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Aaron previews the 2022 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga, then gives his top picks and longshots. Creative Minister is the morning line favorite after finishing third in the 2022 Preakness Stakes (G1) and fifth in the 2022 Belmont Stakes (G1) on the Triple Crown trail, but is he a lock while dropping in class? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
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The track press release:
Fern Circle Stables, Back Racing, and Magdalena Racing’s graded-stakes placed Creative Minister competed in two-thirds of the Triple Crown, but will step into restricted company in Friday’s 13th renewal of the $135,000 Curlin, a nine-furlong test for sophomores at Saratoga Race Course.
The Curlin, which is restricted to horses that have not won a graded event at one mile or over this year, is often used as a springboard to the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on August 27. V. E. Day successfully completed the Curlin-Travers double in 2014.
Trained by Kenny McPeek, Creative Minister garnered a field-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure for his third-place Grade 1 Preakness finish in May before running fifth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets last out on June 11.
McPeek said the Preakness effort was an indicator of Creative Minister’s class.
“It was an excellent race. He stepped up to a high level real quick there and he’s going to need to run back to that,” McPeek said. “I think this will be a good spot. It should be a race that sets him up good for a Travers run. He didn’t handle the racetrack at Belmont. He struggled with the surface over there for some reason and unfortunately that didn’t work out.”
The Creative Cause grey graduated at second asking in April over a sloppy and sealed Keeneland main track ahead of a sharp optional-claiming win on the Kentucky Derby undercard on May 7 at Churchill Downs.
McPeek also entered Joseph B. Murphy’s Wolfe County, by Medaglia d’Oro, who broke through in his eighth start, besting older company in a maiden special weight on June 24 traveling 1 3/16-miles at Churchill Downs.
Creative Minister has breezed four times over the Oklahoma training track, including a five-eighths bullet in 1:00.66 Saturday in company with Wolfe County.
“They worked well. It was a good maintenance breeze and got a good blow out of it,” McPeek said.
McPeek said he may consider another option for the improving Wolfe County.
“His development has been good [off the maiden score],” McPeek said. “We’ll take a look at this one and see how he fits.”
Dylan Davis will guide Creative Minister from post 7, while Julien Leparoux will pilot Wolfe County from post 6.
Juddmonte’s Kentucky homebred Artorius steps into stakes company for the first time for trainer Chad Brown, following a three-quarter length graduation in a one-turn mile maiden tilt against older horses on June 10 at Belmont.
The regally-bred Arrogate colt is out of the Brown-trained multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Paulassilverlining, who is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Dads Caps.
“He’s come along nicely,” Brown said. “He’s lightly raced but he’s always looked like a horse that wants to go two turns. I’m excited to get him stretched out further.”
Brown conditioned Paulassilverlining to a pair of seven-furlong Grade 1-scores in 2017, taking the Madison at Keeneland and the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs. But the four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer said he expects Artorius will relish stretching out.
“He’s not a very big horse like his mom, but he definitely has more range than her,” Brown said. “He can run further than her, I believe. He’s by a great horse, out of a great horse, so we’re hoping he turns into a great horse.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr. retains the mount from the outermost post 9.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will saddle a pair of strong contenders in Repole Stable’s allowance winner Be Better and Red Oak Stable’s stakes-winner Make It Big.
Be Better, a dark bay son of Uncle Mo, debuted with a distant third to Saturday’s Grade 1 Haskell third-place finisher Jack Christopher in August at the Spa and followed with a three-quarter length maiden score in June traveling one mile and 70 yards in his seasonal debut at Monmouth Park.
The Kentucky homebred enters from a 5 1/4-length allowance romp at the same course and distance over next-out allowance winner Cyberviking.
“I thought his last effort was very good. It was kind of a step forward again and it seems like he keeps getting better,” Pletcher said. “He’s a colt that we had high hopes for last year and he had a setback. He’s come back for two good performances and it seems like he’ll really appreciate more distance.”
Make It Big, a Florida-bred son of Neolithic, won his first three career starts for his former conditioner Saffie Joseph, Jr., graduating in October going seven furlongs at Gulfstream Park and following with a 2 1/4-length victory in the Juvenile Sprint Stakes at the same distance at the Hallandale Beach oval.
He traveled to Remington Park in December to post a half-length score in the Springboard Mile ahead of a distant 10th-place finish in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis in February at Tampa Bay Downs.
Make It Big was transferred to Pletcher and has worked extensively at Belmont Park, including a bullet half-mile in 48.89 on July 14 over the dirt training track.
“He’s trained well,” Pletcher said. “We put blinkers on him, which he’s worn in the past, and it seems like his last two works have been much better with the blinkers on. We’ll obviously stay with those and see what he can do.”
Luis Saez will guide Be Better from post 8 while Make It Big will emerge from post 4 under Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Grandview Equine and Don Alberto Stable’s Gilded Age rallied from 19 lengths off the pace to capture a nine-furlong optional-claiming tilt by a head on July 4 last out at Churchill Downs for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
The grinding score came three months following an off-the-board effort in the Group 2 UAE Derby on March 26 at Meydan.
Mott said he was pleased with the performance off the layoff.
“We gave him plenty of time and he ran a good race at Churchill. I was very happy with him,” Mott said. “He got the mile and an eighth and he wore them down. He got them in the last jump or two.”
Mott said he is not yet considering a start for Gilded Age in the “Mid-Summer Derby.”
“If he jumped up and runs good in there that would be an option for us, but I haven’t thought any further ahead than this race,” Mott said. “This a restricted race and hopefully he’ll fit in there and be able to compete.”
A maiden winner at first asking in November at Churchill, Gilded Age, a $600,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, followed with a third-place finish in a muddy renewal of the Grade 3 Withers in February at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The Medaglia d’Oro bay is out of the Grade 1-winning Bernardini mare Angela Renee, who is a full-sister to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire To Honor and Serve.
Junior Alvarado retains the mount from post 2.
Rounding out the field are two-time winners Western River [post 1, Ricardo Santana, Jr.], A.P.’s Secret [post 3, Manny Franco], and Golden Glider [post 5, Tyler Gaffalione].
The Curlin is slated as Race 7 on Friday’s 10-race card. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
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