DIARY WEEK 1: SARATOGA STILL AMERICA’S STRONGEST BRAND, SURFACE HUGE SUCCESS

On balance, clichés  become clichés because they’re true: “Good Racing Is Good Business,” but that not only applies to Saratoga.

On Saturday, Monmouth Park attracted $20.4 million on their Haskell program, second largest of all-time.

But the Spa still handled $23.9 million, contributing to the 4-day opening weekend handle of $80.3 million, a 9.4 percent increase year over year.

Yes, Virginia, there was no competition from Del Mar. But then neither were there fans in attendance at Saratoga while a limited number (reported estimates of 1,500 fans) were admitted into Monmouth, a far cry from the Haskell’s 30,000-plus.   

When compared to Saratoga, closing weekend of Belmont Park’s spring/summer meet generated all-sources play of $41.4 million.

And it wasn’t as if every race from Saratoga had full fields, due a lower horse population as many Kentucky outfits stayed home. But with favorites going 16-for-41, a 39% win average doesn’t hurt churn one bit.

The second weekend of Saratoga will be interesting considering Major League Baseball is scheduled to return Thursday. With any number of legal sports betting facilities available, casino wagering notwithstanding, we’ll see if racing can keep up its hot pace.

Saratoga resumes tomorrow and will be on a 5-days per week schedule, Wednesday through Sunday. Labor Day weekend concludes the meet.

GOOD WORK, BAD WORK

Tiz the Law good, Maximum Security not so much. Don’t take my word for this, trust your own lying eyes. Simply proceed to your favorite replay center and see for yourself.

Both horses worked this past weekend, both went five-eighths of a mile in 59-and-change. No need to be precise because, as they say, “it’s not how fast you run, it’s how you run fast.”

If we were to pick at the smallest of nits, we couldn’t help but notice that the Travers favorite worked with his head clocked ever so slightly outside, a tendency he showed in some of his early races. Nothing alarming; perhaps still some greenness, playfulness, whatever.

And it was nothing compared to the good things: To go in 59 + while appearing to be in a gallop through the lane to the wire was impressive.

Of greater note is what happened thereafter. The rider reached down to grab him midway of the clubhouse turn to slow him down but instead of a good gallop-out he was refusing to be pulled up, wanting to do more.

Tiz the Law was no run-off, just willing to show off the power he had in reserve. He didn’t slow down until midway of the backstretch.

Maximum Security, however, was in a drive virtually through the entire stretch, requiring further encouragement passed the wire. The good Baffert runners to gallop out strongly routinely, not ‘Max’, who is expected to return very soon.

This impression could all change the next time he works. Good horses overcome, and Maximum Security is a good horse and he can take his scheduled return in the upcoming San Diego. But he’ll win without me, and it won’t hurt my feelings if he does.

GLEN KOZAK FOR PRESIDENT

Saratoga Race Course has grown wildly popular in the modern era despite a reputation for a dirt surface that’s hard on horses, especially young ones, and the reason why more Kentucky-based juveniles are spending their summers at Ellis Park.

But the resurfacing of Saratoga with its improved drainage, banking, and a kinder, safer cushion that has been a revelation could change all that, pandemic be damned.

Despite the meet beginning the day after a strong summer storm on opening-day eve played fairly albeit demanding before getting progressively faster in the days to follow.

This will be the first meeting I’ve missed since 1977 and while this may sound hyperbolic, I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed four consecutive days of bias-free dirt racing at Saratoga. But now horses win from anywhere with any style running.

Saratoga did not permit horses to steal away as easily as in the past, and there have been no “dead rails” to avoid. It’s no accident there have been so many exciting head-to-head battles.

Take a bow Mr. Senior Vice-President of Operations and Capital Improvements. Bravo.

The turf courses, as at AnyTrack USA at the start of a meet, will favor off-the-pace types, and that played out in the first four days of the meet as both courses have been cutting down the speed, except for the close-up pocket sitters.

JOCKEY AND TRAINER TREND SETTERS

Chad Brown entered the meet the odds-on favorite to win the training title. He has the talent and the numbers, so it’s no surprise that he leads all horsemen with six wins.

But the HRI Trainer of the Week Award must go to Christophe Clement who checked in with five after his training trifecta Sunday, completing a sweep of both weekend graded turf stakes.

