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Data Link Seeks More Graded Glory in Baruch

Of the nine graded stakes that trainer Shug McGaughey has won in 2012, eight have been on the turf. On Saturday afternoon at Saratoga Race Course, the Hall of Famer will try to add to that total when he sends Data Link in the Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap.

A 4-year-old War Front colt, Data Link has annexed two of McGaughey’s turf stakes victories: the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile in April at Keeneland Race Course and the Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes on June 10. In the latter, Data Link set a course record of 1:45.93 for 1 1/8 miles when paired for the first time with recent Hall of Fame inductee John Velazquez, who will be back aboard the 7-5 morning-line favorite.

“He’s a solid horse,” said McGaughey of Stuart S. Janney, III’s homebred, who began his career in 2010 with a fourth and a sixth on the dirt at Saratoga. “I was kind of disappointed the first couple of times I ran him on the dirt, but that all changed when I put him on the turf.”

Data Link, who opened 2012 with a third in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf and was scratched from the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap on August 11 when the race came off the turf, will carry 122 pounds from the rail in the Bernard Baruch, shortened this year to 1 1/16 miles from 1 1/8 miles.

“The distance probably doesn’t matter with him,” said McGaughey. “I think anywhere from a mile to 1 1/8 miles is his best.”

Making his turf debut is George Bolton and Stonestreet Stables’ stakes winner Dominus, who on August 4 returned from nearly a year off to post a 4 ¼-length victory in a seven-furlong optional claimer. As a 3-year-old, the Smart Strike ridgling won the Grade 2 Dwyer, finished third in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy behind Stay Thirsty and fourth in the Grade 1 Foxwoods King’s Bishop won by Caleb’s Posse.

“He’s got a bit of turf pedigree and apparently had breezed on the turf at Ocala and acted like he liked it,” said Todd Pletcher, who took over Dominus’ training this year. “We’re just sort of exploring some options. We worked him on the turf here on Monday [four furlongs in 47.00] and liked the way he breezed.”

Pletcher also will saddle Mill House’s consistent Queen’splatekitten, who has two seconds and a third in four starts this year. The 4-year-old Kitten’s Joy colt, runner-up in the Grade 3 Oceanport on July 29 at Monmouth Park, finished second in the Grade 3 Saranac last year in his lone appearance at the Spa.

“He always shows up and runs hard,” said Pletcher. “We feel he’s capable of winning one of these when things go right.”

Dominus, who drew post position 4 as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line, will carry 112 pounds, including Julien Leparoux. Javier Castellano will ride Queen’splatekitten, 8-1 on the morning line, from post position 3.

Returning from almost 14 months off is multiple graded stakes winner Prince Will I Am, unraced since running ninth in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap last June at Belmont Park.

“He started to get a little wear and tear, and it was time to give him a break,” said trainer Michelle Nihei of Prince Will I Am, who as a 3-year-old in 2010 won the Grade 1 Jamaica at Belmont. “With some horses, you worry about them wanting to come back from a break, but when the van pulled up at the farm in May, he ran to the front of his stall, dragged the groom up the ramp, went right into the box stall and said, ‘I’m ready!’”

Nihei originally had planned on bringing the son of Victory Gallop back on August 3 in the 1 5/8-mile John’s Call, presented by Sportech, but simply ran out of time. With the exception of his maiden victory at 6 ½ furlongs on the dirt, all of Prince Will I Am’s victories have come at 1 1/8 miles or longer.

“It’s a little short, but if I don’t run him, he’s going to go crazy,” said Nihei. “He wants to run, and we don’t have a lot of choice.”

Saratoga’s leading rider, Ramon Dominguez, will be aboard Prince Will I Am, who drew post position 7 and is 10-1 on the morning line.

Rounding out the field are Sky Blazer, sixth in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap last time out, and supplemental entries Crimson China, most recently fifth in an optional claimer on August 5 and Guys Reward, fourth in the Grade 2 Fourstardave. Alma d’Oro will run only if the race is moved to the main track.

 

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