(Shekky Shebaz was on the work tab at Belmont Park / Photo Courtesy of NYRA)

From the NYRA Media Team:

When owner Scott Heider of Heider Family Stables attended the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale last August, he was strictly there to sell a Curlin colt, but a certain Tapit filly at the Gainesway consignment barn was just too enticing to pass up.

That filly, Thoughtfully, is a top contender for the Grade 3, $100,000 Schuylerville on July 16, Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course.

She showcased a strong display of talent in career debut on June 11 at Churchill Downs winning by 8 ¾ lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. In the 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight over the main track, Thoughtfully broke sharply under Ricardo Santana, Jr. but allowed two runners to her inside to dictate the early pace. By the quarter pole, Thoughtfully was in command and all it took was a few shakes of the reins by Santana for her to draw off in style.

The promising dark bay filly was hammered down for $950,000 at the yearling sale and could prove to be well worth the investment.

“I was up there selling a Curlin colt out of [Grade 1 winner] Taris and that’s all I was there for. I had no intention of buying anything,” Heider said. “[Bloodstock agent] Donato Lanni reached out to me and told me there was a filly that I should look at. That Monday afternoon, I texted Steve and asked him to look at her for me and later that day he said ‘I’ve seen the filly. She is special’. When she walked into the sales ring, I was sitting next to John Sikura [of Hill n Dale Farm] and just stepped on the gas.”

The pressure of buying a horse for such a large sum of money was relieved when Thoughtfully won so emphatically on debut.

“There are not a lot of Tapit fillies that are ready to go as early as June,” Heider said. “She has a great mind and is really classy. She got mentally ready very early. When she won like that Steve called me up and my response was, ‘That’s what a good Asmussen filly looks like’.”

Heider praised Asmussen for his ability to condition progeny of Tapit, who are sometimes known for being hard to handle.

“The Tapits can be complicated and tough to handle but Steve knows how to work with them,” Heider said. “If you ask Steve or the help around the barn about the filly they would smile and say that she doesn’t act like a typical Tapit. She’s very sweet. After the race, before she went into the winner’s circle, she just kind of stood there and stared at the big screen. It was pretty neat because Ricardo was just letting her do it. She had to have stood there for about 15 seconds.”

Thoughtfully, bred in Kentucky by Gainesway, is the seventh progeny out of the Seeking the Gold broodmare Pension who has produced all winners including graded stakes winner Annual Report and dual turf stakes winner Giant Payday. Her granddam is Grade 1-winner Furlough and she comes from the same family as champions Heavenly Prize and Dancing Spree as well as Grade 1 winners Dancing Forever, Fantastic Find and Finder’s Fee.

As far as the Curlin colt Heider sold? He is named King Fury, and was bought by Kenny McPeek for $950,000, which is exactly what Heider paid for Thoughtfully.

“The irony was that we paid the same amount for the filly that we sold the colt for,” said Heider.

Heider could be getting off to a rocket start to the Saratoga meet as he also will have Please Flatter Me entered in the 85,000 Shine Again on July 17.

The Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Munnings made her 4-year-old debut finishing a distant second to Grade 1-winner Guarana in a seven-furlong Churchill Downs allowance race. This was her first start since finishing seventh to eventual Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Covfefe in the Grade 1 Test last August at Saratoga.

“Hopefully we have a nice weekend,” Heider said. “We brought her back after the winter and she chased Guarana around. Her only bad effort was in the Test. She got really nervous in the paddock that day and was all washed out. All the people there made her a little on edge and mentally she wasn’t right. Her race was pretty much over in the paddock.”

A winner of four of eight career starts, Please Flatter Me is a three-time stakes winner on the Mid-Atlantic circuit where she was previously conditioned by Mark Reid. She acquired graded stakes black type when finishing second to Covfefe in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness last May at Pimlico.


Clement works turf horses in preparation for Saratoga stakes action

Trainer Christophe Clement breezed a number of stakes contenders Friday morning on the Belmont Park inner turf.

A last out third at 26-1 in the Grade 2 New York on June 27 over the inner turf, Feel Glorious worked a half-mile in 49.49 seconds over an inner turf course rated “firm” and could cut back in distance in the Grade 2, $200,000 Ballston Spa on July 25 at Saratoga.

“Feel Glorious worked very well on the turf,” Clement said. “She could come back in a race like the Ballston Spa. She ran very well last time. Distance wise, she’s versatile enough to adapt.”

