Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher enjoyed a prosperous day at both Saratoga and Monmouth Park in New Jersey on July 17, sending out graded stakes winners over both ovals.
While Pletcher was at Monmouth saddling Dr Post and Graceful Princess to respective victories in the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup and the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher at Monmouth, assistant Tristan Barry oversaw an impressive victory by rising star Wit in the Grade 3 Sanford.
Owned by Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable and Gainesway Stable, Wit has won both of his lifetime starts by a combined 14 lengths. After overcoming a slow start to win by six lengths in his June 5 debut at Belmont, he handled his graded stakes debut with flying colors in capturing the Sanford by eight lengths. The triumph produced a 90 Beyer.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with his performance, and I thought he broke a little better this time,” Pletcher said. “He put himself in a good stalking position and used his very impressive turn of foot around the turn. He’s a very well-behaved horse, very composed and mature mentally. He’s just one that, for whatever reason, is not super quick the first jump or two. It’s not a behavioral issue. We did our normal standing at the gate in between races. I thought he would improve just by having the start and he definitely broke more alertly and got bumped a little bit, but was still able to get into the position we were hoping he could and went smoothly from there.”
Wit provided Pletcher with an eighth Sanford victory, with his success in the event dating back to 1999 winner More Than Ready – a subsequent influential sire. He also provided his freshman sire Practical Joke – a three-time Grade 1-winner – with his first graded stakes-winning progeny.
Pletcher said the Grade 1, $300,000 Hopeful on Sept. 6 at the Spa will be Wit’s likely next task.
“The Hopeful would be the next target,” Pletcher said. “I spoke to the connections a little bit after the race and that was everyone’s gut reaction. We’ll let the horse guide us but that’s the logical next step.”
Bred by Rosilyn Polan, Wit was purchased for $575,000 from the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He is out of the unraced Medaglia d’Oro mare Numero d’Oro.
Dr Post gave Vinnie Viola of St Elias Stable another graded stakes victory, capturing the Monmouth Cup by 1 ¼ lengths. The 4-year-old Quality Road colt, who finished second to Tiz the Law in last year’s Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, made the grade in his 2021 bow in the Grade 3 Westchester on May 1 over Big Sandy.
Pletcher made an equipment change with Dr Post, who raced with blinkers on for the Monmouth Cup.
“His first start off the bench in the Westchester was good and it was his second graded win of the year,” Pletcher said. “I think the addition of blinkers helped. It had him more focused early on and I was very pleased with the way he stepped up.”
Pletcher said the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 4 at Saratoga and the Grade 1, $750,000 Pacific Classic on Aug. 21 at Del Mar are options for his next start. Both races are Breeders’ Cup “Win And You’re In” qualifying events for the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 6 at Del Mar.
“We’ll try him a little further and keep an eye on the Pacific Classic and the Jockey Club,” Pletcher said.
Pletcher said he was delighted to get regally-bred Graceful Princess a graded stakes triumph when upsetting the field in the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher at 14-1 odds. The bay daughter of Tapit, out of 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, is owned by Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm.
“It’s very exciting for her to get a win like that being bred as well as any horse in the world,” Pletcher said. “For her to add graded black type to her resume is great for her, the dam, and the siblings. It was a great win for the Whisper Hill team.”
Graceful Princess was a well-beaten fifth in the Obeah at Delaware Park in her previous start, which Pletcher blamed on a sloppy track.
“We caught sloppy tracks at Delaware and at Aqueduct in the Go for Wand last year and she didn’t seem to care for that at all. She was able to get the kind of trip we were looking for yesterday and got into a good rhythm,” Pletcher said. “I think she’s versatile enough, it just depends on the fractions. She had an outside draw yesterday, so she was able to stay in the clear. Everything fell into place. We’ll give her a bit of spacing. She seems to respond well to a little bit of time in between races, we’ll see how she comes out of it.”
Pletcher sent out Spendthrift Farm’s Following Sea for the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes over the Jersey Shore oval, where he crossed the wire a distant third but was elevated to second following the disqualification of Hot Rod Charlie, who clipped heels with Midnight Bourbon, unseating jockey Paco Lopez. Joel Rosario, aboard Following Sea, had to angle his horse wide to avoid the horse and fallen jockey.
Pletcher said he was expecting to see a little more out of the son of Runhappy, who might cut back to one turn for the seven-furlong Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial on August 28 at Saratoga.
“I don’t think he ran to his capabilities,” Pletcher said. “I’ve certainly seen a lot more in the mornings out of him than that. I think the track for Monmouth wasn’t particularly kind to speed yesterday and he was under pressure most of the way. It’s hard to gauge the last eighth of the race when Joel had to take him up to avoid the fallen horse. We’ll get him back and assess how he trains, but I’ll talk to the guys and Spendthrift and we might look at backing him up in the Allen Jerkens.”