To say trainer Todd Pletcher holds the upper hand in Thursday’s $100,000 Birdstone at Saratoga would be an understatement. In fact, Pletcher will likely be favored to send out not only the winner, but also to finish one-two in the 1 3/4-mile marathon with defending champion Hard Study and prospective pacesetter You’re to Blame. They are definitely the ones to beat in a field of only five older horses that also includes Carlino, Arachnova, and Big Dollar Bill.
Hard Study rallied from just off the pace to a 2 1/4-length victory in the 2017 Birdstone. He would not race again for nearly eight months, returning in late March at Gulfstream Park to win a nine-furlong optional-claiming race in similar fashion. The performance served as the perfect prep for his subsequent 5 1/2-length triumph in the 1 3/8-mile Flat Out.
Hard Study’s modest three-race winning streak finally ended in his most recent appearance, when the long-winded son of Big Brown flattened out late to finish third in the Grade 2 Brooklyn on June 9, beaten three lengths by the multiple Grade 1 winner Hoppertunity.
“He didn’t really have an excuse in the Brooklyn,” Pletcher said. “He ran hard in [the Flat Out] – that might have had some effect – and the Brooklyn was a very tough race against some nice horses. He tried hard, he just didn’t get there. He’s training as well as ever at the moment. He’s the kind of a horse who gets himself into a steady rhythm and keeps going, and that’s what we’re hoping he’ll be able to do again.”
You’re to Blame also checked in third in his last start, the 1 1/16-mile State Dinner at Belmont four weeks ago. Pletcher will take the blinkers off You’re to Blame, who’ll stretch out beyond 1 1/8 miles for the first time in the Birdstone.
“We’re going to take the blinkers off and hope we can get him to relax,” Pletcher said. “In these types of races, the key is you’ve got to be able to settle a little bit to go that far. It came up a short field, so we decided to look at it, and right now we’re leaning on running him with the thought he might be able to steal it.”
Ian Wilkes counters the Pletcher duo with two his own, Archanova and Big Dollar Bill. Archanova finished third, beaten 4 ¼ lengths by Hard Study in the 2017 Birdstone after forcing the early pace, and he figures to be a forward factor again with the lack of speed in the field. Big Dollar Bill must prove his mettle beyond 1 1/8 miles while trying to make amends for losing as the favorite at Churchill Downs in his last two starts.
Carlino finished far behind You’re to Blame earlier this winter at Gulfstream Park and was also beaten 10 lengths by Hard Study in the Flat Out. He did rebound with an improved effort in the Brooklyn when finishing fifth, only a length behind Hard Study, despite fanning well wide with his bid into the stretch.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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