Owned by Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Tango Uniform Racing, the 4-year-old bay daughter of Bated Breath was making her first start since winning the Winter Memories on December 1 over a yielding Aqueduct turf course. Since shipping to North America to join Clement’s barn after previously being conditioned by George Baker in Great Britain, Feel Glorious has placed against graded stakes company three times.

Ghislaine Head’s She’s My Type went a half-mile in 48.85 over the inner turf in her first work since running second to Bredenbury in the Lady Shipman. The French-bred daughter of Dunkerque will target the $100,000 Coronation Cup on July 31 at Saratoga.

A winner of the Ginger Brew at Gulfstream Park four starts back, She’s My Type cut back to six furlongs in her last effort and will remain around one turn for the 5 ½-furlong Coronation Cup.

Fourth in the Grade 3 Wonder Again in her 2020 debut, stakes winner Speaktomeofsummer went a half mile in 49.10 seconds on the inner turf and will race in the Grade 2, $150,000 Lake Placid on July 19.

Also appearing on the work tab for Clement was Shekky Shebaz who went a half-mile in 51.85 on the inner turf. He finished third in last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Owned by Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables and Bethlehem Stables, the son of Cape Blanco will make his debut for the Clement barn in the $75,000 Wolf Hill on July 18 at Monmouth Park.

On Thursday afternoon, Clement sent out Donegal Racing’s Shamrocket to a game runner-up effort in a 1 1/8-mile allowance event over the Widener turf where he finished a neck to No Word while garnering a career-best 85 Beyer Speed Figure.

Clement said he had no immediate plans for Shamrocket.

“He ran well. We’ll see how he comes out of it,” Clement said. “I have Gufo, Decorated Invader and City Man, which makes four nice 3-year-olds so we’ll see what happens.”


Celtic Striker aiming for Peter Pan (G3); I’llhandalthecash on target for $200K Caress

Trainer Ray Handal said Imperial Racing’s Celtic Striker will shoot for a first graded-stakes win in the Grade 3, $100,000 Peter Pan, a nine-furlong test slated for July 16 on Opening Day of the Saratoga meet.

The Congrats bay, bred in Kentucky by Stoneview Farm and Craig D. Upham, was an emphatic 19 3/4-length winner last out in the 1 1/16-mile Easy Goer, which was reduced via scratches to a match race with Sonneman.

The colt breezed three-eighths in 39.95 seconds over Big Sandy on July 9 in his first breeze back and Handal said Celtic Striker is in good order.

“I just wanted him to stretch his legs. I wasn’t worried about time, I just wanted him to open his lungs up,” said Handal. “We galloped him around like normal and then let him open his stride up from the half-mile pole to the wire. It’s all we wanted to do as he’s coming back on three week’s rest to run in the Peter Pan.

“Normally, I wouldn’t have breezed him but because we’re going from a one-turn to a two-turn, I wanted to make sure I had his endurance up.”

A winner at second asking in October traveling six furlongs on a sloppy main track at Monmouth Park, Celtic Striker made his New York debut with a stalking fourth in the Jerome on New Year’s Day at the Big A.

The well-traveled horse then shipped to Parx and added blinkers for an optional-claiming win in February before off-the-board efforts in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct in March and the Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill Downs in May.

“He’s a real easy horse to travel and its why I’ve been flexible with his schedule. He’s a really chill dude,” said Handal. “Anywhere you take him, he goes around like he’s been there his whole life. It’s why I put blinkers on him, he’s almost too chill. The light bulb is starting to come on. I galloped him after he won the Easy Goer and it was the first time he really pulled me around there without the blinkers on.”

Handal said he may reduce the blinkers for Celtic Striker over time.

“I might cut them back,” said Handal. “He was so easy for Manny [Franco] in that last race even though he did have the French Cup blinks on, but I could see cutting them down to a cheater.”

Handal has won three races at the 25-day Belmont spring/summer meet, including two in stakes races.

On July 3, VinLaur Racing Stables, Dark Horse Racing Stable and Taste Of Victory Stables’ I’llhandalthecash dug in for a game half-length score in the License Fee at six furlongs on Belmont’s inner turf.

A three-time winner, I’llhandalthecash graduated at second asking on the Belmont turf in May 2019 and added her second score with a pressing effort in a Saratoga turf allowance sprint in September.

She entered the License Fee off a pair of difficult trips when steadied and bumped in the Captiva Island in March at Gulfstream and an optional-claiming turf sprint in May at Churchill Downs.

Handal said I’llhandalthecash is the type of filly that doesn’t back down from a fight.

