Something called A Little Warm won the Jim Dandy, and the world remained on its axis. A Little Warm is not exactly an unknown, but the only household where he's a household name is his own. He was second in the Louisiana Derby and. . . He was second in the Louisiana Derby and. . .
Why on earth was he only 4-1 at Saratoga? Because this Jim Dandy was run the day before the Haskell, and why would a trainer run at Saratoga, where the purse was $500,000 for a Grade 2, when he could ship in to New Jersey and run in a Grade 1 worth a million? The Jim Dandy, which has been won by Arts and Letters, Affirmed, Favorite Trick and Street Sense over the years, was this time visited by a group of horses that the Daily Racing Form tactfully said was "a notch below the division's best." Second in the Jim Dandy was Miner's Reserve, who was beaten by 34 lengths in the Florida Derby and 36 lengths in the Kentucky Derby Trial.
In broader terms, the two best horses in the U.S. are arguably Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. Zenyatta has never lost, but because racing gets on mainstream television about every lunar eclipse, she is known to railbirds and hardly anyone else. Shout Zenyatta's name at any supermarket in the country, and someone will come up and say that the produce department is over there. Rachel Alexandra has been winning on class since her horse-of-the-year season, is too much known for the races she didn't run in, and needs to beat someone important in order to reinvent herself.
One of racing's problems is that after Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, there is no No. 3. Lookin At Lucky and Super Saver, winners of the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby, were on the cusp before the Haskell, but the list of pretenders is woefully short. The older male horses have all the charisma of a yak.
In search of a No. 3, I looked longingly toward Del Mar, where they were running the San Diego Handicap, a modest Grade 2. This stake, 69 years old, has seldom been a starmaker, although horses such as Native Diver (three times), Skywalker and Giacomo have won it to burnish their reputations. For 24 years, the Los Angeles Times let me cover the San Diego, not knowing any better.
My alma mater, like most newspapers, does little with racing these days. No race charts, seldom a reporter at the track. Even a meet like Del Mar's, which has become the best-attended in California, commands little state-wide media attention outside San Diego County, and the latest San Diego Handicap did nothing to turn editors' heads. The winner was something called Dakota Phone, who had lost 16 straight races and hadn't won in almost two years. Dakota Phone has now earned almost a half-million dollars, and good for him, a 5-year-old gelding who sometimes comes close in big races at high odds. At Del Mar this time, he paid off at a miserly 9-2, which is hardly a signpost for those torn between the track and the beach. By rights, horses that lose 16 in a row should be big longshots. But when they're running against horses just as desperate, juicy prices can be elusive. From sea to sea, there are a lot of desperate horses in our midst.