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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, August 8, 2021 – How I wish this dateline were Saratoga Springs, for in its way Friday and Saturday at the old Spa was as good as racing gets this side of Breeders’ Cup and Kentucky Derby weekend.

When I first met Mark Casse on the Saratoga backside, he had just been appointed head trainer to Calumet Farm at a time when the stable colors were the traditional devil’s red and blue—Alydar’s silks.

My first contact with Todd Pletcher was one morning I went to interview Wayne Lukas. He was on the track with his pony supervising workouts and I spoke with his young assistant. He impressed with his command from day one.

I wanted so much to be inside the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion for Friday’s Hall of Fame induction ceremonies but couldn’t make that happen.

A turf stakes for 3-year-olds is run in honor of this ceremony but the performance of Hall of Fame day was that of a 4-year-old dirt runner, Art Collector–a bigger, stronger, and faster version of the 3-year-old model that flirted with last year’s Triple Crown. He dominated, in hand at the end, in 1:48.20.

The one advantage of not being there live was the ability to watch Steve Asmussen watching the sixth race from Ellis Park and seeing the 9,445th win of his Hall of Fame career get up in the wire’s shadow and the reaction with his family. Good stuff.

Chad Brown isn’t the effusive type but it was difficult for him not to show his enthusiasm when Digital Software gave him a milestone 2,000th career victory for major client Klaravich Stable. And this was only the start to the weekend.

His name is Stellar Tap and players are likely to see this maiden breaker in a race with a name on it sometime in the future. But the colt already has been memorialized for giving Asmussen career victory 9,446, making him North America’s all-time leading trainer, an ineffaceable Whitney Day moment.

The achievement speaks for itself. Asmussen saddled his first winner in 1986 at Ruidoso Downs, his celebratory milestone at legendary Saratoga Race Course. The road has been long, winding, and bumpy on many levels, from miles logged to number of divisions, disparate classes and not completely without controversy.

But this is a time to celebrate an extremely accomplished racing family that has succeeded because of long and labored days and nights, 365/24/7, just like every dedicated and successful horseman. The common thread undeniably is a comprehensive hands-on approach in a game they don’t play in short pants.

So thanks to the Asmussen family for notching yet another indelible Saratoga memory–not quite Rachel’s Woodward but pretty damn good, nonetheless.

War Like Goddess is a rising rock star, taking the G2 Glens Falls for Bill Mott, who’s won a half dozen of these.

The filly was handled with disdainful confidence by Julien Leparoux who allowed her to proceed at her own speed even as she whooshed by in midstretch, the rider only reminding his mount what was expected after reaching even terms.

Bella Sofia was very fast and very good in passing her G1 Test, proving much the best on the day. Search Results’ chore was not helped by her reluctance to switch over to her correct lead when called upon but even if she had there’s little doubt that it was a dull effort for a filly capable of much better.

Johnny Velazquez has struggled mightily at the meet but it was quintessential JR at his best as he gave the Joseph O’Brien import State of Rest a perfect trip; saving ground, tipping out, then seam-splitting without loss of ground or momentum, straight from the Hall of Fame playbook.

The only chance any of his Whitney rivals had to defeat Knicks Go was an inability to handle Saratoga’s nine furlongs, more demanding than most given these dynamics at other venues. But the strip was speed-kind and once Joel Rosario cleared the Swiss Skydiver entering the backstretch, it was game over.

Of course, horses are going to be a tough out when left alone on the lead, especially when they have the ability to get the distance in 1:47.70–several notches above “racehorse time.”

Maxfield showed class to secure the place from streaking Silver State while not appearing to handle the surface as well as he traversed Churchill Downs when taking the Stephen Foster with ease. Parenthetically, would love to see what might have happened if Knicks Go had Art Collector for company early on.

However, he wasn’t seriously threatened at any stage and deserves to be recognized as America’s best older dirt male.

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9 Responses

  1. JP,

    It was an awesome weekend – big crowds, great stakes racing, and one wonderful storyline after another. It was peak Saratoga.


    1. As a longtime Spa supporter, you would know, Peter. Saratoga is replete with great racing traditions and memories but this weekend it seemed to provide more special moments than usual…

  2. WIN % so far at 2021 Saratoga meet vs. full 2020 Saratoga meet.
    Sorted by basis point change (last data point)

    Luis Saez; 22.0%; 18.2%; 3.8%
    Ricardo Santana, Jr.; 14.3%; 11.1%; 3.2%
    Benjamin Hernandez; 7.7%; 4.9%; 2.8%
    Dylan Davis; 11.7%; 9.3%; 2.4%
    Eric Cancel; 7.0%; 5.1%; 1.9%
    Tyler Gaffalione; 15.7%; 15.3%; 0.4%
    David Cohen; 9.4%; 10.0%; -0.6%
    Manuel Franco; 8.0%; 8.7%; -0.7%
    Jose L. Ortiz; 19.4%; 20.9%; -1.5%
    Joel Rosario; 15.0%; 18.7%; -3.7%
    Irad Ortiz, Jr.; 16.5%; 20.9%; -4.4%
    Jose Lezcano; 11.5%; 17.0%; -5.5%
    Junior Alvarado; 4.8%; 11.0%; -6.2%
    John R. Velazquez; 6.3%; 13.2%; -6.9%
    Javier Castellano; 9.0%; 18.2%; -9.2%

  3. Leave it to Tapit to sire Steve Asmussen’s record breaking 2-YO, Stellar Tap on Whitney Day. Happy that Santana was aboard for the winning ride. Any reason you chose not to cover this amazing feat? Not a knock on you, JP, just wondering, that’s all. Would like to read about Dale Baird who just had his record broken by the guy who brought you Curlin and Rachel. Thanks.

    1. Just read column and saw you DID cover SA’s record-breaking win with Stellar Tap. Apologies for my quick draw posting. Should have read your words before writing mine. Sorry.

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