Winning Cause returns, War Dancer shortens up in Oceanport

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

July 28th, 2016

Sunday’s Haskell Invitational (G1) undercard includes a pair of competitive turf stakes, the $150,000 Oceanport (G3) and the $100,000 Matchmaker (G3) for distaffers.

The 1 1/16-mile Oceanport marks the return of horse-for-the-course Winning Cause, who’s been sidelined for 14 months since his late-running success in the Red Bank (G3). That score improved his record over the Monmouth turf to 5-2-1-1, his lone unplaced effort a commendable fourth in the 2014 United Nations (G1). Also placed in the 2014 Red Bank and Monmouth (G2), the Todd Pletcher veteran captured the Cliff Hanger (G3) later that summer. Now a 6-year-old, Winning Cause may need a race to brush aside the cobwebs, especially since he’s never won first-up in his career. But the well-bred son of Giant’s Causeway enters off a bullet five-furlong drill, and will probably get a fair amount of pace. Paco Lopez has the call from post 4.

The early pace figures to come in part from stablemate Nonna’s Boy, who returns to the scene of his wire job in last July’s Lamplighter over this trip. The Distorted Humor half-brother to reigning Wood Memorial (G1) winner Outwork gets a notable rider switch to Rafael Bejarano, and he won’t be hanging around from his far outside post 8.

Also sure to flash speed is Almasty (note that no rider is listed yet, though). The Brad Cox pupil pulled a front-running upset of last November’s Commonwealth Turf (G3) at Churchill Downs, and rattled off swift fractions in a July 3 Belmont allowance before being collared by Blacktype. If Almasty does line up, the pace will be hot.

The French-bred Blacktype has yet to live up to his name, but trainer Christophe Clement might have found the breakthrough spot for the upwardly mobile 5-year-old. Having won or placed in all five career starts at this distance, he notched a career-best 101 BRIS Speed rating last time out. Two back, Blacktype was third in the same allowance in which Long on Value, Monday’s Lucky Coin winner, was second. Now he picks up “Jersey Joe” Bravo.

Like Long on Value, War Dancer is shortening up in hopes of a form turnaround for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. In Long on Value’s case, it was reverting to a turf sprint after stalling at around a mile. War Dancer had found a new lease on life as a turf marathoner a couple of years ago, but he’s since hit a plateau in that division. A cutback to nine furlongs worked at Gulfstream in April, yielding a pace-pressing allowance victory. War Dancer tried to carry his speed 10 furlongs over Woodbine’s Tapeta in the July 1 Dominion Day (G3), but tired to fourth. Back on turf, going shorter, and with a target, War Dancer is eligible to rebound with new pilot Florent Geroux.

Class-climbing Infinite Wisdom rates a pedigree play as a son of Smart Strike and Italian classic winner Meridiana, which makes him a half-brother to smart turf performers Chamois, Center Divider, and Pine Needles. Trained by Brian Lynch for Amerman Racing, Infinite Wisdom steps up to stakes company off two straight allowance wins. He got away with comfortable splits on the front end in both, but might find himself in a stalking role against perhaps more committed speed on Sunday.

Captain Dixie has improved off the Jamie Ness claim, as evidenced by his close fourth in the Dixie (G2). New York-bred stalwart Kharafa was a troubled seventh in this race last year, when exiting a local score in the Elkwood. The seven-year-old was only sixth to Blacktype and Almasty in the recent Belmont allowance, but he may have been compromised by a premature move into the taxing pace. New rider Antonio Gallardo won’t make that mistake.

Two races later, distaffers will compete not only for purse money, but also for a season to WinStar stallions Paynter, Fed Biz, and Take Charge Indy in the 1 1/8-mile Matchmaker.

The Mott-trained Heath has suffered a couple of tough losses of late, but the addition of Bejarano might galvanize her into rediscovering her tactical foot of old. Second to Lady Eli in last summer’s Wonder Again, the Pulpit half-sister to Lea has morphed into a deep closer this term. She gave herself too much to do off a slow pace in the Gallorette (G3), where her six-wide rally fell a neck short in third. In Woodbine’s Dance Smartly (G2), Heath was behind after being herded at the start, then had to thread the needle late up the fence. Still, she made good headway for fourth, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths by Lexie Lou. The Claiborne/Dilschneider homebred is getting some speed trained into her, as suggested by her bullet :47 3/5 move at Belmont, and that could lift her to an initial stakes win. Post 11 isn’t ideal, but it could work out if it reinforces the idea to get her involved early.

Three other entrants were also last seen in the Dance Smartly. Nakuti, an import from the Graham Motion barn, was in the thick of it until tiring late in third. About nine furlongs at Woodbine may have stretched her, so Monmouth could prove more hospitable. Trainer Mark Casse has Uchenna (fifth) and Industrial Policy (seventh) engaged, although neither has a rider named at this writing. 

Chad Brown’s Tammy the Torpedo must concede weight all around as the 123-pound highweight. Peaking during the winter with consecutive victories in the Tropical Park Oaks and Suwannee River (G3), the More Than Ready filly was most recently fourth in the Dr. James Penny Memorial (G3) at Parx.

Pletcher will be represented by Itsonlyactingdad, who was best of the rest behind Lady Eli in the 2015 Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1). The daughter of Giant’s Causeway warmed up with a near-miss in a Belmont allowance.

Sea Coast didn’t have clear sailing in the local prep, the Eatontown (G3), but still rallied for a clear second to Isabella Sings. The Clement trainee hopes that new rider Geroux brings better luck. Eatontown third Bureau de Change, fourth Means Well, and fifth Invading Humor (no rider) may all renew rivalry.

Last-out Spook Express winner Pink Poppy and Cali Thirty Seven, who wired the Powder Break two starts ago, promise to go forward early.

Winning Cause photo courtesy Bill Denver/Equi-Photo