Between them, veteran trainers Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher have won four editions of the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, which will be run for the 111th time Sunday at Saratoga Race Course.
Given their proven prowess with 2-year-olds, Asmussen and Pletcher's starters in this year's 6.5-furlong dirt race will receive a long look, but there is a Maryland invader, Recruiting Ready, who has turned heads in his two starts for his 31-year-old trainer, Horacio De Paz, a former Pletcher employee who seeks the first graded stakes win of his young training career.
A field of five entered the Saratoga Special, which last year served as the coming-out party for Exaggerator, the winner of this year's G1 Preakness Stakes and G1 Haskell Invitational.
Asmussen, who will be inducted into racing's Hall of Fame on Friday, has entered Tip Tap Tapizar in the $200,000 Saratoga Special.
Pletcher, who has won a total of 24 graded stakes for 2-year-olds in Saratoga since his training career began in 1996 – a number that includes a victory with Sweet Loretta in this year's Schuylerville Stakes – will start Sonic Mule.
Sonic Mule, who will be ridden Hall of Famer John Velazquez from post position 2, has raced once. The son of Distorted Humor won a maiden special weight at Monmouth Park July 15. The colt rambled home a 3 1/4-length winner of the 5 1/2-furlong race for Calumet Farm.
“I thought he ran quite well,” Pletcher said Thursday morning in his Saratoga office. “He broke pretty alertly from the inside. Another horse [the favorite, Cohen's Kat] put pressure on Sonic Mule. Joe [Bravo] was able to ease him back and go outside that horse and pick it up back up and ultimately go by him. I thought for a debut, it was pretty professional and straightforward.”
Tip Tap Tapizar, a Louisiana-bred, has raced twice for Asmussen and Whispering Oaks Farm. The colt won his debut in easy fashion at Churchill Downs in June and then followed with a third in the G3 Bashford Manor July 2. In the Bashford Manor, Tip Tap Tapizar was part of a swift pace before he weakened and was beaten 9 3/4 lengths by the winner Classic Empire and runner-up Recruiting Ready.
Asmussen is quite familiar with Tip Tap Tapizar's family as he trained his sire, Tapizar, who earned $972,632 and won the 2012 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
“He's got a lot of talent and I think he is getting better,” Asmussen commented. “He's done well training here. At Churchill, he ran very well first time out. He got run off his feet a little bit second time out, but I think he benefitted from it.
“From a talent standpoint and from a heartiness standpoint, he is like Tapizar,” the trainer continued. “He is like his father in the fact that he will be better with time. He's got quite a bit of frame, not completely filled out, but still plenty talented right now. I do believe he will continue to get better, mainly in attitude and just physically.”
Ricardo Santana, Jr. has the return mount on Tip Tap Tapizar, who drew post position 3.
Kevin Plank's Sagamore Farm's Recruiting Ready, who set a sizzling pace while being pressed by Tip Tap Tapizar in the Bashford Manor, gamely stayed on to finish second, nine lengths in front of that rival, and just three-quarters of length behind the winner.
Recruiting Ready will be piloted by Saratoga's leading rider, Irad Ortiz, Jr., from post 5. Recruiting Ready, a son of Algorithms, decimated a seven-horse field of maidens by 10 1/4-lengths in his career debut at Pimlico May 28.
For the Saratoga Special, De Paz is removing the blinkers his horse wore in his first two starts.
“He's really moved forward in his training when we removed the blinkers,” said De Paz, who launched his training career last year and rides Recruiting Ready in the mornings. “We wanted to get him to slow down a little bit, and finish up at the end of his works. Honestly, he's been training better than he was before with the blinkers. He's definitely been more focused in his works without them.”
Gunnevera, a Gulfstream Park maiden winner, and maiden Get Lit N Get Wild complete the field.
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