Pricci's Saratoga Diary
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 26, 2017


Saratoga Diary: Live on Travers Day


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 26, 2017--

Race 11 Travers 148: In the final analysis, only the first three Travers finishers ran their level best and two of them were pace factors, which has been the theme on this new Saratoga surface that's tighter now than it was early in the meet but still loose on top.

But the surface did not have a negative effect on the trifecta finishers that did not have a recent race over the track, although runnerup Gunnevera did win the Saratoga Special as a 2016 juvenile.

And so the runner that out-looked many of his rivals pre-race ran to those looks under a heady Mike Smith who seized the moment and the lead, setting a reasonable pace for the distance and was never seriously threatened.

The winning West Coast throws the division into further disarray, and if the Travers hero is not the division's best after Saturday's performance, he's certainly peaking at a time when three-year-olds who get good become major Breeders' Cup Classic horses.

Just when you thought fate had ruled Bob Baffert out of the three-year-old picture, West Coast pulled him back in. And now that the colt has a speed dimension to go with his late punch, he becomes a serious .

He and Smith took charge of a paceless field that appeared on paper would be led by Kentucky Derby-winning Always Dreaming, who never mounted a serious threat.

Gunnevera made a huge sweeping move while wide on the far turn and continued running hard to the finish without threatening the leader. Irap, who joined the moderate early pace form the outside, remained in contention right to the finish but he, too, never appeared the part of a winner.

It was West Coast's day-and it may be his division by Breeders' Cup time. But as of now, divisional disarray rules.

Race 1: High class expensive maidens and what would one expect; Chad, one win behind for for the training title thanks to Friday's three-bagger, vs Todd. Buzz on both but Chad 3-5; Todd 3-1.

The classy maidens, Hazit (3-1) and Good Magic (3-5), finished one-two in inverse order of their odds. Johnny able to cajole 23.18 and 46.91 going 6-1/2 furlongs and had enough class in reserve to hold off the favorite, who will be an even shorter price and a very likely maiden breaker next time out.

They both finished up. After picking up the tempo to 1:10.28, the winner came home in 06:12, a final time of 1.16.40.

Would expect to see classy maidens on Travers day; just did!

Race 2: C'mon. The rails come down on both turf courses for some nice virgin, very firm turf. So, after potential pacesetter Memories of Peter reared at the start, Marshall Eddy leads them a merry chase.

But how's this for fractions? 25.90, 52.20, 1.16.67; final time of 1.55.75 for 1-3/16 miles, respectable given the laughably glacial pace.

But it wasn't funny if you backed Surprise Twist 3-1 as we did. Javier Castellano did what he could under the circumstances but was forced to crank up wide on the final turn, his momentum carrying him 5-6 wide into the lane, yet he finished vigorously for third. His development continues. Stable mail, please...

Race 3: Hold all tickets! Stewards inquiry and a jockey claim of foul Manny Franco vs. Tyler Gaffalione--and the disqualification appeared justified. Yes, we're talking two-year-olds on turf with both horses making racing debut.

Now while the original second finisher did come in intimidating the "winner" slightly after straightening away into the stretch, Empirically came out dramatically beneath Tyler, bumping with Paradise Island (11-1)--also on debut--at a critical juncture in deep stretch as 'Paradise' was threatening to run right on by.

Both horses ran very well.

He Takes Charge had decent position midway down the backside, dropped back for no apparent reason, rallied wide and finished well too late vs. race shape. More stable mail I'm afraid...

Race 4: Actual sprint race, with hot fractions, pace battle and everything. When the dust settled, it was Threefiveindia who finally got his job done for Chad--matching Todd's winner--after Javier engineered perfect trip and well timed move.

No excuses for Lex Vegas and Sticksstatelydude should benefit from his return from a lengthy layup and more ground when he reappears.

Race 5: Rare mistake by meet's leading rider; you don't want to be too aggressive early, losing ground and pressing the pace while meeting better horses. Too bad Sycamore lost the bob, since he did most of the dirty work.

But Johnny can get spooky the way he saves, saves, saves, both horse and ground, and nails you at the line as if he had the race in hand throughout. Shug deserves big props getting Profiteer set to go off an April layup.

