From a NYRA release
Last summer, The Big Beast lived up to his name both in size and performance. Standing more than 17 hands tall, he romped to a front-running allowance score in his first try against winners before taking the Grade 1 King’s Bishop by a neck in his stakes debut.
A towering bay son of multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter Yes It’s True, Maryland-bred The Big Beast makes his return to Saratoga Race Course on Saturday in the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt for sprinters 3 and up on the main track.
The 31st running of the Vanderbilt drew a salty field of seven horses that have combined to win 15 graded stakes and more than $5 million in purse earnings. It is carded eighth on an 11-race program that also includes the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy for 3-year-olds; Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green for older turf horses; and the Grade 2, $200,000 Amsterdam for sophomore sprinters.
Trained by Tony Dutrow for Alex and JoAnn Lieblong, The Big Beast captured each of his starts at Saratoga in 2014 in the midst of a four-race win streak, three of those coming at the Vanderbilt’s six furlongs. Bred by Green Willow Farms, The Big Beast is out of the stakes-placed Deputy Minister mare V V S Flawless. Though he scored his greatest victory at seven furlongs, he has also enjoyed good success at the Vanderbilt distance.
“I would rather go a little longer, but I’m not going to offer any excuses. I don’t think six [furlongs] is his best distance,” Dutrow said. “We think that the Beast is about as good as we could hope him to be. We’re really, really happy with him.”
In his first work since leaving the Fair Hill Training Center in his native Maryland, The Big Beast breezed five furlongs in 1:00.20 July 25 over Saratoga’s main track. He has made two starts this year, taking an Oaklawn Park allowance March 1 and running fourth as the favorite, beaten 2 ½ lengths, in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap April 5 at Aqueduct.
The Big Beast emerged from the King’s Bishop with a chip in his left front ankle which required surgery and ended his 3-year-old season prematurely. Dutrow feels the time off has done the horse well.
“We’ve seen him mature. He’s still having fun, he still enjoys himself, he still has his ways, but he’s a more mature horse as you would expect from 3 to 4,” Dutrow said. “There’s lots of good stuff about him going into this race. He’s doing fantastic in every way, and he loves Saratoga. He’s going to face horses that he’s never faced before.”
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will ride The Big Beast for the first time, departing from post 6 at 117 pounds.
Stonestreet Stables’ Rock Fall enters the Vanderbilt having won five consecutive races by a combined 26 ¼ lengths, the last four as the favorite, all of them at six furlongs. He has earned back-to-back triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures, most recently given a 110 for his 3 ¾-length triumph in the Grade 2 True North June 5 at Belmont Park.
“He’s coming off a powerful win in the True North and has been training well. We’re looking forward to seeing him step up to a Grade 1 and seeing if he can handle it,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “I don’t know that he can run much better than he did in the True North. It was a pretty impressive performance and all the figures suggest that it was really a top-caliber race. We’re hoping for more of the same.”
Rock Fall was training in Saratoga last summer but minor injuries kept him from racing here. He won two of three starts as a 3-year-old, both at Belmont Park, and each against older horses.
“Up here last year he had a little bit of bruising on the bottom of his cannon bones and we had to give him some time off. He’s come back very well from it,” Pletcher said. “We had a sense that he might be a top-quality sprinter. The way he broke his maiden and won the one-other-than, we felt like we were on to graded stakes at that time until we had a little setback. I’m not surprised he’s developed into a top-quality sprinter.
Two-time defending Spa riding champion Javier Castellano, aboard for each win in the streak, gets a return call from post 3 at 121 pounds.
A graded stakes winner on turf and dirt, Departing cuts back to a sprint for the first time since winning his career debut at the Fair Grounds in December 2012. He has won all three of his subsequent starts as short as a mile, including the Grade 2 Firecracker June 27 on the grass at Churchill Downs in his most recent start.
“We’ve wanted to sprint him for a while and haven’t had a chance to just because he’s run pretty well,” trainer Al Stall said. “We tried him on the grass and he did OK. He won a few dollars, but we didn’t think his race on the grass in Kentucky would fit with the best they have around here. We’re going to try and see if he can be an explosive come-from-behind sprinter. He’s only been around one turn twice in his life and won both times. It may work, it may not work, but the horse is doing very well and now might be the time to try it.”
Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Departing has made one start at Saratoga, finishing off the board in the Grade 1 Whitney last summer. As a 3-year-old, he won the Grade 2 Virginia Derby and Grade 2 Super Derby, training for both at Saratoga.
“He’s great. He’s always trained well here,” Stall said. “What happened in the Whitney last year we still don’t know, but hopefully it’s not the surface out there. I guess we’ll find out. If it happens twice, we’ll know what not to do.”
Departing will carry 117 pounds and jockey Joel Rosario from post 1.
Up Hill Stable’s Clearly Now is winless in four 2015 starts, needing less than $3,000 to reach $1 million in career earnings. He has won two Grade 3 sprints, both at Belmont Park, earning a field-best 113 Beyer in the 2014 Belmont Sprint Championship. Luis Saez will ride at 116 pounds from post 4.
Trained and co-owned by David Jacobson, 5-year-old gelding Salutos Amigos will be making his 30th lifetime start in the Vanderbilt. He has won five of his last six starts, all of them in stakes, including the Grade 3 Toboggan and Grade 3 Tom Fool over the winter at Aqueduct. Cornelio Velasquez will ride the 122-pound highweight from post 2.
PJG Stable’s Favorite Tale comes into the Vanderbilt off a front-running 4 ¼-length win in the Grade 2 Smile Sprint July 5 at Gulfstream Park. In his lone Saratoga start, he was third by a neck in last summer’s 5 ½-furlong Quick Call on the grass. Irad Ortiz, Jr. rides at 117 pounds from post 7.
Fourth by a length in the Curlin and sixth in the Grade 1 Travers last year, Marylou Whitney’s Viva Majorca rounds out the field. On June 27, he came from off the pace to win his first stakes, the Kelly’s Landing at Churchill Downs. He will carry Julien Leparoux and 115 pounds from post 5.