October 3, 2023

Ward looks to start fast at Saratoga with Happy Soul, Golden Pal

Golden Pal broke his maiden in the Skidmore (NYRA/Coglianese/Chelsea Durand)

Schuylerville S. (G3) — Race 9 (5:39 p.m. ET)

Happy Soul, who’s won her last two starts by a combined margin of 23 1/4 lengths, will look to stay dominant among the juvenile filly set in Thursday’s $150,000 Schuylerville S. (G3) at Saratoga, the feature at the historic course’s 2021 season opener.

Trained by Wesley Ward, Happy Soul has emphatically conquered her rivals of late, the most recent occurring in the June 3 Astoria S. at Belmont Park. The daughter of sprint champion Runhappy was beaten on debut, albeit against males in the slop at Keeneland.

“She got beat on the squares there in her first start,” Ward said. “We were ready when she came back, so we were expecting a big effort. Then, the Astoria came up where she would have been the overwhelming favorite going in, so it was hard to pass up, even without a breeze under her belt.”

Bettors in search of possible upsetters have plenty of options. The famed Marylou Whitney Stables will be represented by the homebred Pretty Birdie, who won at first asking at Churchill Downs last month, while Steve Asmussen has two in Velvet Sister, who dominated first out at Belmont, and Eagle Express, who last out captured the Pan Zareta division of the Texas Stallion S. at Lone Star for owner Will Farish.

One intriguing stakes newbie is Mainstay, an Astern half-sister to last year’s juvenile filly champion Vequist. Mainstay crushed maiden rivals by nearly eight lengths in the slop at Monmouth Park on June 4 for trainer Butch Reid.

Quick Call S. (G3) — Race 8 (5:05 p.m. ET)

Ward will have another heavy favorite in the $120,000 Quick Call S. (G3) in Golden Pal, who has generated the highest praise possible from his trainer.

“I think he’ll be the best horse I ever had, but we’ll see if it comes out that way,” Ward said. “He does things in the mornings that are just so impressive.”

Narrowly beaten in his first two starts last season, including a neck loss in the Norfolk (G2) at Royal Ascot, Golden Pal captured the Skidmore S. at Saratoga last August by 3 1/2 lengths and then confirmed that form with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) at Keeneland as a 4-5 favorite.

The Florida-bred is by Uncle Mo and out of the terrific turf sprinting filly Lady Shipman.

For three-year-olds going 5 1/2 furlongs on the Mellon turf, the Quick Call has also attracted the multiple stakes-placed Fauci, who finished second to Golden Pal in the Skidmore. A multiple stakes winner on dirt, Jaxon Traveler, tries the grass following back-to-back seconds in the Chick Lang (G3) and Woodstock S., while 2020 Futurity (G3) winner Second of July tries to get back on track after a pair of sub-par showings in which he encountered trouble.

“In the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile Turf Sprint), he got hit with a clod of turf, so much so that when I got back to the barn his right eye was fully closed,” trainer Phil Gleaves said of Second of July. “I ran him back at Belmont and our plan was to sit second or third that day and he got hit by the horse outside him leaving the gate and that put him back to last. The jock tried to put him in the race and the horse ran off, so to speak, going from last to second into a 44 and change pace.”

Kentucky Pharoah, who impressively captured the one-mile Dania Beach S. at Gulfstream in early January, shortens up after losing his rider at the start of his June 5 Belmont comeback over nine furlongs.