The Fields Stable’s Portrade, freshened off a pair of starts to open his 8-year-old season, returns to the site of his last victory when he heads a field of 11 in the Grade 1, $ 150,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial hurdle Thursday at Saratoga Race Course.
Contested at about 2 1/16 miles over National Fences, the Smithwick for 4-year-olds and up is the first of two Grade 1 jump events on the Saratoga calendar, serving as the local prep for the $ 150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup August 24.
The Smithwick serves as the opener to Thursday’s 10-race program and shares top billing with the $ 100,000 John Morrissey for New York-breds 3 and up going 6 ½ furlongs on the main track.
Trained by Elizabeth Voss, Portrade is one of two Grade 1 winners in the field along with 2013 Smithwick winner Mr. Hot Stuff, an 11-year-old one-time flat runner that finished 15th in the 2009 Kentucky Derby.
Portrade is the top returning finisher from last year’s Smithwick, having run third by 6 ¼ lengths behind former stablemate Bob Le Beau. The Irish-bred Trade Fair gelding returned three weeks later for a front-running one-length victory in the NYTW Handicap.
This year Portrade opened with a neck loss in the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey Hurdle Handicap at Glenwood Park April 22, and led before fading to fourth in the Grade 3 National Hunt Cup May 20 at Malvern.
“He’s doing well. The first time out he ran really well and just got beat. Second time he ran going right-handed and he didn’t run bad, but he got caught at the end,” Voss said. “He’s been training great and feeling good. He likes it up here. He’s been jumping out of his skin since he got up here, so I think he knows it.”
Voss doesn’t plan any change in tactics for Portrade, who drew post position 5 and will have regular rider Gustav Dahl aboard at 148 pounds. Only Mr. Hot Stuff, at 156 pounds from outside post 11, carries more weight.
“He’ll be up front as usual. That’s his natural running style,” she said. “I think he would settle in a little bit. It’s not like he’s hard to hold or anything but he’s happy out there and he’s a brilliant jumper. We just kind of stay out of his way and let him do what he does well.”
Portrade has finished in the top three in 12 of 19 career starts, all over jumps, with $ 187,639 in purse earnings. The NYTW Handicap is his lone North American victory since coming from Europe in 2015.
“He’s a pretty honest horse. He always runs his heart out anywhere he is. He’s run so well here we kind of keep it light with him in the spring looking toward these races. If you watch him move he’s kind of hard on himself so I try to keep it easy on him in the spring and get him up here,” Voss said. “He knows what he’s supposed to do and he’s just naturally a great jumper. We’re ready.”
Voss will have a second Smithwick runner in the British-bred Modem, a 7-year-old gelding making his first North American start. He is coming off a novice weight-for-age jump victory at 2 3/8 miles at Ballinrobe in Ireland May 30.
Mr. Hot Stuff is a multiple graded-stakes winner, returning from more than a year layoff between his fourth-place effort in the 2013 NYTW Handicap to capture the 2015 Temple Gwathmey for trainer Jack Fisher. He went unraced for another 19 months until finishing third in the 2 ½-mile race April 22, then pulled up and walked off in his most recent outing, the Grade 1 Iroquois May 13.
Fisher will also be represented in the Smithwick with 7-year-old Schoodic, third in the National Hunt Cup last out. He has one win from three starts this year, coming in the Grade 2 David Semmes Memorial May 6 at Great Meadow. Winner of the 2016 National Hunt Cup, he owns one second in four previous Grade 1 attempts, in the 2015 NYTW Handicap.
Rounding out the field are Rosbrian Farm’s Somenon and Swansea Mile for trainer Richard Hendriks; All the Way Jose for Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard; multiple Grade 1-placed Adni’amu, second in last year’s NYTW Cup; Grade 2 winner Charminster; and Grade 3 winners Balance the Budget and Diplomat.
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