Jack Christopher Back To Sprint Distance In Saturday’s Allen Jerkens

Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud and Peter Brant’s Jack Christopher, who suffered his first loss last out in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on July 23 at Monmouth Park, will return to the sprint distance in search of a third Grade 1 triumph in Saturday’s $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial, a seven-furlong sprint for sophomores, at Saratoga Race Course.

Trained by four-time Eclipse Award-winner Chad Brown, Jack Christopher’s Haskell loss came in his two-turn debut going nine furlongs over the Monmouth Park main track. He stalked in third just one length off the pace and advanced with purpose into the turn to take a narrow advantage at the stretch call, but weakened under Jose Ortiz and settled for third two lengths behind the victorious Cyberknife and runner-up Taiba.

The lightly-raced son of Munnings posted four perfect starts from last August to this June, beginning with an eye-catching debut at the Spa by 8 3/4 lengths sprinting six furlongs. He followed with his graded stakes debut and first start against winners in the Grade 1 Champagne in October at Belmont where he bounded home a clear 2 3/4-length winner over Commandperformance to cap his juvenile season.

Jack Christopher began the year with a 3 3/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile on the May 7 Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs before delivering his best performance yet in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on June 11 at Belmont Park. There, he stalked just behind pacesetter Provocateur before unleashing a devastating turn of foot around the turn and coasting home an easy 10-length winner going the H. Allen Jerkens distance over the Belmont main track. The effort garnered a field-best 107 Beyer Speed Figure.

Ortiz retains the mount from post 6.

Brown will also saddle maiden winner Accretive, who nearly defeated Gunite last out in the Grade 2 Amsterdam on July 31 at the Spa. Owned by Klaravich Stables, the gelded son of Practical Joke was an impressive winner on debut by 5 3/4 lengths sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs on June 26 at Belmont. He followed with a gutsy neck loss in the Amsterdam after closing from 3 1/2 lengths off the pace and coming up just shy to earn a 101 Beyer.

The $180,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase will exit post 9 with Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard.

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred Gunite returns to the scene of his Grade 1 Hopeful victory in search of another top-level score for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. A son of Winchell-owned and Asmussen-trained 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, Gunite returned to graded form with gusto last time out in the Grade 2 Amsterdam, earning a neck victory over the aforementioned Accretive in the 6 1/2-furlong sprint.

The Amsterdam effort came on the heels of a win in the Maxfield in July at Churchill Downs and a runner-up effort in a first-level allowance in June over the Louisville oval. Last year, Gunite posted a strong juvenile campaign in which he made six starts, highlighted by his 5 3/4-length win in the Hopeful and a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special. He closed out the year with an off-the-board effort in the Grade 1 Champagne, but made the trip to California for Breeders’ Cup week not to race, but to lend his professionalism in the mornings to stablemate and fellow Gun Runner prodigy Echo Zulu, who went on to capture the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Asmussen praised Gunite’s mettle, noting his ability to travel well and give his all in every race.

“Gunite last year not only won the Hopeful, he went to California simply to be Echo Zulu’s workmate. He’s as blue collar as you get, just as he’s royalty,” Asmussen said, with a laugh. “He’s a Grade 1-winning son of Gun Runner and he [rewarded] us with his run in the Amsterdam. He’s got his work cut out for him, but the one that isn’t worried about the work is Gunite.”

Asmussen said Gunite is a special horse to him, being the first son of his esteemed trainee that he started. He fondly recalled the juvenile campaign that began with a third sprinting five furlongs over a sloppy and sealed Churchill Downs main track last April.

“For Gun Runner and what a great sire he is, we didn’t know that [at the time]. Gunite was the first Gun Runner we started, and at a distance that was maybe a bit short for him,” Asmussen said. “But he was ridden along hard early, and for it to be his fifth race to win the Hopeful and come back [to win the Amsterdam], you don’t get away with that unless you’re different, a separate horse as far as mentally and physically than the others. I will always speak of Gunite with that sort of affection.”

Gunite will exit post 8 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons.

Grade 3 Indiana Derby winner Actuator ships in for conditioner Michael McCarthy after making the grade in the 1 1/16-mile test for sophomores at Horseshoe Indianapolis. Owned by Black Type Thoroughbreds, Rags Racing Stable, Rick Howard and Gavin O’Connor, the son of Bodemeister finished third in his first two outings as a juvenile for previous trainer Rodolphe Brisset and was transferred to McCarthy for his sophomore season. He graduated at third asking in a June 8 maiden at Churchill by an impressive 7 1/4 lengths.

“He had really trained well on the dirt leading up to that maiden victory,” said McCarthy. “I thought he would run well, but he obviously exceeded expectations.”

The maiden effort was enough to convince McCarthy to send the bay colt into graded company for his first outing against winners, a move that proved to be the right one after he posted a determined half-length score over Best Actor, who returned to win the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Tuesday at Parx Racing.

“The horse had trained well leading up to the Indiana Derby. He came out of it well and has been very sharp ever since,” said McCarthy. “Wheeling back to seven-eighths I think should be no problem for him. It’s obviously a big step up in class but I think the horse deserves a shot at something like this.”

There were a few tense moments in the Indiana Derby when Actuator drifted out at the sixteenth pole and brushed with Best Actor, whose rider, Florent Geroux, lodged an objection after the race. Actuator had also broken inwardly at the start and squeezed Best Actor to his inside.

McCarthy said he does not anticipate Actuator to have any issues in the Allen Jerkens.

“He kind of broke inward a touch and it might have been not quite as serious as some may have thought,” said McCarthy. “It’s just one of those things in racing. I don’t think it’s a real issue with him.”

Hall of Famer John Velazquez picks up the mount from post 4.

Calumet Farm’s homebred Happy Jack returns to stakes company after two solid efforts in allowance optional claiming company for conditioner Doug O’Neill. A son of Oxbow, Happy Jack was a close third last out in an optional claimer on July 24 at Ellis Park, defeated a neck after closing from last-of-8. He won a seven-furlong first level allowance on June 19 at Churchill Downs by a half-length in his first start at the sprint distance since his debut win sprinting six furlongs in January at Santa Anita.

Happy Jack competed in the Triple Crown this spring and earned graded placings when third in both the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in April and Grade 2 San Felipe at the same track in March. He went on to finish 14th in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and eighth in the Grade 1 Preakness.

Flavien Prat will ride from post 5.

Completing the field are stakes-winner Conagher [post 1, Joe Rocco, Jr.] for conditioner Michael Tomlinson; dual graded stakes-placed Runninsonofagun [post 2, Kendrick Carmouche], who races with blinkers on for trainer John Toscano, Jr ;Grade 3-placed Howling Time [post 3, Joe Talamo] for trainer Dale Romans; and the twice-winning Mike Maker trainee Totalizer [post 7, Luis Saez].

The H. Allen Jerkens Memorial is slated as Race 8 on Saturday’s blockbuster card, which features the 153rd running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers in Race 11. Also featured are the Grade 2, $400,000 Ballston Spa, the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego, the Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign and the Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer Invitational – a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf. First post on the 13-race card is 11:35 a.m. Eastern.

Saratoga Live will present daily coverage and analysis of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.

NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Saratoga Race Course, and the best way to bet every race of the summer meet. Available to horse players nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.

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