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Breeders' Cup 2017

McLaughlin Still on Fire at Saratoga

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin

Last year, Kiaran McLaughlin had an extraordinary meet, saddling four Grade 1 winners including Alpha's dead-heat victory in the Travers. While the trainer has not won a graded stakes this season, the 150th meet has been successful in a different way.


On Friday, Midnight Watch gave McLaughlin his 15th winner of the meet when she took the $100,000 Riskaverse in front-running fashion. The victory was the 10th for McLaughlin since August 14, including five maiden winners and Sayaad's triumph in the Dance of Life overnight stakes on August 21. Heading into Saturday's card, he was third in the meet trainer standings behind Todd Pletcher (34 wins) and Chad Brown (22).


"We've had a great meet," said McLaughlin. "A lot of the horses who ran second early came back to win. We're real happy to win a stakes with Midnight Watch; she's a nice filly and she came out of the race in good shape.


"If we pull off the upset today with Alpha [in the Grade 1 Woodward]," he added with a smile, "it would be super."


Midnight Watch, a 3-year-old Darley homebred, broke her maiden in front-running fashion on May 5 at Belmont Park and on May 30 led every step to win a 1 1/16-mile allowance. In her first stakes start, she led through a half-mile in 46.45 seconds before fading to fourth in the Grade 2 Lake George. On Friday, she got away with a half in 47.24 and had plenty left to hold off Teen Pauline.


"It was a great ride by Irad Ortiz," said McLaughlin. "We're happy to get the black type. We really haven't thought beyond the race. The [Grade 1] Garden City [September 14, Belmont Park] comes up too quick. We'll look at something."


McLaughlin added that With Sugar On Top, who came from far back to win an optional claimer on August 22, was under consideration for the Garden City.


"She did run a big race here," he said. "It was just an allowance race, but it was a big race."


*           *           *


A glance at the Daily Racing Form entries yesterday would have shown trainer Gary Contessa had zero wins from his past 64 first-time starters. The statistics might have given pause to some bettors but not Contessa's horses.


After winning with just two of 53 total starters during the Saratoga race meet, Contessa sent out first-timers Sidearm to win the second race and Fancy Boss to win the seventh.


Contessa last won with two first-time starters on the same card in November 2010 at Aqueduct.


"Some guy yelled to me yesterday, 'Two for fifty-something!' I'm like, 'He must be talking about my record at the meet.' Somebody said, 'No, no, that's your record with first-time starters,'" Contessa said, laughing. 


"My philosophy is that I want a young horse - and I've come up under a lot of good trainers of 2-year-olds in my career - I want to run a 2-year-old 75 to 80 percent ready. If it's a sensational 2-year-old, it will win first time being about 75 to 80 percent ready, and its second start will take another step forward. But most of them - and let's face it, we're playing on the big stage - we're running against guys who purchased better 2-year-olds, and they're 100 percent ready. That's not my philosophy. It's very important to me a horse improves in its second and third start."


Sidearm, a son of Champion Sprinter Kodiak Kowboy, won his debut by 2 ½ lengths at odds of 5-1, running six furlongs in 1:11.81 despite being bumped at the break and racing wide.


Fancy Boss, by Street Boss, was a different story, taking jockey Abel Lezcano on a wild adventure - including the race - before winning a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint by 4 ¾ lengths in 1:03.81 at odds of 11-1.


"She is somewhat mentally challenged and very talented," Contessa said of Fancy Boss. "Many, many times you hear the siren [signaling a loose horse on the track in the morning], and it's Fancy Boss coming back alone.


"She dumped that kid [Lezcano] four times yesterday," he continued. "She dumped him in the paddock. Then she dumped him right where you walk out of the tunnel onto the track. Then she dumped him once in the post parade, and then she dumped him behind the gate. Any one of those times could have been her undoing, but they hung onto her. Then, as her trainer, what do I have to think about? She has the outside post in the field, and, quite often, when you have a horse that's a little challenged they break this way and turn right. So, I didn't know if she would do that, but in my heart, I knew if she came out straight she had a chance to win."





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