HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, July 25-26 — The New York stewards are having a bad meet. Mortal sin #1 in our view was a non-disqualification that occurred one week ago last Thursday in the fifth race on grass. This is what we wrote about that race on Day 6 of our Saratoga Diary feature.
“How the stewards did not disqualify third finisher Parade Ring, who bore in severely under a right-handed crop and badly sloughed a green but forward moving Neon Beach, apparently is way above my level of understanding. The latter did come out slightly leaving head-stretch to make incidental contact — to no critical avail — in upper stretch. Can’t see anyone making a good argument that the action of the third finisher did not cost the fifth finisher—and superfecta bettors—fourth money. Bad job.
Full disclosure: The non-DQ cost us a winning superfecta play. Yesterday was different. I had no betting interest in the day’s finale, but we watch Saratoga races intently, especially turf races where trips most often are the difference between victory and defeat.
In mid-stretch, the leader, Indian Mischief, shifted his course outside and in doing so, moved directly into the path of un-rushing He’s a Lucky Guy. Not only did he impede the longshot’s forward progress, but the action forced jockey Manny Franco to alter his course further outside to avoid a potential catastrophe.
At the split second the incident occurred, He’s a Lucky Guy went from directly behind the leader, clearly close enough to clip heels with Indian Mischief, ridden by Jose Ortiz. The juxtaposition was similar to one last week where, ironically, it was Ortiz’s horse that clipped heels, the incident serious enough to send Ortiz to the hospital and miss the next two days of riding nursing bruised ribs.
Whether He’s a Lucky Guy would have gone on to win had Indian Mischief remained on a straight course is not knowable with certitude. What is certain, however, is that Indian Mischief came out into the path of He’s a Lucky Guy, completely stopping his forward progress and forcing jockey Manny Franco to alter course further outside.
While the incident was being adjudicated, racing analyst and Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens wondered why the decision was taking so long. “I would already have taken him down,” stressing that Franco was fortunate that his mount’s front leg went between the leader’s hind legs, or he would have clipped heels and gone down.
And, so, the horse and the rider were lucky just to lose a race and not suffer a possible injury from a potentially calamitous event.
Philosophically, I’m no fan of a-foul-is-a-foul school of official results adjudication. But maybe that rule should be put in place. I prefer the current philosophy of disqualification whereby a horse is demoted if his actions cost a rival his rightful placing. But for that, officials need to be sophisticated enough to know the difference.
Before getting all exercised, bent out of shape by the prospects of another Saratoga graded stakes with only four entrants, handicappers need only harken all the way back to Sunday.
Say what you will but, parimutuels notwithstanding, one must honestly acknowledge that the G2 Shuvee was not short on entertaining, racing drama.
Nest was always in better position to win, as expected. Clairiere ultimately proved to be no match but I for one had no idea what would happen as the two fillies approached midturn. Could Clairiere actually run Nest down?
By the time Nest reached headstretch, Clairiere right on her tail, that question was rendered moot. To think the returning three year old filly would announce herself so profoundly was one thing; to think she would do so with power in reserve was quite another.
While Wednesday’s G1 Honorable Miss lacks the kind of panache on display Sunday, the match of Echo Zulu (4-5) and Frank’s Rockette (8-5) is no less compelling as a handicapping exercise.
In the mind’s eye, who’s the better filly? Most would have to say Echo Zulu, who’s 2-for-2 at the Spa and 1-for-1 at six furlongs, but then must acknowledge that Frank’s Rockette is s bit shiftier at this trip.
If it were a two-horse match, I would take ‘Zulu’ to out-finish ‘Rockette’. But if they went fetlock-to-fetlock from the gate, why couldn’t Maryquitecontrary or Dr B pick them up at the line?
Unlike Sunday’s Shuvee, the “other two” in here are live and not just present to collect a check; either of these can be competitive.
Here are HRI’s Trip Notes from preferably their last efforts, or one earlier with similar race dynamics, or both, assuming a clean break and optimum efforts from all:
ECHO ZULU (4-5): (Season’s debut and only start at the trip). Broke OK from gate, allowed to ease back before challenging for lead, pressured hard from outside on turn, lost lead, rebroke after straightening away, separated herself drawing away driven out.
FRANK’S ROCKETTE (8-5) broke OK from gate, hustled up to chase the speed, patiently awaited cue, made second move to lead, withstood bold second challenger in midstretch, driven out in classy win.
MARYQUITECONTRARY (9-2) at 7 furlong, good break, allowed to settle outside in backstretch run but maintaining contact to confront returning champion 4-wide midturn, chased perfect trip winner into lane, rallied strongly in upper stretch and maintained that momentum to wire… [G2 Inside Information two back; dawdled at the back in no hurry, asked to engage rivals 4-wide midturn. carried wide by momentum 5-6 wide into stretch, finished strong 4-5 wide stretch, won going away.
DR B (6-1) [G3 Vagrancy at 6.5F two back] showed speed to stay off leaders, dropped back, shuffled between to last, angled out sharply 6-7 wide into stretch, finished well 5 stretch behind winner making first run, style would like turnback to 6F with lively pace.
The Skinny: We’ve loved ‘Mary’ since her GP campaign this winter, makes her second start for Shug. Would love to test my Dr B theory, but the two favorites are faster and proven classier. Note Dr B reunites with winning pilot, Irad. This is one helluva four-filly matchup!
Playing the Red Board: Frank’s Rockette was absolutely no match for Echo Zulu, who broke the former’s spirit at head-stretch. Dr B picked up pieces as ‘Rockette’ retired. ‘Mary’s’ tactics played more like a prep for the Ballerina than yesterday’s run, a less than major event.
HRI Trips notes for Thursday’s Birdstone Stakes marathon at a mile and three-quarters:
SEA FOAM (6-1) justled from extreme outside post to lead, ridden to maintain clear lead in too-fast pace for the trip, pressured approaching headstretch, kept trying to furlongs pole, stopped to walk final 100 yards.
THE SKIPPER TOO (10-1) late developing 4YO ridden out 4 wide first turn, made strong 5-wide brush mid-backstretch into contention, asked to engage lead still on hard chase at turn, ridden out 3 wide stretch surprisingly strong late in excellent run.
TRASURE TROVE (15-1) [FEB 2, 9F AQU] taken in hand into first turn, ridden to maintain contact backstretch run, ridden into rally mode 3-wide turn, perfect trip 2-3 entering stretch, driving hard to beat mate deep stretch.
DASH ATTACK (8-1) good speed gate, took back to stalk, pushed between head to head all turn, challenged strongly outside entering, stayed on very well, something left inside final sixteenth.
TIME FOR TROUBLE (10-1) [turf at 1-1/2 miles] speed factor throughout going three turns, opened ground twice while pressed throughout, went well to final furlong, understandably tired and not abused late.
LONE ROCK (7-2) proven marathoner won this race two years ago, eight year old has lost a step, stalked throughout his last after bobbling start, all out into stretch, stopped stretch.
NEXT (4-5) divisional leading marathoner, bumped at break, rated kindly on lead but pressured throughout, pressed harder at turn, ridden to open lead headstretch, ridden out, much best.
The Skinny: Next certainly looks like the heir apparent to Lone Rock as the marathon divisional leader; earned his high-weight assignment given class and form edge.
this is a live column and will be updated