Preakness winner Oxbow recovering from ankle injury; Pletcher loaded for Travers assault

Courtesy of NYRA publicity team

Preakness winner Oxbow emerged from his fourth-place finish in Sunday’s Haskell with a soft-tissue injury, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas reported Monday morning.


Oxbow returned on Monday to Lukas’ barn at the Oklahoma training track, where his progress will be closely monitored. He was pulled up shortly after crossing the wire in the Haskell.


“The X-rays were all perfectly clean,” Lukas said. “It’s what you guys would call an ankle sprain, it looks like. I was more concerned with a condylar [fracture] or something like that but, boy, he had a pretty set of X-rays. It’s amazing. For a horse with that many (starts), they were really clean.”


Ridden by Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, Oxbow led through fractions of 23.90 and 48.22 seconds, going six furlongs in 1:12.43 before dropping back. He managed to hang on for fourth, a head in front of Pick of the Litter.


“He just wasn’t traveling comfortably,” Lukas said. “Gary overreacted probably a little bit, but the good thing is we X-rayed him from top to bottom and everything’s clean. (Stevens) thought at the half-mile that he was starting to get uncomfortable, and he just kind of held him from there.”


Lukas was unsure of the timetable for Oxbow’s return, leaving his status for the Grade I Travers at Saratoga on August 24 uncertain. Sixth in the Kentucky Derby, he finished second to Palace Malice in the Belmont Stakes.


“You never know,” Lukas said. “Horses react differently to different situations. After seeing everything yesterday, I felt comfortable in that I didn’t rule out the Travers, but that’s probably the reality of it. I would say the fall and looking toward the Breeders’ Cup seems reasonable.”


Lukas expects to be represented in the Travers by Grade II winner Will Take Charge, who ran second to Palace Malice in Saturday’s Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga.


Former Lukas protege Todd Pletcher figures to have a strong hand for the Travers after sweeping both major preps over the weekend.


Pletcher was back in Saratoga on Monday morning after saddling Verrazano to a record-setting 9 ¾-length victory in Sunday’s Grade I $1 million Haskell at Monmouth Park. On Saturday, Palace Malice followed up his impressive Belmont Stakes victory in June with an emphatic triumph in the $600,000 Jim Dandy.


“We’re fortunate to have two such outstanding colts,” Pletcher said. “You hate to run horses against each other from the same barn, but in this case I think it’s the logical case for both horses and both owners. We’ll see how they both come back and both train, but right now it certainly looks like they’re likely to show up in the Travers.”


Pletcher won the Travers with Flower Alley in 2005 and Stay Thirsty in 2011. Verrazano returned to Pletcher’s Saratoga barn Monday morning.


“He shipped back great and looks really good this morning,” Pletcher said. “It was a powerful performance. The Pegasus, with the misfortune of Itsmyluckyday getting hurt, kind of left everyone not knowing how well he ran. I think he put any questions about that to rest yesterday.”


Pletcher won four stakes over the weekend, including the Grade II, $200,000 Amsterdam with Forty Tales and the $100,000 Sir Cat with Winning Cause, both Sunday at Saratoga. Forty Tales is likely to come back in the Grade I, $500,000 King’s Bishop on the Travers undercard.


“It was a great weekend. We’re blessed to have some pretty talented horses,” Pletcher said. “(Forty Tales) has really found his niche. He’s a tough little horse that keeps delivering one good performance after another.


“Winning Cause ran very well,” he added. “We started him on the turf here last year because we thought he showed improvement when we breezed him over the turf. His first two starts, maybe he just needed a little time to get it together. That was a good effort for him yesterday.”


One of the many horses Pletcher breezed on Monday was reigning juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby,  who was timed in 38.95 seconds for three furlongs by NYRA clockers on the main track.


Owned by Starlight Partners, Shanghai Bobby has been out of action since being diagnosed with a slight pelvic stress fracture following his fifth-place finish in the Grade I Florida Derby on March 30. He returned to light training after a June 4 ultrasound exam of the area came back clean.


“It was his first work back, and it went very well,” Pletcher said. “It was just an easy three-eighths. It was nice to get him back on the work tab. He went just nice and easy by himself, just getting him back into a routine. He did exactly what we were hoping he would do, and seemed to handle it well.”


Shanghai Bobby won all five of his starts in 2012, including the Hopeful at Saratoga, the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. He is 0-for-2 this year, also finishing second in the Grade 2 Holy Bull.


“Now, we’ll kind of start to pick it up gradually as we go along,” Pletcher said. “Basically, he’ll be on a weekly work schedule from here, but I don’t see him making a race here at Saratoga.”


Before Palace Malice won the Jim Dandy and Verrazano took the Haskell, Kentucky Derby winner Orb took another step toward the Travers when he worked a half-mile on Saturday at the training center in Fair Hill, Md. in 48 1/5 seconds.


The work was Orb’s fourth since his third-place finish behind winner Palace Malice in the Belmont Stakes, and Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said he is pleased with the way the Malibu Moon colt is coming up to the “Mid-Summer Derby.”


“It was foggy, so I didn’t see too much, but I liked what I did see,” he said. “It was very good, and he seemed to come out of it good.”


McGaughey said he was impressed by the performances of the Todd Pletcher-trained Palace Malice and Verrazano.


“I thought Verrazano ran great,” he said. “The races were good.”


While the 3-year-olds held the spotlight this past weekend, the handicap division will command attention this Saturday with the Grade I Whitney Handicap Invitational on tap. Defending race winner Fort Larned indicated his readiness for Saturday’s 86th edition of the race with a bullet five-furlong breeze Monday morning.


NYRA clockers caught the 5-year-old bay son of E Dubai going five-eighths in 1:00.71 on the main track under regular rider Brian Hernandez, Jr., the fastest of 31 works at the distance.


“Everything went good; we’re very happy,” said Ian Wilkes, who trains Fort Larned for owner Janis Whitham. “It was just how he did it. It was a little crisp work, just the right way. I put a horse out there in front for him. I didn’t want to hurt the other horse … but I wanted something for him to look at.”


Discovery, who won three consecutive Whitneys from 1934-36 when it was contested at 1 ¼ miles, is the only horse to win the race in successive years. Hall of Famer Kelso (1961, 1963, 1965) and New York-bred Commentator (2005, 2008) are the only other horses to win the Whitney more than once.


Fort Larned won the 2012 Whitney, run at 1 1/8 miles since 1955, in 1:47.76, beating Ron the Greek by 1 ¼ lengths.


“It would be special,” Wilkes said. “I’m fortunate enough to train a few horses for Marylou Whitney, which would make it even more special.”


This year, Fort Larned stumbled and lost his rider in his debut, the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap in March, then was fifth, beaten 10 ½ lengths, in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap on April 13.


Given a freshening, Fort Larned came back to wire the field in Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap on June 15 at Churchill Downs, his most recent race.


“I feel good,” Wilkes said. “I think he’s a more mature horse right now; he’s more battle-tested. He’s run some huge races against some of the best competition.”


The post-position draw for the Whitney will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. in the Saratoga paddock. Also expected to be entered are Alpha, Cross Traffic, Csaba, Fast Falcon, Mucho Macho Man and Successful Dan.