Resisting Temptation - By Evan Hammonds

The Whitney Stakes (G1) and Longines Test Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course were the big-ticket performances Aug. 3. Both races boasted compelling fields and delivered exciting, dramatic results.

Just before McKinzie crossed the wire first in the Whitney, the field for the $500,000 West Virginia Derby (G3), the year’s signature event for Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort, was sent on its way. Post times that run on top of one another continue to plague the sport, and as a result few probably caught the six-length romp by the 1-2 favorite Mr. Money.

Mr. Money, bred by Mike and Natanya McMahon’s Spruce Lane Farm and raced by Chester Thomas’ Allied Racing Stable, is a “throwback” kind of 3-year-old. The tack chosen by Thomas and trainer Bret Calhoun has led the colt to win four consecutive graded stakes and earn $899,820 starting with his score in the Pat Day Mile Stakes Presented by LG and E and KU (G3) on Derby Day at Churchill Downs.

In early May they resisted the temptation of running in the Preakness Stakes (G1) and recently opted against the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) Aug. 24 at Saratoga in order to pick up hefty paychecks on a short tour of the Midwest. It’s refreshing to see a sophomore colt run in May, June, July, and August.

“Everybody wants to run and gun in the big races; there’s reasons for all of that,” said Thomas from his home in Madisonville, Ky., the day after the West Virginia Derby. “We felt that it was a brutal schedule for the Triple Crown and there was no need to push the horse back two weeks later (from the Pat Day Mile to the Preakness). Bret said if we take our time and pick our spots, that there is a lot of money we can pick up out there without getting to the bottom of the horse and leaving something in his tank.”

That played perfectly with a $91,140 check from the June 15 Matt Winn Stakes (G3) at Churchill and $282,000 from a victory in the July 13 Indiana Derby (G3) at Indiana Grand. The West Virginia Derby payday ($301,000) means the son of Goldencents—Plenty O’Toole, by Tiznow, has earned $899,820 in a 14-week span.

With the wind at his back, Mr. Money will likely test grade 1 waters next time out in the Sept. 21 Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx.

“A few weeks ago Bret thought we ought to step up to the Travers and a grade 1. I told him we have a grade 1 in the Pa. Derby, but he thought it was a grade 2,” Thomas said. “He pulled out his National Stakes Condition Book and said, ‘I’ll be damned.’

“This is the deal: If you go to the Travers and you empty the tank and you still get beat, you are a few weeks getting back. If you kept picking other spots—it wasn’t an easy road, there were some nice horses in that race yesterday—you can pick up a nice check and point to the grade 1 down the road. Wading through our options, it became clear we didn’t have to go that route…but trust me, it was tempting to say, ‘Aw, hell, let’s go to the Travers and take everybody on.’ ”

Beyond the schedule, the astute Thomas and Calhoun also know their horse.

“Look at this horse’s pedigree: (broodmare sire) Tiznow was a better 4-year-old; Plenty O’Toole’s broodmare sire is Distorted Humor, and he was a better 4-year-old; his sire, Goldencents, was a better 4-year-old. Why wear this horse out at 3?

“He’s looking a little better every time. All that played into it. Why risk the rest of the season for one race?”

The sport’s brass rings are the grade 1s for 3-year-olds. However, racing at that level, especially in New York and California, comes at a cost. It takes a lot out of a horse, requiring more time to recover while cutting down on the number of starts they might make.

Thomas has resisted temptation…and Mr. Money has earned his grade 1 shot after a steady progression of starts. We’ll see if they can walk in the Parx next month.

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