After a career-best, out-of-the-clouds performance, what does Lexitonian do for an encore? How will the enigmatic sprinter follow up his Vanderbilt victory in Saturday’s Grade 1 Forego Stakes at Saratoga?
And is it possible? Can the 5-year-old sprinter go one better than his best?
The Forego is one of six Grade 1 stakes on Saratoga’s monster Saturday card. The seven-furlong sprint for 4-year-olds and up features five Grade 1 winners, including Firenze Fire, Mind Control, Mischevious Alex, and the 2020 Champion Sprinter of the Year, Whitmore.
Lexitonian ran by three of those: Whitmore (third), Firenze Fire (fifth), and Mischevious Alex (a bizarre eighth), in his breakout Vanderbilt victory. Winning that race made Lexitonian a member of the Grade 1 winner’s club. It also made the son of Speightstown worthy of betting attention, especially after his Vanderbilt victory at 34/1.
Lexitonian gave the bad before the good
That said, trainer Jack Sisterson, who knows his oft-baffling charge well, advises cautious optimism. Lexitonian is capable of career-best 116 Equibase Speed Figures from the Vanderbilt. He’s also capable of 28 Equibases from his eased-up Met Mile performance the previous time out.
“He’s probably not a fan-favorite horse because he’s a tough horse to handicap. No one knows what to expect,” Sisterson told the New York Racing Association. “We’ve always had the confidence to put him in races like that. He does, from time to time, throw a clunker in. He got beat (by 45 ¼) lengths in the Met Mile. A lot of people probably would have dropped him down a grade to get him a confidence win and get him back on track, but he showed signs that he was still capable of winning a type of race like the Vanderbilt. We stuck him in there and he proved to everybody that he’s got the capability of jumping up with a big performance.”
That “big performance” came after Sisterson changed racing tactics. He told jockey Jose Lezcano to send Lexitonian out early. Sisterson’s decision was sort of made for him when Lexitonian drew the rail, but he liked the idea of putting his charge into the mix early.
The longest shot in the Vanderbilt field
When that happened, Lexitonian was never worse than second at any call of the six-furlong sprint. He battled first with Strike Power (who wound up sixth), then runner-up Special Reserve, who led at the stretch call. Lexitonian outdueled Special Reserve over the final furlong, winning by a half-length and paying $70.
“We sort of changed the tactics with him,” Sisterson said. “He’d been breezing down on the inside of horse, and he’s very workmanlike. It was just by chance we drew the one hole. I supposed when you draw the one, you have to jump and go forward. Going three-quarters (of a mile), you’re not going to take back and make one run. I’d never be someone to tell a jockey what to do, but I just chatted to Jose about the race. I said, ‘Let’s be real aggressive early and see if you can put him on the lead.’ Credit to Jose, it was a brilliant ride. Lexitonian really responded to that.”
Sisterson learned that simplicity is the best policy. Lexitonian has five victories in 19 starts, the biggest before that Vanderbilt score being the 2019 Grade 3 Chick Lang at Pimlico. But he was 1-for-11 coming into the Vanderbilt, with two seconds his best Grade 1 outings.
“Obviously, I’m biased. He’s had some near misses, but he put it all together in the Vanderbilt,” Sisterson said. “He’s shown us signs that he’s going to run the same sort of race he did in the Vanderbilt. We haven’t changed anything up with him. We’ve just kept it simple. With him, less is more. We found that out pretty quickly … It would be great to see him duplicate a performance like that. I think he’s well capable of doing it.”