With the exception of the Road to the Kentucky Derby, I’m in the camp that believes Grade 1 races are championship caliber events that stand on their own, not just mere preps.

But this is the business that has chosen us and we grudgingly accept the way today’s game is played. Like many Americans in this age of lawlessness, what choice do we have? Congressional seats aren’t the only things that could change in November.

The last Saturday in September and first weekend of October are intended to whet our appetites for championship defining events to come. In the handicap division, the table was supposed to set up the big East Meets West confrontation, but some of the air was pinpricked out of the balloon we expected.

Instead we are left with the notion of what might have been instead of what was originally believed. Personally, I woke up wondering: Whose idea was it to replace Irad Ortiz Jr. with a 10-pound bug boy?

Do I know what it’s like to be on the back of a Thoroughbred when most of the chips have been pushed in the center of the table? Of course not. And I know when you’re on the best horse, you bring the race to the competition.

But Saturday bore witness to a form of equine hara-kiri committed at the big racetrack on Long Island. What were you thinking, rider?

"The track was fast and I had to go harder than usual because Mendelssohn (No. 3) was very quick out of there and I needed to make the lead. I had to use a lot to make the lead. We just went a little fast,” Ortiz Jr. told the NYRA press staff post-race.

Indeed, the damp track was fast. Very fast running times were the rule of the day and the surface slanted toward speed—not overwhelmingly so, but enough. But the thing is that Diversity proved--albeit in restricted company-- he is not a need-the-lead type.

I can understand that Ortiz was worried that the high class three year old, getting four pounds and likely to have benefitted from his frontrunning Travers placing, might shake loose. Diversify was in the Classic via his Whitney score; he could have sat just off the 3-year-old’s hindquarters.

But to quarter-horse out of the gate in a lead-at-all-cost gambit badly compromised his chances badly. Well, it’s done, and everyone, especially riders as talented as Irad at timing late rallies, are entitled to a mulligan. But as far as a Classic run now, who knows?

While we’re giving out mullligans, how about one for Accelerate, who did not win the Awesome Again impressively enough in the minds of some critics.

After all, didn’t his gate antics compromise him, or his very wide first turn and overall wide run? Didn’t he hunker down when necessary to get it done, his fourth Grade 1 this year, beating an Eclipse champion in the process? Wasn’t he clearly best on the day?

Further, who is to say that trainer John Sadler didn’t leave something in the tank for November? He was a little circumspect about that, albeit confident that Accelerate would win.

Not so Bob Baffert and Mike Smith, pre- and post-race, who said that West Coast was 80%. Although he tired perceptibly in the last 80 yards, West Coast and Smith did a lot of dirty work, attacking the challenge aggressively. He ran terrific off the layup

My body-language reading is probably as good as my recent handicapping, none too good recently. But it appeared that Baffert was happier and more content in defeat than Sadler was in victory.

Under the lights, meanwhile, Mind Your Biscuits proved himself to be one of the most extraordinarily versatile horses we’ve seen in a half-century of race watching. A deadly come-from-behind sprinter, a top class miler, and now impressive graded stakes winner at nine furlongs—over the Breeders’ Cup surface to boot. He is the package.

The New York-bred five year old dominated what turned out to be overmatched rivals, and didn’t necessarily have an easiest trip. Forced to rate under stout restraint from between horses most of the way, gifted young Tyler Gaffalione let out a notch at the right moment, extricating and separating himself from his rivals into a stalk-and-pounce with a half-mile remaining.

When the fresh, layup runner Toast of New York made a three wide challenge entering the far turn, Gaffalione was forced into making his run before reaching headstretch.

From midstretch home, 'Biscuits' sprinted to the wire sharply and ran through the finish line in full stride, continuing well thereafter, as if one more furlong is not out of the question. With his stud plans already set, there's no downside to a go at the big balloons Classic--writing a $150,000 check to enter notwithstanding.

There are two other viable options. While Imperial Hint is a formidable Sprinter--Saturday’s Vosburgh winner was beaten over a Churchill Downs--but if there's a better six furlong sprinter in America, I don't know who it is.

Still, anyone who saw the 6-furlong Golden Shaheen in Dubai this spring will never forget it. It was the most incredible sprint finish we've seen since the 1986 handicap champion Turkoman won the Tallahassee Stakes at Hialeah 32 years ago.

So now the East vs. West battle for the handicap division title may be between Accelerate and Mind Your Biscuits. In any case more big names have joined the party, not to mention a couple of top class three year olds and Europeans added tp the mix.

One thing is certain: As a result of Super Saturday, the Breeders’ Cup Classic got a lot more interesting.


Belmont Park
Imperial Hint was awesome taking the G1 Vosburgh in what had to be the most dominant performance of the day. Trainer Luis Carvajal wanted an easy race and he got one, though we thought Javier Castellano eased up his mount in the extreme…
If Channel Maker catches soft ground in Churchill NOV 3, he will be a tough out, a high class European notwithstanding. If the ground is good to firm, Robert Bruce is more than capable of turning Saturday’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic tables.
Forty Under got superb handling from Manny Franco, who didn’t rattle on the far turn when rivals swooped by to his outside, winning the G3 Pilgrim, demonstrated a nice turn of foot and professionalism to handle adversity. It wasn’t a fear-engendering performance but good enough to give Bill Parcells et al a chance in racing’s ‘Big Game’.

Churchill Downs: Seeking the Soul made an excellent impression winning the G3 Ack Ack, outkicking all comers off the slow one mile pace in a worthy 1:35 1/5. Dallas Stewart taking the same scheduling tack he used prior to winning last year’s Distaff with Forever Unbridled. He and owner Charles Fipke are considering both the Dirt Mile and Classic. Why not?
Quick Sand Aa looks like the clear favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Arabian Classic…just kidding. (Although maybe I should give BC Ltd. any ideas)!

Santa Anita: More malcontents. Some were unimpressed with Game Winner’s victory in the G1 American Pharoah. I am not among those. In stretching his record to 3-for-3 he ran down a legitimate speedster and separated himself from a perfect behind-duel stalker when the real running started. First rate two-turn debut in 1:43.77 (06.60).
Although slower (1-1/16 miles in 144.59 [07:12]) Bellafina was clearly more impressive visually than her male counterpart, a still somewhat green by drawing away 6-1/2 length winner of the G1 Chandelier. She will need to be a little more professional in Louisville.
Vasilika’s victory in the G1 Rodeo Drive was very game but in the final analysis, workmanlike would be more apt.

Gulfstream Park:
Juvenile filly Cookie Dough overcame post 12 at 1-1/16 miles to win the restricted My Dear Girl by 7-1/2 dominating lengths in a lethargic 1:47.50 (07:19), a race that ended at the speed-friendly first finish line.
But she was conservatively 6 or 7 wide on first turn, stoutly restrained while 3 or 4 wide between horses in solid early fractions, engaged the leader on the far turn and drew off as very much the best. Blazing Brooke was a solid-finish six wide third.
Well Defined got away with very soft, albeit pressured, fractions to win the In Reality by the same margin as Cookie Dough. The difference was a 31:23 final 5/16s en route to a final clocking of 1:44.97. Favorite Garter and Tie was second and it was 14-1/2 back to the third horse. Ignore Florida-based Breeders’ Cup juveniles at your peril.