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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, July 4, 2021 – Independence Day Thoroughbred racing began in earnest a day early, totally appropriate when that day is Saturday.

As any patriotic punter would, I spent the day at the racetrack and it felt good.

I wasn’t alone. People were gathered all over the Gulfstream property–the apron, breezeway, and mezzanine, horseplayers lining the paddock to get a closer look.

I would have been there any day these two races are run. I’ve always enjoyed Smile Stakes and Princess Rooney since back in the Calder days, where the Summit of Speed was born. They have always been good races.

Prior to the big Gulfstream events, our focus was the simulcasts. It was Suburban day in very wet New York with similar conditions at Delaware Park, where the Kent for sophomore soft turfers and sloppy Delaware Oaks fillies was run—big doings in the Mid Atlantic.

Back one step to Friday when Iowa, of all places, ruled the simulcast roost. The Cornhusker Handicap has had a memorable history but the 2021 storyline was the return of Knicks Go, whose most recent Met Mile was sub-par. No more; he’s back.

As this is written early Sunday, Joel Rosario still has not let out any notches of rein but the gray flash had running on his mind. Throughout. He did not allow Last Judgment to steal his march, taking command on the lower first turn and improving his position, as they say.

The nine furlongs completed in 1:47.33 was all Knicks Go. Rosario shook the reins nearing the sixteenth pole but more that Knicks Go would not develop a poor habit, the rider returning to passenger status in the final strides.

Still beneath a motionless Rosario, he galloped out strongly while on cruise control. He spotted six pounds to runnerup Last Judgement and 10 to the show finisher, winning by 10-1/4 lugging 126 pounds.

We’ll see what Brad Cox wants to do next but if he’s not overprotective this time, the next stop should be Saratoga for the same-distance Whitney. Indeed, Maxfield might be there, so it would be speed vs. tractability played by two of the country’s top handicappers. No excuses.

The show-down at Belmont Park between #1 ranked Mystic Guide and undefeated conqueror Happy Saver never materialized.

Big Sandy was very wet and deep. Mystic Guide moved menacingly up the fence, taking command briefly in the lane but tired in the final furlong, said Luis Saez. But was his first start in three months, a good effort, and one to build on.

Happy Saver was without excuse. Having the benefit of a recent prep over a track on which he was 3-for-3, ‘Saver’ stalked perfectly outside of contested leaders. But it was apparent leaving the five-eighths pole that he was a flat, needed urging to keep up. He showed class to secure show in the final strides..

Happy Saver could come back in the Whitney on a track and distance at which he’s won, but it’s more likely he will await the Woodward later in the Spa meet.

A pair of three-year-olds put on a great show in Delaware. It’s clear that the overwhelming mutuel support for Yes This Time in the G3 Kent. He was bet from the bell. He’s a very good colt with a future at the top of the division. He improved his career mark to 6-for-8.

It is not easy to run down a stakes-winning leader who set loose, slow fractions on soft ground, a difficult obstacle for late runners to overcome. Not only did Kelly Breen’s charge make significant late ground but did so while in a bit tight as he rushed up the fence. You don’t see what he did every day.

Meanwhile, heavily favored Crazy Beautiful dominated the G3 Delaware Oaks, Mike Smith in for the ride on Ken McPeek sophomore, sweeping to command at headstretch and winning with speed in reserve. Class told in a big way.

Meanwhile, our takeaway was the big late run made by Leader of the Band for third, considering it was her first start going two turns. If there is any mitigation it is her fondness for wet footing. Stable mail, please.

The G3 Smile Invitational at Gulfstream Park was as competitive as always. Following early speed skirmishes, the race was decided at headstretch when the first three finishers made sweeping moves to contention.

Winner Miles Ahead enjoyed a perfect stalking trip behind two speedsters, made first run at headstretch, followed closely by Chance It who pounced immediately, while race favorite was just getting into high gear, widest of all.

Under Victor Espinoza, who picked up the last-minute mount, the gelded four-year-old had more than enough staying power to withstand the sharp, fresh Chance It. Diamond Oops finished well enough for third. He hasn’t been the same horse at six and might now be better suited to shorter turf sprints.

The G2 Breeders’ Cup-qualifying Princess Rooney (1:21.44) went to classy Ce Ce as Espinoza, looking to sweep the Summit’s two graded events, sat the pocket behind the speed and didn’t rattle when Estilo Talentoso attempted first run to her outside.

Espinoza rode only hard enough to maintain his position and surged up inside Javier Castellano. At headstretch, his filly separated herself from the group as the favorite finished one-paced, but gamely enough to win the place late.

Now that Ce Ce is guaranteed a starting slip at Del Mar NOV 6, the runnerup should represent herself as well. Estilo Talentoso has been to the well often of late but continues to be highly competitive. She would benefit from a brief freshening before the Fall championships.

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7 Responses

  1. Knicks Go’s victorious class drop into the Iowa cornfields looked better than it was.
    Feeling no pain with “Bute,” and no pace pressure without top-tier competition, in reality, his Dr. Fager imitation left no Damascus look-alike in his wake.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Asmussen once again demonstrated his Klingon-like cloaking ability to put over winners at a price; thereby making the move of Max Player to his barn as brilliant as it was enriching. What are the chances we’ll ever see him compete in the same event as Silver State who reportedly is expected to run in the Whitney?

    1. I, was trying to remember the last time I saw B-L on the same program, as wrong as it is surprising.

      Run, HISA, run…

      There’s certainly no denying Asmussen’s success with B and C type contenders at the highest levels

  2. HOF Trainer pumps them up with high test once more. Credit the Vet?

    Thanks for the Fager & Damascus Joe Franklin Memory Lane I-man.

    Has me thinking Buckpasser, Secretariat & Forego as well.

    In return….

    Flipping the dial while waiting on Frank W. and Charlsie C. and the late double, I catch a “fast ball high and tight strike three” call on channel 11, followed by a three ring Ballentine TV break with Mel A. ,and then back again into “the catbird seat” with Red B. And I was a Brooklyn fan. Happy 5th I-man!

  3. That would be a ‘Ballantine Blast’, right McD?

    As to “mighty Kelso,” I, it might have been me, for all I can remember. But more likely someone like Charles Hatton who, I believe once wrote, “there was a horse named Kelso, but only once.”

    Perhaps his most famous was “Secretariat’s only frame of reference is himself.” Damn, wish I wrote that!

    1. JP,
      Thought the “Only once” quote belonged to Joe Hirsch, but maybe that wasn’t about Kelso.

      At what point does the “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” message go away?

  4. Hi John ! Hope you are well…

    Of course you know I was thrilled by Max’s win in the Suburban. I don’t think it was a fluke, either – he really ran well. This win was so satisfying as I’ve followed him since his debut. If you’d seen him in that race, you’d find it hard to believe it’s the same horse. When I saw that Max was laying so close, I was in shock …he was going so easily.

    I didn’t even think he should be in the race, thought Max needed easier competition. My friend, though, saw signs at Pimlico, and Andy Serling said that morning that Max went wide all race in a day the rail was gold. So, I was wrong, lol. The way he won was thrilling because it could be a game changer for him. He’s been a solid horse, but deep closers rarely win. What I loved is what was someone pointed out on HRN – that despite racing up close, he was still able to finish. Kudos to Asmussen and his crew for working with Max to get him into the race earlier; kudos also to Santana, though ultimately it was up to the horse. I look forward to his next start – we will learn more, no doubt.

    1. The point about Max being closer to the pace and still able to finish is indeed valid Bets but a wet surface is somewhat mitigating. But as a lightly raced 4YO, he has a right to mature and therefore improve…

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