|For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at HorseRaceInsider.com.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Travers Day 2012: History Made at the Old Spa
August, 25, 2012—August, 25, 2012—Where’s Solomon when you really need him—you know, the cut the canoe in half?
Because what could be better that a Travers winner than TWO Travers winners?
So, never before in Travers history had there been two horses reach the wire, sort of. In 1874, Attila and Acrobat finished so close the race was declared a dead heat. A runoff between the two was ordered and Attila won the runoff. But today’s result was the first “official dead heat” in the race’s history.
But no Travers in the modern era ever finished in a tie although nine have come close, like the year when everyone thought Mambo In Seattle beat Colonel John in a photo, only it was the other way around.
Interesting, too, that today’s Travers marked the golden anniversary of perhaps the most famous nose decision of all, when Jaipur and Ridan put on a match race-within-a race, hooking up for the entire 10 furlongs.
And that’s when Fred Capossela, with distinctive nasal tones but never with an emotional outburst, said “and it’s…Jaipur, by a nose. He never hesitated.
But there was plenty of hesitation when Golden Ticket, who not only hadn’t raced since Derby Day at Churchill Downs but failed to win his “a other-than” condition, reached the finish line right next to Alpha, charging up on the outside beneath Ramon Dominguez.
To almost everyone in the press box, it looked like Alpha had won it, although I thought Golden Ticket might have won it on the re-bob.
Alpha was in front a foot before the wire, and a foot after it, but at the line he had company.
So Kiaran McLaughlin did become the first trainer since Carl Nafzger to annex the Alabama-Travers double, although for some reason he didn’t appear to be enjoying the moment with the Travers favorite.
Although he did allow “at the sixteenth pole I thought we were second-best…at the last lunge or two I thought we got there. The photo indicated a tie and I said ‘we’ll take it’.”
Dominguez and David Cohen, who rode a great race aboard longshot Fast Falcon, were both happy:
“When we both realized it was a dead heat, we were pretty relieved and pretty happy at the same time,” said Dominguez who has all but clinched the Saratoga riding title.
“On the gallop-out, Ramon and I spoke to each other and neither one of us knew if we won,” said Cohen.
Nick Zito was happy, but who could blame him. He came within a half-length of winning the King’s Bishop with 14-1 Fort Loudon and within a neck of taking the Travers trophy with 32-1 Fast Falcon.
Ken McPeek, who almost pulled off a Travers stunner a decade ago with the well regarded Repent--coming off a similarly long layoff in the same year he won the Belmont Stakes with Sarava at 70-1--and who shocked today’s crowd of 46,528 with his training acumen, was over the moon.
“I’m thrilled we finished in a dead heat. It couldn’t work out better for the two of us,” McPeek said with some grace. Kiaran is a great guy. We all work our tail off.”
Other major contenders didn’t fare as well, Second favorite Nonios was a one-paced fifth; Neck n’ Neck an even sixth; Liaison never got untracked and finished ninth.
Street Life, trained by the meet’s second leading trainer, Chad Brown, finished last, appearing off in his left fore, according to Dr. Celeste Kunz, the on-call veterinarian.
There were no obvious injuries to the horse and he was taken by van back to the barn for further evaluation.
Travers Day was great for business. Attendance was up year over year by 8 percent, on-track handle was up 7 percent and all-sources handle totaled $36,597,173, an 11 percent gain over 2011.
It’s Travers Day, the sun was shining (a minor miracle); Ramon Dominguez has a riding triple (a minor miracle if he hadn’t); nine races have been run and, as I write these words, it’s still 70 minutes until post time for the Derby of Midsummer.
And could this be an omen, that it was Dominguez getting his third aboard Grade 2 Ballston Spa favorite, Zagora, for trainer Chad Brown, his 21st winner of the meet.
If there is to be a second one on the day, he would prefer it come with Street Life in front of the hometown fans. I’m sure Dominguez, however, would love to win his first Travers aboard Alpha—Ramon giveth, Roman taketh away.
Summer Soiree set realistic, albeit sustainable, fractions, even if it was her season’s debut. She was stalked from afar by Thundering Emilia and Tapitsfly virtually throughout and had no difficulty holding them safe until passing headstretch.
But that’s when Zagora beneath Dominguez made a bold move into contention, took the lead with a furlong to go and drew off as a strong finishing Hungry Island gave futile chase.
Don’t hold that against the runnerup, not when the winner got her 1-116 miles in 1:39.07, a new course record.
It was a formful beginning to the all graded stakes Pick 4, a pool that attracted $1,837,082, over 11 percent more than was bet on last year’s sequence.
