In his six previous wins in the United States, Golden Pal led at every call, but in Friday’s Grade 3, $300,000 Troy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt had to really work to put his nose in front of Irish-bred True Valour in the final yards.
Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., the Wesley Ward-trained Golden Pal hit the wire a head in front of True Valour and Feargal Lynch, stopping the timer in 1:00.92 for 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf. He paid $2.60 to win while recording his seventh career victory from 10 starts. The two-time Breeders’ Cup winner (G2 Juvenile Turf Sprint in 2020 and G1 Turf Sprint in 2021) races for Westerberg Ltd., Mrs. John Magnier, Michael B. Tabor and Derrick Smith. He’s likely headed to another try in this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland.
Larry Johnson’s True Valour, trained by Graham Motion, led every step until the last one, recording fractions of :21.93 for the opening quarter mile, :44.25 for the half and :55.20 for five furlongs. The 8-year-old by Kodiac is a well-traveled stakes veteran who came into the race with seven wins from 33 starts, including a Group III triumph in Ireland two graded stakes at Santa Anita (the G2 City of Hope Mile and G3 Thunder Road) in 2019.
Thin White Duke flew late from last under Jose Ortiz to finish just a neck behind the top pair in third, with Arzak also closing fast to be fourth, another half length further back. Yes and Yes, Spycraft and Carotari completed the order of finish.
Golden Pal, coming off a disastrous 16th-place finish in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot when Ortiz wasn’t prepared for the start, broke a step slow again in the Troy. He sat third off True Valour and Carotari and made a three-wide move toward the lead rounding into the stretch.
Carotari backed out at the top of the lane and Ortiz allowed Golden Pal to drift toward the rail to tighten things up on True Valour as the two raced through the stretch. Ortiz slapped Golden Pal a couple times with his crop, then showed it to him the rest of the way while aggressively hand-riding the colt to the wire. True Valour was game under left-hand pressure from Lynch but just failed to last.
Golden Pal (outside) battles True Valour to the wire in the Troy
G3 Troy Quotes
Wesley Ward, winning trainer of Golden Pal (No. 5, $2.60*): “He’s got a brilliant mind this horse and takes everything in, but he knew it was race day. The plan was, unless he broke super sharp, that I’d like him to come from behind. Irad [Ortiz, Jr.] worked him from behind the last few times, so he knew he could do it. Julio Garcia, our main rider at home, works him from behind every week. I’m glad he showed a little versatility today. When you get to the Breeders’ Cup there’s so many fast horses – 14 of them in the race – and you just want to be able to be tactical and not have to be in front. I think we showed that today.
“I’m glad Irad gave him a couple of reminders on the shoulder and got him going the last little part. Right after the race he gave him a little pet and a tap and he said there was a lot more left in him.
“You’re always concerned [about the close finish], but I have a of confidence in this horse. He’s certainly the best horse I’ve ever had. Every time you lead him over he proves more and more what a joy [it is] to be around a special horse like this. It would make every single trainer get up in the morning. He’s a once in a lifetime horse and I’ve been blessed to have a few of them, but this guy is certainly the best.
“With how he breaks so fast it’s tough to make a plan, but he [Irad Ortiz, Jr.] said his first step away from there he kind of stumbled and he took advantage of that. We got to the outside. A lot of times you stumble and you get behind horses and stuck in a trap and then you’re in trouble. But we were fortunate when that happened we drew an outside post like that and there was nothing in front of him.”
On a potential dirt start in the six-furlong Grade 2 Phoenix on October 7 at Keeneland: “We’ll talk it over with everyone involved in the ownership of the horse and see which direction they want to go, but it’s important to them to show what the horse can do on the dirt as well.
“Through all these issues he’s had throughout his career – minor issues – I’ve kept him on the grass to keep him sound, but he’s never been as sound as he is now. It would be a good time to try him and it would be a good time to try him on his home track.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr., winning jockey aboard Golden Pal (No. 5): “He moved a step right when they opened the gates. When they opened the gate he was moving at the same time and they outbreak me. They were in front of me and that’s not his style. He’s always in front of everyone the first couple of jumps. We’ve been working covered up in behind horses, that was how Wesley wanted me to work the horse, and today when that happened I wasn’t afraid to take a hold or drop in and sit and wait because I was working with the horse.
“I’d worked him twice and it was no problem in the morning. He relaxed well and he finished good, so I wasn’t afraid. Thankfully, Wesley let me work the horse and know him a little more. I’ve never worked him too much but the last couple weeks I’ve been working with him.
“Wesley is the one who told me, ‘I want to take back’ but I said, ‘Wesley we can’t,’ but today was the day. It worked out good. He’s pretty fast out of there; probably the fastest horse I ride on the turf in my whole career. He’s so fast. He just moved to the right when they opened the gates so I had to go to plan B.
“Last time didn’t work out, honestly, he missed the break. I was a little aggressive and he stopped bad, so we didn’t want the same thing to happen. Wesley let me do whatever, he didn’t say instructions or anything. I love riding for him. I felt somebody was coming [No. 7, Thin White Duke], but my horse was fighting with the other horse [No. 6, True Valour] but my horse was responding well, so I know he’s going to be there if I ask him too.”
Feargal Lynch, jockey aboard runner-up True Valour (No. 6): “He got the lead. I was expecting Golden Pal to go, but when I saw I cleared him out of the gate I wasn’t going to disappoint the horse in his grind. He got it very easy in front and when we kicked I thought we’d won it. For an 8-year-old, we’re two old men in the twilight of our career and we’re just enjoying it.”
David Donk, trainer of third-place Thin White Duke [No. 7] and fifth-place Yes and Yes [No. 2]: “He [Thin White Duke] ran huge. It was a big effort. That’s what he wants to do, is sprint on the grass.”