After getting away with a slow early pace, Team Valor International's State of Play had more than enough left to fend off Optimizer in Thursday's Grade 2, $151,000 With Anticipation at Saratoga. The Graham Motion trainee remained perfect from two starts while booking his passage to the November 5 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
State of Play, who chased early in his debut score in a turf sprint here on July 27, easily secured the front-running role this time on the stretch-out. With Ramon Dominguez back aboard, the 3-1 second choice flashed speed from post 6, outfooted Dullahan and angled over, tightening that rival up entering the first turn.
Following an opening quarter in :24 1/5 on the firm turf, State of Play carved out pedestrian splits of :49 3/5 and 1:14 3/5 without facing any pressure. Optimizer, always within striking range, gradually improved his position on the outside. Although he was under a ride on the far turn, Optimizer kept responding and emerged as the only potential danger at the top of the stretch.
Optimizer came within a head of the front runner in midstretch, but State of Play picked up smartly, and Optimizer stubbornly failed to change leads. State of Play edged away to prevail by a half-length in a final time of 1:43 4/5 for 1 1/16 grassy miles. Besides paying $8, $4.70 and $3.40, he handed sire War Front his second straight With Anticipation winner, following Soldat.
"He just came back to me so great -- super relaxed," Dominguez said. "Coming off a 5 1/2-(furlong) race, and as quick as we went last time, I couldn't imagine in his second race for him to be that settled."
"The only concern coming off a sprint was whether he was going to relax," assistant trainer Adrian Rolls noted. "There was no speed in the race, but Ramon did a really good job. He was really happy (with the horse). He said as soon as he got out in front he just switched off and slowed it down perfectly."
"We expected to be close today because he was coming out of a sprint race," observed fellow Motion assistant John Panagot, who also serves as Herringswell Stables' handicapper. "I thought he really ran like a pro. Ramon is so good; he's got an incredible knack to get a horse to relax. He's still a little green -- he flicked his ears in the stretch a few times. But when the (Wayne) Lukas horse (Optimizer) came to him, he came again."
Optimizer crossed the wire 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Dullahan, who finished with interest for third. Knock Rock checked in fourth, followed by Splendiferous, 5-2 favorite Captain Webb, Fox Rules, Sportswriter and Two Months Rent. The main-track-only Clip the Coupons didn't get the opportunity to run.
State of Play, a bargain $13,000 purchase at last year's Keeneland September Yearling Sale, has bankrolled $120,000. The dark bay colt rolled to a 2 1/2-length decision when sprinting 5 1/2 grassy furlongs in his career bow.
Bred by Stone Farm and Dell Hancock in Kentucky, State of Play is out of the winning Procida mare Valeta. He is a half-brother to the stakes-placed Knoxville, who also captured a non-black type event. The colt's third dam is Alluvial, famous for producing two-time champion and $3.5 million-earner Slew O' Gold as well as 1979 Belmont Stakes upsetter Coastal. Also descending from Alluvial are multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Aptitude and Grade 1 queen Sleep Easy.
State of Play hails from the same family as Team Valor's Summer Soiree, a fellow Motion trainee who just landed the August 20 Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks. His fourth dam is Bayou, the champion three-year-old filly of 1957 and a full sister to Broodmare of the Year Levee, ancestress of Summer Soiree. Bayou and Levee are also half-sisters to Broodmare of the Year Delta.