Here I am, with a front row seat to the best thoroughbred meet on the planet, and I’ve got harness horses on the brain, actually one juvenile trotter in particular.
Charles ‘Chip’ Foster lives in the condo next door, approximately 12 feet from my door.
About two months ago as I was preparing to leave for some big race on Long Island, Foster told me he had a nice trotting prospect who was a lot more advanced than others if his ilk at the harness track a quarter mile down the road from both of us.
I told Chip that once I get back from Long Island, I’ll come over to the qualifiers on Friday mornings and check him out. From that first Friday, I have yet to see him get beat.
On the Friday after the Belmont, Royal Deceptor, by RC Royalty from the Malabar Man mare, Art of Deception, took his qualifier under wraps in 2:06. The time wasn’t fast but his professionalism and his manners were.
The following week, the $11,000 Morrisville yearling purchase gave a virtual repeat performance, going a little faster, 2:05 3/5, before just ambling back to the barn like some old gelding that had just finished jogging.
Finally, with debut rapidly approaching, it was time to get a little more serious and the colt obliged, showing a speed dimension for the first time, taking the lead with a quarter-move and kept right on going like some energizer bunny of a trotting horse.
Stopping the timer in 2:03 flat, he took the lead and improved his position, as racetrackers say, winning by a ridiculous 22-length margin and coming his final half-mile in 59 2/5.
Finally, he was ready to race but no one, including his trainers, the husband and wife team of Cheryl and Mickey McGivern, who also drives him, knew exactly what to expect. All McGivern knew was that his colt “never gets tired.”
His parimutuel debut was at Buffalo Raceway, a half-miler but looking more like a track at some county fair, despite all that VLT money that was being made right next door.
Buffalo’s first turn is quirky, which is a kind way of saying it has very little banking. Consequently, many young horses keep going straight instead of turning left as they should.
With McGivern taking no chances, Royal Deceptor raced to the lead and once again improved his position. By the time it was over, he was 3-1/4 lengths clear and stopped the timer in 1:59 3/5, the fastest clocking for a juvenile trotter on a half mile track this year. Not a bad debut.
“I think that’s the last time I’ll see 5-2,” I said to Chip.
Friday, the New York Sires Stakes series moved to Tioga. At odds of 35 cents on the dollar and again leaving from the rail, this time McGivern appeared bent on teaching him something, settling the colt down in third down the backstretch run.
Making a quarter-move once again, his lower-first-turn brush was the trotting equivalent of Secretariat’s move in the Preakness. And the fact that he would go on to win by 7-3/4 lengths under no pressure in 1:58 2/5 was almost beside the point.
When this young trotter gets into high gear, he has the look of a Currier & Ives print come to life; flawless and powerful, churning and churning and, like the man said, he doesn’t get tired.
In a year when the Meadowlands Pace was won by a $3,000 yearling, and the Kentucky Derby by an $8,000 home bred, just maybe lightning will strike thrice.
In any case, the owners; Foster, Mike Sentiwany, who works in the mutuels department at Saratoga Harness, and Mike James, the IT person there, are living the dream. Who can blame them?
Meanwhile, at the flat track…
The Grade 2 Sanford for juvenile colts was a rough house of an event through the stretch, so much so that the stewards lodged an inquiry.
What they saw was the runnerup up who made the most trouble, not the winner.
After Chocolate Wildcat and Cinco Charlie set up things nicely for a late runner with a cutthroat duel of 21.65 and 45.17 to the top of the lane.
At that point, it appeared that the victor would be either Big Trouble, who rallied into contention three wide on the turn, leaned in briefly to tighten things up on the other likely winner, Mr. Z, or the latter who was reserved neatly behind the hot pace.
But soon after straightening away, Corey Lanerie bulled his way out of the box, pushing Big Trouble out of the way but in the end, the scopey Tiz Wonderful bay found another gear with a winning late surge to win by a neck in the shadow of the wire.
A very game Cinco Charlie was 1-1/2 lengths farther back in third. The winner, trained by Tony Dutrow and timed in 1:10.64, will be nominated to the Hopeful or might await the Belmont Fall meet.
The Grade 1 Diana was ultra-competitive going in and it turned out that way on the turf course, too, with the first three finishers; Somali Lemonade, Stephanie’s Kitten and Discreet Marq, separated by two necks.
The strange thing about the event was the number of rank horses racing into the clubhouse turn. But that’s what happens when a talented field of headstrong fillies are, to recall an oldie but goodie Durkin-ism, “muzzled and suppressed” in the early going.
Over a firm turf course, Grade 1 fractions of 24.37, 49.84 and 1:13.96 were, recalling a revered Hatton-ism, desultory.
The pace played to the winner’s strength as her tactical speed enabled Luis Saez to maintain a covered-up, tracking position while saving ground, Saez seizing the day:
“When we came to the three-eighths [pole],” said Saez, “I had so much horse that when I got clear, she responded and won.” It was as simple as that but not so for runnerup Stephanie’s Kitten who came with a flying late finish.
“There wasn’t much pace,” said Frankie Dettori. “It was draw 9, that was the trouble. Unfortunately I had to lose ground the whole time. They got three lengths on me and I ran out of stretch.”
Since giving Somali Lemonade her head after blinkers were added, she’s become a better filly and now is a Grade 1 winner at Saratoga.
“I don’t know if it was the blinkers, I don’t know if it was the maturity. I don’t know what else to say about her. She’s better now at 5 than she was her whole life.”