Woodslane Farm’s homebred Grade 1-winning millionaire Sadler’s Joy, unraced in 17 weeks following a narrow defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), will kick off his 5-year-old campaign Saturday in the $200,000 Mac Diarmida (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
The 23rd running of the 1 3/8-mile Mac Diarmida for 4-year-olds and up on the grass is among nine stakes, eight graded, worth $1.5 million in purses on a 14-race program highlighted by the $400,000 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth (G2). First race post time is 11:30 a.m.
Sadler’s Joy, a chestnut son of prolific sire Kitten’s Joy, is coming off a 4-year-old season where he earned nearly $1.1 million from eight starts, his two wins coming in the Sword Dancer (G1) and Pan American (G3), both at 1 ½ miles, the latter at Gulfstream.
After skipping Gulfstream’s W.L. McKnight (G3) Jan. 27, a race where Sadler’s Joy debuted last winter, trainer Tom Albertrani opted for the Mac Diarmida rather than wait another four weeks to the Pan American.
“It was either this or the Pan American, and we’re ready for both. The horse is doing well. It looks like he’s ready to make his first start this year. He’s been training really well and he’s ready to go,” Albertrani said. “He actually runs well off the layoff. He showed that last year, so I would expect to see him come back as strong as he did last year when he made his first start back.”
Sadler’s Joy came from near-last to finish second in the 2017 McKnight, beaten a head in his graded-stakes debut. He has raced exclusively in graded company since, earning his first graded triumph in the Pan American and going on to run third in the Man o’ War (G1), Manhattan (G1) and Bowling Green (G2) before his breakthrough win in the Sword Dancer.
In his final two starts at 4, Sadler’s Joy ran fourth in both the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Nov. 4, where he came from dead last to within 2 ¼ lengths of upset winner Talismanic.
“It’s something similar to what we did last year as far as giving him a little space to give him a break. When he first got down to Palm Meadows last year we came back a little earlier but we just felt like we didn’t have to bring him back right away,” Albertrani said. “We gave him a little bit of a break and when he’d tell us when he’s ready to run, we’d run him. He’s been sharp and looks ready to go.”
Albertrani won the Mac Diarmida in 2014 with Twilight Eclipse, a Grade 1-winning multi-millionaire that set the world record for 1 ½ miles on grass in the 2013 Pan American (2:22.63).
“It’s been great having a horse like him in the barn. We’ve been very lucky in the past with some other horses going long on the grass like Twilight Eclipse and Brilliant Speed, and a couple of others,” Albertrani said. “The horse ran extremely well last year and [was] narrowly beaten in the Breeders’ Cup, it’s just great having a horse of his caliber in the barn and hopefully we can have another successful year with him.”
“You just try to keep them as healthy as you can for as long as you can,” he added. “Horses like them, they just get better with age sometimes. That’s what we’re hoping to see with this horse.”
Jockey Julien Leparoux, up for six of the last eight starts including both graded wins, has the return call from Post 1 at 119 pounds.
A field of 12 was entered for the Mac Diarmida including trainer Mike Maker’s talented trio of Oscar Nominated, Run Time and Markitoff. Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Oscar Nominated exits a half-length victory over fellow Mac Diarmida rival Nessy in the 1 ½-mile McKnight, his 5-year-old debut, and shares highweight of 123 pounds with Big Bend.
Bloom Racing and Allen Racing’s Run Time, a 5-year-old son of 2018 Racing Hall of Fame finalist Gio Ponti, is set to open his season in the Mac Diarmida off a head victory in the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens Stakes Dec. 30 to cap his 2017 campaign. Markitoff made his stakes debut in the McKnight, finishing fifth by two lengths to snap a two-race win streak.
Gold Shield, Muqtaser and Nessy, all within a length of their first graded-stakes wins last out, have a chance to break through in the Mac Diarmida. Sierra Farm homebred Nessy was second in the McKnight, a nose and a neck ahead of Lane’s End Racing and Kinsman Stable’s Gold Shield in fourth.
Nessy has been second by a total of 1 ¼ lengths in each of his past two starts, including the 1 ½-mile Sycamore (G3) last fall behind Big Bend, a multiple stakes winner who also returns in the Mac Diarmida.
“The horse has done well. He came out of that last race good and I’m very happy with him,” trainer Ian Wilkes said of Nessy. “They walked the dog, going in 1:16, and he closed from second and just got beat. I was very, very pleased with his effort.”
Gold Shield, third to Run Time in the Allen Jerkens, moved into a contending position at the top of the stretch for the McKnight but was unable to improve his position from there and wound up beaten three-quarters of a length.
“I thought he ran good last time, but he ran up to the winner and hung with him. I thought if he’d gone on and ran by him we’d probably have won,” Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said. “He did that a little bit in the race before that, too. I thought he was just getting tired and didn’t want to run that far, but he did the same thing when we backed him up. We’re kind of buffaloed. He’s running good now but he wants to run up next to horses and hang with them so we’ve got to figure that out.”
Shadwell Stable’s Muqtaser has not raced since finishing second by a length in the 1 1/8-mile Knickerbocker (G2) Oct. 9 at Belmont Park. In his prior start, he rallied from off the pace to be third, beaten a half-length, in the Kentucky Turf Cup (G3).
“He’s coming off a layoff but he’s a nice horse and he’s ready to go. We’re happy to get him started,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “He’s a nice horse and he wants the distance. It’s tough to get one ready to run that far off a layoff so he might be in need of a run but he’s doing very well.”
Bernay, second in a 1 3/8-mile allowance Jan. 24 at Gulfstream in his North American debut; One Go All Go, fourth by 1 ¾ in the Gulfstream Park Turf (G1) last out Feb. 10; Patterson Cross, unraced since finishing third by a neck in the Pan American last April; and Some in Tieme, a Group 1 winner by disqualification in Brazil who was second by a length in the John B. Connally (G3) Jan. 28 at Sam Houston, complete the field.