HALLANDALE BEACH, FL. This meet—hell, this year—has seen it’s share of dominant winners, track record setters, margin winners, but no horse won a race in 2022 easier than Jackie’s Warrior did while making Saratoga history on Saturday.
Doc Amster, beneath a resurgent Javier Castellano, stole the march from the sprint champion with five furlongs remaining, forcing Joel Rosario to steady and smoothly guide his horse outside to take an attending position.
Approaching mid-turn, Rosario finally allowed Jackie’s Warrior to flaunt his speed. The champ virtually waltzed to the lead, never even appearing to change gears. Suddenly, he was clear and within himself, assuming total command from the 4-5 path.
From there, it was all Jackie’s Warrior. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Rosario as quiet in the saddle at that point in the race. He never moved his hands, reins dangling as Jackie’s Warrior began flicking his ears. He was having fun; it never was a horse race.
Inside the final furlongs, the reins were still dangling, aimlessly, his ears never stopped flicking and with about a sixteenth of a mile remaining, Rosario far more passenger than piloit.
For the record, we don’t care who was behind him. I can say disparaging things about the horses that finished behind a Citation, a Ruffian, a Secretariat. Great horses outmatch and outrun whoever is lined up against them.
And now Jackie’s Warrior owns a singular achievement as the winner of Saratoga Grade 1s at 2 and at 3 and at 4. And why not? The man who trains him has won more races on the planet than any horseman ever has.
At 57, there’s a lot more where that came from. And that only took a half hour. Call it vindication, redemption, or equine justice for that matter. Epicenter still needs that first Grade 1 win. But he equaled with Early Voting and held Zandon safe. Again.
Even over the demanding 2022 Spa surface, after a lonely and loose half mile of 48.20 and 1:12.26, and even if Early Voting is a better horse with a target, and even if Rosario is the coolest cat in Saratoga, I didn’t think much of Epicenter’s chances.
Whatever the game plan, how could he win it? But approaching the five-sixteenths marker everything changed. Jose Ortiz was asking Early Voting for his life as stablemate Zandon needed urging. to keep pace. Epicenter was still making no impression.
But as the Jim Dandy field straightened away, Rosario guided Epicenter off the inside and into the 6-path, of all things, at headstretch. In this handicapper’s mind’s eye, he went from can’t win to can’t lose.
If Rosario, looking for his fourth win on the day and seventh stakes of the meet, was showing that much disdain for his rivals, he knew he was loaded. And was he ever.
Despite ground loss, he made up ground in that final punishing three furlongs run in a sprightly 36.73, in which he made up about a three-length deficit.
The final furlong in 12.44, ground loss notwithstanding, with ears flicking in the final strides, he crossed the line 1-1/2 lengths to the good and stamped himself as the legitimate Travers favorite.
The Jim Dandy was a prep but it was a whole lot more., too A divisional leader was back on top. With emphatic vengeance.
How About Another Spa Graded Stakes Double to End Week 3?
G2 BOWLING GREEN STAKES Race 8
The Skinny: Another graded stakes prep, this one for the Grade 1 Sword Dancer. It marks the eight-year-old debut of the vaunted 2-Arklow (2-1) who has been in steady training since May. Brad Cox knows how to do this, but it’s a tall order.
Highland Chief (5-2) is a young turfer with talent and promise, but he must prove that he’s ready for prime time honors. Graham Motion knows how to that, too. With Trevor McCarthy in the boot, they’ll trey to win this for Maryland.
Chad Brown has two of the six but we’re not particularly enamored of either here.
DESERVING FAVORITE: 3-Highland Chief
EARLY-LINE VALUE: 4-Cross Border (4-1)
STRAIGHT WAGER and EXOTICA: Cross Border to win at 7-2 or greater. Exacta Box 3-4. Trifecta Wheel 3-4 // 2-3-4 // 2-3-4. Instant Double: 4 // 4-7
G2 AMSTERDAM STAKES Race 9
The Skinny: Speaking of returnees, how about and undefeated, juvenile champion making his season’s debut for a new barn. He was a much-the-best BC Juvenile winner overcoming a killer wide draw on a track that doesn’t accommodate those dynamics.
As for the new connections, Todd Pletcher does well with new acquisitions that leave other prominent outfits. This time, it’s Bob Baffert’s program he needs to overcome.
Unlike, say, the Vanderbilt, this is a sprint replete with talented sprinters and if this is only a stepping stone, Corniche could stub a toe.
But Pletcher doesn’t make a rule of starting short horses. The champ won his debut sprinting, and is well posted and attracts position conscious, strong finishing Luis Saez. We’re betting class will tell.
DESERVING FAVORITE: 7-Corniche (5-2)
EARLY-LINE VALUE: 4-Pappacap (6-1)
STRAIGHT WAGER and EXOTICA: Corniche to win at 2-1 or greater. Exacta Box: 4-7.