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Mike previews the 2022 Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) at Saratoga, then gives his top picks and longshots. The record-setting 2022 Bashford Manor Stakes (G3) winner Gulfport could give his Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen a record-tying sixth victory in this historic race. Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
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The track press release:
Emerging stars Gulfport and Damon’s Mound will look to make the grade in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for juveniles, at Saratoga Race Course.
Cliff and Michele Love’s Florida homebred Damon’s Mound will provide trainer Michelle Lovell her first starter at Saratoga. Lovell, who was a jockey from 1989-94 and also in 1999, went out on her own as a conditioner in 2003. She will be in search of her first win at the Spa after finishing second on three occasions as a jockey in 1993.
“It’s really special,” said Lovell. “I’ve been there a few times and rode a handful of races there many moons ago, so I had the experience of being on the track and being in awe of the beautiful place that it is. But this is a whole new look and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Damon’s Mound, by Girvin and out of the multiple stakes-placed Stroll mare San Antonio Stroll, broke slowly in his July 2 debut sprinting six furlongs at Churchill Downs under returning rider Gabriel Saez. He tracked four wide before taking command through a half-mile in 45.49 and drew off to a 12 1/2-length score in a final time of 1:09.84.
“We knew he was good, but we didn’t know he’d win like he did because he did it in hand so easily,” said Lovell of the winning effort that garnered an 84 Beyer Speed Figure.
Lovell said the slow start wasn’t unexpected.
“The only thing he struggled with in the morning was getting away from the gate fast, but as soon as he got out he was up on his feet,” Lovell said. “So, it wasn’t a surprise but he did gather himself and get on the bridle and put himself right in the race easily. Even on the gallop out, he widened.”
Damon’s Mound was prepared in Florida by David O’Farrell at Ocala Stud – where Girvin stands – before joining up with Lovell.
“I had communication with the owner for months in advance that he was going to send me a 2-year-old and every time he checked in, which was pretty much monthly, he’d tell me he’s doing good and on track and that he’s a nice colt,” Lovell said. “When he showed up at the barn, he looked like a very nice individual and he’s just been awesome. He’s been fun to train and watch develop.”
Damon’s Mound has breezed four times at Colonial Downs out of his debut win, including a bullet five-eighths in 58.40 on July 23.
“The fast works were in hand. He’s pretty push button anyway,” Lovell said. “He always does everything really easily. He hasn’t been asked for anything yet. We’ll find out Saturday as he’ll probably have to be asked now running against some really nice horses.”
When prompted that it would be a good story should Damon’s Mound provide Lovell her first Spa win in her first attempt, the conditioner remained cautiously optimistic.
“I hope it’s a great story,” said Lovell, with a laugh. “I think he’ll run well. I’m excited about him. I have a lot of confidence in him. He’s a nice colt.”
Damon’s Mound will leave from post 2.
William Heiligbrodt, Corinne Heiligbrodt, Jackpot Farm and Whispering Oaks Farm’s Gulfport has won both career starts, including a 12 1/4-length score last out in the Bashford Manor on July 4 at Churchill Downs. The $275,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Yearling Sale purchase made every pole a winning one in the six-furlong test, stopping the clock in 1:09.25 while easily besting returning rival Owen’s Leap to garner a field-high 91 Beyer.
The Uncle Mo colt is trained by Steve Asmussen, who is one win shy of fellow Hall of Famer James G. Rowe Sr.’s record six wins in the prestigious test which was inaugurated in 1901. Asmussen’s Saratoga Special victors include Cuvee , Kodiak Kowboy , Kantharos , Copper Bullet  and Jackie’s Warrior .
Gulfport is out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Fame and Fortune, who is a full sister to 2013 Grade 1 Whitney winner Cross Traffic.
Joel Rosario, who will pilot Gulfport from post 4, has notched 10 graded stakes wins this summer at Saratoga and is one win shy of the meet record of 11 graded scores currently shared by Hall of Famers Javier Castellano and John Velazquez.
Valenzan Day, trained and co-owned by Rudy Rodriguez with Celeritas Racing, is the most experienced entrant with a record of 3-1-0-1.
The Khozan colt made his first two starts at Belmont Park, graduating in May in a five-furlong maiden special weight before running third in the 5 1/2-furlong Tremont. He enters from a troubled ninth last out in the six-furlong Grade 3 Sanford on July 16 at the Spa where he lost his footing at the start from the outermost post 12 and never threatened.
Trevor McCarthy picks up the mount from post 3 aboard Valenzan Day, who adds blinkers.
Lea Farms’ Super Chow, by Lord Nelson, posted a gate-to-wire score in his July 2 debut sprinting five furlongs at Gulfstream Park for trainer Jorge Delgado. The $75,000 OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training purchase, who was piloted by Chantal Sutherland, covered the distance in 58.49 to garner a 66 Beyer.
Luis Saez has the call from the inside post.
Rounding out the field is Michael McLoughlin’s Owen’s Leap, a debut maiden winner in May at Churchill Downs for trainer Tom Amoss, who entered Wednesday with 3,999 career wins.
The Bolt d’Oro colt, a $175,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, enters from a distant second to Gulfport in the Bashford Manor.
The Spa’s leading rider, Irad Ortiz, Jr., will pilot Owen’s Leap, who adds blinkers, from post 5.
The Saratoga Special is slated as Race 4 on Saturday’s 11-race card which also features the Grade 1, $500,000 Fourstardave, offering a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, in Race 10. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
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