“She came out of the win great. She’s a big, tough filly. She’s like a colt,” said Handal. “She’s been like that since we bought her at the sale, she’s like Ronda Rousey and wants to kick your….and that’s why after the Churchill race, if there was anyone that would bounce back from something like that, it would be her. She just loves to run.”

A $150,000 purchase at the April 2018 OBS Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in Training, Handal said the strapping Point of Entry bay will target the $200,000 Caress, a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint on August 1 at Saratoga.

“The tentative plan is to run back in the Caress at Saratoga,” said Handal. “It’s a touch quick back but it’s a cut back in distance and I’d have more reservations if it was going further.”

Perrine Time Thoroughbreds’ Kansas Kis, a game second in the Busher Invitational in March at the Big A, is enjoying some down time at the farm ahead of a fall campaign.

The sophomore daughter of Constitution, who debuted in August at Saratoga and graduated in January at Aqueduct, boasts a record of 9-1-3-2 with purse earnings of $146,499. She was an even fourth last out in a 1 1/16-mile allowance contested June 11 on a muddy Belmont strip.

“She’s getting sixty days at the farm. She was in training for over a year and had a lot of miles,” said Handal. “I thought she ran well in the allowance the other day but just didn’t have that kick at the end like she had before. Even though she was in tight, I thought she had enough of a shot if she had enough horse to pop through and win that day. She’ll have a presence in the fall and winter here.”

Bush Racing Stable’s Timely Tradition, a New York-bred daughter of First Defence, is in the midst of a three-race win streak. Handal claimed the 6-year-old mare for $25,000 in January at Aqueduct and she returned to win a restricted claiming event in March at the Big A by 3 ¼-lengths while garnering a career-best 86 Beyer Speed Figure.

Handal sent Timely Tradition to Oaklawn Park in May where she captured an open allowance sprint and she returned to the Empire State to complete the hat trick with a 1 ¾-length score in a restricted optional-claiming tilt on June 27 at Belmont Park.

Handal said patience and space between races has been key for Timely Tradition’s run of form.

“She’s a filly that puts a lot into her races,” said Handal. “She drops off and gets skinny, so right now I’m focused on filling the tank up. She’s been getting turned out in my round pen here and eating lots of grass for the last two weeks. I’ll ship her up to Saratoga this weekend.”

With a record of 28-10-5-4 and purse earnings of $342,247, Handal said he will continue the patient approach as he looks to find a winning spot at the Spa for Timely Tradition.

“She’s been super. I haven’t done anything to reinvent the wheel, I’ve just babied her,” said Handal. “I’ll take her to the pony track to train and only take her to the main track to breeze her. We’ll find a spot for her upstate.”


Alda could turn maiden-breaking Belmont win into Saratoga stakes appearance 

Weretheimer and Frere’s Alda impressively broke her maiden at second asking on Thursday, besting a seven-horse field by 2 ½ lengths in a six-furlong turf sprint in Race 1.

The 2-year-old Munnings filly made her debut on June 12 at Belmont, running third in a five-furlong sprint over turf labeled good. Over firmer turf, and with the prior month’s experience, Alda broke sharp under Hall of Famer John Velazquez, stayed in fourth position through the opening quarter-mile and produced a strong stretch-drive rally to outkick Illegal Smile.

“She seems good [today]. I thought her first race was very good, so it’s always encouraging when they can come back and duplicate that and even improve,” Motion said. “I was very pleased with her. She’s very professional. She’s a nice filly to be around. Johnny was obviously very happy with her yesterday.”

Alda is a half-sister to English-bred Group 2 winner Alignement. She had been training at Motion’s base in Fair Hill, Maryland.

“Let’s face it, my 2-year-olds aren’t necessarily cranked up to win the first time out,” Motion said. “I felt we had her as ready as we were going to have her, but she probably isn’t as sharp as some of them. I think maybe that hurt her first time out, but having said that, she almost won despite of it. I think going another eighth of a mile helped her yesterday. She was just a more professional package yesterday.”

Motion said there aren’t many options for turf races for juvenile fillies coming up, but mentioned the $100,000 P.G. Johnson on September 3 at Saratoga Race Course as a possibility. The 16th running of the P.G. Johnson will be contested at 1 1/16 miles on the final Thursday of the eight-week meet.

“I don’t think it will be a problem for her, let’s put it that way,” he said. “I would imagine next time out, it would probably make sense to stretch her out. There aren’t that many spots out there.”

