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Baffert Looks Forward to ‘liaison’ at Jim Dandy

Sends Horse To $600,000 Stakes

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has confirmed his Cash Call Futurity winner Liaison as a starter for Saturday’s (July 28) Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes for three-year-olds.

Questing ran away with Saturday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks, held during opening weekend at Saratoga Race Course.

The Indian Charlie colt, owned by Arnold Zetcher, has run twice since a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, finishing second, beaten a half-length, in the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park on June 3 and third, three-quarters of a length short, in the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes on July 4.

In the Swaps, Liaison earned a career best Beyer Speed Figure of 102.

“Liaison worked really well today, and we thought he earned his trip today to the Jim Dandy,” Baffert said from Del Mar after Liaison worked 1:12 4/5 for six furlongs with likely Haskell Invitational favorite Paynter, second in the Belmont Stakes. “Martin Garcia worked him and said he really felt great.”

Garcia will ride on Saturday.

Neck ‘n Neck had an eventful prep for the Jim Dandy on Monday morning, July 23, on the main track, with two horses breaking from the gate and coming up behind him as he left the pole and another horse serving as an unintentional target as he came down the stretch.

With jockey Julien Leparoux aboard, Neck ‘n Neck completed the five furlongs in 59.76 seconds, fourth-fastest of 39 works at the distance.

“He did it nice and easy,” said Ian Wilkes, who trains Neck ‘n Neck for A. Stevens Miles, Jr. “It was a good education.”

The Flower Alley colt, who will be ridden in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race by Leandro Goncalves, comes intotheJimDandyoffa71/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs in June, his first stakes score and second straight victory.

“He’s growing up, that’s the biggest thing,” said Wilkes of Neck ‘n Neck, 3-1-0 from 10 lifetime starts. “He’s doing things more professionally. He’s more of a racehorse now, not the big kid that wanted to play around.”

Absent from the Triple Crown this year, Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito is hoping to make some noise in the three-year-old division beginning this weekend.

This Friday, July 27, he will send out the lightly raced Easter Gift, secfrom ond by a neck to Le Bernardin in the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes last time out, in the $100,000 Curlin Stakes. Saturday, he saddles Grade 2 Dwyer runner up Fast Falcon in the Jim Dandy, and Sunday, July 29, he will have recent acquisition Fort Loudon in the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes.

“By the one horse running Friday, and Fast Falcon Saturday, it still gives us hope, and it’s very nice,” said Zito, who won the Kentucky Derby with Strike the Gold (1991) and Go for Gin (1994), the Preakness with Louis Quatorze (1996) and the Belmont with Birdstone (2004) and Da’ Tara (2008).

“You know, for the first time not being in the Triple Crown in a long time, and I always say this, I’m lucky and blessed,” he said. “When you miss a year or two, you’re supposed to. That’s just the business. I’ve been blessed, so I’m happy. I’m certainly happy to get back into this deal. Like I always say, God’s been good to me, and getting me back into the second half of the season would be great.”

Speedster shoots for Amsterdam

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has picked up a rising sprinter, Laurie’s Rocket, and is getting him set for Sunday’s Amsterdam Stakes.

The race has regularly been won by some of the fastest runners in the country, including Caleb’s Posse (2011), Discreetly Mine (2010), Quality Road (2009) and Kodiak Cowboy (2008).

Owned by Willis Horton, who campaigned 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever, Laurie’s Rocket was transferred to Lukas from the barn of Dallas Stewart after a ninth-place finish behind Trinniberg in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes on June 9 at Belmont Park.

Stewart had designs on the Triple Crown trail for the Bluegrass Cat colt, but a poor run in the Grade 3 Southwest in February changed his mind. Since then, Laurie’s Rocket has won the Bachelor Stakes at Oaklawn and finished second to Il Villano in the Chick Lang Stakes on Preakness Day at Pimlico before the Woody Stephens.

“I had a long relationship with the Horton family,” Lukas said. “I had the Horton family [horses] when Dallas Stewart went out on his own hellip; and the Hortons went with Dallas.”

Asked what’s learned in the short time he’s had Laurie’s Rocket, Lukas said, “Not much. The one thing I’m concerned about is doing as good as Dallas did with him. We’re going to keep him short. We’re resolved for that. He’s gotten a little breeze, but I haven’t leaned on him yet.”

Winter Memories targets Diana

Winter Memories and jockey Javier Castellano hit the Oklahoma turf course Monday morning to turn in a 59.83 five-furlong breeze in the lead up to Saturday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Diana Stakes for turf fillies and mares.

“Nice and comfortable, so we’re very happy with her,” said trainer Jimmy Toner. “We’re good to go. Every time she runs, you get excited. And the way she runs is exciting.”

