SARATOGA SPECIAL STAKES | PURSE: $200,000 | 2-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 2 | 6 1/2 FURLONGS
Front-running Corfu nipped Wired Bryan by a bare nose in a desperate finish to the $200,000 Saratoga Special Aug. 11, giving trainer Todd Pletcher his first win in the longstanding 2-year-old event at Saratoga Race Course.
For all his success with 2-year-olds at the Spa over the years, Pletcher has been blanked with seven previous starters in the 6 ½-furlong Special, which serves as Saratoga's final major stakes prep for the Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes Sept. 2. Pletcher has won with 46 of 124 juvenile starters at the upstate New York track over the past three years.
Pletcher came very close to sweeping the exacta in the 107th renewal of the Saratoga Special, as 14-1 shot Danza rallied powerfully after finding room at the rail to finish third, a late arriving half-length behind Wired Bryan. Corfu's tally as 13-2 odds was satisfying for the multiple Eclipse Award-wining conditioner as the runner-up was trained by his former assistant, Michael Dilger.
"[Wired Bryan] ran a courageous race; we were just on the fortunate side of the head bob," Pletcher said.
Candy Dandy, the even-money favorite in the field of seven, finished fifth.
The final time, 1:15.57, eclipsed the stakes record for 6 1/2 furlongs set by Run Away and Hide of 1:15.67 in 2008. The race was contested at six furlongs prior to 1994.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez also registered his first Saratoga Special victory with Corfu. He collected his fifth win on the Sunday card.
Corfu won his debut July 25 going five furlongs at Saratoga in tough front-running style by half a length. He races for the Coolmore connections of Michael Tabor, John Magnier, and Derrick Smith.
A colt by Malibu Moon -- Fashion Cat, by Forest Wildcat, the sleek bay brought $675,000 as the sales topper at the Barretts juvenile sale in March. He was purchased by Coolmore's bloodstock agent, Demi O'Byrne, from Breaking Point Farm, who acquired him as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale for $185,000 from Gainesway.
AGS Thoroughbreds bred Corfu in Kentucky. Corfu's dam is a half sister to multiple grade I winner Peace Rules.
"We've liked [Corfu] all along since we purchased him at Barretts," Pletcher said. "We felt like he was a very fast horse there, and we felt like he was a precocious 2-year-old. We're happy to get him started here and happy to have him win first time out.
"We were monitoring pretty closely how he bounced out of his maiden race and just wanted to decide whether we could turn him back on fairly short rest. He came back with a very good breeze [1:01 for five furlongs on the training track Aug. 5], and I felt like that was the answer we were looking for. Luckily, he showed up today and had enough to hold on in a pretty fast race."
Corfu, leaving from gate 4, went to the front by a length on the backstretch, leading Sanford Stakes winner Wired Bryan while reeling off a blazing first quarter of :21.62. Corfu opened up by two lengths early on the turn, hitting the half mile point in :44.02.
Wired Bryan, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, whittled the advantage to a length at the eighth pole and continued to cut into the lead approaching the wire as Danza and Javier Castellano launched a powerful late bid at the rail. But the wire came just in time for Corfu, who stubbornly held on under left-handed urging from Velazquez.
"He held on after going as fast as they were going all the way around," noted Velazquez. "You've got to take your hat off to him when the horse keeps running like that. We knew he is fast. That's the way he won the first time out. We were hoping to get a little bit of a break, but we didn't. We were rolling all the way around with [Wired Bryan] next to me. But that's part of racing."
The victory, worth $120,000, boosted Corfu's earnings to $168,000 from two starts.
Corfu carried 118 pounds and paid $15, $5.60, and $3.90 as the fourth choice. Wired Bryan, the 122-pound highweight, capped a $52 exacta while returning $4.10 and $3.20 as the second favorite. Danza, a debut maiden winner at Belmont Park July 12 for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, paid $5.60 to show.
"I thought this was a scenario that might happen," Dilger said after Wired Bryan lost for the first time in three starts. "I am very, very proud of our horse. He ran a great race. I was disappointed not to win. That was the closest thing to a dead heat that I've ever seen."
Lunarwarfare was fourth, followed by Candy Dandy, Ogermeister, and Twang.