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Protonico Surges in Smarty Jones for Pletcher

Protonico Surges in Smarty Jones for Pletcher

Protonico Surges in Smarty Jones for PletcherPhoto: Equi-Photo/Barbara Weidl
Protonico wins the Smarty Jones Stakes.

By Jerry Bossert

Todd Pletcher recorded his 1,000th career stakes winner when Protonicosurged late under Joe Bravo to take the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) at Parx Racing on the Labor Day Pennsylvania card Sept. 1.

Pletcher became just the second trainer to reach 1,000 stakes wins, behind only his former boss D. Wayne Lukas, with 1,076.

Splitting horses in deep stretch, Protonico caught Classic Giacnroll by a half-length for the Giant's Causeway   colt's his third career victory and first graded stakes win from five starts.

The dark bay colt is owned and bred by International Equities Holding, and is out of the A. P. Indy dam Alpha Spirit.

Protonico was exiting a close third in the Curlin Stakes, run at Saratoga July 25, which saw the winner, V. E. Day, come back to take the Aug. 23 Travers Stakes (gr. I). He was sent off as the 7-2 third choice in the mile and 70-yard Smarty Jones in a field of nine 3-year-olds, and was timed in 1:41.17.

Racing in sixth early on, Protonico was caught in some traffic turning for home. Bravo first ducked the dark bay colt to the inside and then tipped back to the outside before finishing full of run to collar Classic Giacnroll in the final strides.

Classic Giacnroll, a 13-1 outsider, rallied up the rail to pass the 7-5 favorite Albano and appeared home free before Protonico found his best stride.

Albano sat the perfect trip under Kerwin Clark to grab the lead in the stretch but was no match for the top two, lasting for third while beaten by 2 1/4 lengths. Almost FamousSaa MiJust Call KennyAin't Got Time, and Grasshoppin completed the order of finish. Joint Custodywas pulled up and eased in the stretch. Lynx was an early scratch by trainer Cathal Lynch.

Ain't Got Time provided the pace for six furlongs  before fading, carving fractions of :22.73, :46.29, and 1:10.77.

Protonico scored in his debut Sept. 7 of last year at Delaware Park, winning by 12 3/4 lengths before tiring to sixth in the Nashua Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack Nov. 3.

He was transferred from trainer Oussama Aboughhazale into Pletcher’s barn this year, taking an optional claiming race at Belmont Park June 25 by two lengths before just missing in the Curlin Stakes when beaten by only a head.

Protonico, boosting his earnings to $259,715, returned $9.20 to win, $4.80 to place and $3 to show. Classic Giacnroll paid $10 to place and $4.40 to show, while Albano returned $2.40 to show.

The Smarty Jones is the local prep race for the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) to be held at Parx Sept. 20. Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner California Chrome is expected to make his first start since dead-heating for fourth in the June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) won by Tonalist.


Competitive Edge Super Sharp in Hopeful Romp

Competitive Edge Super Sharp in Hopeful Romp

Competitive Edge Super Sharp in Hopeful RompPhoto: Coglianese Photos
Competitive Edge wins the Hopeful Stakes. 
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Competitive Edge lived up to his 3-5 odds with a no-doubt-about-it romp in the $350,000 Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO) for 2-year-olds on closing day of theSaratoga Race Course summer meet Sept. 1.

Saratoga Special (gr. II) winner I Spent Itwas a clear second, with late-runningSharm third in the field of seven juveniles.

The first two finishers are by WinStar Farm sire Super Saver  , the 2010 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner. WinStar also bred Competitive Edge in Kentucky out of the Cape Town mare Magdalena's Chase.

Trainer Todd Pletcher earned his 999th lifetime stakes win with Competitive Edge, whom he conditions for owners Nancy Favreau, Kathy Psoinos, and Michael Tabor. 

With John Velazquez aboard, Competitive Edge edged away from I Spent It leaving the three-sixteenths pole and was much the best through the stretch under a strong hand ride, winning by 5 3/4 lengths. Competitive Edge, a 10 1/4-length maiden debut winner at Saratoga July 26, completed the seven-furlong distance in 1:24.11 on a good track.

"The thing that's really cool for us is he's a son of Super Saver, and he's our Derby winner," noted Pletcher, who previously won the Hopeful with Circular Quay   in 2006 and Shanghai Bobby   in 2012. "To see him getting off to such a great start at stud, to have a Hopeful winner in his first crop, it's kind of extra special for us having a son of Super Saver do that. 

