By Peter Applebee — Over one million patrons passed through the gates on Union Avenue this summer and they were treated to high quality racing throughout the 40-day Spa meet. Here are our nominees for “Race of the Meet”:
Jim Dandy Stakes: Essential Quality was spun five wide on the first turn and then was pushed out to the six path on the second turn. Meanwhile, Keepmeinmind was able to work out an inside trip as they turned for home. Horses that are wide on both turns are rarely winners, but on this day Essential Quality again confirmed his greatness by defeating Keepmeinmind even though he ran 38 feet farther than the runnerup. In our view, it was a very underrated performance.
Coaching Club American Oaks: How can four-horse field be such a great race? This one was. Previously undefeated Malathaat went to the front and controlled the pace until Clairiere made a serious run at her as they turned for home but was repulsed at the 3/16th pole just as Maracuja joined the fray. Maracuja was able to wear down Malathaat late to win by a head. The ride of the meet was turned in by Ricardo Santana Jr. when he backed Maracuja off the pace mid-way down the backstretch and allowed Clairiere do all the dirty work while he saved energy until it mattered most.
Amsterdam Stakes: There are a lot exciting ways to win a race but none are as exhilarating as a sprinter throwing down the gauntlet and just bottoming out the field. Jackie’s Warrior did exactly that by posting fractions of 21.2 and 43.4. He was hand ridden the whole way by Joel Rosario who sat like a statute except for one peek under the arm to check out the competition who were so far back they weren’t even covered by Jackie’s Warrior’s sloppy kickback. Awesome, with a capital A.
Forego Stakes: The winner of the Strangest Race of the Meet Award. Firenze Fire and Yaupon hooked up in a great stretch duel – but Firenze Fire had other ideas ashe craned his neck, turned his head, and repeatedly bit Yaupon, even getting Yaupon’s bridle in his mouth. Wild! Lost in the excitement was that Yaupon was a total pro, surviving despite being savaged for about 10 strides. He just kept on running and earned the narrow, gutty win. Firenze Fire probably cost himself the race, but gave us a memory that we will never forget.
Fourstardave Handicap: I thought Got Stormy was out of form and over the hill. I was dead wrong, and so was the wagering public who sent her off at 12-1. She was by the far the best horse as she skipped away from the boys to win this Grade I for the second time in three years.
Whitney Stakes: There were questions about Knicks Go’s ability to go nine furlongs as he indicated by his performances in the Met Mile and Saudi Cup. Well, Knicks Go put all of that to bed when he broke well, went fast early, and went fast late to win by four and a half lengths, earning a 111 Beyer. He is now six for eight for Brad Cox and clearly has stamped himself one of the horses to beat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Honorable Mention: Althiqa in the Diana Stakes win. Underappreciated filly earned a 102 Beyer while easily besting this field for her second consecutive Grade I win in the U.S.
And Our Choice is…. The Amsterdam. This was a super impressive performance as Jackie’s Warrior won by more than seven lengths under a hand ride after putting up spectacular fractions. Jackie’s Warrior was the horse of the meet for me, too. He returned from the Amsterdam to win the H. Allen Jerkens with a 107 Beyer, defeating the very talented Life Is Good in a much different but equally impressive performance.