Last year at Saratoga, Winter Memories won the Grade 2 Lake George Stakes and was a troubled fourth in the Grade 2 Woodford Reserve Lake Placid Stakes before going on to earn a Grade 1 score in the Garden City Stakes at Belmont Park.

After finishing fourth in her threeyear old finale, the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, Winter Memories made a winning 2012 debut in the Grade 3 Beaugay Handicap in May at Belmont. She enters the Diana off a second to front-running Tapitsfly, also confirmed for the Diana, in Belmont’s Grade 1 Longines Just a Game Stakes on June 9.

‘Game’ set for West Point

Street Game, the three-year-old winner of the Grade 3 Hill Prince Stakes last year at Belmont Park, worked five furlongs in 59.00 seconds Monday morning in preparation for the $150,000 West Point Stakes on Aug. 16 at Saratoga.

The son of Street Cry was caught galloping out six furlongs in 1:12 by trainer Philip Serpe, who liked what he saw in the work.

“He went very good, and we’re cautiously optimistic,” said Serpe, who is trying to get a second stakes win for Street Game in the 1 1/16- mile West Point on the turf.

Street Game was third to Compliance Officer in the Kingston in May after trying to rally from sixth place. In his recent allowance score, he raced much closer to the pace. His Hill Prince victory-in which he defeated quality stakes horses Air Support, Humble and Hungry and Casino Host, among others-came when he led the entire race.

Today’s feature

Today’s (Thursday) featured race is the $100,000 Quick Call Stakes, a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint for threeyear olds.

The 3-1 morning-line favorite is Manly, who has won two straight since being claimed for $50,000 by trainer Michael Maker for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey. His new connections switched the son of Seeking the Gold to turf and shortened him up in distance in his first start off the claim, and the colt responded by breaking his maiden by 1 1/4 lengths in a June 16 maiden special weight at Churchill Downs.

He enters the Quick Call off a three-quarter-length triumph in an entry-level allowance on June 30 at Churchill.

Javier Castellano will ride Manly from post position 2.

Like Manly, 7-2 second choice Full also enters the Quick Call off a pair of turf sprints at Churchill Downs. After clearing the first allowance condition by one length on June 9, the Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider homebred was second by a half-length in a June 29 optional claimer.

Trained by Al Stall, Jr., Full will leave from post 9 with Joel Rosario aboard.

Gentlemans Code has won four straight, beginning with a $40,000 conditioned claiming race on Keeneland’s artificial main track on Apr. 6. He has been protected by trainer Wesley Ward, who owns the gelding in partnership with Ice Win Stable, since that win, taking a starter allowance over Arlington Park’s synthetic surface on May 6 and a firstlevel allowance on Arlington’s turf course on June 6.

Elvis Trujillo has the assignment aboard Gentlemans Code, 4-1, from post 7.

From the rail out, the field also includes Richmond County, Single Malt Mac, Love Those Boots, Artest, Partly Mocha, Capetown Devil, and Drago’s Best. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin stood overlooking the training track at the Greentree Training Center on a picture perfect Sunday morning, marveling at the emergence of Godolphin Racing Stable’s Questing.

Questing runs big in CCA Oaks

A day after the daughter of Hard Spun captured the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks for three-year-old fillies by 4 1/4 lengths last Saturday, July 21, McLaughlin recalled the decision to move her to the dirt after she opened the year with two straight dull turf starts.

On June 24, in her first start on the main track at Belmont Park, she camehomea33/4-lengthwinnerina one-mile optional claimer and earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure in the process.

“This filly’s story is incredible,” said McLaughlin, who will point Questing to the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 18 at the Spa.

“What if she doesn’t handle the dirt? Then the allowance race and whoosh! Then we said, ‘Let’s look at this Grade 1.’ We didn’t even expect to win the allowance race. Now we go in with confidence,” he said.

In her allowance victory, Questing led every step, but in the 96th running of the Coaching Club Oaks at Saratoga, Questing allowed long shotYaratoracetoa31/2-lengthadvantage through the opening quartermile. Inside the five-eighth pole, jockey Irad Ortiz moved Questing to the leader but did not rouse her until the quarter pole. Questing shied away from left-handed whipping and ran out to the center of the track, but she was well clear.

“She looked great this morning and is happy,” McLaughlin said. “Obviously, we’ll look at the Alabama. It’s in four weeks. I wish it was a little more time, but if she’s doing this well hellip;”

McLaughlin pointed out with pride that Ortiz joined Rajiv Maragh, Alan Garcia and Fernando Jara as jockeys who earned their first career Grade 1 victories riding for him.

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