Played Hard and Bauer, Work Towards Shuvee

Phillip Bauer and Play Hard | Mike Kane

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – While Clairiere (Curlin) and Nest (Curlin) are in the spotlight, attracting most of the attention in the runup to the GII Shuvee S. on Sunday, Played Hard (Into Mischief) is, well, lurking.

Stonestreet Stable's Clairiere has won consecutive Grade Is to climb to the top of the older dirt filly division. Nest, last year's 3-year-old filly champ co-owned by Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House, will make her first start of 2023. Meanwhile, Played Hard, trained by Phillip Bauer for Rigney Racing, has been building a solid resume. She gave her connections their first Grade I victory in the La Troienne on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs and has finished in the top three in her last 10 starts, six of them graded stakes.

Bauer said that Played Hard has established herself as a very capable and consistent runner while accumulating $1,480140 in purse earnings.

“I think she needs to be recognized as part of the equation this year in that division. However, it's, a tough division,” he said. “I'm sure with the years that they've had, Clairiere currently, and Nest last year, they deserve some respect and obviously some recognition.

But we're excited the way our filly is training and we've kind of mapped out a plan. So we just kind of put our blinkers on and whoever is in it, go to battle with them and see where we stack up at the end of the year.  The main goal is the Breeders' Cup. How we get there is probably going to be different than some of the others, but the Shuvee is the first step.”

Played Hard | Mike Kane

With both trainer and owners from Louisville, the 38-year-old Bauer has trained for Richard and Tammy Rigney since 2013. The Rigneys topped the owner's table at the 2022 Churchill Downs Spring Meet and had a spectacular Saratoga season, winning six of 13 starts. Played Hard delivered one of the Saratoga victories and has been in graded company since, finishing first in three of five starts. In the oh-so-important La Troienne victory she held off Secret Oath (Arrogate) by a neck.

“To me, she showed maturity,” Bauer said. “She's really figured the game out. Early on, it almost looked like she wanted to get rank in her races and stuff like that. She still likes to show pace, but it's some maturity, that I think has helped her and then, obviously, just the desire to win.”

Bauer smiled at the suggestion that the sixth win of her 16-race career was something of a coming out party.

“I would have to think so,” he said.  “She showed up and danced her dance.”

In her next start, Played Hard ran third to Clairiere and Search Results (Flatter) in the GI Ogden Phipps on June 10. With hindsight, Bauer said he regrets the decision to leave Louisville with the questions swirling about safety issues at Churchill Downs and ship the 5-year-old mare to New York.

“I think maybe a little trainer error on my part going up to the Ogden Phipps,” he said.  “We changed gears with everything that went on at Churchill. I don't necessarily think that it was the filly, I think it was more so a mistake that I made.

“We originally were targeting the (GII, July 1) Fleur de Lis, so we kind of changed course. Obviously, the Grade I was appealing, too. The fact we had one if you could get two you really enhanced your odds of winning an Eclipse Award.

Played Hard was forwardly placed by John Velazquez, but finished three lengths behind Clairiere in the one-turn Phipps at Belmont Park.

“We told ourselves, we're not going to regret our decisions,” Bauer said. “She still got third in a Grade I. As far as a page for her when she becomes a broodmare, it doesn't hurt.”

Played Hard has breezed three times since the Ogden Phipps, including a bullet five furlongs on July 7 at Churchill Downs. She worked a half-mile at Saratoga on Saturday.

Played Hard and Phil Bauer last summer at Saratoga | Sarah Andrew

“It'll be interesting to see who else goes in there, how the race sets up,” Bauer said. “I anticipate us being part of the mix early. If nobody else is in there maybe it will aid our chances. She loves it up here. She's won a couple of races and we're excited to be back and try again.”

Bauer and the Rigneys have been racing at Saratoga since 2016. They had a productive summer in 2021 with a 3-5-2 record from 21 starts. Last year, they had a remarkable run.

“We were very fortunate,” Bauer said. “It seemed like every time you opened the condition book, there was a race exactly where you wanted it all the way from maiden claimings to two-other-thans. Everything just fit like a glove. We didn't miss a beat and I think that was part of the reason for some of the success.”

Bauer said he and his owners understand what they have known all along, that it's tough to win at Saratoga.

“We're kind of making sure we realize that coming into this meet,” he said. “You don't come up here expecting to win that many.  We want to come up, be competitive and leave here proud of what our horses have accomplished, whether it's wins or not.

You want to lead them over there to run their best race. And if they do it up here, sometimes it's not good enough.”

Bauer brought 14 Rigney horses to Saratoga this year, a couple more than in past seasons. Played Hard is the star of the stable and in the Shuvee faces the tough task of facing Clairiere and Nest, two horses Bauer admires.

“Just phenomenal horses that if you ever run across those kind you're lucky to have,” he said. “Played Hard is the best horse I've ever hung a bridle on. It's exciting to be in the mix. That's what we all strive for in this game, to reach that level and have horses like that. I'm obviously a fan of what those fillies and mares have done and at the same time, hope to beat them.”

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