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September 11, 2009

Spy In The Sky Steals New York Turf Writers Cup

He notches the prestigious grade I win for trainer Jimmy Day.

Randleston Farm’s Spy In The Sky had trainer Jimmy Day frustrated.

In 2008 he won the $70,000 Happy Intellectual Stakes at Saratoga (N.Y.) and looked like a promising novice hurdler, but the rest of the year was not so kind. Things didn’t improve much in the spring of 2009, and he even lost his rider at the Atlanta Steeplechase (Ga.) in April.

But in the $100,000 New York Turf Writers Cup, Aug. 27 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., he fully redeemed himself with a grade I win with Liam McVicar aboard.

Spy In The Sky was not exactly favored among the entries in the Turf Writers, considered one of the most important races during the Saratoga steeplechase season. The pair was a long shot at 20-1 odds.

But Spy In The Sky’s lackluster performance from the last 12 months ended up being a huge advantage. He only had to carry 138 pounds compared to favorite William Pape’s Mixed Up (Xavier Aizpuru), who was saddled with 154 pounds. Fox Ridge Farm’s Planets Aligned would have been saddled with just as much weight had he not been scratched due to a minor injury the night before.

Planets Aligned’s departure from the race thinned the starters to a hearty six, and as expected Kenneth Ramsey’s gray Slip Away (Peter Buchanan) shot off to a blistering lead, leaving some 20 lengths between him and the rest of the field.

As they turned for home, the field caught a worn-out Slip Away, and with nothing left in the tank he was pulled up. Spy In The Sky now nestled in with Calvin Houghland’s Sermon Of Love (Danielle Hodsdon) and Cherry Knoll Farm’s Dalucci (Bernard Dalton). He fenced the final hurdle well, drawing away to win by 10 lengths and change.

For those lucky enough to have put money on the 5-year-old son of 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch, he paid a whopping $43 for the win.

Day has always thought Spy In The Sky—formerly a protégé of top flat track trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and owned by Jim and Melinda Carter of Bluemont, Va.—was a quality horse.

“It’s just the races we have entered did not go the way he likes it,” Day said. “He needs a good gallop. He needs to have a real honest pace or he just does not get going or jump well. He has had a lot of bad breaks this year, but this was perfect with Slip Away leading them all on. He did it in fine style.”

Day was not worried about Slip Away or any of the favorites; he was concerned about the horse that had been second to Spy In The Sky last summer, Gill Johnston’s gray Swagger Stick (William Dowling).

“Swagger Stick has come on pretty strong in the past. I thought he was the one to beat,” Day said. “And he wasn’t carrying that much weight [140 pounds].”

This was McVicar’s first ride in a grade 1 stakes.

“I had a lot of horse left when we landed [off the last fence], but I didn’t think he would win by so many or so easily,” said the Scotsman. “I felt sure Sermon Of Love would be there and Swagger Stick.”

In an unspoken rule of Saratoga jump races, the winner must buy all the other riders a round of drinks.
“I got off light this time with the race scratching down,” said McVicar with a laugh.

The Next Step

With a grade 1 race under his girth, Spy In The Sky may now take on the top stakes horses in the $150,000 Lonesome Glory Stakes at Belmont (N.Y.) on Sept. 20.

But there is one equine titan he will not have to face, Sonny Via’s two-time Eclipse Award winner Good Night Shirt.

While X-raying the horse for a little filling in his ankle, Maryland trainer Jack Fisher discovered some damage to Good Night Shirt’s suspensory in the same leg. Fisher said the 8-year-old son of Concern and two-time National Steeplechase Association horse of the year will probably be turned out for the fall and most likely return in the spring of 2010.

Without Good Night Shirt’s presence the stakes division has weakened, but it does open the door wide for another horse of the year to emerge. Right now, Pape’s Mixed Up is the reigning king with $124,495 going into the big-money races of the fall. Iroquois Steeplechase (Tenn.) upset winner Pierrot Lunaire is second at $90,000 while Spy In The Sky is well within striking range at fourth with $70,510.

“I don’t know if we will go to the Belmont race,” Day said. “He came out real well from this race. We’ll have to see. We might give it a try.”

Well Said

Jockey Peter Buchanan is continuing his winning ways for trainer Tom Voss, this time with The Fields Stable’s Left Unsaid in the $70,000 Michael Walsh Memorial Novice Stakes by 8 lengths over Via’s Tricky Me (Dowling).

Tricky Me set the swift pace on Aug. 20 in Saratoga, but Left Unsaid was there at the end to run him down.

Buchanan was second on the horse on July 30 in Saratoga’s $70,000 Jonathan Kiser Memorial Novice Stakes.

“He’s a really nice type of horse,” Buchanan said. “He’s still a bit novice-y around his fences. We got into a bit of trouble last time. I decided to drop him in so he did not rush his fences too much, then went wide at the turn. He traveled really well this time.”

Buchanan plans to spend the summer riding for Voss, while Voss looks for a full-time replacement for his stable. The Maryland trainer is trying to get Buchanan to come back from the United Kingdom for the Lonesome Glory Stakes.

“I am going to be busy with my racing season by then,” Buchanan said. “I would love to have another chance with Planets Aligned again. Mr. Voss is pretty convincing, but I don’t think I am going to be able to come back.”

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