First things, first, meaning the Hall of Fame inductees received their laurels today and 3-year-old colts were just beginning to build their racing portfolios in the Grade 2 two-turn event. And therein lies the rub.
For the early favorite, Street Game, the fastest horse in the group by a considerable margin, two turns has been beyond his capabilities. And it was right there in the past performances.
Three starts at Belmont Park; three victories, including the Grade 3 Hill Prince in which he ran off the screen, setting the pace and still kicking home a final quarter-mile in :23 2/5.
But for this animal, two turns are, well, a completely different animal.
Events couldn’t have worked out better for the winner, Big Blue Kitten, who ran his current winning streak to five and his stakes debut under leading rider Johnny Velazquez for his third victory of the afternoon, but it was a team victory.
“The last start really got my attention,” said winning trainer Chad Brown, who was saddling his 12th winner of the meet. “[When Johnny got off him last time he told me that horse could have won by five.
“He had his plan since the last race. He said, ‘Just leave me on the horse.’ He’s been planning this for five weeks. Johnny won the race on the first turn. He got to the fence. It‘s the easiest way to get home.”
The colt was greeted in the winners’ circle by his excited owner, Ken Ramsey, who’s watched his colt climb the class ladder from a maiden claimer to a stakes winner.
“We’ve offered this horse for a claiming price three times and no one claimed him,” Ramsey shouted. “No more claimers!”
“It was a perfect trip,” Velazquez said. “If I wanted to plan this, it couldn’t have turned out more perfect. We wanted to have somebody in front of us; the horse in front of us stayed in front longer than I thought he would.
“I got through on the rail, and [the colt] made me look like a hero. This horse just seems to get better and better with every race. Every time they ask him to do something different, he does it.”
In the Hall of Fame, that meant drawing off along the fence by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:42.91.
The turf theme continues Saturday with the Grade 1 Sword Dancer, a Saratoga fixture that has failed to generate excitement, likely due its placement on the racing calendar.
On balance, the Sword Dancer cannot match the quality, prestige and interest generated by the Arlington Million, not to mention a million dollar purse.
In the past, the NYRA racing department scheduled this event in advance of the Million. This year, the thought apparently was to go head and head with Arlington‘s signature event.
Stay home and win a Grade 1 title here in Saratoga without having to ship, although you’ll have to run another quarter-mile to do so.
Many horsemen do stay at home, and many others ship in, such as Justin Sallusto with Teaks North, the only member of the Sword Dancer field with two Grade 1 wins on the season, but none at the marathon’s 12 furlongs.
Christophe Clement actually did both, shipping champion Gio Ponti to Arlington trying to improve on last year’s second place finish while leaving Winchester here to contest the Sword Dancer.
Gio Ponti, partnered by Ramon Dominguez, will also try to even the score with Cape Blanco, who beat him in the Grade 1 Man o’ War and become the second horse [John Henry] to win the Million twice.
But Festival by definition means more than one. Three-year-old colts will test each other at the same 10 furlong trip, the favorites likely to be America’s Banned (3-1) with Garrett Gomez vs. the Aidan O’Brien trained Treasure Beach (2-1).
Treasure Beach is a bit of a surprise entrant. O’Brien, after both recent defeats, said that he would give this colt a freshening. Instead, here he is, stateside. He might have a class edge, but just might be over the top and vulnerable, too.
Fillies and mares will have their opportunity in the Beverley D. Éclair de Lune (12-1) will try to repeat last year’s victory but appears up against it. Stacelita, beneath Dominguez for the ultra live Chad Brown, will to atone for her recent defeat at Monmouth Park, an apparent prep for today’s Grade 1.
The filly appeared short of condition on the Jersey Shore last out, tiring perceptibly in the late going after taking the lead rather easily.
Going to the post with Lasix for the first time, forecasted rain could soften the course which would be much to Stacelita’s liking. The 3-1 early line favorite breaks from the pole in a field of 11.