As fans and gamblers reflect on what transpired at Saratoga Race Course Saturday afternoon, if at day’s end they were left feeling that their hometown team had just lost the Super Bowl, they are racing’s true fans.
These Thoroughbred fans care about the Eclipse Awards that signify divisional championships. Thereafter, racing stakeholders, privileged to vote on Hall of Fame elevations, delineate between champions and equine deity.
It’s called a pantheon for a reason.
But as Philadelphia Daily News’ Dick Jerardi dead-panned to me minutes after Blame handed Hall of Famer Zenyatta her lone defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, “this game will break your heart and that’s what keeps us coming back.” #SMH
Indeed, the horseplayer in us are suckers for punishment; we keep getting disrespected yet we keep coming back, many of us anyway, albeit fewer with each passing day.
But as fans, foisted by the hyperbole of electronic media that create unreasonably high expectations–guilty as charged–we often suffer crushing disappointment.
Midnight Bisou’s head defeat in the Personal Ensign is horse racing’s equivalent of “wide right.”
Having some experience with it, television analysts must better manage expectations, especially while catering to a new racing audience that needs educating. Nuance, after all, is something that’s lost on many veteran’s as well. This game humbles kings.
Not every good horse that comes along needs godding-up; not every trainer “does a great job”; not every great jockey is “the best in America”; not everything one watches “is a lot of fun.” But I digress.
At least Midnight Bisou showed up, something she does virtually every time. Yesterday, improving Vexatious showed up a few inches better, running as fast as the Whitney winner, last year’s Kentucky Derby favorite, did two hours later.
Considering that the measure of great achievement in this game is reached when equine and human practitioners only miss their mark twice in three chances, Midnight Bisou’s slate took a hit. She’s now  13-6-3 lifetime, in the money again.
By comparison, Vexatious elevated her lifetime record to  4-3-7. Six pounds, 124 to 118, helped the lighter burdened upsetter, and it took a magnificent race ride by Jose Lezcano who took his mount out to give his mount an opportunity to win a battle of wills.
Indeed, he came close to the kind of intimidation that results in disqualification. But close is good in horse shoes, not in horse racing. The merits of the rule is another conversation; it was a proper “as is” result.
My heart sunk when Tom’s d’Etat, who gave a damn good impression of the best handicap horse in America all year, went to his knees at the break.
If the late Don Meredith were calling the Whitney, he would have broken into “Turn Out the Lights” before Improbable completed the short run to the first turn. A projected perfect stalking trip turned out to be a nightmare for Tom’s d’Etat.
I know, “taking nothing away from the winner…” but the reason we downgraded Improbable’s chances was due to his well documented gate issues and we don’t like 10-furlong winners, however impressive, turning back with better rivals.
But how were we to know that he would stalk a glacial mile and a quarter-like pace of 25.12 and 49.74, opening gambits that were far more suitable to turf than dirt racing.
Improbable proved clearly best on the day, sprinting the final five furlongs in 58.91, real racehorse time. Clearly, he has made the physical transition from 3 to 4 in a big way. A respectful tip of the cap to the controversial Mr. Baffert.
The defeated favorite, co-highweight with Improbable and Code of Honor–a colossal Whitney underachiever, deserves honorable mention for a worthy finish, cutting a 5-length headstretch deficit in half, losing place by a half length after angling out untenably wide into the lane.
Down the road, Vexatious, even at 6, will need to prove that the Personal Ensign was no aberration. All Midnight Bisou has to do is show up and give her usual account.
Must admit new and improved Improbable will take reckoning for the rest of 2020 and would appear appropriately ranked atop the division after wins in the Hollywood Gold Cup and Whitney.
The mile and a quarter of the Classic might not flatter either one ideally but I will anticipate the rematch with both getting clean starts. That’s unlucky to happen until November, a long three months away.
BETS ‘N PIECES
Even though the pace was contested, don’t believe that was No Parole‘s best go. A big effort and subsequently difficult Jerkens dynamics, a freshening might be in order… Echo Town showed surprising late power yesterday. We expected his best go but never anticipated drawing away late as he did.
The disqualification of Sadler’s Joy, benefitting our win wager, value call Cross Border, but cost use a winning exacta and trifecta was the proper call.
While the NYRA stewards have a reputation for inconsistency, they’ve had some tough calls at Saratoga this season and, on balance, got them all right in our view. Credit when it’s due…
Cariba gave Christophe Clement a meet leading 14th win taking the Caress, this won with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the boot, completing his home run on the day.
If speed killed–not in a good way in the Jerkens–it was the same story on the West Coast where a fierce pace battle in the G1 Bing Crosby set the table nicely for the rally types.
Flavien Prat guided Collusion Illusion to the fence and Lexitonian came storming down the middle to finish in a photo as close as the Personal Ensign.
At the end it was the three-year-old on the rail that got it done, punching his ticket into the Sprint and denying Jack Sisterson a “win-and-in” Breeders’ Cup double. Sisterson engineered the upset of Midnight Bisou earlier.