Classic Causeway proves turf ability with G1 Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational triumph
by NYRA Press Office
- Classic Causeway proves turf ability with G1 Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational triumph
- McKulick to target G3 Saratoga Oaks after emotional G1 Belmont Oaks victory for Brown
- G2 Suburban winner Dynamic One on point for G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup
- Hot Peppers impresses with hard-fought G3 Victory Ride score
- Lukas excited to be back at the Spa
Trainer Ken McPeek has garnered plenty of knowledge and experience since starting his first runner in 1985. He’s known for his fearlessness when taking a gamble with his horses, like when he sent out Sarava to a shocking 70-1 victory in the 2002 Belmont Stakes for the dark bay’s first try against graded company, and more recently, scored a Grade 1 Preakness victory with upset filly Swiss Skydiver in 2020.
His longshot Golden Ticket won the 2012 Travers in a dead heat with Alpha at odds of 33-1, and Harvey Wallbanger took the 2019 Grade 2 Holy Bull as a 29-1 stunner.
McPeek came ready to upset another top-level event when he entered Kentucky West Racing and Clarke M. Cooper’s multiple graded stakes-winner Classic Causeway in Saturday’s 10-furlong Grade 1, $1 million Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational along with 5-1 chance Tiz the Bomb, who finished ninth.
It appeared on paper to be a tall order for Classic Causeway, who arrived off two week’s rest to make his turf debut in a Grade 1 and at his fifth different racetrack this year.
While McPeek was fully confident in the son of Giant’s Causeway’s ability over grass, the public was not, sending him to post at odds of 26-1 in a field loaded with established turf quality from 11 rivals, including five European shippers.
There was a question of whether Classic Causeway’s dirt speed would transfer to turf, and he answered with a front-running score under Julien Leparoux to confirm what McPeek said was “just instinct” about his talents over turf.
“I always thought the pace of turf races would suit him because he gets a chance to relax and breathe a little bit,” said McPeek. “For me, it wasn’t a big surprise because he was doing so well and we took a couple test drives with him over the turf at the Saratoga training track and was confident he would like it. We’re certainly thrilled with the win. It feels good.”
Along with some good showings in the morning over the grass, McPeek said Classic Causeway appeared physically like a horse who would appreciate turf.
“Having been around the horse for a couple months now and knowing his mindset and his foot – he has a big turf foot on him - you’ve got to take chances like that to learn something,” said McPeek. “I was fortunate that the ownership gave me carte blanche on him. They said, ‘Do what you think is right.’ I said, ‘If it was my horse, I’d try him on the grass.’ This could be a world-traveler on the turf and the sky’s the limit with him. A mile and a half he might even be better.”
Classic Causeway flashed his talents earlier this year with a pair of graded wins at Tampa Bay Downs for former trainer Brian Lynch, taking the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis in March ahead of 2 1/2-length score in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. The two victories earned him enough points to enter the starting gate for the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 7, where he finished 11th in his first start for McPeek.
He returned with a pace-pressing third in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby on June 25 at Thistledown just two weeks before his Belmont Derby triumph.
“Good horses run on anything, and this is a warrior this horse,” said McPeek. “He’s tough and loves to run. He’s a little one-dimensional in the fact that he wants to go early, but if you give him a chance to relax a little bit, he’s going to fight you off.”
Classic Causeway has added to his late sire’s sublime legacy, providing Giant’s Causeway with another Grade 1 winner as one of three foals from his final crop born in 2019. McPeek said Giant’s Causeway’s greatness cannot be overstated.
“A fantastic stallion. I happened to be around him when he was racing and I knew that he was a good turf and dirt horse,” McPeek said. “He had natural speed, and his legacy is solid.”
Classic Causeway will now look to build upon his first turf success with a start in the Grade 1, $1 million Caesars Saratoga Derby Invitational on August 6, the middle leg of the Caesars Turf Triple series that concludes with the Grade 3, $1 million Caesars Jockey Club Derby at the Belmont fall meet.
“Saratoga Derby is a no-brainer next stop. He’s heading back to Saratoga tonight or tomorrow and we’ll give him some works up there. I’m sure they’ll respect him a little more this time around,” said McPeek, with a laugh.
McKulick to target G3 Saratoga Oaks after emotional G1 Belmont Oaks victory for Brown
Klaravich Stables’ McKulick secured her first graded stakes triumph in Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational, providing trainer Chad Brown with a sixth score in the ten-furlong turf test for 3-year-old fillies.
Exiting two graded stakes placings on the Churchill Downs turf, McKulick broke alertly from her inside post and rated in fifth down the backstretch before making a three-wide move and taking command inside the final furlong to win by 1 3/4 lengths under Irad Ortiz, Jr.
