There was unexpected drama in the 19th running of the $300,000 Troy Stakes (G3T) at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 5.
None of the crowd of 26,834 that remained at the Spa thought that Golden Pal, the best male turf sprinter in the country, was going to have a tussle in the 5 1/2-furlong race, his specialty distance.
That's what happened as the 4-year-old colt, owned by Mrs. John Magnier, Michael B. Tabor, Derrick Smith, and Westerberg, had to battle the length of the stretch before prevailing by a head over the stubborn True Valour over the firm Mellon turf course.
"You're always concerned," winning trainer Wesley Ward said in the winner's circle. "But I have a lot of confidence in this horse, (he's) certainly the best horse I have ever had. He is a once in a lifetime horse."
Golden Pal's strength is that he is fast, especially out of the gate.
That did not happen in the Troy, which was Golden Pal's first start since a horrid 16th in the King's Stand Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot June 14.
"He moved a step right when they opened the gates," Golden Pal's jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. said. "When they opened the gates, he was moving at the same time and they outbroke me. They were in front of me, and that's not his style. He's always in front of everyone the first couple jumps."
So, Ortiz went to Plan B.
In recent breezes, Golden Pal has worked covered up behind horses. When it happened in the Troy, it was not something the horse had never experienced.
"I worked him twice and it was no problem in the morning," Ortiz said. "He relaxed well and finished good, so I wasn't afraid."
Although Golden Pal has traditionally rocketed straight to the lead, Ward showed no panic.
"The plan was, unless he broke super sharp, that I'd like him to come from behind," Ward said. "I'm glad he showed a little versatility. When you get to the Breeders' Cup (Sprint, G1), there are 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 he showed that."
True Valour, owned by R. Larry Johnson and trained by Graham Motion, showed the way, carving out fractions of :21.93 for the first quarter and :44.25 for the half. Golden Pal, racing on the outside, was never far off the leader and Ortiz was confident he would get him. So was Ward.
Feargal Lynch, True Valour's 44-year-old Maryland-based jockey, was pleasantly surprised when the 1-2 favorite Golden Pal did not strike the lead out of the gate. He was more than happy to inherit it for True Valour, an 8-year-old son of Kodiac.
"When we kicked, I thought we'd won it," Lynch said. "For an 8-year-old, we're two old men in the twilight of our career and we're just enjoying it."
Golden Pal ran the 5 1/2 furlongs in a time of 1:00.92 and paid $2.60. Ward said the horse will ship back to his home base at Keeneland on Sunday where he will prepare for a likely start on dirt in the $350,000 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (G2) at six furlongs on Oct. 7.
"We'll talk it over with everyone involved in the ownership of the horse to see which direction they want to go," Ward said. "But it's important to them to show what the horse can do on the dirt as well."