Only a SoCal-based filly, a Bullet Bob Baffert-trained filly, could be taken out of her speed game, get a 21.49 and 44.09 thrown at her and , despite a hesitant start--enathema for a speed horse--finish up a take a Grade 1sprint, the Test Stakes, in 1.22.47. That's a final furlong in a pokey :13.41 for this level, but who's counting?
Gypsy Robin, on the hard chase all the way, while Contested was patiently handled in third by Rafael Bejarano after he caught up to the leaders within a quarter-mile, did well to hold place in front of late finishing New York-bred Beautiful But Blue.
Any Given Saturday
On Wednesday he won the New York-bred Albany Stakes wire to wire by a short pole. On Saturday, here comes Willy Beamin, not with Jamie Foxx, but Alan Garcia, whose new agent, Jimmy Riccio Jr., secured the mount for his rider on the 3-year-old owned by Riccio's father, James Riccio Sr. Way to keep it in the family.
Trained by Rick Dutrow, known for his success with quick turnarounds, entered Willy Beamin back in the G1 King's Bishop and if he ran well enough, cooled out fast enough, and earned a performance figure didn't didn't put him over the top of condition, he'd run the gelding back on two days rest.
While the rapid Trinninberg set a strong, pressured pace, 2-1 favorite Currency Swap, undefeed in three starts at Saratoga, sat the pocket in fourth.
Meanwhile, Willie Beamin, named for the phenom pro quarterback in Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday," had one horse beaten after the first quarter mile, was covered up under a hammerlock inside at the half-mile pole, began to angle out approaching headstretch, split the seam beautifully from the 6 path and he rolled down the lane at 11-1.
It's the reason why they call it gambling.
Written by John Pricci
Friday, August 24, 2012
And the Travers 143 Winner Is…
August 24, 2012—Let’s face it: The chances that the winner of today’s Travers will go on to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic are—realistically, I don’t know—500-1?
But this is horse racing and anything
can happen. And if that’s not a good enough reason to be interested in what happens in Saratoga’s pre-eminent horse racing event, it is these:
It’s still the Travers, and it’s a damn good betting race.
Initially, I thought that since Alpha was so impressive winning the Jim Dandy, that he is 2-for-2 over the Spa ground, and that there was all that promise he showed this winter and spring, I was ready to concede victory.
And reading Kiaran McLaughlin’s language, body and otherwise, and looking at those two maintenance breezes since his prep, and the fact he is partnered by Ramon Dominguez, about to win the Saratoga riding title, I was ready to concede victory until I dug a little further.
Given the race dynamics, post draw, and developmental patterns as indicated by the Equiform energy figures, Travers 143 is even more competitive than generally perceived.
We believe that any five of the 11 entrants can win it, with one or two others capable of being super-exotic fillers. Here are the Fab Five, with post positions and early line odds:
won the G2 Jim Dandy impressively after setting soft pace on wet track July 28 and is a deserving favorite. He has maintained his form subsequently with two maintenance works since his prep.
The Bernardini colt is undefeated at the Spa and is bred to run up the side of a mountain if need be.
Ramon Dominguez is pushing all the right buttons and might take this race directly to his competition, riding him as if he’s on the best horse--which he just might be.
paired up excellent figures in the Swaps and Haskell in his last two starts and has trained very well subsequently at Del Mar base, returning East once again for Hollendorfer who’s known to handle his charges aggressively.
His wide draw is mitigated somewhat by the fact it’s a long enough run to the first turn and his position actually could prove beneficial in that it gives Hall of Fame Johnny lots of options. Should he move forward off his last two runs, this dance is over.
8-Neck n’ Neck (9-2)
surged to attack Alpha in the Jim Dandy soon after entering the straight but settled for place after the pace-aided leader re-broke in midstretch. This late developer has reached another level this summer and he trained very well since his prep.
Ian Wilkes will attempt to become the first trainer in 60 years to win the Whitney and Travers in the same season, he’s been training brilliantly since the Jim Dandy and figures to get first run on the late closers. Leandro Goncalves is a more than capable partner.
5-Street Life (5-1)
showed an improved turn of foot while taking the Curlin with authoritative late run over a sloppy track July 27. There’s no question he has improved since adding blinkers and seemingly is maturing by the day.
Trainer Chad Brown is having a career meet, his distance runners keep coming at you, and he will benefit from day’s added distance--clearly bred for the assignment.
