Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is happy with how Alpha has improved since the Kentucky Derby.
Horse racing: Alpha is still going strong for Godolphin
It is a testament to the training skills of Kiaran McLaughlin that Godolphin's Alpha has made it to Saturday night's Group 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga Racecourse in New York.
The brutal nature of this year's Kentucky Derby eventually claimed the careers, due to injury, of I'll Have Another and Bodemeister, the first two home.
A fortnight later they duelled with the same result in the Preakness Stakes.
Union Rags, who was seventh at Churchill Downs in May, has also been retired. Hansen, who was ninth, was pulled from tonight's 10-furlong event this week due to a tear to the tendon in his left foreleg.
Alpha and Liaison are the only representatives from the Churchill Downs Classic in tonight's 11-runner field, although Kenny McPeek's pair of Golden Ticket and Atigun appeared on the undercard and have progressed to the $1 million (Dh3.67m) contest.
It certainly helped that Alpha hated the Churchill Downs experience and could only finish 12th.
He also ran poorly in Louisville when 11th of 13 runners in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last season, and going into the Grade 1 Jim Dandy in July, McLaughlin was confident of success going into the nine-furlong race.
"We had no questions ahead of that race," McLaughlin said. "We had so many reasons for his poor performance. You know how hot it was and he just lost it in the paddock. He was dripping wet and got very upset and he stepped on himself and lost his shoe."
Alpha cruised to victory by forcing the pace and drew two length's clear of Neck N' Neck, who re-opposes tonight alongside Liaison, who was another two lengths back in third.
Since that race, Alpha has thrived and McLaughlin is looking forward to Ramon Dominguez once again taking the reins.
"Alpha has put on a lot of weight since the Kentucky Derby and it really has been the last two months that he has been doing great. He's really excelled and could not be going any better now," the Dubai World Cup-winning trainer said. "Dominguez is a great rider and he is riding with confidence. He gets on with Alpha very well and we'll leave it up to him."
Despite McLaughlin's glittering CV, which includes a Breeders' Cup Classic courtesy of Invasor, who won him the world's richest race in 2007, he is yet to win the Travers. Godolphin effectively won the Travers with Darley's Bernardini in 2006 before Alpha's sire was gunned down by Invasor in the final furlong at Churchill Downs.
"It would be great to win it," he said. "I've been born and raised in Kentucky but I've been to New York for a number of years. To win it in Godolphin colours would be fabulous."
Alpha is one of three horses carrying the royal blue colours with distinction for McLaughlin this season with the outrageously talented Questing and It's Tricky, who was in action overnight, giving him tremendous exposure.
It's Tricky is likely to be retired at the end of the season, but both Alpha and Questing should feature at the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita in November, and then perhaps even Dubai next year.
"Both are possibles for the World Cup meeting," he said. "I'm happy to give them to Godolphin or come over and train them, but I think both are better on the dirt."
LATE KICK PUSHES ORTENSIA
York, England // Ortensia once again displayed her incredible acceleration by swooping late to take the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes on the Knavesmire on Friday.
The Australian raider was placed out the back for much of the five furlong contest, run at a furious pace, and even as the early pacesetters entered the final furlong jockey William Buick was toiling in 12th place.
Yet when it mattered most the daughter of Testa Rossa motored home, posting the fastest final three furlongs in the field, to deny Frankie Dettori on Spirit Quartz to win by a neck.
Paul Messara, her trainer, had missed her victory at Glorious Goodwood this month, but had chosen to fly in from down under to witness his seven-year-old take apart 19 other runners to record her third success at the highest level.
“It’s been a hell of a ride and this is the biggest thrill of my training career. To come all this way to win a Group 1 is fantastic,” the 34-year-old handler said.
“I wasn’t sure she was going to get there and I only thought she would win in the last 150 metres.”
Ortensia has been in Newmarket under the care of Leah Gavranich, her travelling head groom, since just after she scooped the Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan Racecourse in March.
Gavranich has yet to have a day off and could be asked for further effort as Messara nominated the Group 1 Sprint Cup at Haydock Park on September 8 as her next engagement.
“Leah has done a magnificent job and she knows the horse like a relative,” Messara said. “She’s been with the horse for six months and it is a lot of commitment from her. We are going to take it one race at a time and it is a matter of seeing how Ortensia has pulled up tomorrow.
“If she has had enough we’ll be going home otherwise it is roll on Haydock.”
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