Retirement of Saratoga Russell

A fan of Sunshine Millions, I looked forward to this year’s event with more than usual anticipation; always a good day of racing, this year it would feature a Backstretch favorite, Saratoga Russell.

The son of Trippi came back to the races in last June after a 15-month layoff, and in six starts at age four, he compiled a record of two wins and two seconds. This Florida-bred headed south late in the year with Mike Hushion’s stable, pointed to the Sunshine Millions Sprint. He’d last raced at Gulfstream in February of 2008, romping by nearly 11 lengths in the slop in his third lifetime start.

A few weeks ago came word from one of his owners that not only would Saratoga Russell not race in the Millions, but that his racing career was over.

“He cracked a sesamoid in training; he was galloping at Palm Meadows and took a bad step,” said Terry Finley this week. Finley is president of West Point Thoroughbreds, Saratoga Russell’s owner.

I happened to be at Aqueduct on November 17, 2007, when this two-year-old set crazy fractions before fading to finish second; in his second start a month later, he showed that he could come from off the pace, drawing off to win by more than seven lengths.

He returned to his speedball ways in that race at Gulfstream in early 2008, and encouraged by his dominant win, his connections brought him back north for the Gotham, where he finished a disappointing last. After the race, it was discovered that he’d displaced a palate, and the next fifteen months was a series of surgery and treatment and progress and setbacks. He’d get back to training, and then get sidelined; he’d post a workout occasionally, and then nothing. Finley explained why, after so much time and so many setbacks, West Point continued to try to get him back to the racetrack.

“We’ve learned over the years, and we don’t do that unless they’re really talented. We really thought he was in the top ranks of West Point horses and that he’d have a great five-year-old year. He ran fast enough that if he took a jump forward, he could be successful.”

Last summer, Saratoga Russell came to the town for which he was named to make his second start off the layoff. As usual, he went to the lead to set blistering fractions, and halfway down the stretch, I—and the dozens of West Point partners who had traveled from far away to see this race—knew that he was going to win it. Sometimes, the script plays out exactly as it should.

The script wasn’t supposed to have this abrupt ending, but it does, and Saratoga Russell’s fans and owners can be glad that the bay colt is going to recover and head to a life off the racetrack.

“We’ve sent him to the farm,” Finley said. “We’ve found that it’s best that West Point give [our horses] the time off before a new home is found. We like to have them set up and ready for their next career.”

Back in the state in which he was foaled, Saratoga Russell is currently recuperating in Ocala. He needs 60 days in his stall and then he’ll be a riding horse, according to Finley, who said that West Point will be responsible for finding a home for him.

The conversation with Finley wasn’t all wistful nostalgia: he spoke with cautious optimism about another West Point colt, Middle of the Nite (Offlee Wild – A Loose Kisser). Middle of the Nite started his career at Saratoga last summer in the barn of Kiaran McLaughlin; when McLaughlin stopped training for West Point, the colt was transferred to Tom Albertrani. Third recently at Gulfstream in a race in which Eskendereya and Thank U Philippe finished in front of him, Middle of the Nite is scheduled to start next in the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs on February 13th, and Finley admits that West Point has “great aspirations for him.” Edgar Prado, who’s been aboard for Middle of the Nite’s last two starts, will ride.

West Point Thoroughbreds is an occasional advertiser on this site through Hello Race Fans!, but readers know that I started writing about Saratoga Russell long before that professional relationship began. I appreciate all the people who helped me stay up to date with him: his owners, Finley, his former trainer McLaughlin and his assistant Andrew St. Lawrence. They sent me updates, they responded to requests for information, and they granted me access at Saratoga and Monmouth. It was an awfully fun couple of years.

Brooklyn Backstretch stories on Saratoga Russell are here.

6 thoughts on “Retirement of Saratoga Russell

  1. Loved your write up on Saratoga Russell and I wish him well. I am very fond of another West Point Thoroughbred who is soon to make his comebck, Mr. Fantasy. Terry Finley was awful nice to let me and my 75 year old Mom, a retired children's librarian and Mr. Fantasy's biggest fan, visit him on the Saratoga backstretch when he was still a 2yo in training. Hope to see him again at Saratoga this year. A video of a recent work at Palm Meadows…

  2. "abrupt ending" is one of the things that is certainly not a fun aspect of being a fan of a given horse. I'm sorry to learn this news and I always enjoyed following him thru your reports. I do like the Westpoint operation and I'm also a Mr Fantasy fan and look forward to his return. I hope he can make it back home to NY sometime soon.

  3. I sure hope so, Ernie, but it's hard to think his new owners will be as accommodating as his current ones. Cindy, Finley sure does a lot to make the game fun for people with all levels of interest–and investment–in it. Brooklyn: Think I read something about him recently, but I can't remember what.

  4. Darrell: late last summer, McLaughlin withdrew from the partnership with WP because he was getting a lot of horses from Shadwell, and was going to increase his work with them.

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