Saratoga is a place to relax. With its natural springs, crisp Adirondack air, and quaint downtown, it’s called The Spa for a reason.
Last year, though, the wild side of Saratoga turned on trainer Chad Summers. His stable star, Mind Your Biscuits, was never fully comfortable or happy in his stall across the street from the Saratoga Race Course, likely due to the nightlife and noise from nearby bars and traffic.
“Last year, when we first got here, he was doing fine, and then I saw it happen right away,” Summers said. “Everybody said I was crazy, but I wanted to move stalls. He just wasn’t happy last year. There wasn’t a physical issue. I had vets look at him, go over him, and no one could ever find anything. But he just wasn’t himself.”
Arguably the most dominant sprinter in the world after winning the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan Racecourse in March 2017, followed by a Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship victory that July, Summers pointed Mind Your Biscuits to the Grade 1 Forego Stakes at Saratoga at the end of last summer. The way Biscuits was acting was telling Summers deep down not to run in the Forego, though, and his instincts were right, as Biscuits finished a disappointing sixth.
“It’s not that he hates this track,” Summers said. “I don’t want it to come off that way. He is 1-for-5 here (lifetime), but it’s not a true 1-for-5. He’s run well here in the past. The 2-year-old races (in 2015), he had two seconds, and in the New York-bred race, he ran behind Championofthenile in what was the fastest 2-year-old race of the whole meet. He won the (Grade 2) Amsterdam here and got beat by less than 4 lengths to Drefong in the (Grade 1) King’s Bishop.”
With Biscuits’ past record at Saratoga of no concern, Summers has an entirely new plan for his top charge this year. Biscuits will look to stretch out over the longest distance of his career (1 1/8 miles) in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes this Saturday. As a mature 5-year-old that is more relaxed than he was in his younger days, along with a new stall on the backside of the track that sits away from the noise and traffic that he dealt with last year, Summers has high hopes.
At the same time, Summers has slowed down from the frenetic pace of training up to 60 horses last year and has trimmed down to only having 12 currently at Saratoga.
Saratoga has become a relaxing place once again for Summers and Biscuits, just in time for them to tackle a new challenge in the Whitney.
Relaxing to Stretch Out
With a new barn where Biscuits can watch the races from the back of his stall, Summers already sees a new horse for the 2018 season.
“You know your horse, and right now, he’s come up here and has a perfect stall because he can see the track and it’s far enough away from the music and everything else, so he can rest and relax,” Summers said. “He’s a very, very smart horse. He’s the smartest horse I’ve ever been around, and there’s things he does that have a lot of human qualities to him the way he acts.”
— Chad Summers Racing (@CSummersRacing) July 24, 2018
Combined with a more calm atmosphere, the richest ($3.9 million) New York-bred of all time has also learned to relax in his races and training. Summers said that when the son of Posse was younger, he would challenge other horses every morning in his training, but now, he has settled.
“He’s older now and doesn’t have to do it everyday,” Summers said. “As a 2-year-old, he’d chase anyone. Now, he picks his spots.”
After his summer at Saratoga last year, Biscuits got back into form and finished 2017 by running third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and second in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile. With a runner-up allowance prep at Gulfstream to start his 2018 campaign in February, Biscuits once again traveled to the United Arab Emirates to defend his Golden Shaheen title. In one of the most amazing late charges in recent history, Biscuits tracked down champion sprinter Roy H and speedster X Y Jet late in deep stretch over a speed-favoring track to capture his second straight Golden Shaheen.
A return to the States in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap (“Met Mile”) in early June was a gut-wrencher. He missed tracking down a loose-on-the-lead Bee Jersey by only a nose and had to settle for second in a thrilling rendition of one of the year’s most prestigious races. Summers believes that race sets Biscuits up to stretch out to 1 1/8 miles around the Saratoga oval in the Whitney. This will be his first career start around two turns.
“You do train horses differently for being a sprinter to a two-turn horse; you got to get him more fit,” Summers said. “Obviously, he was fit (enough) to go a mile. We’ve gone with longer, slower gallops. His breezes have been longer by design. He’ll get that true distance test.”
In his recent starts, regular rider Joel Rosario has taken advantage of Biscuits’ ability to relax nearer to the early pace. Biscuits is no longer the stone-cold closer that he was earlier in his career.
“One of the reasons I want to stretch this horse out is because I believe at a shorter distance, he’s more pace-dependent,” Summers said. “When you go a mile and 1/8, and you’re going around two turns, they go the first 1/2-mile in 47 (seconds). We’re going to be laying closer, and then it doesn’t matter. I was going to go two turns with him eventually, whether it be the Whitney or the Pegasus next year. The plan was always to stretch him out after the Met Mile. The way the Whitney has set up on paper, we can sit a pretty good trip, and if it’s a sprint home and we’re sprinting home the last 5/8 or 3/4 of a mile, I’ll put him up against anybody.”
