SANFORD STAKES | PURSE: $300,000 | 2-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 2 | 6 FURLONGS
George and Lori Hall's Bern Identity passed what turned out to be a stern test for inexperienced juveniles in Sunday's Grade 2, $300,000 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga. A wicked speed duel cost the front runners, and ran most of the field off its feet, but the 9-5 favorite coped well. Showing the ability to draft just behind the pace war for Rosie Napravnik, the Kelly Breen pupil got himself into position, and had enough left to run down the tired Handsome Jack late.
Bern Identity was coming off a 13 3/4 maiden romp at Belmont Park, and thus netted a $100,000 bonus, which accordingly bumped the Sanford's advertised purse from $200,000 to $300,000. The New York Racing Association is offering the $100,000 bonus to a Belmont or Aqueduct two-year-old maiden winner who goes on to land a graded stakes at any NYRA track in 2012.
"The extra $100,000 bonus makes it all sweeter," Breen said. "So, thanks, NYRA! Even for his first start, without the bonus, I don't know if I would have run him in New York to begin with. Maybe with the big money here, we'll have to think about bringing some more horses here."
In the early going, Handsome Jack roared out to the early lead, but Brave Dave also flashed speed to press him. After Handsome Jack zipped through an opening quarter in a torrid :21 3/5, Brave Dave was lapped on him rounding the far turn through a half in :44 3/5.
But Brave Dave spun wide leaving the far turn, drifting out toward the center of the track. The combination of ground loss, and his early exertions, proved too much, and Brave Dave ultimately dropped out of contention.
Handsome Jack was still keeping on doggedly, but Bern Identity was beginning to hit his stride. Having chased the early pace along the inside, Bern Identity angled out for the drive and took aim on the leader.
The Bernstein colt rallied steadily inside the final furlong and edged away by 1 1/4 lengths, finishing the six-furlong slugfest in 1:11 on the fast track. The favorite furnished mutuels of $5.60, $4 and $3.40.
"He ran great -- he's really got a lot of grit," Napravnik said. "We weren't quite as forwardly placed as I thought we might be, but the pace was extremely fast. He just hung in there down on the rail and finished strongest coming for home.
"[Co-owner Lori Hall] asked me if this was my first Sanford and I said, 'Yes.'"
According to NYRA, it also ranks as Napravnik's first graded win at Saratoga.
"I've had a lot of firsts for these guys," Napravnik said, such as becoming the first female jockey to win the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby aboard Pants on Fire, whom she also rode in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. "They're great supporters and I'm glad to be riding for them. He's extremely talented and, on top of that, he's got a lot of heart. I'm excited to see where he goes from here."
"He's a fast horse," Breen said. "After he won, he came back and worked extremely fast. That kind of indicated to me he was the real deal. That's how I feel in my heart anyway.
"They outran him a little bit in the beginning; I was a little surprised. Maybe the fast workout last week [three furlongs in a bullet :34 2/5 July 15] took a little bit out of him. But he showed his grit, got a little bit of dirt in his face and ran nice. He didn't break great, but in the blink of an eye we were a length behind. She had to ride him coming out of there.
"Around the turn it was a little nerve-wracking," Breen continued. "Is he going to keep coming? She never had a chance to give him a breather. She sat on him a little bit around the turn and then asked him to go again. He showed a lot of grit. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think he was a nice horse. We take our chances coming to New York, and when we show up we're here for a reason. We were here with what I thought was a nice horse."
Handsome Jack held second by three-quarters of a length from the closing Onetwentyeight, who was motoring in the final yards. Brave Dave checked in fourth, followed by Special Jo, Hightail and 2-1 second choice Rose Junction, Onetwentyeight's better-regarded stablemate from the Todd Pletcher barn. Good Tickled was scratched.
Bern Identity improved his record to 3-2-1-0 and boosted his bankroll to $276,000. He finished second in his May 9 debut at Belmont to the filly Sweet Shirley Mae, who didn't exactly advertise the form when winding up only fifth in Friday's Grade 3 Schuylerville. But Bern Identity moved forward off that first outing in the slop and crushed a June 1 maiden next out, showing plenty of early speed on a fast track en route to his 13 3/4-length conquest.
Bred in Kentucky by Galleria Bloodstock, Crosshaven Bloodstock, Petaluma Bloodstock et al., Bern Identity has twice sold at Keeneland. He brought $43,000 as a newly-minted yearling in January, and his current connections purchased him for $75,000 later that year in September.
George Hall recalled the circumstances of the purchase.
"[At the sale] I think Kelly said he liked him, and he wasn't too expensive," Hall said. "That was good enough for me. We'll see how he comes out of the race and see what's between here and the Breeders' Cup; obviously, that's where we'd like to get."
Connections indicated that the Juvenile Sprint, rather than the two-turn Juvenile, would likely be his Breeders' Cup target of choice.
Bern Identity is out of Grade 3 heroine Maddalena, a daughter of Good and Tough who placed second in the Grade 1 Prioress in 2005. This is the family of multiple stakes winner Foxie G.