By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- One should excuse Michael Dilger if he seemed a little out of his element Sunday in the winner's circle at Saratoga Race Course after saddling Wired Bryan to victory in the 99th running of the Grade II, $200,000 Sanford Stakes.
It's not like he's used to it.
"Today is my first stakes winner and first stakes runner," Dilger said. "Sorry, I'm hoarse. I was cheering a little bit."
Until this past January, the 35-year-old Dilger was an assistant to mega-trainer Todd Pletcher. He broke away to start his own training operation, and when Wired Bryan broke 5 1/4 lengths clear of the field of five other 2-year-olds under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, the gray colt gave Dilger just his third career training victory.
Wired Bryan, who won in his debut at Belmont Park in June, was not only the first stakes starter for Dilger, but also his first-ever entry at Saratoga.
"It's the first time I've entered in a stakes race. It's just unbelievable," Dilger said. "It's a dream start."
Wired Bryan, a son of Stormy Atlantic owned by Anstu Stables, pounced to the early lead, only for Hollywood Talent to take over at the front after the opening quarter-mile. But, Bridgmohan kept Wired Bryan right on the pace near the rail, and when he got the chance, Bridgmohan let his mount loose down the stretch.
"You can see what a phenomenal job Mike's done with this horse. He was a total professional," Bridgmohan said. "He left the gate running and he had running on his mind. For a young horse to be down on the fence like that -- he got passed around the turn and he showed enough heart to come back and put them away late. He's a pretty decent little horse."
Wired Bryan stormed away from the field to win by 5 1/4 lengths in one minute, 11.06 seconds. Longshot Southern Blessing came up to take second under Rosie Napravnik, with Hollywood Talent holding on for third. All in Blue, trained by Dilger's former mentor Pletcher, took fourth, with Jake's Magic Hat in fifth and beaten favorite Debt Ceiling bringing up the rear of the field.
"I was out of horse," said Debt Ceiling's jockey, Eric Camacho. "He's chased fast paces and he's run into fast paces before, but today just wasn't his day."
That pace, however, was exactly what Dilger was looking for.
"I told Shaun to be close and if he was on the lead, that's fine," Dilger said. "He's a horse that's very relaxed in the gate. He breaks super sharp -- that early speed is his weapon. So, rather than tell him to sit handy and make a run, let the horse do what's natural for him."
Though Dilger admitted he was nervous when Joel Rosario got Hollywood Talent a head in front of Wired Bryan, Bridgmohan said there was never a problem in the saddle.
"He did relax pretty good," Bridgmohan said. "I told Mike I don't think he's strictly a speed horse and has to be on the lead. I think he'll settle and that will make him more effective. He's a very smart horse. I'm happy I was the chosen pilot."