HOW GOOD WAS THE TESIO STAKES?

Happy-Saver
Happy Saver won the Federico Tesio Stakes. Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

How good was last month’s Federico Tesio Stakes?

It’s not a question we ask ourselves most years. The event, run at Laurel Park the last five years, is the final local prep for the Grade 1 Preakness, and most years, the winner goes on to the Middle Jewel only to take a beating.

But this – as we are constantly reminded – is not most years.

The 39th running of the Tesio this year did not produce the second horse to win both this race and the Preakness. Instead, it produced something even more unusual: winner Happy Saver came back to face his elders and win the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Saturday at Belmont Park.

It’s the first time a horse completed that particular double. And it flattered the effort of the Butch Reid-trained Monday Morning Qb, who was a good second in the Tesio.

Those two were just a length-and-a-half apart at the Tesio finish; it was another nine lengths back to the show horse, Big City Bob.

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Those outcomes likely have Reid questioning his decision to run Monday Morning Qb on the turf in his follow-up. He was well up the track in the grassy James W. Murphy Stakes on the Preakness undercard.

Feeling no such regrets: Todd Pletcher, who trains Happy Saver for Wertheimer and Frere. He bypassed the logical spot – against same-age rivals – in the Preakness and instead caught a modest five-horse field in which his charge was second choice to Tacitus, who’s now winless in six Grade 1 tries.

The win, by three parts of a length over another sophomore, Mystic Guide, also provided Pletcher with – remarkably enough – his first win in the historic Gold Cup.

“Not only had we not won it, we’d suffered some really close defeats and then throw in a disqualification [last year with Vino Rosso] on top of that and it’s been a frustrating one over the years,” Pletcher said in a release. “This one was fun. It’s one of the races that has been hard on us. We’ve had some tough losses and it was very fulfilling to win it today.”

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It’s not too shabby when you consider that Happy Saver didn’t break his maiden until June 20. He followed that with a July allowance win at Saratoga, then the Tesio.

“What he’s been able to accomplish you don’t see very many other horses do,” Pletcher said. “He went from a seven-furlong maiden on June 20 to a mile-and-an-eighth allowance at Saratoga, to a mile-and-an-eighth stake at Laurel and came back to Belmont and then to win a Grade 1 going a mile and a quarter against older horses is something you don’t see very often.”

The win earns Happy Saver a spot in the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic November 7 at Keeneland.

But will he go? It’s no small ask of a horse who first tried winners July 26.

“That’s what we’re going to think about,” Pletcher said. “We’ll see how he bounces out of this and let him take us there when he wants to. Speaking to the Wertheimers last night, they’re in no rush and they plan on racing him next year.”

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