I understand the frustration of rank and file horseplayers when the only names they seem to read or hear about are Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown.
But the rank and file racing fan can’t get enough of America’s most famous horsemen. These men, one Hall of Famer and two that are sure-fire first-ballot inductees, train many of the best horses in America. They should win the best races.
They train “Saturday horses,” running in races with famous, familiar names, the kind of events that can earn good horses a championship title. Win a plethora of them and your training program becomes horse racing’s equivalent of a sports dynasty.
The two biggest events Saturday were run at two iconic venues with an entire country in between, knowing the horsemen who were involved in putting on the show.
Yesterday, Baffert and Pletcher proved their status is made of accomplishment, not hyperbole.
At Saratoga this summer, racing at the highest levels has produced outstanding performances throughout the meet. And a handful of juveniles proved that Saratoga is the place to showcase an exciting two-year-old. Calibrate and Golden Pal leap to mind.
With two weeks remaining, it’s the human performances and internecine competition among the trainers and jockeys remains a most compelling storyline. All week, Brown and Pletcher traded victories and started on equal terms Sunday.
Each have specialties. Brown is mostly associated with turf routers, Baffert with fast dirt horses but Pletcher is tougher to categorize. He has been successful all ages and all types and his ability with stretch-outs and spot placement is responsible for his Spa success this year.
Take Halladay, who looked like a top turf prospect in Florida this winner–though not necessarily as a miler in Grade 1 company. But in his most recent losing effort, his connections learned that he is best when allowed to run freely.
Aggressive Luis Saez was on the send and, after a stutter-step start, he took the lead, re-broke after straightening into the lane and won in fast time despite a moderate pace, one that enabled him to fend off a stretch rally from the Spa-rejuvenated mare, Got Stormy, in the G1 Fourstardave.
Alas, no one is perfect. Chad Brown started a four-headed monster, none of which got out of a gallop, racing uncharacteristically poorly. But the next day, Brown pulled a “Turf Woody,” taking the G1 Diana for the fifth straight year.
Maximum Security showed that he was back with a comprehensive professional victory at Del Mar that was more workmanlike than flashy, especially for an odds-on Pacific Classic favorite that had the race won before reaching mid-first turn.
Abel Cedillo gave a clinic on how to ride a speed horse. When two horses challenged in mid-backstretch, he let out a notch and discouraged them, though Sharp Samurai remained a determined runnerup. Cedillo won it for real when he pulled the rug at headstretch. ‘Max’ did the rest.
Among older males, if Tom’s d’Etat is not over the top and can rebound from his disappointing Whitney effort, then Baffert might have himself to beat with another of his four-year-olds, Improbable.
Should ‘Max’ keep winning, or continue training very well, and remain healthy, we’ll see if last year’s most famous three-year-old is as talented as this year’s most accomplished sophomore. However, it’s first things first.
SARATOGA STEWARDS DISRESPECT BETTORS
We’ve been generous in our praise of the Saratoga stewards this meet and it was clear early in the session that they wanted to set the tone. Taking a safety-first approach, “race-riding” came under close scrutiny.
Resultingly, there were many close, borderline calls and I’ll be damned if I didn’t agree with every single one, even if I would have had no particular issue had some decisions gone the other way. Then again, nobody’s perfect.
I would have taken a horse down in Saturday’s fifth race for maiden allowance juveniles going 7 furlongs in a off-the-turf event. It’s not so much that I disagreed with the stewards; my issue was they didn’t give the public a courtesy of posting an inquiry.
With a furlong remaining the babies were tiring but driving toward the wire. At that point leading Irad Ortiz Jr. applied a stern left-handed whip and when he did so, his mount came up two paths and bumped with Repo Rocks to his outside.
After correcting his mount, Ortiz returned to left-handed whipping, came out again and bumped Repo Rocks again. Even though the latter was tiring, a case could be made that getting bumped twice cost Repo Rocks, possibly even a win as all three runners were tiring, including the winner.
The damning aspect, in our view, was returning to the left-handed whip a second time. Politics, leading rider Irad for Todd Pletcher? I don’t want to go there but that doesn’t mean that others won’t. Light the sign; the bettors are paying the light bill, and for everything else, too.