The Whitney field will be headlined by recent Grade 2 Suburban Handicap winner Diversify and the Grade 2 Alysheba winner Backyard Heaven, looking to rebound for Saratoga’s leading trainer Chad Brown. Others entered in the Whitney include the 2017 Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit, the 2017 Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan, McCraken, Dalmore, and Discreet Lover.
Quality over Quantity
Summers, 33, isn’t only focused on Saturday’s Whitney, though, and has a plan for his barn going forward. Summers went out on his own in early 2017, taking out his trainers’ license before Mind Your Biscuits’ win in Dubai. After that, Biscuits became a star, and his barn size increased exponentially. He has since learned from that experience.
“When I came (to Saratoga) last year, I went from five to 50 (horses),” he said. “I thought I was going to be the next Todd (Pletcher), Steve (Asmussen), Chad (Brown), or whatever. I found out that I was miserable. You got horses in all different barns. I thought I was prepared. I had the right people in place, but until you live it, it’s crazy.”
Summers’ barn got all the way up to 60 horses in 2017. Now, he has a much more manageable lineup of 12 in Saratoga and 12 in Florida.
“I’m going with quality over quantity,” said Summers. “I sat back and I decided that my biggest strength has been buying horses, so I’m trying to develop them. I’m not really trying to market myself. I have people that approach me to give me horses and I’m particular. People say you don’t have big numbers anymore and you’re not winning a bunch of races and I don’t care. I’m so much happier. The horses I have in my barn, I own a piece of a lot of them, and it’s better for me like that. I don’t have some of the stresses I had last year.”
With Mind Your Biscuits already signed to start stud duties in 2019 at Shadai Farm in Japan, developing the next star to carry the Summers banner can place a lot of pressure on a smaller barn, but Summers has confidence.
“It’s a pressure that’s welcome,” he said. “When you go to a sale or you watch races and try to buy horses privately, you got to be competitive. With me, with the way we’ve always done it on a very, very limited budget, it’s even tougher, but the rewards are even higher. We got Biscuits for $30,000, so you got to work.
“We’ve never changed our philosophy. We don’t have that $300,000 horse in the barn, so you have to manage expectations. So as much as you want your horse to be the next Mind Your Biscuits, the whole thing is, you have to be okay with letting horses develop at their pace, at their speed, and you find their best level and what they can do. It’s a game that requires patience.”
Playing the Waiting Game
With a limited budget and resources, Summers has put in an incredible amount of time to find his next generation of runners.
Summers went to the April OBS 2-Year-Old in Training sale this year and worked the whole show by himself for two weeks. He looked at 700 of the 1,100 horses in the sale and vetted out 24. After all that work, he bought one horse out of the sale for $40,000, an unraced and unnamed colt sired by Flashback out of a mare named Ocean Magic. The colt may debut later in the Saratoga meet and resides in the stall next to Biscuits.
Another purchase that Summers made was at the Fasig Tipton Maryland sale last October. He bought a filly for $20,000 that is sired by Union Rags out of the A.P. Indy mare El Coyote, herself a half-sister to the 2006 Grade 2 Demoiselle winner Boca Grande.
Summers also has a homebred sired by Atrieides, the first foal out of the mare named I’ll Take Notes, who may run at the end of the meet.
Summers is remaining patient with his young talent and these few prospects exemplify his future focus. For a kid from Long Island from a town named Bellmore, who grew up going to Belmont Park with his father and friends, it’s always been a goal to get to this level in the game. From becoming a horse racing journalist early in his career to a bloodstock agent, and now a trainer competing in the biggest races, Summers has shown a unique focus while also having fun along the way.
Summers has shared that love of horse racing with his six-year old son.
“He loves horse racing,” he said. “He watches all the races on the iPad. He’s my biggest critic. I asked him if you want to come to Saratoga and he said, ‘No, Daddy, you didn’t do good at Saratoga last year.’ But he’ll be up here in a little bit. It’s great, though, he loves it.”
Even a six-year-old realizes how difficult last year at Saratoga was for the barn. Summers has learned from that experience and hopes to prove his son and his other naysayers wrong with a little change of scenery, a relaxed atmosphere and a focused approach.
Generation Now is a new series highlighting the top younger trainers at Saratoga all summer. This is the second installment and Part 1 profiled trainer Jonathan Thomas. Please follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for updates.