Linda Race has four wins, Rudy Rodriguez three, and there are five trainers tied with two each.

For three days, Jose Ortiz was running away and hiding from the pack in search of a riding title repeat. Then Sunday came and when the dust cleared Joel Rosario caught Ortiz, and now each share the lead with eight winners.

Manny Franco is next with five, and Tyler Gaffalione and Irad Ortiz Jr., following his slow start, are next in line with four.

JUMPIN’ JUVENILES

The weekend produced more than its share of stable mail fodder. Here’s some replay work for you to do:

0719 Race 3: In Front going very well too late at the finish; winner In Front, strong and quick turn of foot at end of turf route for MSW 3-year-olds: Dovima was pressed throughout and held well until final few jumps. Witch Moon should benefit from the run; won’t be long now.

Race 4: winner Mischievous Dream stalked three wide throughout and finished very well, filly beating colts; Thin White Duke, trapped inside virtually length of the stretch, tipped out and finished very gamely; Martinez was going well 4-5 wide in the lane, appearing to want more distance.

Race 7: winner Lucifer’s Lair ran to top pedigree, winning as much the best with speed in reserve, appears a top prospect; Trust Today finished very well too late down the center, and well-bet Dressy was given a run.

0718 Race 1: Debuting Momos was pressed hard on fence, leading throughout before kicking clear in the straight as much the best, fine prospect; Holland broke slowly, made a strong turn move 3-4 wide and tired late as if short of condition.

Race 6: Pivotal Mission hurt by wide draw in debut going 1-1/16 on turf, raced 3-4 wide throughout, was 7-wide into stretch continued willingly while only ridden out late at the end.

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13 Responses

  1. Regarding Monmouth Park on Haskell Day, nj.com reported the official attendance as 3,546. The article also reported that general admission was $100. That’s not a typo. That’s One Hundred Dollars.

  2. Thanks very much for that, John. The “reported 1,500” came from a TV broadcast.

    $100?

    Didn’t know the race had been renamed The Pegasus Haskell. Guess if gambling money burns a hole and there’s no place to put out the fire, open it and they will come, at whatever the cost. I need to send an email to Monmouth following up.

  3. Surprised it wasn’t renamed The Runhappy Haskel, ha, ha. This Breeder’s Cup Sprint Champion’s name is on everything. It’s pretty funny.

    1. C,

      ‘Mattress Mack’ certainly has put his money where his stud is and also into the game as a rule, sponsoring stakes, media, etc. He deserves all the thanks he can get from those he has supported…

  4. Watched a race from Canterbury last night and it was won by Mattress Mack. Runhappy sponsored Gulfstream’s Pegasus World Championships in January so maybe Stronach Group was behind Haskell name change. Runhappy Travers at Spa, you’re right about Mattress Mack being all in with his sponsorships of stakes, etc.

  5. New dirt surface seems to be playing very fair. Let’s see what happens when we get one of those super wet and sloppy main track days.

    1. Noticed Laurel’s turf conditions: What,they cannot spend a few sheckels on that track ? Embarrassing when compared to other Big Show tracks,..Wait,.why am I surprised ? Why even compare it with them if they’re in a different league ?

  6. Tony, that will be the acid test for sure. Maybe today with showers forecasted virtually the entire day…

  7. just too bad the racing has been inferior quality.
    feel like i’m watching belmont north.
    field size is disappointing as well.

    1. Den,

      Have heard the Belmont North references and think it’s a little unfair. I think the racing has been “Saratoga quality,” especially the stakes, and the barn area is nowhere near capacity.

      Many major Kentucky outfits stayed home b/c of health concerns, their own, their help, all of it. Plus, if you can’t enjoy Saratoga the way it’s meant to be enjoyed, dining, drinking, carousing, etc., many people feel that this year it’s not worth the risk.

      And many people who normally rent do not want “visitors” from out of state in their homes. Can’t say I blame them, especially not from the Covid Epicenter of the World.

    1. I agree there, for a Grade 2 it was more about horses on the come as opposed to established talents; it happens. Not all Grade 1s are created equal, either…

  8. Many Belmont patrons wish that there were more Tracks like it !! Even year- round as we were told by political mouth pieces.Winterize it and get rid of the Filthy A !Build more Nursing homes there just like they keep on doing on the rest of that New York area,from Queens to “Peconic”‘ ,East Suffolk.😆

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