McKulick will now target the Grade 3, $700,000 Saratoga Oaks Invitational on August 7 at Saratoga Race Course, which is the second leg of the Caesars Turf Triple series for sophomore fillies. Joining her in the Saratoga Oaks will be stablemate Consumer Spending, also owned by Klaravich Stables, who finished a late-closing third in the Belmont Oaks following two stakes wins on the NYRA circuit this year.
“I think it’s logical for both horses,” Brown said. “We had been planning for this race for a long time. I’m grateful for the filly’s effort, Irad’s great ride and my team working with the horse. Everything came together.”
Brown added that Haughty, who finished ninth, will shorten up at the Spa.
“Haughty exited the race okay. She’ll probably be cut back for some sort of race at Saratoga,” Brown said.
The victory was an emotional one for Brown, who named the filly after the late Mary McKulick, a bookkeeper, who was his first employee. The victory also came on what would have been the birthday of the late Bobby Frankel, who Brown worked as an assistant for before going out on his own. A daughter of the Hall of Famer’s English champion namesake, McKulick is also the first horse by the prominent sire to be trained by Brown.
“It was a special day. I named the horse after Mary McKulick, the first person that I hired when I left Frankel. She sadly passed away last year and so Mr. Klarman was nice enough to let me name this specific horse after her,” said Brown.
Brown said lessons learned from Frankel continue to impact and guide his operation, specifically, “Patience and long-term planning with horses like this one and working backwards from this race. Frankel was really the best to ever do that.
“When you have talented horses and a talented team to work with those horses, you can really put to good work the long-term management of horses,” he added. “I can really put to good work what he taught me at a high level.”
Brown said he considers himself fortunate to have worked under Frankel at his peak.
“When I worked for Frankel, I was lucky because he was at his wisest after training for decades,” Brown added. “He had really record breaking years at that stage of his career. I was fortunate being around him managing high quality horses. It doesn’t get any higher quality than that.
“Eventually as my career got further down the road, I assembled multiple high end horses in one single year,” Brown continued. “There’s a lot of management that goes into it. Everyone wants good horses to train, me included, but once you get your hands on and start managing them, you better know what you’re doing and have the right people working with the horses.”
Brown mentioned Frankel alumna Medaglia d’Oro and Sightseek as two examples of horses that stood out to him.
Owned by the late Edmund Gann, Medaglia d’Oro raced in all three Triple Crown races in 2002, including a second in the Belmont Stakes. He captured the Grade 1 Travers that year and the following year’s Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga en route to an influential stud career, having produced champions such as Rachel Alexandra and Songbird.
Brown has trained a handful of Medaglia d’Oro progeny, including Grade 1 winners New Money Honey and Cambier Parc as well as graded stakes winner Mrs. McDougal.
Sightseek was a seven-time Grade 1-winner for Juddmonte, who was undefeated in six starts at Belmont Park.
“I could talk for hours about him and his horses and all the great horses I worked with, there were so many,” Brown said. “Medaglia d’Oro was my favorite horse. I thought he was the most consistent and most durable. He showed up every day for any work or any race. Sightseek was probably the best looking I’ve ever seen or horse I’ve had my hands on. So many great turf horses I learned from over the years and following the same pattern of pointing to the Diana, the Arlington turf festival, the turf races at the end of the year at Hollywood Park, or Del Mar now.”
Brown will send out a pair of starters in Nevisian Sunrise and Zainalarab in Race 6 on Sunday at Belmont, as he looks to build on a record-setting meet before heading upstate to Saratoga. He entered Closing Day at Belmont with 47 wins.
After three placings at the graded stakes level, Repole Stables, Phipps Stables and St. Elias Stable’s Dynamic One made the grade with a gutsy performance in the Grade 2, $400,000 Suburban Handicap on Saturday at Belmont Park, winning a dramatic duel to the wire with graded stakes-winner First Captain to capture the 10-furlong test for older horses.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Dynamic One trailed in last-of-5 behind pacesetter and stablemate Untreated, who marked splits of 24.90 seconds for the first quarter-mile and 49.39 for the half-mile.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. got to work aboard Dynamic One as they entered the turn, rousing him to a narrow lead at the top of the lane and setting him down for the drive to the finish with a retreating Untreated on the rail and looming foe First Captain in between. Dynamic One continued to find more and prevailed by a nose in a final time of 2:01.26. The effort garnered a 98 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest awarded in the four stakes on Saturday’s Stars and Stripes Racing Festival Card.
“I was hoping it would be a 100,” said Pletcher, with a laugh. “He just keeps getting better and better and it’s what we were hoping was going to happen.”
