Step Dancer scores open company win in Awad

Saturday, October 31st, 2020

Step Dancer gives New York-based sire War Dancer his first stakes winner in Saturday’s Awad at Belmont Park. NYRA Photo.

By Tom Law

About eight hours after Tiz the Law pleased his connections with a strong final work for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, stablemate and fellow New York-bred Step Dancer gave trainer Barclay Tagg and his team more satisfaction with a victory in Saturday’s $80,000 Awad Stakes at Belmont Park.

Step Dancer became New York-based stallion War Dancer’s first winner this summer at Saratoga, his first graded stakes-placed runner at Belmont and now his first stakes winner with a three-quarter-length victory over Like a Saltshaker in the 1 1/16-mile turf stakes.

Third last time out in the Grade 2 Pilgrim Stakes on firm ground, Step Dancer rallied up the inside from seventh to win over yielding ground in 1:48.69.

“Last time we ran we stayed a little too close to the pace and we thought we had to on the inner turf but it took away from his kick,” said Robin Smullen, Tagg’s longtime partner and assistant. “Today, I told Dylan [Davis] I wanted him 5 lengths off the pace and to find a spot and don’t ask him until he turns for home. He came home with a great kick. He doesn’t need to get to the outside. He showed that he’s game and he can do whatever you want.”

Davis kept Step Dancer toward the back of the field and seventh through the opening half mile in :51.56 over the soggy ground. They made up ground around the far turn while running on the outside before going back to the inside in the lane.

Like a Saltshaker took the lead into the lane under Jose Ortiz and opened up by a length at the eighth pole before Step Dancer slipped through on the inside. Like a Saltshaker held second by 3 1/4 lengths from 7-2 favorite Space Launch with Wooten Assett fourth in the field of 11.

“He was a little keen for us last time out,” Davis said. “It was a bit of a slower pace and it might have pulled out his kick, but he still ran well. Today, I stayed with the pony and tried to relax him a little more. He broke well for me, but he just relaxed and that was what we wanted whether it was a few lengths back or more. I tried to get into a good position for the second turn and I was able to scoot up a little bit into the third flight.

“I saw Jose looking for some room and I was just making sure I had some options in front of me. Jose was able to get through, so I followed him and I thought something else might open up, and it did. He just loved the ground. He kept finding more and more. I was very impressed with him today. It was just like how he wowed me first time out. He really stepped up again.”

Bred by Sugar Plum Farm and Richard Pressman and foaled at Robin and Anthony Malatino’s Sugar Plum Farm in Saratoga Springs, Step Dancer races for his breeders’ Diamond M Stable, Hayward R. Pressman and Donna R. Pressman. Diamond M Stable also campaigned War Dancer, a multiple graded stakes winner who stands at Irish Hill & Dutchess Views Stallions in Stillwater.

Step Dancer broke his maiden the last Saturday of the Saratoga meet – again with Tagg out of town tending to Tiz the Law at the Kentucky Derby – with a 3 1/2-length win over fellow War Dancer first-time starter Pivotal Run. He finished 4 lengths back in the Pilgrim, behind the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf pre-entries Fire At Will and Public Sector, before coming back in four weeks to win the Awad.

Step Dancer is the first foal out of the winning English Channel mare Just Be Steppin, whose dam is a half-sister to Group 1-placed stakes producing mare Khassah and two other stakes runners with Just Be Steppin a great-granddaughter of Grade 1 winner Castilla.

The winner of the Grade 2 Virginia Derby at 3 and the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap at 4 with another stakes win at 6 and a second to Twilight Eclipse in the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes, War Dancer is the only son of War Front standing in New York. He’s been popular with more than 250 mares in his first three books and another 34 in 2020 according to The Jockey Club’s Report of Mares Bred.

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