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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Dear Diary — They’ve held this meeting 151 times before but never one like this. Where is everybody? With the exception of the essential participants, they were somewhere, hopefully staying safe and cashing tickets.

This will be the first time since Toni and I made the trip north in August of 1968 that neither of us will be in attendance. But I am distancing myself, 1,423 driving miles from Saratoga In South Florida, the Covid-19 epicenter.

But I have a front row seat in High Definition, so let’s get Saratoga 152 started.

Race 1: “They’re Off at Saratoga,” but the only voice one heard was that of race caller John Imbriale. It was a $14,000 claimer but it was the Derby as far as 7-pound apprentice Luis Cardenas was concerned, who rode a well backed Grit and Glory to victory for Linda Rice.

“I’ve never been to Saratoga and as I was driving here my heart was pumping so fast,” Cardenas said. “But when you get to the gate it’s all business and we got there, slowly but surely.” It was the quote of the day as the final furlong took 14.28 second to complete.

Race 2: A tough but the right call following a long inquiry and eventual claim of foul.

Without getting into the weeds, Manny Franco guided first-time starter Price Talk off the fence for room, using left-handed encouragement. When he did so, he badly knocked Magic Mojo off stride, starting a chain reaction with Leading West.

The incident cost Magic Mojo a placing and possibly Leading West, too, admittedly arguable. Either way, Leading West is a Horse to Watch. He made a bold move 4-wide on the turn, entered headstretch in the 6-path, and continued willingly after the incident.

Race 3: Palace Avenger got chilly handling from Jose Ortiz and got it done but it was Carrizo who looked like a next-time horse. Loaded on the rail at the turn, he was wheeled out in midstretch and was going very well at the line; figures to benefit, diary…

Race 4: Surprise, surprise, a very solid maiden winner on debut at the end of the six furlongs with Escape Fund beneath a sweeping Tyler Gaffalione, winning more like a 3-4 shot than a 34-1 outsider.

Race 5: Big Engine is well named, storming up the fence late to official makes the newly installed surface honest, free of bias, giving Rice her second on opening day. The strong late run hints at a repeat effort at the trip if not pitched too high off the win.

Race 6: Propensity gets perfect Johnny handling, resulting in a perfect trip. Class dropper gets it done for Mister 5,000, Bill Mott.

Race 7: Irad rates Astoria Kitten perfectly, backed down the pace to assure victory and it almost worked, falling short by a bob as Ortiz the Jr nails Ortiz the Senior, giving Jose his second on the day.

The Schuylerville: Odds on Beautiful Memories lost all chance when she bobbled coming out of the gate and never got into a rhythm, Jose Ortiz taking care of her beginning at mid-turn, telling an analyst that his filly seemed uncomfortable… It might not have mattered even if all went well as Dayoutoftheoffice was devastatingly good, drawing off late beneath Junior Alvarado. We made people aware of South Florida juvenile shippers to Saratoga: Good thought, poor execution. Into Mischief filly did not appear limited to sprinting; follow.

The Peter Pan: Couldn’t keep Chad Brown down on opening day as Country Grammer won the nine-furlong test under brilliant ground-saving handling from Irad, who also got off the duck. “He’s a long-distance horse and obviously the logical thing is to point him to the Travers at a mile and a quarter,” Brown said post-race.

Caracaro was given a perfect trip by Javier Castellano and gamely battled it out with the winner through the stretch, not bad for his first start since January and his introduction to two turns as another SoFla runner makes a strong impression. Spa bettors unfamiliar with trainer Gustavo Delgado are unlikely to make that mistake again.

Favorite Mystic Guide seemed to struggle with the surface, finally settled, angled to the outside into the stretch and stormed down the middle of the track. He never threatened the top two, but was finishing best of all at the end.

Race 10: Shug McGaughey measured Secure Connection’s current level perfectly, dropping her in for $40,000 and Jose measured the trip perfectly coming from last, tipping out, coming back in to shoot up the fence and tipped around the leader two jumps from the wire, a triple on the day.

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