"I think I Spent It is a very good horse as well, as he showed in the Saratoga Special. I've had a close eye on him, being a son of Super Saver also, and it's kind of cool that Super Savers ran 1-2 in the Hopeful."

While winning his debut on the front end, Pletcher has been working Competitive Edge behind horses and it paid off in the Hopeful. The bay colt sat third on the outside of Signature Cat and I Spent It down the backstretch following swift quarter mile fractions of :22.64 and :44.81. 

Velazquez asked Competitive Edge to turn up the pressure rounding the turn as Signature Cat weakened and dropped out of it and I Spent It continued to duel to the head of the stretch. However, there would be no Labor Day heroics for I Spent It, who could not match strides with the winner through the lane.

"(I Spent It) ended up being close to the lead, so that was my chance to put the pressure on him (rider Javier Castellano) and engage him and let him use his horse early on," said Velazquez after his first Hopeful win. "Between horses, he had to get in there. Between me and the other horse inside (Signature Cat) he had to ride, ride, ride to stay in there. It took him a lot."

"This one has a great talent," Velazquez said of Competitive Edge. 

I Spent It, who overcame traffic trouble in the Saratoga Special with a rail-scraping bid to win impressively, settled for second by nine lengths over the maiden Sharm, who was followed by RequiteDekabrist, and Signature Cat. Maratik was eased in the stretch.

Tony Dutrow, trainer of I Spent It, noted his charge has had behavior problems in the past and was "out of sorts" in the paddock.

"I knew that wasn't what I wanted to see, but I didn't know how he'd react to it," Dutrow said. "So today wasn't his day for a number of reasons. We'll work with him and hope for a better day this fall."

"He freaked in the gate," Castellano added. "Everything was wrong for him. He lost his mind. He broke out of the gate and he wanted to run off. He never was on his game today."

Carrying 120 pounds, Competitive Edge paid $3.30, $2.10, and $2.10, topping a chalky $5.70 exacta with I Spent It, returning $2.20 and $2.10.Sharm, ridden by Rajiv Maragh, paid $4.10.

A $750,000 Fasig-Tipton Florida select 2-year-olds in training purchase in March from consignor Niall Brennan Stables, Competitive Edge ran for Favreau and Psoinos in his debut before Tabor, who often partners with Coolmore, bought in.

Competitive Edge is the first foal and only starter so far for his dam, Magdalena's Chase, a multiple stakes-placed earner of $205,338 during a career that included nine victories in 32 starts.

Pletcher said that with the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park Nov. 1 in mind, some two-turn experience for Competitive Edge would be desirable.

"The Champagne (gr. I on Oct. 4 at Belmont Park) will be our first option, but we'll talk with the connections and make sure we're all on the same page," he said.  

Pletcher has wrapped up his 11th Saratoga training title.


Stopchargingmaria Adds Alabama to Her Account

Stopchargingmaria Adds Alabama to Her Account

Stopchargingmaria Adds Alabama to Her AccountPhoto: Coglianese Photos/Lauren King
Stopchargingmaria is in control in the Alabama Stakes. 
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By Jerry Bossert

While Untapable may be considered the best 3-year-old filly in the nation,Stopchargingmaria established herself as a close second after taking the $600,000 Alabama Stakes (gr. I) for her second top-level win in a row at the Saratoga Race Course meet Aug. 16 (VIDEO).

Even-money choice Stopchargingmaria finished three-quarters of a length ahead of 24-1 longshot Joint Return.

It was the second straight grade I win for the filly owned by Mike Repole and trained by Todd Pletcher, and her third straight stakes score. Stopchargingmaria won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) at Pimlico Race Course May 16 before taking the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) July 20 at Saratoga in a five-length romp.

Tracking pacesetter Size from the start, while racing three-wide under John Velazquez, Stopchargingmaria poked her head in front at the quarter pole. She first had to repel the rail bid from 30-1 outsider Miss Besilu in midstretch before holding off the late run from Joint Return to win for the sixth time from 10 career starts.

"In a perfect world, maybe, we wouldn’t have been quite so wide around the first turn," Pletcher said. "We just wanted to make sure we got her into a comfortable rhythm. We were willing to give up a little bit of ground to do that. It really worked out pretty well."

Stopchargingmaria is by Tale of the Cat   out of the Montbrook dam Exotic Bloom, bred by Harvey Clarke and Brookdale Farm. She was sold at the 2013 March Ocala Breeding sale for $220,000. With her Alabama win, Stopchargingmaria has now banked $1,414,000 in her career.

