Even as he reveled in Following Sea’s gate-to-wire victory in Saturday’s six-furlong Grade 2 Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park, trainer Todd Pletcher said he planned lengthier travels for his 3-year-old.
“He’s a very talented horse and trains very impressively. He’s also galloped out in a fashion that would indicate he might want to run longer at some point,” Pletcher told the New York Racing Association. “He’s very fast and his two wins for us at Belmont were pretty impressive. It seems like he has a lot left in the tank yesterday. He’s a leggy colt, so I think he could continue to improve.”
— NYRA (🌳) (@TheNYRA) October 9, 2021
So much so that Pletcher said the jury’s still out on whether Following Sea will take his all-expense paid ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. That ticket came after Following Sea took command of the Vosburgh with solid splits of 22.59 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 45.24 seconds for the half-mile. This brought a 4 ¾-length victory over Firenze Fire and 100 Beyer Speed Figure that tied his career-best.
“We had a brief exchange (with the connections) after the race and haven’t committed to anything,” Pletcher said. “Obviously, being a ‘Win and You’re In’ for the Sprint is attractive, but we’ll see how the horse bounces back and talk to all the connections and come up with a game plan.”
Following Sea still seeking that right distance
On the surface, Following Sea’s versatility gives Pletcher those options. His six career races covered distances from six furlongs (three times) to 1 1/8 miles. That latter outing came in the Grade 1 Haskell and at first glance, it indicated Following Sea may be a better sprinter or miler. Following Sea was elevated to second after Hot Rod Charlie’s disqualification, but he finished 18 ¼ lengths behind both Hot Rod Charlie and eventual winner, Mandaloun.
Following Sea is 3-1-2 in six career races. That said, all three of his victories came at either six or 6 ½ furlongs. He finished third behind Jackie’s Warrior and Life Is Good – two of the best middle-distance runners in North America — in the seven-furlong, Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial.
If Pletcher wants to stretch out Following Sea again for the Breeders’ Cup, the Dirt Mile is the logical spot. If he does that, he’ll pit the son of Runhappy against two of his other charges: the aforementioned Life Is Good and Mind Control. Pletcher said both are headed to the Dirt Mile.
Two formidable stablemates could await in the Dirt Mile
Both go into the Dirt Mile off impressive victories. Mind Control turned back Silver State in the Parx Dirt Mile. While that happened in Pennsylvania, Life Is Good dismissed his rivals by 5 ½ lengths in the Grade 2 Kelso at Belmont Park.
Like Following Sea, Mind Control punched his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. That came courtesy of his victory in the Grade 2 John A. Nerud Stakes in July. But Pletcher and Red Oak Stable Racing Manager Rick Sacco decided the Dirt Mile is a better fit.
“I think as he’s gotten older, he’s indicated that he wants to stretch out a little bit,” Pletcher said about the 5-year-old Stay Thirsty horse.
Pletcher exploits the Thoroughbred transfer portal
Pletcher took over Mind Control this summer. Since then, he’s 2-for-3.
He did the same with Life Is Good, who is 1-for-2 since moving east from Bob Baffert’s California barn this summer. The frighteningly fast Into Mischief 3-year-old impresses Pletcher every time he walks onto the track. On Friday, Life Is Good turned in a 48.84-second four-furlong breeze at Belmont Park that was ninth of 50 at that distance that day.
“He’s a very impressive horse to watch train and his breeze was effortless,” Pletcher said.
Like Following Sea, Life Is Good has a Swiss Army Knife adaptability regarding distance. He won the Grade 2 San Felipe for Baffert over 1 1/16 miles. And his debut maiden special weight score last November at Del Mar came at 6 ½ furlongs. Throw in two victories at a mile (the Sham and the Kelso), and you see why the Dirt Mile is a natural destination for the front-running colt.
“Life Is Good is a very fast horse and I’d imagine he would be a significant pace factor, and Mind Control would settle off the pace a little bit,” Pletcher said.