Put another way, Will Take Charge and Game On Dude set the bar pretty high for the Cigar horses and all those babies, the ones in New York and Kentucky.
Interesting how Thanksgiving weekend has become a player in the special events section that racetracks everywhere have acknowledged, turning good races into top class events. This is one thing that works—big time.
And, so, in the final strides Will take Charge did to Game On Dude what Mucho Macho Man did to him four weeks earlier; a photo finish that didn’t deserve a loser.
Indeed, the Clark was going to be a tough act to follow, but with so many actors on the final big racing stage of 2013, it just had to happen. So which was the more impressive?
Was it the fact that there was a three-horse battle in the Demoiselle stretch with the issue still in doubt with a furlong to go?
Was it Wedding Toast holding off Toasting, when she appeared beaten with less than a sixteenth left in the Comely, giving Javier Castellano his fourth win on the day?
Maybe it was the Bill Mott frequent flyer magic show--from Santa Anita to Payson Park to South Ozone Park with the 7 year old Flat Out, a dual Jockey Club Gold Cup winner that now boasts a worthy 3-2-1 slate in six starts at a mile?
But if you’re a Kentucky Derby fan then it had to be Honor Code snatching victory from defeat’s jaws with two Remsen jumps left, giving Castellano his fifth and Shug McGaughey a leg up on a second straight Derby score.
Not that Churchill Downs should be left out of the mix, with a vexatious result in the Golden Rod if you backed favored Stonetastic as Little Al Stall got the money with, well, a filly named Vexed.
Then came the Jockey Club Stakes for juvenile colts which when thrown together with the Remsen the wise guys would call negative key races as intended Derby barometers.
Ricardo Santana confidently rode Tapiture as if he won on the best horse, then went out and proved it to trainer Steve Asmussen.
Parenthetically, I’m not sure about that, but it does seem the winners of these two juvenile fixtures should do a lot better on May’s first Saturday.
So, qualitatively, what do we have? After Saturday, we know for sure that Stopshoppingmaria is classy and game, but the feeling is she will be found lacking when the brilliance meter is turned up a notch or two.
Then, who knows, Saturday’s Aqueduct surface was very dull, you might even say dead, a combination of a few factors.
When Wednesday’s races were cancelled due to high winds, the temperature was warm and it rained hard. Then the temps dropped like a stone. Thursday’s main track was good, rated fast Friday and Saturday. That’s “fast” in name only.
It took a lot of bottom from the horses that ran well to ultimately get their jobs done on Saturday. The atmospherics gave them a chance to show their heart is inside those beautiful bodies. So perhaps we should not rush to judgment, but I digress.
In the Cigar, Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents was made a 3-1 favorite in the open contest. Instead, it was Doug O’Neill’s uncoupled Private Zone that nearly stole the show at 32.50-to-1.
In fact, the race wasn’t even on Goldencents’ dance card until O’Neill learned that the purse would be worth $1 million had his horse or Filly & Mare Distaff winner Groupie Doll won the incentivized purse.
Winning Flat Out got himself a bonus as a prior Grade 1 winner. The speedy Private Zone did the dirty work but Flat Out, under a perfectly timed finish beneath Junior Alvarado, ran him down inside the final furlong.
The time of 1:34.68 on Saturday’s racetrack was first rate.
The Remsen, meanwhile, could have been timed with a hour glass, as the saying goes, but the running time must be taken in an atmospherics context.
Without being choked down on the lead, pacesetting Master Lightning laid down splits of 25.84, 52.74, 1:17.56 and a mile in 1:41.13. In that perspective, a final time of 1:52.92 showed Honor Code’s courageous determination.
This was a colt that came from 22 lengths behind in its 7 furlong debut at Saratoga and won going away. Yesterday, he was in hand stalking the slow pace, a new dimension.
A final furlong in 11.79 will win plenty of two-turn races, pace notwithstanding. The impressive aspect is that Honor Code was taken out of his demonstrated best game and still won.
“When the leader went that slow, we went on and engaged him,” said McGaughey. “He got down on the inside of [Cairo Prince] and he got by him. He showed a lot of guts. I think [Cairo Prince] is a nice horse. It was a peculiar race.”
“That was a tough beat,” said the runner-up’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. “The winner is a good horse but that was a tough won. I thought we had it won.”
And they did, until the last jump. Both horses, if all goes well, will have lots to say about the 2014 classics. Third finisher Wicked Strong also appears to have a good future.
“Any time they finish strong, it’s good,” said trainer Jimmy Jerkens. “With the slow pace, everyone was in the same boat.”
Next stop for all three--and Flat Out, too--is South Florida.