It wasn’t so much star power that emerged from the Saratoga Derby and Saratoga Oaks but there certainly was enough talent to attract the attention of the Graded Stakes Committee.
Now that two editions of each have been run, these half-million dollar Invitational Stakes should be worthy of Grade 3 recognition come 2021. The dollars are there. What’s missing is the prestige that only graded competition can bring.
Frankly, we don’t know how truly classy either field of three-year-olds are, only what they can be at this juncture. Apparently, the gelded Domestic Spending is a bit more amenable to tactical guidance and rates to improve further.
Gufo certainly is as advertised, long winded and with a tremendous late kick that, since Lasix, led to three straight victories, including the G3 Kent, and almost a fourth on Saturday.
Stablemate Decorated Invader is better that he raced this weekend, even if he ran well. But that wasn’t close to his best effort and for the life of me can’t understand his three-year-old campaign that has brought consecutive Grade 2 victories. To wit:
What happened to the explosiveness he showed at 2? Even when beaten by a disastrous trip in the Juvenile Turf, his late kick was devastating. He appears to be better with a target. Why not take him back? There’s no need to be tip-toeing near the leaders.
Compared to the Saratoga Derby, the Saratoga Oaks was less inspiring. For that kind of money, the race drew seven entrants, six of which were graded stakes winners of graded placed.
But favorite Enola Gay was flat, showing nothing of the kick she had winning the G2 Appalachian, racing as if she can’t wait to get back to Keeneland. Antoinette won because Johnny was clever enough to put her on the lead in a paceless matchup.
Grade 2 winning Speaktomeofsummer also disappointed. Stunning Sky enjoyed a pluperfect trip and loomed a winner three furlongs from home but her kick was wanting despite Irad’s guile and strength.
Let’s not speak anymore of the “challenge” of 1-3/16s miles on turf. A true two-turn horse can’t use that distance as an excuse on grass, no disrespect to those who try. Indeed, they are 3, with a right to get stronger and improve with age and experience.
Juveniles In Spa Spotlight
The two best performers of the week not named Swiss Skyrider were well known only by their connections and clockers who timed their recent morning trials.
G2 Adirondack winner Thoughtfully did have a run previously, and what a run it was. She took her Churchill Downs debut by about a half a pole, going from gate to wire for Team Asmussen-Santana.
On Wednesday, the tactics were different but the result was the same.
Showing professionalism, she parked herself in fourth behind speedy leaders in a compact field of five that found her in the midst of rivals as head-stretch approached. But neither the filly nor Santana rattled.
Sitting quietly awaiting the straight, Santana tipped out gingerly into the 4-path and once given her cue, Thoughtfully exploded to victory, drawing away late.
She showed a new dimension, took some dirt, and finished powerfully. Verne Winchell’s home-bred will remain in New York and around one turn in Belmont Park’s one-mile Frizette before joining Saturday’s maiden-breaking stablemate in Lexington. Both are Breeders’ Cup bound.
We’ve seen some powerful juvenile stakes performances in 2020 but never such a thrilling and comprehensive maiden-debut victory.
Calibrate is a coming star and perhaps a future, such was the manner of his debut. Never mind fractions of 22.69, 45.67 and 1:10.86 en route to hybrid 6-1/2 furlongs in 1:17.55.
But this was not one of those how-fast-you-run races. This was a how-you-run-fast exhibitions.
Out-broken by an outside rival who caught a flyer out of the flyer, Santana pushed Calibrate up inside rivals to gain command on the fence, challenged by those two rivals throughout, one with experience, the other another well meant newcomer.
They arrived at the quarter pole as a team where Santana went to a serious drive after straightening away. Meanwhile, another well meant newcomer had loomed a late-run threat but proved no match inside the final furlong, Calibrate drawing away late.
Keith Asmussen, who trains the filly and the colt, said he would be sending this one to Keeneland for two-turn experience in his second lifetime appearance and, presuming all goes well, a return run and a chance for championship glory.