Sunday, September 30, 2012
Super Saturday: Many Eclipse Questions
ELMONT, NY, September 29, 2012---It was billed as Super Saturday at Belmont Park yesterday and, given the overall performances seen in six graded events, five of which were Grade 1, it was an aesthetic success.
All is right with the pecking order in the older filly and mare division again, now that the champ, Royal Delta, is back, and back in a big way in the Grade 1 Beldame. “I’m glad for Royal Delta,” said Hall of Famer Bill Mott. “She got beat last time, came back, and avenged that loss today.”
It might have been “only” a Grade 2, but the result of the Kelso Mile put a smile on Barclay Tagg’s face, which some might think is an accomplishment all its own.
But when you consider that talented miler Jersey Town snapped a 47-race schneid dating back to June 16, it became more of a momentous occasion.
Next up was the G1 Vosburgh, a bellwether event for the sprint division that’s currently looking for a definitive leader. It’s the Breeders’ Cup Sprint that generally determines the title, and it’s often won by an ascending 3-year-old.
Enter The Lumber Guy, The New York Bred Lumber Guy. Will he follow in the hoof prints of Squirtle Squirt, Cajun Beat and Silver Train, three sophs that won The Sprint event since 2001?
“I like 3-year-olds vs. older horses this time of year,” said trainer Mike Hushion, who did a masterful job preparing the gray Grand Slam colt for his first start since the Peter Pan here in May. “They’ve gone through that maturing. I’ve been telling Barry [owner Schwartz] for the past five weeks that he’s been working like the real deal.”
The first of two Grade 1 turf events, contested over yielding ground--the product of two inches of rainfall for more than a 24-hour period—was a beauty with the first four finishers; Nahrain, Zagora, Dream Peace and I’m A Dreamer, all having a serious chance to win in the final 50 yards.
But it was Nahrain, good enough to finish second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf as a 3-year-old and in the fourth race of her current form cycle, who was sitting on a top effort, drawing out to a half-length advantage at the finish in the last three strides of the G1 Flower Bowl.
“She showed us when she was third at the Curragh in her last start that she was coming back to herself,” said trainer Roger Varian of the European import. “It was the first race this year where she finished strongly to the line.”
Thirty four minutes later the boys got to go 1-1/2 miles in the G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. Billed principally as a two-horse match between Arlington Million hero Little Mike and America’s emerging turf star, Point of Entry, it revealed much more about the latter.
In winning the 1-1/2 miles event, Point of Entry, by virtue of his third straight Grade 1 victory, revealed himself as a serious Horse of the Year contender. He has shown the kind of consistency at the highest levels that has been lacking in virtually every division this year.
It was also the third consecutive Grade 1 score for newly enshrined Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez, who put on a mini-clinic before a disappointingly scant crowd of 8,639, and his fourth straight when added to his first graded race, Keeneland’s G2 Elkhorn.
In Saratoga’s Sword Dancer, Point of Entry displayed an unusual turn of foot, the kind normally reserved for the very best of the turf breed. But in yesterday’s bog that resulted in a half-mile in :51.99, Velazquez was forced to press the issue--putting pressure on Treasure Beach to put pressure on Little Mike.
But it was more than that, it was Hall of Fame instincts as Point of Entry looked like he was having some difficulty with the ground. “It seemed like we were going slower and he was having a little bit of a hard time with the ground,” the rider said.
“The turf scared me more than anything,” said his Hall of Fame trainer, Shug McGaughey. “”I was afraid going into today that all the rain and a big heavy horse like him, it might not be his race.”
Approaching midstretch is where Point of Entry showed a new dimension; the ability to grind out a victory. He reached even terms with Treasure Beach--who was loving the ground with jockey Jamie Spencer herding Point of Entry out further in the middle of the course—then finally began to assert himself.
Once he cleared Treasure Beach, his stride lengthened by Velazquez took no chances, staying active right to the line. “I was worried about somebody getting through [inside]. When I asked him to go, he went.”
The record will show that Flat Out won the 2012 Jockey Club Gold Cup in a stirring stretch duel with the suddenly rejuvenated Stay Thirst, who did all the hard work, was pressed every step of the 10 furlongs by two rivals—one an uncoupled stablemate—and aided by a glib inside path, lead for all but the last two jumps.
In the process of winning his first race of 2012, Flat Out defeated dual Grade 1-winning stablemate Ron The Greek, G1 Donn winner Hymn Book, and G1 Whitney winner Fort Larned. In fact, it was his first win since taking last year’s JCGC and third without a loss at Belmont Park. The other big winner yesterday, besides Royal Delta and Point of Entry, might have been Wise Dan.
It’s fun to conjure up what might happen if, for some reason, Royal Delta decides to run in the Boys Classic instead of the Girls Classic, and wins? Want to question Mott on Breeders’ Cup Day?
It’s not like the connections of Royal Delta didn’t ship a half-world away to take on males in Dubai.
And what if Point of Entry wins his fourth straight Grade 1 in the Breeders’ Cup Turf over footing that will suit him a lot better than yesterday’s?
It’s the reason they run races. Stay tuned.