She returned $4, $3.20, and $2.70 to win after covering the 1 1/4-mile distance in 2:05.14 over a fast track. Joint Return returned $12.80 and $7, completing an $82.50 exacta. Miss Besilu was $8.50 to show while part of a whopping $879 trifecta.

Fortune Pearl finished fourth and was followed by Got LuckyAmerica,Catch My DriftUnbridled Forever, and Size, who weakened to last in the field of nine sophomore fillies after posting deliberate quarter mile fractions of :24.35, :49.92, and 1:15.18.

"We had to give up some ground all the way around there, and when (Miss Besilu) cut the corner it was like, ‘Uh oh,’ but she had plenty of time to see her and compete with her," said Pletcher, who saddled the Alabama winner for the second straight year following Princess of Sylmar in 2013.

Untapable, who won her first four starts this year including victories in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I) before finishing fifth against the boys in the July 27 William Hill Haskell Invitational (gr. I), is scheduled to start next in the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) at Parx Sept. 27.

"She’s in the mix (for championship honors) now," Pletcher said of Stopchargingmaria. "We’ve got to keep winning. I’m not sure the Cotillion is the race we’ll choose. Maybe we’ll go to the Beldam (gr. I on Sept. 27 at Belmont Park). We’ll just have to see how she comes out of this. It probably will be one of those.”

For owner Mike Repole, the win completed a remarkable dream for the kid from Queens.

"As a kid in Queens I could never afford to get up here (to Saratoga)," said the multimillionaire. "I never had a car that could go three hours. I’ve always watched the big races. 

"For someone that’s only been in the game for about 10 years and only really five years with some quality horses, you want to win the Jim Dandy (gr. II). You want to win the Travers (gr. I). You want to win the Coaching Club (American Oaks). You want to win the Alabama. How lucky and blessed am I to say, 'Wow. Not only have I been in these races but I’ve won all four?' It might be a good day to retire."


Stopchargingmaria Impressive in CCA Oaks

Stopchargingmaria Impressive in CCA Oaks

Stopchargingmaria Impressive in CCA OaksPhoto: Coglianese Photos
Stopchargingmaria wins the CCA Oaks. 
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Repole Stable's Stopchargingmaria took over rounding the far turn and drew off to an impressive five-length victory overUnbridled Forever in the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) (VIDEO) at Saratoga Race Course July 20.

The victory by the daughter of Tale of the Cat  , the 6-5 CCA Oaks favorite, was her first since taking the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) at Pimlico Race Course May 16 and her fifth win in nine starts. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Stopchargingmaria stopped the timer in 1:49.80 under jockey Javier Castellano as she improved her bankroll to $1,054,000.

Unbridled Forever, who made a strong move along with the winner, finished second, with Miss Besilu four lengths farther back in third in the six-horse field. Stopchargingmaria paid $4.40, $2.60, and $2.10. Unbridled Forever was worth $2.90 and $2.20, with Miss Besilu paying $2.50 for third. America was fourth, followed by Taketheodds andCourageous Julie.

The start of the CCA Oaks was delayed after Courageous Julie reared en route to the track and threw one of her hind shoes. The 3-year-old daughter of Pioneerof the Nile   was returned to the paddock for a fix, but the farrier was unable to place a new plate on her and she was returned to the track. Couragous Julie was permitted to run, but for purse money only since she did not have any hind shoes in the race.

Once they broke from the gate, Besilu Stable's Miss Besilu took the lead and was quickly joined by Robert Manfuos homebred Taketheodds, getting the first quarter in :24. Taketheodds was in front by a head after a half was completed in :48 flat, with Miss Besilu still close behind, before Stopchargingmaria and Unbridled Forever moved in tandem.

Into the stretch, Stopchargingmaria held a 2 1/2-length advantage and continued to draw off for the final margin in spite of drifting out in the final furlong.

"It kind of unfolded the way we wanted it to on the first turn," Pletcher said. "We were able to get the position we wanted. She had a good trip from there, and it worked out well."

"I told (owner) Mike (Repole) that this filly has never trained better than she has here in the last month. She seems to really like Saratoga. She has been training much more powerfully than she did this winter, so we expected a big effort from her. The huge thing was to win a grade I. A filly of her résumé to get that grade I was huge. I thought she ran well enough today to certainly earn a spot in the Alabama (gr. I)."

The $600,000 Alabama Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/4 miles is Aug. 16).