With stablemates Life Is Good and Americanrevolution eyeing the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney on August 6 at Saratoga Race Course, Pletcher said
Dynamic One will likely target Saratoga’s Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 3, which offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Keeneland. The top-four finishers of the Suburban will have their nomination, entry and starting fees waived for the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which will see a purse increase to $1.25 million should a Grade/Group 1 winner start in the 1 1/4-mile test.
“He’s doing excellent,” said Pletcher. “We’re leaning towards sticking to our original plan and going to the Jockey Club.”
Dynamic One showed improvement in each of his starts this year, finishing third in Tampa Bay Downs' Grade 3 Challenger in March ahead of a runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland and subsequently a one-length win in the Blame on June 4 at Churchill Downs. The son of Union Rags put together a sophomore campaign that saw him finish second in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial en route to his first stakes victory in the restricted Curlin at Saratoga.
Pletcher added that he is still unsure whether Suburban third-place finisher Untreated will stretch out or cut back in his next outing.
“He came back good. We don’t have a game plan for him yet, but we’ll figure it out,” said Pletcher. “I think he’s versatile enough that he could go either direction.”
Pletcher will hope to keep his impressive Belmont momentum going at Saratoga as MeB Racing Stables and Vincent D. Esopi’s Mystic Eyes seeks a return to form in the 5 1/2-furlong $150,000 Coronation Cup for sophomore fillies on Friday. The daughter of Maclean’s Music was last seen finishing a distant 10thin the Mamzelle on May 14 over the Churchill Downs turf.
“She’s doing well. She didn’t handle that turf course at Churchill at all, which makes a little more sense now than it seemed to at the time,” Pletcher said. “She’s been training forwardly.”
Mystic Eyes had a productive juvenile campaign last year, posting a perfect 4-2-1-1 in-the-money record capped by a stakes triumph in the Stewart Manor going six furlongs over firm Belmont Turf. She also earned a graded stakes placing with a close third-place effort in the Grade 3 Matron that fall.
“She’s matured. She’s not a real big filly, but she’s well-made and training as good as ever,” said Pletcher. “We expect her to show some natural speed.”
A $40,000 purchase at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Mystic Eyes is out of the stakes-winning Storm Cat mare Cloudburst. She is a half-sister to the stakes-placed Tempers Flair, who produced 2020 Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint runner-up Cowan.
Hot Peppers impresses with hard-fought G3 Victory Ride score
Michael Dubb and Michael Caruso's Hot Peppers garnered a 74 Beyer Speed Figure for her game three-quarter length score in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Victory Ride, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies.
Trained by Rudy Rodriguez and piloted by Luis Saez, Hot Peppers exited post 4 and dueled to the outside of Pretty Birdie and Happy Soul through splits of 22.10 seconds and 45.52 before edging clear through the turn. Half Is Enough, who enjoyed a perfect trip behind the speed in fourth, rallied into contention but Hot Peppers was up for the challenge, stopping the clock in 1:17.73.
"She ran good," Rodriguez said. "I don't give Luis too many instructions. We had the outside and she was in a better position than the other two [to the inside]. I was a little worried when I saw 22 and 45, but she fought hard. She showed a lot of heart."
Hot Peppers won at second asking for her former owner-trainer Ron Spatz, taking a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight by 14 1/4-lengths on January 6 at Gulfstream Park. Dubb purchased Hot Peppers privately from that outing and left the filly with Spatz, who saddled her for two more wins at Gulfstream ahead of a distant ninth in the seven-furlong Sophomore Fillies in March at Tampa Bay Downs. The talented bay was then transferred to Rodriguez, who prepared Hot Peppers for a smart 6 3/4-length score in the six-furlong Jersey Girl ahead of her graded coup.
"I bought the horse in Florida and I left the horse with the trainer we bought her from for a couple races," Dubb said. "I was around the horse and thought she had a great demeanor. I visited her in Florida a lot and thought she had a lot of potential. Ron Spatz did a great job with her.
"When it was time to go north, I had Rudy in mind because he's so good with these fillies," Dubb continued. "I thought she might need a little ‘TLC’ and Rudy would give it to her and it's paid off. Rudy is so good at understanding horses’ quirks."
Rodriguez and Dubb said they have not yet committed Hot Peppers to the Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Test, a seven-furlong sprint for sophomores fillies on August 6 at Saratoga Race Course.
"If she's not 100 percent she won't be in it," Dubb said.
Rodriguez noted that he will nominate the filly to the race but will leave all options under consideration.
"We'll check it out and see how she comes out of this race. We have to see what's out there," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez won the Test last year with Bella Sofia, who has now captured four graded events and is possible for the Grade 2, $200,000 Honorable Miss Handicap on July 27 at the Spa.
The veteran conditioner said Bella Sofia and Hot Peppers are both very talented but quite different in demeanor.
"Bella Sofia can go in 58 if you ask her or in 1:05 if you don't. She takes care of herself. Hot Peppers wants to go," Rodriguez said.
