September 7, 2010
Not sure I’ve figured out what some the acrimony surrounding the recently concluded Saratoga Thoroughbred meet was all about. All I know is that I enjoyed the races as much as I did in 1964, my first visit to the Spa.
I found an “out bet” in a newly created stakes race for three-year-olds called the Jim Dandy. It was run out of the old Wilson Mile chute, which started virtually from the parking lot where those tacky corporate pill boxes now stand.
Greentree Stables’ Malicious, John L. Rotz up, looked like he would dominate the pace. He had won four of six lifetime starts, narrowly beaten in his last race, the Dwyer Stakes, by Belmont Stakes winning Quadrangle.
And so, getting a weight pull, he lead throughout in the quiet hands of the Hall of Famer who coaxed a wire victory, lasting by a nose, reversing his loss to Quadrangle, who eventually went on to win that year’s Travers.
I didn’t live in Saratoga then. Neither did I rent, or stay overnight. It was a same-day trip, three and a half hours north on the Thruway from NYC.
Besides, I didn’t want to miss my all-time favorite trotter, Speedy Scot, try to win the American Trotting Championship. He set a mile and a quarter world record that weekend at Roosevelt Raceway, beating Su Mac Lac, Duke Rodney and all the rest.
That was a heady time for horse racing of every stripe in America. Much has changed, obviously, but rather than concentrate on some of the meet’s negative aspects, we’ll concentrate on some of the brighter lights.
And how can you pick nits at a race meet that attracted 32 cents of every betting dollar wagered in America during the month of August? I know I can’t, so here goes:
Gotcha!: Jimmy Jerkens was still over the moon when I saw him a week after he won a Travers thriller with Afleet Express, a race that truly didn’t deserve a loser.
I asked him if it was a little sweeter for having beaten, among others, early line favorite A Little Warm, owned by Edward P. Evans, who replaced Jerkens with Todd Pletcher as the trainer of Quality Road in late spring of 2009.
Jerkens had too much class to gloat, but he did permit a tiny smile.
“Good morning, Rick,” I said as I passed by. He looked up, saying nothing, giving the impression he was waiting for me to say something. “That was nice,” I said. Rick Dutrow smiled.
As you are reading this, it’s possible that Boys At Tosconova is vanning back to Queens, back to the Aqueduct Race Track stall he calls home. Next stop: Louisville.
“Rick, I know you do this sort of thing all the time, but a lot of people would like to see him again before the Breeders’ Cup. What about the Champagne?”
“What’s a one-turn mile going to do for us at this point?” majority owner Samantha Siegel asked.
Shut my mouth; the lady has spoken. And, speaking rhetorically, she was right, of course. There’s no smart answer to that question.
And so it’s not about the colt’s ability to race seven furlongs in 1:23.27 to win the Hopeful Stakes, with a final furlong in a shade under :13 seconds, a clocking we didn’t see very often at this meet, even from the older set.
Boys At Tosconova has come a long way in a short time. The colt was dealing with some issues while in training at Monmouth Park. His debut run was a placing in a graded stakes at Churchill on Oaks day.
It was at Monmouth where Dutrow laid eyes on him for the first time at the request of Mace Siegel, Samantha’s father. “I said I had to have him, that I need to take care of this horse.”
Which is exactly what Ramon Dominguez did during the running of the Hopeful. Dominguez let him drop back, schooling him behind dueling leaders, before cruising up three wide on the turn to engage, taking the lead at the furlong pole on his own and cruising home, stick down in :12:91, galloping out well.
Like Big Brown, his best attribute is his attitude. “He loves people, it doesn’t matter who I put on him [during training hours], he does what he’s asked to do,” said Dutrow. That, and his ability, is what has Dutrow smiling.
Taking The Blame: Even though his Whitney victory over Quality Road was surprising, it vindicated my opinion of him since I began following his career as a late season three-year-old last fall.
He kept winning, took on new challenges, but the result was always the same: Winning. Six straight. The likely favorite for the October 2 Jockey Club Gold Cup trained well the other day. Chances are he’ll keep right on winning.
Hey, Mo!: “Hey, Tosconova. Don’t look now but I’m coming after you.” If horses could talk, this is what the most impressive juvenile winner of Spa 2010 would say. His winning debut by open lengths was extraordinary.
What was unusual was not that he ran, fast but how he ran fast. His energy distribution was excellent according on the Equiform performance figure scale. He’s a horse that’s unlikely to be compromised by added distance.
While he has not stated this to be the case, past performances indicate that Todd Pletcher will run him back in the Champagne before shipping to Louisville. I can hardly wait to see him race again.
Taking A Position: Pletcher juvenile, Part II, The Filly. Position Limit is not only talented and fast but she seems to have the right attitude. It’s OK with her if rivals go out and set the pace. She’ll just wait until ready and run them down. This filly likes the game.
You Can Go Home Again: Chad Brown, an acolyte of the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, came back to the Capital District hoping to have a good meet. Instead, he came back and emerged a star.
And he did it with every manner of horse: Young, old, long, short, dirt, turf; it didn’t matter. His game showed no weakness; his charges held their form even when beaten. Isn’t that all anyone can ask?
A Star Is Born, Part II: It’s not like no one ever heard of Javier Castellano before or that he wasn’t a top rider prior to this meet. But he did things on horseback that I’ve never seen him do, such was his level of confidence.
Much credit goes to agent Matt Muzikar, too, who opened the door to more live outfits. When that happens, and when riders are on a roll, their newly found momentum takes on a life of its own.
Without a major outfit such as Todd Pletcher’s behind him, Castellano finished three winners behind Johnny Velazquez. From top rider to elite, Castellano was every bit as responsible for Afleet Express’s Travers score as Jimmy Jerkens. Well done.
Kilroy Is Here: Defending Spa leading trainer Linda Rice had a year every bit as good as 2009; it’s just that the Pletcher barn’s performance, especially with 18 winning two-year-olds, was other worldly…
It took a full season but Seth Benzel, Pletcher’s once long time assistant, came from virtually nowhere to be a strong factor at this meet. Young horseman has shown a deft hand with turf runners going long…
Whenever he shows up in New York with horses for any division, Bob Baffert’s horses, when they’re not winning, are a factor in every event, running as if they know their boss is a rock star…
Blind Luck came into Saratoga and won a divisional title that many felt she deserved in 2009. Good for the Alabama winner; good for her trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, who eventually will earn his rightful place in the pantheon across the street from America’s most hallowed racetrack.