Severely impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. steeplechase season will look to build momentum in the coming weeks at Saratoga beginning with Thursday’s $100,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial (G1) at about 2 1/16 miles.
With many hunt meets canceled through May due to the pandemic, only one graded hurdle has been run so far this term. That was the June 13 Temple Gwathmey (G3) at Middleburg, Virginia, which Moscato dominated for the second year running. Besides the undulating country courses, Moscato has also held form over the tighter, flatter surface at Saratoga. Three summers ago, the gray ran first and second in a pair of novice stakes at the Spa.
Coming off a much longer absence than Moscato is Optimus Prime, who owns a 4-for-5 record since his importation from Britain in 2018. Unraced since last July, the French-bred won first off the plane in the 2018 New York Turf Writers Cup (G1) and later claimed a pair of Grade 2 wins before hitting the sidelines last summer.
Surprising Soul has had an uneven career over hurdles, though he put his speed to good use wiring the Lonesome Glory (G1) last fall at odds of 17-1. The mare Pravalaguna could also display early foot Thursday after leading much of the way in winning the Peapack S. at Far Hills, New Jersey, in her lone U.S. appearance in October.
Both Redicean and Gibralfaro might improve in their second outings of the season. Redicean captured the Jonathan Kiser Novice at Saratoga last summer in his U.S. debut, while Gibralfaro captured the Zeke Ferguson Memorial (G2) after a runner-up effort in the New York Turf Writers Cup over this course.
The Smithwick kicks off the 10-race Saratoga program, which starts at 12:50 p.m. ET.