Ultra-talented turf sprinter Golden Pal captured Friday’s 5 1/2-furlong Grade 3, $300,000 Troy at Saratoga, earning a 100 Beyer Speed Figure – his third triple-digit number. But the 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt also gained beneficial experience in racing from just off the pace under Irad Ortiz Jr., tracking quick early fractions and doing just enough to garner a seventh lifetime stakes victory.
Golden Pal’s previous accolades include triumphs in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Keeneland and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar as only the sixth horse to win two different Breeders’ Cup events. Additionally, he now has won a stakes race at the Spa for three years straight. A maiden-breaking winner of the 2020 Skidmore, he also captured last year’s Quick Call (G3), both at 5 1/2 furlongs.
Before the Troy, Golden Pal had won all of his races in gate-to-wire fashion. On Friday, he sat just off a swift pace set by the Graham Motion-trained True Valour and did just enough work to get the job done, dueling with the pacesetter and holding off a late rally by Thin White Duke.
“He had been training that way for quite some time from the onset when he came back here in his Turfway Park works earlier in the spring with (exercise rider) Julio (Garcia),” Ward said. “This gives us another option, especially moving forward with the Breeders’ Cup and all the hot pace that will be in there. The fastest turf sprinters in the world will be there. This way, we aren’t committed to the lead. I think both he learned a lot (on Friday), both the horse and Irad, about how he can do that.”
Ward said the Troy win was perhaps Golden Pal’s biggest learning experience.
“Usually he’s so quick and agile, he breaks so fast and moves like a cat the first few jumps out of there to where we’re essentially committed to the lead,” Ward said. “But now he has other options now. If someone goes early, Irad can sit back and just ride his race instead of being committed to the front.”
After trying new tactics, Golden Pal could switch things up surface-wise and is likely for the $300,000 Phoenix (G2) on Oct. 7 over the dirt at Keeneland, where Ward is primarily based.
“Being a dirt sprint on his home track, which is Keeneland, he’s trained there his whole life,” Ward said. “We’re going to have a few workouts on the dirt in the coming weeks, and that will tell the tale.”
The Phoenix – the oldest stakes race in North America – is a Breeders’ Cup “win and you're in” for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but Ward said he would be more likely to pursue a title defense in the Turf Sprint.
“I’d prefer to stick to the turf plan, but that will be discussed with Coolmore as we’re getting the most important thing for the horse, which is stallion value. That’s the reason for the Phoenix,” Ward said.
Despite winning by a slim margin, Ward said he was not the least bit concerned with Golden Pal because of his exceptional abilities.
“For me, just watching him and having so much confidence in his abilities, I just knew when they turned for home and he wasn’t in behind horses or trapped or in trouble, that he had a clear run, I was very confident and I was just watching the last three-sixteenths of a mile unfold,” Ward said. “If it were another horse I would be grabbing on to my seat and screaming, but with him I was just watching it and taking it all in. Even though it was a small margin of victory, and Graham’s horse ran a huge race – don’t take anything away from him – I was pretty confident down lane.”
The next day, Ward visited the winner’s circle after an upset victory from Chi Town Lady in the $500,000 Test (G1). The Joel Rosario-piloted Verrazano sophomore filly came from 11 lengths off the pace down the backstretch and gunned down graded-stakes winner Hot Peppers and Grade 1 winner Matareya to secure her first graded-stakes win.
Like Golden Pal, Chi Town Lady also changed tactics and conveyed a deep closing style in the seven-furlong Test. A winner of last year’s Bolton Landing over turf at the Spa, Chi Town Lady showed tactical speed in some of her previous races.
“The filly ran a powerful race,” Ward said. “We had a plan going in. So often in racing, no matter what level of racing you’re at, it’s hard to win a race. To win a Grade 1 in a race like the Test, that’s what everybody is here for.”
Ward said Chi Town Lady likely will train up to the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint on Nov. 5 at Keeneland.