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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


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.

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10 Responses

  1. Your passion for the sport has recaptured your youth John Boy. Palpable in your verse. Then again, maybe it is simply the table being set for the FALL. Kenny McPeek Anticipation and all.

  2. You got me, McD. It’s the industry you love to hate but there’s nothing like, as Paulie might have written, flaring nostrils, fetlock to fetlock in battle, or some beautiful equine beast running off the screen.

    Writing about it has produced a decent living, but a great life. I consider myself blessed. Plus, without the discipline of handicapping, I would have lost my mind many moons ago…

  3. Note to Betsy: Caught up with Honor A.P.’s workout. Thought it was very good but he was getting some encouragement from Mike and he worked in the afternoon before the races, when horsemen usually want horses to work fast.

    This is not a knock but I wasn’t wowed and I wanted to be. Anxious to see what comes next…

  4. As much as I miss what has (in the last few years) become an annual tradition of making multiple 5 day trips to Saratoga, I think where I’m really going to feel it is if there is still no on track attendance during Belmont and then Aqueduct fall meets.

    I miss grabbing a pocket program on the way in to mark up the changes while looking at the huge scratch/changes/results board at Belmont, downstairs near the barber shop. RIP scratch board, and RIP barber shop. And I miss the more recent tradition of getting my Manhattan Clam Chowder, going up to the 3rd floor clubhouse, and marking the changes on my BRIS sheets, and then sitting out in the fresh air watching the races and de-stressing from the week. Trudging through the winter slush to catch an Aqueduct card back in the days of the claiming die hards like Red Scamper & Senor Cielo during my Queens College years as a fan will always hold a special place. Trying to institute all the things I just read in Quirin’s Winning At The Races when I should have been studying schoolwork. Seeing Evening Attire close late to take down a stakes race on a cold Saturday at AQU is something I wouldn’t trade for the Kentucky derby.

    And even watching the Saratoga simulcast from AQU, upstairs near the Equestris, in the blasting air conditioning; where I saw Holy Bull gamely repel Concern in the Travers, and my beloved Doctor Disaster take a turf field coast to coast on the front end. But if I ever get to walk in again for a day of live racing, I’ll never take Aqueduct or Belmont for granted again.

    1. Remember the turnstiles at Big A entrance near head of stretch. Or at entrance that serviced parking lot and subway more towards the middle. First time there one winter by subway I remember the doors to A train opening and people running down the ramp. I asked someone what the reason for the running was. The answer now makes perfect sense: they wanted to make the DD. Once took the courtesy bus from clubhouse entrance to parking lot at Big A. One rider besides me and my friend on the bus: Rocky Graziano. Probably early 1980’s. Thanks for the memories. The Manhattan clam chowder was really good.

  5. Yep, and even before they blocked off parts of the grounds – pre-casino planning – how there was actually some green grass and trees etc to walk past right before you went into the track. Was really nice to do in the fall. And I miss being able to get in driving down Centerville St., and taking the Pitkin Ave entrance to the parking lot.

    1. Don’t remember that entrance. Most often would take S. Conduit Blvd. There was a great sub shop called Marino’s but since gone. There still is excellent pizza at Sofia’s and very close to Big A. The casino had excellent pizza also at Artichoke but also gone. You can find it at LaGuardia in Delta terminal. Really good.

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