Sunday, August 19, 2012
Stars Emerge In Spa Grade 1s
August 18, 2012—Today was one of those Chamber of Commerce days here. Not only was the sun shining but it was a Spa summer-brisk morning followed by a dry afternoon—the reason you take Exit 14 off the Northway to get here in the first place.
But then culture shock as you realized today’s Grade 1 on the grass was around THREE turns. Hell, that’s almost 75% of the Late Pick 4 on most days. But if you want a Grade 1 grass title in Saratoga, you earn it by traversing all 12 furlongs.
The Sword Dancer every year is my least favorite Saratoga Grade 1, maybe because of its timing, a sort of poor man’s Arlington Million, only a quarter mile longer for less money and less prestige. After all, not all Grade 1s are created equal.
When the Sword Dancer winner reached the finish line, the result begged one question: Did Shug McGaughey send the wrong horse to Chicago?
Because if Point Of Entry, at 4, hasn’t become America’s best turf horse, then he’s a pretty damn good replica.
From the eighth pole to the finish, Point Of Entry, pluperfectly ridden by Hall of Fame Johnny, was positively, in the language of the youngins’, was nothing short of amazing.
As the final of 12 furlongs approached, his stride lengthened, running through the finish line in full stride, four lengths to the good of runnerup Al Khali. Brilliant Speed was a good third; Newsdad finished fourth after stalking 3 wide the entire distance.
Turbo Compressor set the pace as expected but, unlike his most recent starts, he could shake loose, hounded by Center Divider and Newsdad. Meanwhile, Velazquez stalked from perfect position while saving ground.
At headstretch, it looked like it could be anyone’s race until Point Of Entry arrived on the scene and blew his rivals away in a very worthy 2:26.40.
“When he found the seam it was over,” said McGaughey.
“I wanted him to be covered up,” said Velazquez. “He was strong the whole way. He was ready to go any time I let him go. Incredible.”
Amazing. Incredible. Another word in contender, as in contender for an Eclipse turf title.
We loved her in the Coaching Club American Oaks. We hated her in today’s Alabama. And, after 22-and-change and 46-and-change, it was: “How smart am I?”
When they hit the finish line, it was the words of the great Jack Buck that came to mind: “I don’t believe what I just saw!”
And it was Questing, doing an Ali rope-a-dope with the field, bobbing and weaving her way down the lane, just like she did in the Oaks.
Only this time it was Irad Ortiz, who got up off the canvass yesterday, fearing he had a broken ankle. He was released an hour later; he was fine.
Then today he hit the deck again, this time aboard Wayward Sailor. Only no anxious moments for the fans. Within a minute, he was up and walking, caught a lift to the front-side and was back in the jock’s room, awaiting the storied Alabama.
“I was thinking the pace was too fast,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, “but I liked the way she was doing it.”
“She was going fast but she was so relaxed,” Ortiz said. “I kept my hands down, her ears were up; she was playing with her ears. She was amazing. I never rode one like that.”
“She was ducking each way a little bit today, instead of all the time left-handed,” McLaughlin added. “But as long as she’s five in front I’m not worried about it.”
Actually, approaching midstretch, she was 6-1/2 in front of In Lingerie, who moved to challenge at headstretch. “Going that fast I thought she would come back a little bit,” said Velazquez aboard the runnerup. “Going to the half-mile pole I was saying, ‘I think I got it, we’re going fast enough.’ Psshh. I moved up a little bit and the winner took off.”
“She’s a special filly,” said her trainer, which doesn’t sound much like hyperbole from here. “She’s definitely the best three-year-old filly in America on the dirt.”
That doesn’t sound much like hyperbole either, not when you win the Alabama by 9 lengths in 2:01.69.
By the way, let’s use that as a target for next Saturday’s Travers colts to shoot; Which way are you betting, over or under?
Hey Luca, Our Guy Put Your Guy to Sleep
That not fair, of course. Not after they swept the American St. Leger with Jakkalberry, the Secretariat Stakes with Bayrir and the Beverly D. with I’m A Dreamer, the last two Grade 1.
But the home team won the big one—with an assist from Saratoga’s leading rider, Ramon Dominguez, who shipped to Second City and won the Arlington Million with another American speed-ball, Little Mike, who treated the Arlington lawn as if it were Gulfstream’s, a course he dominates.
DomingueZ was exquisite nursing reasonable fractions but, of greater import, getting Little Mike to relax. Resultantly, he was a fresh horse when pre-race Euro rogue Afsare, balked at the starting gate came strongly to challenge at midstretch.
But Luca Cumani’s gelded 5-year-old was easily held safe but the Dale Romans-trained speedster. There’s was some question as to whether Little Mike could stay the entire 10 furlongs.
As Harvey Pack always liked to say: Question, answered.