Trainer Simon Crisford was on hand at Saratoga Race Course on Thursday morning to watch Godolphin's Ostilio train on the Oklahoma dirt training track in preparation for the Grade 1, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap.
The one-mile event over the inner turf at the Spa is a Breeders' Cup Challenge Series Race offering a 'Win and You're In' berth to the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile set for November 2 at Santa Anita Park.
The Fourstardave Handicap and Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special presented by Miller Lite will be broadcast live on NBC as part of a one-hour national show from 5 to 6 p.m. Eastern.
Ostilio, bred by Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, went to the main track on Wednesday but switched gears this morning and enjoyed a strong blowout down the Oklahoma straight.
“He got across it really well. We're very happy with him. It was just a couple of furlongs, what we would call a half-speed, a swinging canter for two furlongs,” said Crisford.
Saturday's test will mark the first North American adventure for the 4-year-old New Approach chestnut, who boasts a record of four wins and five seconds from 11 starts, including scores in the Britannia at Ascot last June and the Group 2 Prix Daniel Wildenstein at Longchamp in October.
Winless in two starts this year, Ostilio finished eighth last out in the Group 1 Lockinge at Newbury. Crisford said the configuration at Saratoga should benefit the British-bred Ostilio, who will be piloted on Saturday by Andrea Atzeni.
“We felt a flat oval track would suit him really well,” said Crisford. “It's a huge race and it fits into his program really well as hasn't run since May and he's all about the second half of the year. It's a very good starting point for him. He's coming here fit and well and we hope he can acquit himself well.”
While Ostilio is often on or near the lead in his European form, Crisford said he will allow Atzeni to assess tactics when they burst from the gate out of post 5 in the 10-horse field.
“He races quite freely,” said Crisford. “We'll see how quick he is out of the gate compared to American horses. We haven't schooled him to be American quick. He's very much European-quick out of the gates, and that's different from here. Andrea will ride him as he finds him once he jumps. Hopefully he jumps well and gives him a forward ride, if he jumps into that position.”
Crisford, a long-time racing manager for Godolphin before taking out his trainer's license, has traveled numerous runners to North America in his previous capacity including such standouts as Daylami and Sulamani.
He spoke highly of Ostilio's effort at Ascot when besting a field of 30 for a victory that marked the first Royal Ascot win for Crisford.
“The Britannia is a very tough race for 3-year-olds at a straight mile. It's quite a demanding test and he made nearly all the running” said Crisford. “When he went to France [for the Wildenstein] – a right-handed track – it's an easier mile than what we had to do at Ascot, but he won that nicely and was very resolute and strong at the finish.”
Crisford said Ostilio is a horse with room to improve in races to come.
“He's always been a horse with plenty of talent and is fairly lightly raced for his age. He's coming forward and hopefully we can enjoy a productive second half of the year with him,” said Crisford.
Regardless of the result on Saturday, Crisford said he already feels like a winner, having spent a morning at the Spa.
“It's my first time here as a trainer with a runner and I'm extremely delighted to be a part of it all,” said Crisford. “Saratoga itself is one of the dream places in the history of horse racing. Just to be here is a win ticket anyway.”
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