FOURSTARDAVE HANDICAP| PURSE: $500,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS AND UP | GRADE 2 | ONE-MILE
Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan didn't go for a three-peat in Saturday's Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga, but the horse who nearly upset him this spring -- Seek Again -- seamlessly took over the baton. Under an intrepid ride by Joel Rosario, the Juddmonte Farms homebred just squeezed through in tight quarters on the fence and broke the 10-year-old course record.
Seek Again's late-running heroics were set up by a contentious pace. As expected, 3-2 favorite Silver Max sped to the fore, but pace rival Sayaad didn't give him much peace. Although Sayaad deferred to Silver Max through an opening quarter in :23 ⅕ seconds, he loomed closer to prompt the favorite through a half in :46 seconds, and ratcheted up the pressure further. All the while, Seek Again was reserved in fourth.
Silver Max eventually cracked under the assault from Sayaad, who grabbed a slim lead at the six-furlong mark in 1:09 ⅖ seconds. The stalking Grand Arch moved up on the outside, while Seek Again was full of run turning for home, but with nowhere to go.
Trapped behind Sayaad and Silver Max, Seek Again artfully maneuvered around the weakening favorite and grabbed the inside spot. But Sayaad was grimly holding his position while challenged by Grand Arch, and the eventual winner was still in tight. Then a seam opened, and the daring duo of Rosario and Seek Again were quick to exploit it. Just when the path to victory looked safe, a tiring Sayaad rolled back to his left, and Seek Again found himself in another precarious situation. But he refused to be denied, continued to muscle through, and forced his neck in front of Grand Arch.
Seek Again reeled off one mile on the firm inner turf in 1:33.25, eclipsing the old mark of 1:33.42 set by L'Oiseau d'Argent on August 5, 2004. The Bill Mott charge returned $6.70 to win as the 2-1 second choice.
"They went along and set an honest pace, and you have to set an honest pace to set the track record," Mott said. "I thought he got away well, and going into the first turn I was hoping Sayaad would eventually put a little pressure on Silver Max, which he did. When he left the half-mile pole, he started to turn it up, and he was looking for his best chance to win the race, and it amounted to a good fast pace for us.
"The only tense moment was when our horse was trying to find his room at the eighth-pole. I'm hoping he just finds his room.
"I was thinking it could be over at the eighth-pole, when I saw he had to alter course two different times. I thought, well, we could be in trouble because it's awful late in the game to have to stop your momentum and go a different direction."
"We had a lucky trip," Rosario said. "He showed up today. At first, there wasn't a lot of room [along the rail]. I had to stay there because he likes to run a lot that way, that's his style. He's a good horse, he fires all the time. When he sees a horse in front of him, he comes to get (him). So we had the winner today."
Grand Arch had three-quarters of a length to spare over third-placer Jack Milton, who was in turn a neck up on Dorsett. Sayaad dropped back in the final stages and wound up fifth, and there was a 6 ¼-length gap back to Silver Max.
"They went really fast," Silver Max's trainer, Dale Romans, said. "We were going to go fast, we knew it all along. Second start back, maybe I didn't do enough with him. As long as he comes back good, we'll be back. [Jockey] Robby [Albarado] said he felt fine, and he came back fine.
"The only thing I could see is that it looked like he was kicking up a lot of sod. I don't know if that had something to do with it. It just looked to me like he wasn't comfortable on the ground. That's a pretty easy excuse.
"Right now, I have no idea. I want to go back and check him. I watched him closely jog back and walk off and everything looked fine. We'll see how he is in the morning. He doesn't owe us anything. If he decided not to run today, that's his prerogative. He's won 12 races and (nearly) $2 million. We're not going to be upset with him."
Seek Again's scorecard now stands at 11-5-3-1, $725,256. The Speightstown colt began his career with John Gosden in England. A debut maiden winner at Newmarket as a juvenile, the chestnut finished second in a Leicester conditions race in his only other outing of 2012.
Out of action for 10 months, Seek Again captured a Newmarket handicap in his belated three-year-old reappearance last August, and kept busy the rest of the season. After finishing second in a handicap over Kempton's Polytrack, he wheeled back for a class hike at the same venue and checked in fourth. Seek Again next tried the historic Cambridgeshire Handicap versus older horses last September and finished a commendable fifth of 31, beaten a total of 4 ½ lengths.
Back against his own age group for an October handicap at York, Seek Again prevailed by 1 ¾ lengths. That booked his ticket to the final running of the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on December 1, and he rode the rail to a dynamic score in his stakes debut.
Seek Again remained stateside and joined Mott. Returning from a five-month layoff in the May 3 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, he came within a head of surprising Wise Dan before the Derby Day crowd at Churchill Downs. Seek Again could do no better than third, however, as the 5-2 favorite in the June 7 Manhattan on Belmont Day. Connections decided to drop back in trip from 1 ¼ miles to a flat mile here, and the move paid dividends.
"It's a good purse, it's at Saratoga and it's at a distance we wanted to test him on," Mott said of the rationale. "He's got some versatility to him. He can obviously run fast at a mile, but he did win a Grade 1 at a mile and a quarter, and he was third in the Manhattan. I wouldn't have passed up the Arlington Million [1 ¼ miles on August 16] if I didn't think he could [succeed at a mile]."
Seek Again is out of the Danehill mare Light Jig, who prospered after leaving Europe for Southern California. Twice stakes-placed in France for Pascal Bary, Light Jig developed into a Grade 1 winner for the late Bobby Frankel. She earned her signature win in the 2004 Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita, but she was also two-for-two over the Hollywood turf, including a victory in the Beverly Hills Handicap.
Light Jig has produced Group 3 hero Treble Jig, a three-quarter brother to Seek Again, being by Speightstown's sire Gone West. Treble Jig is a Jebel Ali specialist, having won all four of his career stakes at that U.A.E. track. He won back-to-back runnings of both the Jebel Ali Stakes and the Jebel Ali Mile. The only horse to turn that double, Treble Jig also set the track record in his Jebel Ali Mile repeat.
Seek Again's second dam is Group 2 heroine Nashmeel, runner-up in both the Yellow Ribbon and Matriarch in 1987. She is responsible for stakes winners Lynton and Battle Dore, the latter multiple Group 3-placed, in addition to Light Jig. Nashmeel's other descendants include Group 3-placed stakes scorer Daring Tiger.