The whole key to a potential victory is the pace scenario which we believe will be stronger than generally perceived; if not hot then certainly contested. His late run style is suited by his partnering with Jose Lezcano.
could prove the value of Travers 143 as the perception is that he’s one of those too little-too late types. But if you check his company lines, there might be a reason for that; he’s been meeting the heavy-heads of his division since he was a SoCal baby.
And he has held his own. His Derby finish was better than it looks on paper and he earned the field’s best Equiform energy figure when a wide-rally third in the Swaps. Reuniting with Rafael Bejarano, odds in the area of 8-1 to 10-1 is possible.
Check Saturday’s Feature Race Analysis for final selection and betting strategies.
Written by John Pricci
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
A Jim Dandy of a Travers?
August, 22, 2012—Will the name of the Travers 143 early line favorite prove prophetic, is he indeed, in this game of three-year-old attrition, truly the Alpha male?
Post positions were drawn this morning and given the long run to the first of two turns, even poor positions are somewhat mitigated.
The favorite drew right in the middle of the 11-horse field. “I’m very happy with the draw,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, trying to join Nafzger in 2007 by saddling the Alabama and Travers winner on back-to-back Saturdays.
One of the 11 will not juvenile champion Hansen, who developed an inflammation in his left leg and was declared out Tuesday.
But given his West Virginia Derby effort, slow breeze for the race, and the fact that he wasn’t introduced to the Spa surface sooner, it’s hard to believe he ever was a serious candidate.
“I’m sorry Hansen’s out for his connections,” McLaughlin volunteered, “but it does help us on the front end, I think.”
Unlike in the Jim Dandy, Alpha might not have the lead all to himself. “Without Hansen, I might have to go head-and-head with myself,” said trainer Gary Contessa, who will saddle last-minute entrant Speightscity, the 30-1 outside breaking from the pole.
“When I was first asked by the owner, the tandem of McConnell Racing Stable/Team Stallion Racing Stable, I used every [trainer] disclaimer known to man,” Contessa said. “But this is the year to do it if you wanted to misplace a two-turn horse.”
Contessa had planned to bring Speightscity back on Friday for his first start since February 4 but the race didn’t fill.
At this point, we see four serious contenders in addition to the impressive Jim Dandy winner, a colt that certainly owns Travers credentials.
Putting a line through his abominable efforts at Churchill Downs, all Alpha’s done is win four and finish second twice in his other appearances.
And those placings were a narrow defeat by then undefeated Gemologist by a neck in the G1 Wood Memorial and a very troubled second in last year’s Champagne.
On a cursory first look, Alpha has four very serious rivals for major honors; in no particular order Neck n’ Neck, Street Life, Liaison and Nonios.
Neck n’ Neck (9-2) was a very good second to loose-leading Alpha in the Jim Dandy. The late developer made a bold move to challenge the leader approaching the three-sixteenths, loomed a possible winner for an instant until Alpha re-broke a sixteenth of a mile later and widened his advantage over the sealed, sloppy track. He has trained well since.
"He has done very well since the Jim Dandy," said WIlkes, "hasn't missed beat."
After winning the G3 Affirmed in his SoCal debut at Hollywood Park, Nonios (4-1) finished second to Santa Anita Derby third finisher Blueskiesandrainbows in the G2 Swaps, prior to a very good pace-chasing placing effort in Paynter’s G1 Haskell.
He, too, is training very well back at Del Mar and will return East into the waiting arms of Johnny Velazquez for his second lifetime start on dirt.
Liaison (8-1) has improved since adding blinkers for the Kentucky Derby, where he was a sneaky food sixth of 20, beaten only 7 lengths, then came back with a second and two thirds in Affirmed, Swaps and Jim Dandy, respectively, racing wide every step in the latter.
"There was no pace to run at at all," said Bob Baffert assistant Jim Barnes. "There should be more speed, so it should be a different scenario."
And by no means least is Street Life (5-1) who’s been growing up since first running a strong-finish third in the G2 Peter Pan.
That effort was followed a wide-rally fourth in the slow-paced Belmont before his dominating Curlin score, despite the relatively narrow margin of victory. All three good efforts came after the addition of blinkers.
Of these five major contenders, he never has taken a backward step on the Equiform energy-figure scale. Currently second to Todd Pletcher in the trainer standings, the local hero clearly is having a career meet.
In fact, Brown is one of three trainers at this meet that are on a karmic roll, the others being McLaughlin and Whitney-winning Fort Larned. Let’s not forget the racing is a people sport, too.
"We're taking the same aproach we've taken all meet with out horses," said Brown, "keep them happy, healthy and sound and try to run them in the right spot. The Travers is the right sport for this horse."
Written by John Pricci