that and then have the chance for them to prove it. It’s amazing how he stamps them just with their attitude. Obviously, he gave them a tremendous amount of ability to find more than what matters. Winning and losing is usually the amount of effort willing to be applied.”

Gunite has given that effort through his first 3 starts, improving in each race, culminating with a maiden-breaking win last out on June 26 going 6 furlongs at Churchill Downs. Gunite ran third on debut in April over a sloppy and sealed track at 5 furlongs and stayed at the same distance in following with a runner-up effort on a fast Churchill course in May.

Asmussen said stretching Gunite out in his last start was beneficial.

“The distance had everything to do with it,” Asmussen said. “Going from 5/8, 5 1/2, 5 3/4 and go third, second, and first. That’s how it felt to us.”

Ricardo Santana Jr. will have the mount for a third consecutive time, drawing post 2. Gunite will add blinkers.

Red Run also could be a colt who might appreciate added distance. He boasts an impressive pedigree out of the Tapit mare Red House, who is a full sister to 2014 Kentucky Oaks winner and Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Untapable.

Red Run won going 5 furlongs on a sloppy Churchill track on May 9 before running fifth in the Bashford Manor (G3) on June 26 at Churchill stretched out to six furlongs.

“He’s going to need considerably further. The pedigree suggests it also with his female side of the family,” Asmussen said. “I chose him to run here for his next step; he’s needing one.”

Manny Franco will be in the irons from the outermost post 12.

Fellow Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will also send out a couple of talented colts, including Phoenix Thoroughbreds’ Double Thunder, who won the Bashford Manor by 4 3/4 lengths under Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez. The son of Super Saver is 2 for 2 to start his career, winning on June 5 at Monmouth before graduating against stakes company later in the month.

After drawing away at Churchill and improving his career earnings to a field-high $116,850, Double Thunder will compete at Saratoga for the first time, teaming again with Velazquez in breaking from post 7.

Pletcher’s other contender, Repole Stable’s Midnight Worker, showed an affinity for Saratoga already, edging Bourbon Heist by a head for a debut win going 6 furlongs at the historic track on July 24.

Midnight Worker, a son of Outwork, will pick up the services of jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., departing from post 5.

Nakatomi added to trainer Wesley Ward’s ever-growing list of first-out winners in April at Keeneland with a victory in a 4 1/2-furlong contest over a sloppy and sealed track. That set up the Firing Line gelding’s cross-Atlantic trip to Ascot, where he ran eighth in the Norfolk (G2) going 5 furlongs on June 17.

Owned by Qatar Racing, M. Detampel, and D. Howden, Nakatomi registered a breeze on the Saratoga main track on Thursday and will see Hall of Famer Javier Castellano will pick up the mount for the first time, exiting the inside post.

Greg Tramontin’s Ottoman Empire was a debut winner, topping an 11-horse field in a 5-furlong sprint on June 20 at Churchill Downs. Trainer Tom Amoss then moved the son of Classic Empire up in class early in the Saratoga meet, where he ran fourth in the 6-furlong Sanford (G3) over a main track rated good on July 17.

“He won his first start at Churchill and there’s absolutely no doubt he’s a talented horse,” Amoss said. “In his first start, it was strictly on raw talent. He made a lot of mistakes. He didn’t break well, he didn’t like being crowded, he didn’t go around anybody. But it was a very good race as far as watching a horse that doesn’t have a really good understanding of competition yet but still being able to win a race.”

Ottoman Empire, a $120,000 purchase at last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale, will look to parlay his graded stakes experience into black type, picking up the services of jockey Dylan Davis from post 3. He will also add blinkers.

“Since his first start, we thought we had educated him pretty well entering the last stakes race here. We did add blinkers to him, which isn’t a move I often make this early in a horse’s career,” Amoss said. “I like them to learn through racing, but we’re going to go ahead and run with the blinkers. I just feel he needs a little jump-start in the education process.”

Robert Masterson’s Glacial won his first race for trainer Norm Casse in May at Churchill before running third in the Bashford Manor in his previous start. The son of Frosted, a $140,000 purchase at the OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training will pick up the services of Tyler Gaffalione in breaking from post 10.

Rounding out the field is High Oak, a first-out winner for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott on June 26 at Belmont (post 11, Junior Alvarado); Stolen Base, a debut victor on July 23 at Saratoga for meet-leading trainer Mike Maker (post 6, Jose Ortiz); Dance Code, third in the Sanford after winning his debut in June at Parx for conditioner Juan Vazquez (post 9, Jose Lezcano); and Kitodan, who broke his maiden at fourth asking in July at Gulfstream Park, for trainer Jorge Delgado (post 4, Chantal Sutherland).

Join the Inner Circle

Sign up for exclusive 10% discount on orders, plus be the first to access our daily free and premium horse racing picks, articles, podcasts, and more!

Sign Up