Thursday, July 24, 2008
Saratoga: Where the Absurd Is Sublimely Routine
Saratoga Springs, NY, July 23,2008--The day dawned…well…crummy. Heavy rains foiled backstretch plans to visit with early arrivals, and spirits were further dampened when I learned that Thomas J. Kelly and his wife Fran won’t be visiting the Spa City this year.
Hall of Fame ceremonies won’t be the same without seeing TJ and Fran in attendance. Hope the Florida sun has them on the mend, and soon.
One hundred six horses were entered overnight in 10 opening day races. After early scratches, 66 remained. So much for good intentions. On balance it was an interesting, challenging program, even if eight of the 10 races, including two grass events, were carded at six furlongs or shorter.
There was real potential for tertiary contenders to fall between the cracks at boxcar mutuels. And, of course, there was the requisite appearance of two hands full of well bred juveniles in the pair of races carded for maiden two-year-olds.
Today’s turf races were rescheduled to the main track. Not a tough call when as much as five inches of rain was projected, today alone. The real shame is the impact it could have on Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Challenge Day program.
Any chance the association would match last year was eliminated by the conditions. Over 30,000 welcomed the runners back to the Spa in ‘07, yesterday’s crowd falling about 8,000 off that mark.
Last year’s record handle was made possible when only six of 164 races were taken off the turf. The NYRA will pass that mark on the meet’s second day, as all of Thursday turf races have been rescheduled, following today’s five surface switches. And Friday’s turf is iffy, too, according to NYRA president Charlie Hayward.
Later it was announced that Thursday’s steeplechase has been canceled altogether, and will be rescheduled for next Wednesday, making that day’s card 10 races. Thursday’s second race, which will be the day’s opener, will go as the “second race” at its pre-scheduled post time of 1:35 p.m. Any questions?
Hayward said there were a number of opening day glitches, from closed replay centers due to a lack of television sets that did not arrive in a timely fashion from downstate, to some inoperable betting windows.
“Obviously we’re a little disappointed,” Hayward said, before adding he was happy to report that the Gary Contessa trainee who got loose on the main track, crossed Union Avenue, and proceeded to his barn at the Oklahoma training track, was fine. The human race may be a little overrated.
“To see people lined up in the rain at 11 o’clock in the morning waiting to get in was something I’d never experienced before,” said executive vice president Hal Handel. He had better get used to it. This is Saratoga, mister.
First Race: Announcer Tom Durkin warms up the crowd, the horses leave the starting gate and “they’re off at Saratoga.” Try that one in February at Aqueduct… The meet’s not even 1:25.06 seconds old and “the Graveyard” claims its first favorite: Coach Butts: dull, no excuses. Edgar Prado tried to steal it aboard Saint Barr; almost did. But Star Player’s rally made Eibar Coa and Chad Brown Saratoga’s leading jockey and trainer, respectively. Track was sloppy and sealed for the opener.
Second Race: First baby race of the meet goes to favorite Cognito, who speed pops, is joined by newcomer Gone Astray almost immediately, then by Forest Lord, and then by Brave Victory, four across the track. They remained that way virtually to the finish, with Cognito (1:05.11) impressing with gameness under fire (:22.64), and Brave Victory, surging late in a promising debut for Nick Zito. Robert LaPenta colt won’t be a maiden for long.
Third Race: Once Accredit was able to engineer splits of :23.01 and :46.57, it was over, consecutive winning favorites and one for the McLaughlin/Garcia team; clearly best. Golden Age finished very well for place, shading :24 seconds, the winner home in 1:10.41.
Excellent news advisory comes across the cyber-desk. In addition to rolling doubles, the State Racing and Wagering Board has approved superfecta wagering on all races with a sufficient number of entrants. Sanity prevails; another Saratoga upset.
Fourth Race: First two-turner of the day; track remains sloppy and sealed. The competition and running time might not have been spectacular--state-bred maidens originally carded for turf--but Theartofcompromise made a most impressive two-turn debut in the slop. Cranked up on the turn, he swept to command and drew off in a dominating 9 furlong performance, just loving the surface. Flying Zee Stable had a great week recently, including last Saturday’s Virginia Oaks, and started quickly here. They had a great Saratoga two years ago and might be loaded again; note. The outfit uses principally Carlos Martin and Phil Serpe in New York; Serpe off the duck on day one.
Fifth Race: The three top betting choices combined for the trifecta, Lookin at Her (Mike Hernandez/Cornelio Velasquez) rushing passed a tiring, fast-pace setting favorite Fiddlers Afleet before holding off the well meant first-timer Vinnie Van Go, who found stride and went into overdrive too late. Next time out for Vinnie, everything else being equal.
Sixth Race: Kent Desormeaux scored with Jazz Nation, giving Asmussen a training double and himself career victory 4,999. Kent D. had been sitting on 4,998 since it seems like forever. Good Card rallied nicely after being switched to the outside by Ramon Dominguez. Four-year-old Good and Tough colt is one hard tryin’ little dude.
Seventh Race: Once this race was rescheduled, Building New Era towered over the group on and went out and proved it. Start the Rick Dutrow parlay.
Eighth Race: Complete the Rick Dutrow parlay, or the cold rolling double, if you prefer, with Stormin Normandy. The Saratoga humidity didn’t prove too much for the IEAH four-year-old. He appeared to win easier than his stablemate. The Dutrow Double paid $6.60. Hope he wasn’t planning on Siro’s for dinner.
The SCHUYLERVILLE Before the opening-day Grade 3, it rained in torrents and, as predicted, Asmussen won it. Only not with favored maiden winner Ocean Colors but with 12-1 recent maiden winner Jardin, with Curlin’s jockey, Robby Albarado, a training triple for Asmussen. This filly really loved the conditions and obviously her outside position helped as the rail became extremely deeper from the heavy downpour. “Ocean Colors tied up a bit but it looks like she’ll be alright,” explained Asmussen. “I was worried about the outside post for Jardin. As the day went on it looked like that was where she was supposed to be.” Jardin looped the field but was put in a drive only in the final sixteenth, as Cameron Crazies rallied late for the place. Of course, that horse was named by her owner, Duke All American Bobby Hurley. She was bidding to give D Wayne Lukas his seventh Schuylerville victory. Inside posts, normally an advantage in this spot, hindered both fourth finisher Collegiate and the favorite; note. The time was an understandably slow 1:12.79.
Tenth Race: Gary Contessa jumped off the duck when Debating nailed Sonny Pajamas in the absolute final stride; Javier Castellano could not have timed it better. Red Hot Dawn was always in position but settled for third. Well backed Rumspringa was virtually eliminated at the start.