SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- During these tough economic times, when it's hard to get any value for a dollar, the New York Racing Association got itself a real bargain for the mere $150,000 it has put up for Sunday's Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga.
Despite the relatively small purse, the 1 1/16-mile Fourstardave lured Breeders' Cup winner Kip Deville, the Grade 1-caliber pair of Cowboy Cal and Cosmonaut, and the once-beaten Justenuffhumor among the nine who signed on for the extremely competitive turf fixture.
Several members of the Fourstardave lineup had the alternative of passing the Fourstardave and heading to Monmouth Park, where the money was better and the competition weaker on the same afternoon in the $200,000 Oceanport. But as Phil Serpe, the trainer of Cosmonaut, said, it's Saratoga and everybody wants to win a race like this at Saratoga.
The key to the Fourstardave, aside from the weather and likely potential for a less-than-firm turf course, is which Kip Deville will show up: the Kip Deville who won the 2007 Breeders' Cup Mile and Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap earlier this winter, or the Kip Deville who finished 10th in the Dubai Duty Free and fourth as the 3-5 favorite in the Grade 3 Poker in his last two starts?
"If Kip runs his race, I can't see anything in this field who can beat him," said trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. "At least that's what I'm hoping will happen."
Dutrow said he could find little excuse for Kip Deville's disappointing performance in the Poker, other than the condition of the Belmont turf course, which was listed as soft. But Kip Deville handled even softer turf with no problem during the 2007 BC Mile at soggy Monmouth Park and a good course when winning for the Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile in his 2008 debut.
Heavy rains here Friday increased the likelihood that the turf would be rated no better than good by Sunday.
Cowboy Cal is coming off a subpar effort of his own as the favorite over a wet turf course at Belmont in the Grade 1 Manhattan on June 6. Five weeks earlier, Cowboy Cal turned in arguably the best performance of his career when beaten a head by Einstein in Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.
"The pace scenario, more than the condition of the course, was responsible for his effort in the Manhattan," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He never really settled during the early stages and just did not get a good trip."
Pletcher said he'd like to change tactics for the Fourstardave.
"We'll see how things unfold, but hopefully, he'll have someone to sit behind this time," Pletcher said.
Cosmonaut finished third, beaten two lengths by Kip Deville, after setting the pace in the 2007 BC Mile. Cosmonaut won the Grade 3 Ft. Marcy to open his 7-year-old campaign this spring, finished a courageous fifth following an unlucky start in the Manhattan, and was third as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap in his most recent appearance three weeks ago.
"He's really a very consistent horse, he's always right there, and he really loves a soft turf course," Serpe said. "I think the turn back in distance from a mile and one-quarter in his last two starts should be a plus for him, and he'll be either on or right off the pace from the start."
Justenuffhumor is perfect in four starts since switching to the turf after finishing far back in his career debut at 3, but will be making his stakes debut in the Fourstardave.
Interpatation remains winless since 2007, but was Grade 1 stakes placed here last summer, while Mambo Meister brings a two-race win streak up from Calder for his local bow.