Ian Wilkes took a short break from his morning to talk about his string for the 2016 Saratoga Race Course meeting when he got to a filly with a minor case of second-itis he hoped to find a cure for in Wednesday's third race. (Editor's note: Originally published in Aug. 18 issue of The Saratoga Special.)
"She's a New York-bred, has had four starts and three seconds," Wilkes said of Askfor Forgiveness, one of the barn's three runners Wednesday. "We just keep running into one better than us. We'll eventually get there."
Askfor Forgiveness got there Wednesday, winning the 6-furlong state-bred maiden special weight to give the Wilkes barn its second win of the meet. He collected win No. 3 two races later when Stone broke his maiden for a $40,000 claiming tag.
Wilkes bedded 22 horses down in Barn 6 - one of the quietest spots on the grounds at the end of Clare Court with Nelson Avenue to the west and the Greentree property to the south - for the meet. He's down to 19 after two horses were claimed and another was sent back to Kentucky.
Wilkes, who keeps a presence in New York for most of the year with assistant Caesar Morales running the string during the offseason in Saratoga, also maintains sizable barns at Skylight Training Center in Goshen, Kentucky, and at Churchill Downs most of the year.
Askfor Forgiveness' victory followed Wilkes' first of the meet with Bird Song on the first Saturday of the 40-day stand. A homebred for longtime Wilkes supporter Marylou Whitney Stables, Bird Song is slated to run back in the Grade 1 King's Bishop Aug. 27.
Bird Song, out of Whitney's Kentucky Oaks winner Bird Town, is one of about 12 Wilkes has in training at Saratoga for the city's most famous citizen.
"They're tremendous, Marylou and John (Hendrickson)," Wilkes said. "What can you say? It's such an honor to be able to train for them."
Another member of Wilkes' Saratoga string bound for a Grade 1 stakes is Dennis Farkas' Fun, headed to the Spinaway Sept. 3 after placing second in the Grade 3 Schuylerville Opening Day.
Wilkes sat down for a few minutes with The Special's Tom Law Wednesday morning to discuss his Saratoga string.
Bird Song: Marylou Whitney Stables' homebred 3-year-old by Unbridled's Song out of Kentucky Oaks winner Bird Town won 6-furlong allowance the first Saturday of the meet and goes next in Grade 1 King's Bishop Aug. 27. "Seriously talented horse. I don't think we've seen the best of him yet. He trains like a good horse and he runs like a good horse."
Adulation: Runner-up to Thirst For Victory in Saturday's fifth, the last race before the card was canceled. Whitney 2-year-old homebred is by To Honor And Serve. "He's done everything right, he's got the attributes to be a nice horse. Talented horse and that wasn't an easy thing for him, running in the mud the other day and he still ran well. He came out good and that's the main thing. I'd like to run him back."
Open Arms: Another rare debut winner for Wilkes, 3-year-old filly won June 19 at Churchill and is entered in today's seventh, a 7-furlong allowance on the main track. "She's a Super Saver filly for Bob Lothenbach (Lothenbach Stables). She's one I did expect to win. Her work leading into the race was real, real good. I knew she was ready. For me to win first time out . . . but I knew she would. She's a little behind the 8-ball, being a 3-year-old filly that's run just once. We'll come back in an allowance, give her a chance. She'll be better as we go on. I'm not sure about her, she won going seven-eighths first time out, which is no easy task, but I don't know if she'll be a filly that goes long or if she's a one-turn horse. I haven't gotten that far yet."
Sweetgrass: Third behind Curalina and Carrumba in the Grade 3 Shuvee the first Sunday of the meet. "Good race, it just shows you the difference between Grade 1 and Grade 3. She ran a real bang-up race but those Grade 1 horses are good and she's a nice Grade 3 horse. We'll come back in the Summer Colony Monday with her. She's already Grade 2, Grade 3 stakes-placed. If she can win a stakes she's going to be worth a bit for the owners, she'll have some asset value."
Fun: Harlan's Holiday filly won her debut June 24 at Churchill Downs and finished second in Grade 3 Schuylerville. "She's fun isn't she? She won first out and then came back and ran a real bang-up race in the Schuylerville. I'll come back in the Spinaway with her. She's a plain filly to look at but she just keeps improving, the further they go the better."
Viva Majorca: Fourth in the Tale Of The Cat Aug. 12, the 5-year-old Tiago gelding is a stakes winner and the earner of $308,960 for owner/breeder Whitney. "I just haven't gotten him back to the form he showed last year when he was third in the Forego. I feel he's on the verge of being there. Where I go next with him I'm not sure yet. He's a horse who's made like $300,000, he's Grade 1-placed, he's won a stakes. He's a talented horse but I just haven't gotten him back to where I thought he would be. I nominated him (to the Forego) but it would have to come up right."
Albert Charles: A $115,000 buy at last year's Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings, he occupies stall No. 1, which Wilkes says the late Allen Jerkens told him was the same stall Onion ran out of in 1973 when he upset Secretariat in the Whitney. "He had one start. We've got room for improvement because he didn't beat a horse. But I gelded him and I like the way he's done since then. He's trained more forwardly. He's a Pioneerof The Nile and he wants to go longer. I ran him 5 1/2 furlongs and it was too short. We'll stretch him out and hopefully that will help him."
Gorgeous Bird: Winner of the Don Bernhardt Stakes July 16 at Ellis Park, the 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song finished seventh in the Tale Of The Cat. "When he won at Ellis he showed tactical speed. Then it was a different kind of speed for him up here. It's serious speed. I actually liked his race because he didn't quit on me. He dropped back to last on the turn but then came running down the lane. Another one I'm not sure where I'll go next. I actually think this horse is improving as he's getting older. He's a 4-year-old now and he may be a little bit of a one-turn miler, sprinter type of horse. He's getting better with age. He's a big strong horse and can only get better."
Island Town: Two-time Grade 3 winner for Six Column Stables, Randall Bloch, John Seiler and David Hall finished fifth in the Alydar Aug. 7. "I've got to shorten him up to one turn. He was a little too strong for Javier (Castellano) that day. I might try him on the grass actually, I've never done that with him. He's a Hard Spun out of a Distorted Humor mare so maybe I should try him on the turf. He was making money on the dirt, why change? Now I'm looking for an excuse."
Tiz Town: Whitney Stable's homebred 4-year-old by Tiznow is a half-brother to Bird Song. Fourth in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap May 21, he finished fifth in a 1 3/16-mile turf allowance July 30. "This horse wants to run a mile-and-a-half. That's what he wants to run. Anything like that would be perfect. I'm struggling to get races at mile-and-a-half, mile-and-three-eighths. The further he goes the better he is. Grass or dirt, he'll run either way. It's hard to get a dirt race that far, so really I've got to run him on the turf."
Proud Zip: Grosse Point Farm's homebred 3-year-old by City Zip finished second in 9-furlong maiden claimer July 31. "It came off the turf that day, he ran good. We'll come back in another maiden 75 for him on the turf. He's a City Zip and I'm trying to get him on the turf."
Twilight Owl: Whitney Stables homebred 2-year-old daughter of Birdstone was entered for her debut Aug. 14 in 6 1/2-furlong maiden race. "I scratched her the other day, she got cast. Just had a little hiccup and we'll come back later in the meet here. She's ready to run, but those things happen."