Meanwhile, just another tough race dominated by position horses that save ground...

Race 6 G1 Personal Ensign: What a remarkable job done by Dallas Stewart and Joel Rosario; and maybe their mare, Unbridled Forever, finally will get the credit she deserves.

With Mike Smith standing up on his mare through an opening half-mile in almost 48 seconds, anyone who would beat her would have to do so while at a tactical disadvantage.

But it was Rosario who made a positive out of a negative, purposefully keeping his mare wide so that Songbird would not have a chance to look her rival in the eye. Remember that when she did so last year, it was a bob of a defending champion's head, Beholder's, that would hand her her only lifetime defeat.

Stewart got her ready for this off a single prep, and it wasn't as it Songbird stopped; both fillies sprinted home.

But I do now believe that there may be some Distaff hangover. Either that or Songbird has not continued to develop as a 4-year-old. It's just hard to conceptualize the 3-year-old Songbird getting beaten after achieving a loose lead in very moderate fractions.

Race 7 G1 Ballerina:
You've got to be pretty cold not to enjoy seeing Rajiv Maragh win a Grade 1 at Saratoga for Michelle Nevin, a good team, and for Nevin, too, at the expense of divisional leading Paulasilverlining, who she used to train.

Meanwhile, a 7-furlong Grade 1 with an opening quarter in 24 and a little, a half mile in 47 and a little more?

No, we're not kidding. And By The Moon, a gritty sprinter, gutted it out all the way after being shadowed by Highway Star and Angel Arroyo throughout, a filly that never before was beaten at the distance.

Smiles all around.

Race 8: G1 H Allen Jerkens On paper, the Jerkens appeared to be a two-horse race but it was Practical Joke who demonstrated emphatically that he's the most talented one-turn sophomore colt out there.

Narrowly beaten when third in the G1 Haskell, he turned back to 7 furlongs and won his fourth one-turn race without, his second at the trip and also extended his undefeated Spa record to three.

And there was Joel Rosario, in the right place at the right time, tipping off the fence soon after straightening away, the issue never in doubt in midstretch.

Co-favorite and horse to beat, American Anthem, just lost too much ground beneath Money Mike. He wasn't beating the winner, but the trip arguably cost him the place--although Takaful ran his eyeballs out while the other two speeds rated. Go figure.

Race 9 G1 Forego Stakes:
Wow! Drefong, this time with Mike Smith in tow, gave the most dominant performance of the day thus far with a thoroughly comprehensive open lengths victory that was but two-fifths of a second off the track record.

And considering it was for all intents his season's debut, it was remarkable. Yes, he did enjoy a tactical speed advantage but he wasn't completely left alone. However, when Money Mike decided to pull the rug on the group, he gave them the slip in a hurry.
Race 1: High class expensive maidens and what would one expect; Chad, one win behind for for the training title thanks to Friday's three-bagger, vs Todd. Buzz on both but Chad 3-5; Todd 3-1.

The classy maidens, Hazit (3-1) and Good Magic (3-5), finished one-two in inverse order of their odds. Johnny able to cajole 23.18 and 46.91 going 6-1/2 furlongs and had enough class in reserve to hold off the favorite, who will be an even shorter price and a very likely maiden breaker next time out.

They both finished up. After picking up the tempo to 1:10.28, the winner came home in 06:12, a final time of 1.16.40.

Would expect to see classy maidens on Travers day; just did!

Awesome Slew came running late for the place without threatening; second favorite Mind Your Biscuits raced uncharacteristically poorly and third choice Divining Rod looked like he had a lock on the place approaching midstretch then finished one-paced in a disappointing performance.

But no one was defeating the defending sprint champion this day and he underscore his affinity for the Saratoga strip.

Race 10 G1 Sword Dancer: Good people win another on Travers undercard as Sadler's Joy put it all together under a heady, patient ride from Julien for trainer Tom Albertrani.

As the invaders disappointed, an American turf runner with a European turn of foot, got the money as heavily backed Money Multiplier, who was second in the Sword Dancer last year, played runner-up again.

Written by John Pricci

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