While the racing industry struggles with ways to attract a younger fan base, there is a youth movement of sorts happening on the backstretch. A handful of 30-something trainers will be plying their trade at Saratoga for the first time this summer when the 40-day meet begins Friday.
The names are recognizable—Jonathan Thomas, Norm Casse, Cherie DeVaux, and Rodolphe Brisset. Until recently, though, they were behind-the-scenes players. Now, the spotlight will be on them during arguably the best race meet in North America.
Thomas, a former assistant to Todd Pletcher and Christophe Clement, has been training on his own for two years. Last summer here, he won the Grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes with Catholic Boy, who continues to be the star of the stable with wins in the Grade 2 Remsen last fall at Aqueduct and, most recently, the Grade 1 Belmont Derby on July 7. Catholic Boy will be strongly considered for the Grade 1 Travers on Aug. 25, with the Grade 3 Saranac on Sept. 1 as an alternative.
Thomas, who turned 38 last Saturday, worked at Bridlewood Farm where he developed young horses and helped prepare others to return from layoffs. He has brought 28 horses to Saratoga this summer, and while naturally he hopes to win some races, he is trying to establish a presence in New York on a year-round basis.
“I’m using Saratoga as a platform for Belmont,” Thomas said one recent morning on the Belmont backstretch. “As much as I like Saratoga, there’s still a lot of good racing here.”
Thomas went 7 for 14 at the Belmont spring meet. He plans to get started here on opening day with the 3-year-old first-time starter Eagle Pass in a maiden $75,000 claiming race on turf. Tillie’s Lily, undefeated in four starts, is scheduled to run in Monday’s $200,000 Caress Stakes for fillies and mares at 5 1/2 furlongs.
Kundray, whom Thomas brought back off a 21-month layoff to win a New York-bred second-level allowance, will likely be headed to an open-company allowance.
Osare, a half-sister to Arrogate, won a 1 1/4-mile turf maiden race at Belmont but could try the dirt in Saratoga.
Among the 2-year-olds Thomas is looking forward to getting started at the meet are Till Then, who is a Point of Entry colt, and Solar, a son of Flatter. Entirely, a 2-year-old filly, is pointing to the Bolton Landing on Aug. 15 after winning her debut on turf and finishing fourth in the My Dear Stakes over Woodbine’s synthetic surface.
The cleverly named Hot N Sour, a daughter of Tapit out of the Grade 1-winning mare Eggdrop, is likely a two-turn turf filly.
Norm Casse, who spent a decade as an assistant to his father, Mark, went out on his own earlier this year and has won six races from 24 starters.
Casse, 34, has eight horses in Saratoga, including Fightress, a 2-year-old daughter of Tapizar. Fightress won her debut by 4 3/4 lengths at Churchill and is running in Friday’s opening-day Schuylerville. Casse also has the New York-bred 2-year-old Tales of Chaucer, who was scheduled to run in last weekend’s Rockville Centre Stakes before sustaining a foot bruise. He could be pointed to the Funny Cide Stakes on Aug. 24.
Casse has brought a pair of 2-year-olds – Hard Legacy, a daughter of Hard Spun, and Mischievous Bird, a son of Into Mischief – to run at the meet for Saratoga socialite Marylou Whitney.
“It’s our first year,” Casse said. “We’re excited. We think the horses we sent fit and are going to run well.”
Casse added that this meet “is not going to be the focal point of our year.”
Casse said he hoped to be active at the claim box as well.
A former assistant to and exercise rider for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, Brisset went out on his own in spring 2017. After winning six races from 70 starters last year, he has won 15 races from 78 starters so far this year, including last weekend’s Grade 3 Indiana Oaks with Talk Veuve to Me.
Talk to Veuve to Me is one of eight horses Brisset has brought to Saratoga. She will be considered for the Alabama, pending how she trains over the main track, Brisset said.
Among the more interesting horses Brisset has here is Positive Spirit, a 2-year-old filly who is a three-quarter sister to 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. She also is a half-sister to 2009 Grade 1 Spinaway winner Hot Dixie Chick.
“We like her, but she’s not a sprinter,” Brisset said.
Wheedle, by Flat Out, is a half-sister to Ultimateenticement, a maiden winner on dirt at Saratoga last year, and to Party Boat, who was twice stakes placed on turf last summer at Saratoga. Sweet Carolina, a daughter of Candy Ride, is a horse Brisset wants to run around two turns on turf.
Like Thomas, Brisset said he hopes to use this Saratoga meet as a way to get onto the NYRA circuit on a more consistent basis.
DeVaux went out on her own in April after eight years as an assistant to trainer Chad Brown. She started just four horses at the Belmont meet, but plans to be more active at Saratoga as she has brought 14 horses here.
Dark Energy, who ran fourth in his first start for DeVaux, is entered in Friday’s finale, a $40,000 claimer on the turf. Conscripted, a 4-year-old Biondetti colt, was purchased out of the Fasig-Tipton July sale and has all of his conditions left. Miss Vinegar, a 3-year-old filly, and the 2-year-old maiden Savino, a half-brother to 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner She Be Wild, are others DeVaux plans to run here.
“Of course I want to win,” said DeVaux, 36. “Some we want to develop, and some we want to spot where they’re competitive.”
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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