Trainer Todd Pletcher, always loaded with 2-year-old talent when the Saratoga Race Course season rolls around, will waste no time testing two promising fillies in the $150,000 Schuylerville Stakes July 19 at the Spa.
Pletcher has won four editions of the six-furlong sprint for juvenile fillies -- in 2002 with Freedom's Daughter, 2003 with Ashado, 2006 with Cotton Blossom, and 2011 with Georgie's Angel -- and sends out the coupled entry of homebred Elena Strikes and $200,000 yearling purchase Yes Liz for Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings in this year's renewal.
Elena Strikes, by Smart Strike , broke her maiden at first asking June 22 at Monmouth Park as the odds-on favorite in a five-furlong sprint against five others. She rated off the pace, advanced three wide into contention, bid on the turn, and drew clear to win by 2 ¾ lengths under jockey Joe Bravo in a final time of :59.44. Jockey Javier Castellano gets the mount from post 2 for this filly's second start.
"I think she'll appreciate the added distance where she can break and not have to be rushed," said Pletcher. "She's a filly who has shown a lot of quality. She has been training really well up here and she has a good mind. She has been doing well since that maiden race."
Yes Liz, purchased at the 2013 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s select sale of 2-year-olds in training, was an even more impressive winner of her July 3 debut going the same distance at Belmont Park. The daughter of Yes It's True latched on to a contender and sparred for the lead before obtaining it, kicking away through five furlongs in :57.99 under Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado. Fellow Hall of Famer John Velazquez will be in the irons this time from the 6 hole.
"She's pretty straightforward," Pletcher remarked. "She's very fast. She's a precocious kind of filly. We expected that type of performance from her. She has good gate speed. She came out of that race really well. That's why we thought about running her back."
Pletcher, whose domination with his 2-year-olds last year was a key factor in his third straight H. Allen Jerkens training title, did not think a repeat of 2012 was forthcoming but was hopeful for continued success.
"So far, the 2-year-olds are running well," said the trainer, whose 2012 juveniles included stakes winners Shanghai Bobby, Kauai Katie, Dreaming of Julia, Overanalyze, Violence and 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice. "As usual, we come in at the end of April or the beginning of May and look to bring a lot of 2-year-olds. Historically, it has always been a place to get horses ready. They seem to be doing well here. We're hopeful, but we also know how hard it is to win races here. We had an unbelievable meet with 2-year-olds last year. I think it's next to impossible to repeat the kind of numbers we had last year. We have to see and hope for the best. Hopefully, we will have some success."
The Schuylerville drew a well-matched field of seven, all but one victorious last time out. Brad Gould Jr. and Hidden Hill Farm's Maryland-bred Great Notion filly Jonesin for Jerry sparkled five furlongs in :57.88 June 29 at Delaware Park, drawing off smartly to a six-length wire-to-wire win in her second start for trainer John Robb.
Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch's Bahnah, a daughter of Elusive Quality , won a 4 ½-furlong sprint at Churchill Downs by the same margin on June 6 with a handy closing move first time out for trainer Bret Calhoun.
Bugle Hill Racing Partnership's Brazen Persuasion was also a solid debut winner at the Schuylerville distance; she took a June 29 maiden special weight at Churchill by 4 ¾ lengths after racing closest to the pace and drawing off late under steady urging in her second try for trainer Steve Asmussen. The Indian Charlie filly is the most expensive purchase in the field. She also came from the 2013 OBS select sale of 2-year-olds in training and cost $210,000.
St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds' True Blue Nation, a daughter of Bluegrass Cat , handled her first start impressively as well, going wire-to-wire in a five-furlong sprint at Belmont June 21 to score her first victory for trainer Tom Albertrani by 5 ¼ lengths at odds of 17-1. An $85,000 yearling purchase, True Blue Nation went the distance in :58.26.
"She was very impressive first time out," said Albertrani. "Normally, I don't really crank on the 2-year-olds to come out running first time out, but if they do, all the better. I would always expect a better performance second time around, so we were very pleased with that effort first time out."
Albertrani, who described True Blue Nation as a "very, very quiet" filly, said he was pleasantly surprised by her performance.
"If you'd looked at her workouts before the race, you'd never get any indication that she would come out with that kind of speed," he said. "She was one of two fillies of mine in the race, and the other filly [Aldero, who was fifth] had been working a little better. In the afternoons, you don't know what to expect, so I was very, very happy to see her come out running like that. Let's hope she'll take another step forward."
Bowman Racing's Silver Valley is the lone contender with stakes experience in the field and the only one not coming off a win. The Silver Train filly was an impressive maiden winner first out going five furlongs May 25 at Lone Star Park, but ran fourth after breaking slow in the six-furlong Debutante Stakes at Churchill on June 22.