"I had a beautiful dream trip," Castellano said. "My concerns were the small field and the one hole, which is sometimes difficult to get out. I'm glad it worked out perfect. I saved the ground on the first turn. After that I secured my spot. I like the way she did it today. Turning for home, I was thinking the race was over. At the top of the stretch, she took off. Now, the way she has matured, she was phenomenal today."

"I bought her at the Ocala March sale and Todd liked her right away, as well as Ed Rosen, my pedigree guy, and Jim Martin, my racing manager," said winning owner Mike Repole. "You know, I have the easy part. All I've got to do is write the checks. She worked really fast and we had some luck with Tale of the Cat with Overdriven   winning the Sanford (gr. II) and (Stopchargingmaria) turned out to be a nice 2-year-old.

"At first, we didn't think her 3-year-old season was coming out the way we thought it would be," Repole continued. "She had two average starts, and then she ran great in the Black-Eyed Susan. We brought her up here after Florida and since she's been here, she's been training like a different horse."

Repole jokingly said maybe Stopchargingmaria's early campaign was due to her being in Florida with Pletcher.

"If she would've come back here and stayed the same as at Gulfstream, I'd say maybe she just didn't mature as a 3-year-old. But it had to be that she just didn't like Florida, or maybe she just didn't like Todd, I'm not sure."

Dallas Stewart, trainer of Unbridled Forever, who was ridden by Joel Rosario, said his filly was outrun.

"She hooked another real nice filly. He (Rosario) was just real patient. She wasn't far back. She was only five (lengths) off the lead going on the backside. She came home good. We just got outrun. I can't make any excuses. Great filly. She's getting better and has matured nicely, so we'll see. We've got the Alabama here later on, and we'll see."

"She kept on going," Rosario said of Unbridled Forever. "She had one stride, one pace, but probably the winner was much the best today. I kind of followed her. When I broke out of the gate I just wanted to lay close to her or maybe be in front but I didn't have a lot of speed. She came with a late run but she was just second best. She ran a nice race. The filly that won the race right now is dominating the competition."

In addition to the CCA Oaks and Black-Eyed Susan, as a 2-year-old of 2013 Stopchargingmaria won the Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) and Tempted Stakes (gr. III), finished second in the Spinaway, and was third in the Frizette, both grade I.

Stopchargingmaria began her season with a fifth in the Davona Dale (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park in February and followed up with a fourth in the April 5 Fantasy Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park.

Bred in Kentucky by Harvey Clarke and the Seitz family's Brookdale Farm, the CCA Oaks winner is the first foal out of the stakes-winning Montbrook mare Exotic Bloom. She was purchased by Repole for $220,000 from the Woodford Thoroughbreds consignment to the 2013 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s March sale of 2-year-olds in training. Woodford had purchased the filly for $47,000 from the Brookdale consignment to the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale.


Fashion Alert Wins Hard-Fought Schuylerville

Fashion Alert Wins Hard-Fought Schuylerville

Fashion Alert Wins Hard-Fought SchuylervillePhoto: Coglianese Photos/Adam Mooshian
Fashion Alert takes the Schuylerville Stakes on opening day at Saratoga.
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George Bolton and Barry Hall's Fashion Alert remained undefeated in two starts and picked up her first graded stakes victory in the process July 18, but had to work hard to do it in the $150,000Schuylerville Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga Race Course (VIDEO).

The 2-year-old Old Fashioned   filly, coming off a June 14 victory at first asking in the Astoria Stakes at Belmont Park, was given a battle from the start by Willis Horton's maiden winner Take Charge Brandi, who comes from the same female family as defending 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge.

The Schuylerville winner's share improved Fashion Alert's overall earnings to $250,000, bolstered by a $100,000 NYRA bonus offered to any 2-year-old to break its maiden at Belmont or Aqueduct Racetrackand go on to win a graded stakes at Saratoga.

Also making her second outing and graded stakes debut, Take Charge Brandi took the lead in the six-furlong test, but Fashion Alert went after her straight away after breaking inward at the start. Regathered and sent on her way, the 1-5 favorite pressed the front-runner on almost even terms through a quarter in :22.41 and a half in :45.21.

Those two opened a six-length advantage on three others coming around the final turn, and a dogged Take Charge Brandi dug deep inside as Fashion Alert challenged for the lead under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

After running five-eighths in :57.86, Fashion Alert finally shook loose of her rival and edged away to win by 1 1/2 lengths. D. Wayne Lukas trainee Take Charge Brandi held second under Corey Lanerie, whileTulira's Star finished a non-threatening third with Joe Bravo. Final time from the Todd Pletcher-trained winner was 1:11.78 on a fast track.