Dubb was also reticent to compare the two talented fillies.
"Bella Sofia has proven herself and Hot Peppers still has some work to do," Dubb said. "But she's given us every indication under Rudy's fine management that she'll go forward."
And that path forward could be on the turf.
"I always had turf sprinting in mind for her being that she's by Khozan, but there's no reason to fix what's not broken," said Dubb, with a laugh.
Rodriguez will saddle La Marca Stable's Scuttlebuzz in Friday's Grade 3, $150,000 Forbidden Apple, a one-mile inner turf test for older horses at the Spa.
The 5-year-old The Factor gelding was claimed for $30,000 out of a winning effort in April 2021 and has since won 5-of-10 starts for current connections, including a rallying one-length score in the seven-furlong Elusive Quality on April 30 at Belmont. Last out, Scuttlebuzz finished a distant 11th in the six-furlong Grade 1 Jaipur on June 11 at Belmont.
Rodriguez said he is concerned about how the pace will develop in Friday's one-mile test.
"Sometimes, he can get rank," Rodriguez said. "When they go three-quarters they can speed away from him and he's able to see them and finish up good."
However, Rodriguez did note the slight step down from a Grade 1 should benefit.
"He's been a nice claim," Rodriguez said. "It didn't set up the way we expected last time and the quality of horses was different. In a Grade 1, you don't expect to get anything easy. The overnight stake we won was a different quality of horses."
Lukas excited to be back at the Spa
Legendary Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas is not done writing his storybook career just yet. At 87 years young, Lukas still has plenty of high-caliber horses to showcase his talents at the upcoming Saratoga Race Course summer meet which starts Thursday.
For the first time since 2019, Lukas, a six-time leading trainer at the Spa, will have an expanded presence at Saratoga Race Course. He will have 16 stalls on the Oklahoma backstretch where he is sure to be seen out on his pony every morning during training hours. Among the squad Lukas is bringing to Saratoga is Briland Farms’ Secret Oath, the winner of this year’s Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.
“We’re excited about being back,” said Lukas. “We’ve got Secret Oath coming in that group and we have a couple of 2-year-old colts that we think can run. We could have a decent meet. We’re thrilled about being back up there. More importantly, we’ve tried to develop quality horses that we can bring to Saratoga.”
Secret Oath, an Arrogate filly, provided Lukas with his fifth Kentucky Oaks victory and his first since Overbrook Farm’s Seaside Attraction captured the lilies in 1990. Fourth in the Grade 1 Preakness at Pimlico last out, Secret Oath has been training forwardly at Churchill Downs and is on target for the Grade 1, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 23. The prestigious nine-furlong test has been won by Lukas twice, the most recent being in 1989 with champion Open Mind.
A winner of Oaklawn Park’s Martha Washington and Grade 3 Honeybee earlier this year, Secret Oath faced colts for the first time when third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in April ahead of her Kentucky Oaks conquest.
“Secret Oath is doing absolutely super. She is really, really doing well. We couldn’t be happier with her,” Lukas said. “What happened with her is she was kind of a gangly filly that didn’t fill out her frame. She’s filled in and looks really good now. She’s putting it all together and she’s really getting stronger. I love the way she’s coming around and have been really pleased with her lately.”
Lukas could get things started off right on Opening Day when he saddles BC Stables’ Summer Promise in the Grade 3, $175,000 Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies going six furlongs on the main track. The daughter of Uncle Mo is a half-sister to Grade 1-winner and producer Creative Cause, Vexatious, winner of the Grade 1 Personal Ensign in 2020, and graded stakes winner Destin. All are out of the prolific Grade 1-winning millionaire Dream of Summer.
He also added that Aaron Sones andn Julie Gilbert’s Ethereal Road, winner of the Sir Barton on May 21 at Pimlico, will target the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy on July 31.
Lukas has plenty of fond memories at the Spa, including his Hall of Fame induction in 1999, the same year he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with eventual Horse of the Year Charismatic.
He saddled Eugene Klein’s Lady’s Secret to a victory against colts over muddy going in the 1986 Whitney en route to Horse of the Year honors. Eight years later, he campaigned Flanders to a championship-earning juvenile season, winning the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga for the late William T. Young.
Lukas’ other Saratoga accolades include winning three runnings of the Travers: Corporate Report , Thunder Gulch  and Will Take Charge , two Whitneys, two Alabamas, and eight wins in the Hopeful.
“Every year up there is a special event and a special time,” Lukas said. “Every one of them has been excellent for us. I think the year I got into the Hall of Fame was a pretty special year, Lady’s Secret winning the Whitney and assuring her Horse of the Year status was special, Flanders winning all three of the 2-year-old filly races in a row. These are special times and special events.”