HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, August 29, 2021 — How was Travers Day ever supposed to top the racing on display Whitney Day? It wasn’t easy, but the old Spa managed to outdo itself. Rather, it was more reminiscent of a Breeders’ Cup.
Whitney Day three weeks ago featured many outstanding performances: Art Collector–a bigger, stronger, and faster version, made a triumphant and dominant 4-year-old debut. He validated that opinion by taking the Charles Town Classic Travers eve.
Then there was one of those “where were you when Steve Asmussen—from Ruidoso to Saratoga–became North America’s all-time leading trainer” question as he saddled his 9,445th victory, and counting, for a long time to come.
Bill Mott, having an understated great meet, put a young, rising turf star on display: War Like Goddess rates to raise her profile significantly in the near future.
And, of course, there was Knicks Go, who won his Whitney laughing, in 1:47.70, several ticks faster than “racehorse time.”
As it turned out, Travers Day was the kind of experience that a sports fan unfamiliar with horse racing could appreciate the events unfolding before them.
Whether they paid $20 to see the race live or sat in front of a television set for seven hours, there were enough human interest stories to engage them. The horses, jockeys and trainers did the rest.
Champion Gamine began the Grade 1 feast in winning form, albeit with less than her A+ game. We’re sure that adding an aluminum pad spoke to a lingering foot issue.
The cautionary footwear did not negatively impact her gate speed but Johnny Velazquez needed to work deliberately to get her on her correct right lead and get home on time. She has shown more brilliance, but a win is a win and the Eclipse champion did her job.
The Forego was unforgettable. I have seen horses attempt to savage their rivals but I’ve never seen repeated thrusts. And when Firenze Fire could rip off a piece of Yaupon’s face, he attacked the bridle.
Jose Ortiz did a tremendous job to limit the damage and he did, wrangling his mount off the eventual winner. Ricardo Santana Jr., who is moving his tack to New York, showed his appreciation to Ortiz past the wire after victory was secure.
Daring athletes: Amazing men on their flying equines.
Jackie’s Warrior v Life Is Good in the Jerkens Memorial. I loathe the cliche about a race that doesn’t deserve a loser—not as much as I detest “we’ve always liked him” following a maiden or significant win–but I didn’t want to see this battle end.
Life Is Good broke like a shot and Mike Smith did not get in his way. And neither did Joel Rosario trifle with Jackie’s Warrior, deciding ‘OK, if you want to go, go; we’ll catch you later’. And that he and the colt did. Exquisite drama, jets on full blast.
Don’t look now but some mare probably is still chasing Letruska and she’s still holding them all off. My guess is nine of 10 nuanced observers would have bet against her getting to the Personal Ensign wire first, and they would have been wrong, me among them.
It was a remarkable effort that earned my Eclipse Award checkmark whatever happens the rest of this year. Seasons trump one-race events, even those named Breeders’ Cup Championship. She’s done enough, especially after defeating a defending champion to begin her amazing campaign.
Todd Pletcher sucked all the air out of the 2021 Hall of Fame balloon in his first year of eligibility, just like a Mantle or Russell or Gretsky or Jim Brown would. But in 2022, Christophe Clement will have his moment of glory in recognition of a quarter-century of excellence.
Sword Dancer winner Gufo is only the latest example. The turf runner with the big late engine just needed to get into his races sooner. Now he’s 2-for-2 since Clement outfitted him with blinkers. The colt and Rosario are a perfect fit.
Like Letruska, Essential Quality’s body of work will allow him to defend his Eclipse title and become 2021’s three-year-old champion. Possible defeats—and we make no concessions yet—to older rivals will not and should not diminish his status.
And damn if he doesn’t always do it his way, most of his wins winding up being thisclose at the finish. He simply wants to beat you and does, except for that wide trip that kept him from sweeping all nine lifetime starts.
Midnight Bourbon deserves some love, too, matching synchronized strides with his conqueror all through the Saratoga straight until the very end. While not as accomplished, he, too, shows up every time, a deserving Derby mulligan notwithstanding.
Those remarkable efforts were matched by outstanding human performances this long Travers weekend; Chad Brown’s 12 victories in four days including a rare five-win day, building an apparently insurmountable lead among his Spa rivals. Jockey Luis Saez, meanwhile, has opened 13 lengths on Irad Ortiz Jr. with a week to go.
Like his horses, Brown came from behind. Like his horses, Saez went to the front and hasn’t looked back. This weekend—including Saez’ jaunt to Charles Town late Friday night–added another level of achievement to one of Saratoga’s best weekends of racing ever.