"I know that Wayne likes his filly a lot," Pletcher said. "They got into a prolonged speed duel. You could tell they were both getting a little tired, but she showed some guts. It's nice to get it done in the Schuylerville, a race we've always held in high regard.

"It's pretty hard to win your first two, especially both in stakes, so you have to give her a lot of credit for that. You hope those kind of efforts move them forward. Those two separated themselves from the field pretty much the entire race. Two very nice fillies."

Fashion Alert returned $2.40, $2.10, and $2.10. Take Charge Brandi brought $3.40 and $2.20 at 5-1, while Tulira's Star paid $2.40. Evrybdymstgetstonz and Mast Cove completed the order of finish. 

"She's definitely very talented," said Velazquez of the winner. "We wish we had a better break and got a better position at the first part. She kind of recuperated right away and got a good position going to the half-mile pole. From then on, I wanted to give her a little breather and see how she did, and down the lane she started leaning into the horse on the inside. Finally, she started getting away from her the last sixteenth of a mile."

Lanerie said he was pleased with the effort of Take Charge Brandi as well.

"It was good," he said. "She outbroke the field and just put me out there. I thought she was going pretty easy; she was well within herself. Coming to the quarter pole, I thought I had more (horse) than (Velazquez). I was kind of watching what Johnny was doing, and it looked like he was trying to nudge his horse a little bit. He obviously had more horse than I thought, but I thought I was going to run away with it.

"I think my filly probably needed the race. Last time she won so easy, and she probably got a lot more out of this race. I think the next race will be even better. She was in tight, and she ran professional."

Bred in Kentucky by Mike Abraham and Jacob Nance out of the Tiznow   mare Titan Queen, Fashion Alert was a $125,000 purchase by Bolton from the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2013 when consigned by Bluewater Sales. She failed to meet her $25,000 reserve earlier that year at the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale when consigned by Taylor Made.

"We'll see how she comes out of it," Pletcher said of Fashion Alert's potential next target. "I'm not going to rule out the (Aug. 10) Adirondack (gr. II), but we'll likely wait for the (Aug. 31) Spinaway (gr. I)."


Closing Divine Oath Snatches American Derby

Closing Divine Oath Snatches American Derby

Closing Divine Oath Snatches American Derby Photo: Four Footed Fotos
Divine Oath outfinishes Our Channel to win the American Derby.

Let's Go Stable's Divine Oath stormed up the rail and denied British raider Our Channel a win in the $200,000 American Derby (gr. IIIT) July 12 at Arlington International Racecourse (VIDEO).

Getting a ground-saving trip under Florent Geroux, Divine Oath was fifth in early stretch and gamely drove between rivals at midstretch before overhauling leader Our Channel late and scoring by a half-length. The victory was his first in a stakes.
A 3-year-old son of Broken Vow  , Divine Oath was timed in 1:56.50 for 1 3/16 miles on firm turf. Highball, who broke last in the 10-horse field, angled five wide into the stretch and was up to take third from favorite Schoolofhardrocks, three-quarters of a length behind Our Channel.
Based at Belmont Park with Todd Pletcher, Divine Oath was the 7-2 second favorite in the field of 10 sophomores and notched his third win from four turf starts. He came into the American Derby after closing well to finish fourth in the Penn Mile Stakes on the grass at May 31 Penn National Race Course. Prior to that, he was second in the Coolmore Lexington (gr. III) on the Polytrack April 19 at Keeneland. He broke his maiden on Gulfstream's turf course in January followed by a turf allowance there in February.
With Divine Oath settling into sixth after the start, Our Channel tracked from second and Schoolofhardrocks chased from third after Ghostly Wonder jumped out to set the pace. James Graham urged Our Channel to the front in early stretch and Schoolofhardrocks gave chase, but Divine Oath was moving fastest of all on the rail and was along in time for the win.
Divine Oath paid $9.20, $4.60 and $3.40 and Our Channel, 13th in the Investec Epsom Derby (Eng-I) last time out, returned $6.40 and $4.60. Highball paid $6 to show. 
Afortable was fifth, followed by Big Tom PradoGiacallureHesinfront, and Ghostly WonderChief Barker was pulled up and vanned off the course.
Bred in Kentucky by Sanford Robertson, Divine Oath is the first starter out of the winning Forestry mare Rejoicing. Pletcher, as agent, bought the bay colt for $200,000 out of the Select Sales consignment at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale.


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