SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Kiaran McLaughlin has trained or been associated with some very talented horses during his racetrack career, including his current handicap star Invasor and reigning Belmont Stakes winner Jazil. So his comment this week about his 3-year-old speedster Henny Hughes is all the more flattering.
"He's a very special horse," McLaughlin said. "I haven't been around too many like him in my life."
Henny Hughes, a son of Hennessy, will try to live up to McLaughlin's high praise on Saturday when he goes off the heavy favorite against 10 other 3-year-olds in Saratoga's Grade 1, $250,000 King's Bishop Stakes at seven furlongs.
Henny Hughes was trained by Patrick Biancone during a 2-year-old campaign in which he easily won his first three starts, including the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, and finished second in his last three, culminating with a game effort behind Stevie Wonderboy in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Henny Hughes, owned by Sheikh Rajid, a son of Sheikh Mohammed, wintered in Dubai before returning to the United States with McLaughlin early this spring.
Henny Hughes made his much-anticipated 3-year-old debut at Monmouth Park on July 1, scoring an eye-catching 10-length victory in the Grade 3 Jersey Shores Breeders' Cup Stakes. His final time of 1:08.20 earned him a career-best 109 Beyer Speed Figure.
"I'm very happy with what's happened with this horse since we brought him back from Dubai," said McLaughlin. "I didn't realize how talented he was until he ran the way he did at Monmouth coming off such a long layoff, and obviously he was more ready for the race than I thought."
McLaughlin said the plan beyond the King's Bishop would be to take on older horses with one final prep before the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
"I've heard a lot of people are already conceding him the Sprint after the way he won in New Jersey, but I wouldn't do that quite yet," said McLaughlin. "I'm very confident going seven furlongs against 3-year-olds that he'll win Saturday, but obviously things will get tougher when he has to go up against older horses."
Henny Hughes will share high weight of 121 pounds with Songster under the allowance conditions of the King's Bishop, with John Velazquez named to ride.
Songster, like Henny Hughes, has never finished worse than second, but trainer Tom Albertrani admits beating the favorite will be no easy task.
"Henny Hughes looks very strong off his last race," said Albertani. "He's got a lot of speed, and if he's allowed to get out and have his own way he's going to be very tough to reel in."
Songster won a pair of graded stakes before finishing second behind Court Folly as the 1-5 favorite here last month in the Grade 2 Amsterdam.
"Last time we went with the speed early because it was a short field, but he has shown he can rate and I think we'll be able to take back and be a little more patient on Saturday," said Albertrani.
Court Folly took advantage of a hotly contested pace to rally from last to beat Songster by 1 1/2 lengths in the Amsterdam, and should again finish best of all in the King's Bishop.
"I think he's a little sharper going into this one than the last, and we're hoping for the same pace setup as in the Amsterdam," said Court Folly's trainer, Ian Wilkes.
If Henny Hughes does get an early challenge for the lead, it could come from Delaware invader Master of Disaster, a wire-to-wire winner of three of his four starts at 3, or El Nino, who disputed the pace before finishing a tiring third in the Amsterdam.
Florida invader Mach Ride may be a sleeper coming off an against-the-bias second behind odds-on favorite Too Much Bling in Calder's Grade 2 Carry Back Stakes.
Purse: $250,000; 7 furlongs; Grade 1