A field of 11 3-year-olds are set to square off in the 34th running of the Grade 2, $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes on Friday at Saratoga Race Course. The race is always a major date on the calendar for developing turf colts, and this year is no different. All of the big-name Saratoga turf trainers will be featured in this spot, which is named in celebration of the newly-inducted Hall of Fame members that will be enshrined during the week.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Gidu headlines this year’s event. He is fresh off of a sixth-place effort at the highly-prestigious Royal Ascot meeting in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup. Before going overseas to run in that very tough spot, he had won two in a row here in the United States. Even though he was sixth at Royal Ascot, he did not embarrass himself; he was only beaten by 2 1/4 lengths. In the Hall of Fame, he will stretch out beyond a mile for the first time.
“I thought he ran well (at Royal Ascot),” Pletcher said. “He’s won at a mile and it’s kind of that time of year where there’s not a ton of options for 3-year-olds on the turf going 6 to 7 furlongs, so we’re going to try to stretch him out to a mile and 1/16 and see how he handles that.”
Raging Bull will be his major threat from trainer by Chad Brown, who is always dangerous when starting horses on the grass at Saratoga. Last time out, he finished second in the $100,000 Manila Stakes at Belmont Park after starting his career 2-for-2 in impressive fashion. Brown seems to be believe that this horse is coming into the race in good order.
“Raging Bull is doing really well, I’m excited to get him in there,” Brown said. “He’s a lightly-raced horse, but he has a ton of talent.”
The full field from the rail out: Gemonteer, Maraud, Gunnison, Raging Bull, Ride a Comet, Gidu, Combatant, Sand Dancer, Have At It, Battle At Sea, and Westerland.
#6 Gidu – It will be exciting to see how he returns after running very well at Royal Ascot last time out. You have to credit his connections for giving him a chance to succeed on that huge stage, and the son of Frankel nearly rewarded them for making the trip over there. He returns in a very logical spot, has won a stakes at a mile before, and seems to be working out really well in the mornings. His final work for this one, on July 27, was a dazzling 4 furlongs in 47.2 seconds over the main track at Saratoga. He could be sitting on a big one in this race, and the distance should be within his range.
Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers
#4 Raging Bull – This horse looms dangerous and Brown will have him ready to fire a huge race. He started off his career with two straight victories, then was second in his stakes debut last time out. This will be his first start against graded company, but Brown believes that his horse will be up for the challenge. Brown enters to win, especially at Saratoga, and the pace might set up well for him to come with one giant run at the end.
#2 Maraud – He has certainly been up and down lately, but at his best, he can make an impact here. This will be a class drop compared to his last couple of starts, especially last time out, where he was sixth in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby. From a class standpoint, he will fit in much better against these horses, but he must find his form here because we have not seen the best of him lately.
#9 Have At It – This horse seemed to have put it together in a solid effort last time out while defeating optional claiming company at Belmont Park. At 1 1/8 miles, that was the longest of his career, which makes you think that he will run well at this distance. However, two races back, he finished ninth to our second choice, which makes you a little nervous about him making a huge impact in this race. An underneath play might be the smartest way to go with him.
#5 Ride a Comet – Trainer Mark Casse has this horse running well, coming into the race off of two straight victories. Last time out, he cruised to a Woodbine stakes win by over 2 lengths. Now the question will become his form at Woodbine transfers to Saratoga. The competition is going to be tougher here, and in his only previous graded stakes effort, he ran off the board, but that was over the synthetic surface at Turfway Park. He will likely be better in this spot.
#7 Combatant – This is an interesting entry, as Combatant was last seen competing against several of the top dirt horses on the Kentucky Derby trail and in the Kentucky Derby itself. After a failed attempt last time out in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes, trainer Steve Asmussen decided to give turf a shot. Asmussen in on fire at Saratoga to start this meet, and Combatant has been working very well on the turf course. His latest move in the morning over the grass was the fastest of 60 horses on the day. His breeding for the turf is not too bad either. This could be an experiment that pays off as he could run a big one today.
#1 Gemonteer – This horse is 2-for-3 in his lightly-raced career, including a big win last time out in the $100,000 Not Surprising Stakes at Gulfstream Park that earned him a 92 Beyer speed figure. That type of effort will make him very difficult to beat, but his other two races were not all that fast. That makes him a question mark, so really, it will depend on his odds as to whether or not he is playable. If he floats up to double digits, he could become attractive.
#11 Westerland – After winning 2 of 7 starts overseas, this son of Frankel was sent to the United States to trainer Bill Mott. Making his United States debut in the Manila, he finished third, beaten by over 6 lengths. He is likely to improve in his second start in this country, but will it be enough to make an impact in this tougher spot?
#8 Sand Dancer – The good news is that he has won two straight, but now he must make a jump up in class. This is probably not the worst longshot to bet, but the fact is that he must improve from a speed figure standpoint if he wants to have much of a chance.
#10 Battle At Sea – Trainer Mike Maker switches this horse back to the turf after a string of tough efforts on the dirt. In his only start over turf, he was third in a maiden special weight going 5 1/2 furlongs at Fair Grounds. This is a tough spot for an experiment.
#3 Gunnison – He tried stakes company in the Grade 3 Kent at Delaware Park, and it did not go well. We could see improvement with this being his second shot against this sort of company, but it will likely not be enough.