Cat’s Pajamas is on target for the Grade 2, $150,000 Lake Placid on Sunday, July 19, Motion said.

Owned by Larkin Armstrong and Jack Swain, III., Cat’s Pajamas is 2-for-2 to start her 3-year-old year, breaking her maiden on May 17 at Churchill with a two-length score before running back to defeat allowance company on June 14 at Belmont.

After finishing sixth and seventh in her first two career starts on the main track for Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Cat’s Pajamas transferred into Motion’s care, where the conditioner moved her to turf. She has since been unbeaten on grass and will now look to make the step up to stakes company, with the Lake Placid at 1 1/8 miles.

“I think being able to stretch her out as a 3-year-old and putting her on the grass has obviously helped her,” Motion said. “She’s been impressive in the mornings since we had her. I’m excited about the Lake Placid. There’s no reason she can’t handle the mile and an eighth. It’s always encouraging when they can come back and duplicate that first performance against winners.”

Blame Debbie has run in graded stakes on both dirt and turf, giving Motion options for the 3-year-old Blame filly at the upcoming Saratoga meet.

Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Michael Cloonan and Timothy Thornton, Blame Debbie ran third, a neck back to winner Civil Union, against allowance company at 1 ¼ miles on firm Belmont turf on June 21.

That marked the second straight turf start following an 11th-place effort in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks on March 7 at Tampa Bay Downs. In her graded stakes debut, Blame Debbie registered her best finish in a stakes, capping her juvenile campaign by running third in 1 1/8-mile Grade 2 Demoiselle in December at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Motion said that dual experience can leave open the possibility of running in the Grade 1, $350,000 Coaching Club American Oaks at 1 1/8 miles on the main track on July 18  or to target the $500,000 Saratoga Oaks, part of NYRA’s Turf Triple Series, on August 16 at 1 3/16 miles on grass.

“We’re going to nominate her to the CCA Oaks and also take a look at the Saratoga Oaks,” Motion said. “I thought her best race was her last race, even though she’s graded stakes-placed already, I thought it was impressive against older fillies. I think the key with her is distance. I think the distance helps, but ultimately she’s going to be at her best on the grass over a distance.”


DePaz enjoying successful Belmont meet

The New York circuit is not an easy place to win, but in his first year of stabling horses at Belmont Park trainer Horacio DePaz has enjoyed a highly prosperous meet boasting a record of 10-4-2-2 over Big Sandy.

DePaz has 22 horses stabled in the Belmont barn area with a smaller string of horses at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland. All four of his victors at beautiful Belmont Park are owned by Barry Schwartz, three of which were bred in the Empire State.

“It’s not an easy place to win, but I’ve always liked New York racing,” DePaz said. “Obviously most of my horses are with Barry Schwartz and he’s been helping me out in sending me some nice and fresh horses so a lot of credit goes to him. I’m grateful for the opportunity he’s given me. When there was no racing, we just kept them in training and that makes it much easier so you have something to work with.”

DePaz hopes to carry such high momentum to Saratoga Race Course and plans on bringing his stable upstate.

Turf allowance winner Worth a Shot defeated his New York-bred counterparts including stakes-winner Rinaldi over the winner turf in his 2020 debut. The gray or roan son of English Channel won his third race in a row in making his debut for the DePaz barn and will be nominated to the $85,000 Lubash on July 22.

“He’s a talented horse. We got him fit and got him to the races after a long layoff and he’s done really well,” DePaz said of the full brother to Grade 1-winner Voodoo Song.

Fourth time was the charm for maiden winner Sharp Starr who stretched out to one mile in style defeating fellow New York-breds by five lengths in her second start off a layoff.

Following two placings at Aqueduct over the winter, the dark bay daughter of Munnings was on a brief hiatus due to the suspension of racing in New York caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. After a lackluster return off the bench when eighth going six furlongs off the bench, she found her first career win.

“She was immature in her early races,” DePaz said. “She didn’t want to switch leads. No soundness issues or anything like that, she just mentally wasn’t all there yet. In her last race, she really put things together. It seems like the more ground she gets the better.”

Although not a winner for DePaz this meet, Amundson was twice placed against open company, the most recent effort finishing 1 ¾ lengths to the Chad Brown-trained Fortin Hill on July 4 going seven furlongs. The 4-year-old son of Curlin won the Hollie Hughes on February 17 at Aqueduct by two lengths and followed up with two places against New York-bred allowance company.

“He’s been running some hard efforts, just a very trying horse. The horse of Chad’s that we lost to looks like a really nice one,” DePaz said.