On June 8 at Belmont Park, Forty Tales and Declan's Warrior ran 1-2, respectively, three-quarters of a length apart in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens presented by NYRA Rewards on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
The Woody Stephens was the second straight graded stakes victory for Forty Tales, while Declan's Warrior had his three-race win streak snapped. They will stretch out from six to 6 1/2 furlongs in the Amsterdam, Saratoga's local prep for the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwoods King's Bishop on August 24.
"Six-and-a-half [furlongs] is OK," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Forty Tales for Perretti Racing Stable. "I think seven's probably a tick better, but if they go fast enough, it should work out."
Forty Tales has four wins and a second with $459,789 in purse earnings from six lifetime starts.
The 2-1 program favorite, Forty Tales drew post 2 as he makes his Saratoga debut in the field of seven and will be ridden by meet leader Joel Rosario.
"I think he's run well every time, but his last two races have been particularly good so we're hoping for more of the same," Pletcher said. "Hopefully, this is a race that he can not only do some good in but will hopefully carry us forward for the King's Bishop, as well."
The Amsterdam also will mark the first local start for Declan's Warrior, who is based much of the year in Saratoga with Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito's string at the Oklahoma training track.
Declan's Warrior has been first or second in each of his six career starts, with earnings of $348,770. He will break from post 3 in the Amsterdam with regular rider Jose Lezcano aboard as the 5-2 second choice.
"He never ran as a 2-year-old, so this is his first start here," Zito said. "He trains here. He's an amazing horse, just a treasure. What can I say? I'm sure he'll run his normal good race. He just gives everything he's got. He is a true warrior, there's no question. He just likes what he's doing, and I hope he keeps going."
In the Woody Stephens, Declan's Warrior came flying down the stretch from next-to-last in the 10-horse field, splitting horses after navigating around a tiring Clearly Now approaching the wire.
"He just tries all the time," Zito said. "It was really sad last time. Not taking anything away from Forty Tales because, obviously, he won the Derby Trial so he's a pretty good horse. It looked like they were going to hit the wire together and that other horse came right in front of him and he had to alter course. That was a little disappointing, but he's a good horse. I hope everything goes good for him."
Winner of the Grade 3 Bay Shore in April at Aqueduct, Declan's Warrior is special to Zito for more than his on-track success. The colt was bred by his wife, Kim, and runs in their Lucky Shamrock Stable colors.
"You always have a soft spot for a horse like this," Zito said. "It's a mom-and-pop operation. From time to time we have partners, but it's basically our family. It took 12 years to get a horse like this. It's a blessing. You just hope it continues."
Shipping in from Monmouth Park to challenge the top two is undefeated New Jersey-bred Rainbow Heir, who is trained by Ben Perkins Jr. for owner-breeder Everett Novak's New Farm.
The speedy son of Wildcat Heir has rattled off four straight wins to open his career, including a five-length score in Grade 3 Jersey Shore at Monmouth on July 4.
"He's always had a world of talent," Perkins said. "We're excited. You always want to see how they can step up and challenge them a little bit, move them up in class and stretch them farther.
"He seems like he came off the race really, really well," he added. "He's always been a nice, relaxed horse. So far, he's had everything his own way. I know there's going to be a day when he's challenged, and we're anxious to see how he reacts to that. Coming into the race, he's doing well."
Rainbow Heir has won twice at both Laurel Park and Monmouth, and got a look at the Saratoga surface in a gallop Thursday morning. Listed at 4-1 on the morning line, he will have regular rider Elvis Trujillo up out of post position 6.
"He's handled everything we've asked him to do so far," Perkins said. "In order to keep winning, he has to keep stepping up. So, here we are."
Each of Rainbow Heir's wins have come in gate-to-wire fashion, which Perkins said has been contrary to his training.
"We've spent a lot of time trying to teach him how to relax," Perkins said. "He's a very kind, nice and relaxed horse. It's funny; we always work him behind horses and let him come around them and go on in order to get him used to coming from off the pace a little bit. But, so far, he's never been off the pace. It will be interesting to see what happens when he gets in a spot where he can close on a horse a little bit or sit off one."
Also entered in the Amsterdam are Cat Five Hurricane, a recent allowance winner making his first start outside of Florida for Calder-based trainer Barry Rose; Mentor Cane, a impressive maiden winner at Belmont Park on July 6 in his seasonal debut; Mico Margarita, who captured the Grade 3 Carry Back at Calder on July 6 for his second straight victory; and Salutos Amigos, who was ninth of 11 in the Woody Stephens in his most recent effort.