The words of the mythical Michael Corleone never have resonated more. Whatever bad news is created by racing’s disjointed model. melts away beneath the glare of the stakes spotlight in this most unusual year of racing years.
Week after week, from Foster Day to Belmont Day to Met Mile Day, the quality and drama of what has taken place on the racetrack has, for me anyway, superseded all drudgery.
The odds are prohibitive that there never will be a meeting among the disparate minds of self-interest, so until that day dawns, the hope is that the quality of team play exhibited by the horses and the men and women who tend to and ride them, continues unabated.
Ample evidence was yesterday’s Cross Country Pick 5, albeit provincial, showing what’s possible when tracks, even in the name of self-interest, can make each other’s program better.
On Saturday it was a pair of Grade 3s from the First State coupled with a trio of mega-events from the Empire State. It would be preferable if this were more an industry-wide practice from around the U.S. but this will do in the interim.
Yesterday’s sequence began in the Delaware Valley and, alas, the world is imperfect indeed.
Queen Bridget, of at 9-2 in the Delaware Oaks, was completely compromised when she wasn’t given sufficient time to settle in the gate; the starter’s quick trigger eliminating any chance of a fair beginning. Straight bettors should have been offered a refund.
The race went to an ‘all-button’ 38-1 chance but form held sway immediately thereafter when a budding turf star got his graded brackets. Once again, it was Gufo’s turn-of-foot big kick that took the G3 Kent the moment Trevor McCarthy asked him to.
Christophe Clement is managing the Declaration of War colt patiently and his sophomore is responding, going from maiden breaker, to preliminary allowances, to overnight stakes, to graded performer, handling different ground along the way.
Next up with the lynchpin of Belmont Park’s July 4th program, the storied Met Mile and a very talented Vekoma who made the transition from three to four look easy. Classy enough to win the 2019 Blue Grass, the older version is decidedly next level.
If there was any regression from his 10-length improvement demonstrated in the wet track G1 Carter it didn’t as he bounced right into the winner’s circle. Credit the horse and credit Javier Castellano’s carpe diem response.
When Warrior’s Charge didn’t lead as anticipated, Castellano took the lead under light pressure and Vekoma was a more than willing partner. Florent Geroux rode Warrior’s Charge as if he were 9-5 as he confidently stalked throughout.
At the back of the back, Code of Honor settled nicely into the bridle. Mr Freeze was back there, too, but languishing. After a good start, co-favorite McKinzie was eased back into presser position but ultimately offered little in a disappointing effort.
Vekoma was clinging to his lead, running along in fast but reasonable splits of 22.73 and 45.87 for the level, got a ‘breather’ circling the turn in 23.70 before coming his last quarter-mile in 23.31 in a top class performance.
Network Effect, second to Vekoma in the Carter, was runnerup again, beneath pocket-perfect handling from Irad Ortiz Jr., who reprised those tactics to win the Grade 1 Manhattan. Code of Honor put in a terrific run down the center without benefit of an early-pace meltdown.
As to what’s next for Vekoma now that Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile is in a lock-box, his next move is a free square now that he’s playing with 2020 house money.
With nothing to lose and proven resiliency, why not seriously consider the prestigious Whitney? He’s proven at a mile and an eighth and would come in off graduating distances: Vekoma vs Code of Honor vs Tom’s d’Etat would be quite the show.
As for Irad, his skill assured Network Effect a Met Mile placing and was responsible for Instilled Regard’s Grade 1 Manhattan score, saving and waiting, saving ground and waiting until the final split second until he found the seam that led to victory.
The win gave trainer Chad Brown his sixth straight Manhattan, yet another race in which he swept up exacta or trifecta results in turf stakes when he makes multiple entrants.
Tacitus gave Bill Mott his third win of the afternoon and second graded stakes as it turned out that workmates that drill fast together, Frank’s Rockette and Tacitus, win together on the same program.
That 46-4/5 wakeup call Mott gave Tacitus the morning of June 28 paid off on the holiday with the addition of narrow-cupped ‘cheater’ blinkers. The table was perfectly set, but that doesn’t diminish an 8-3/4 length romp in 1:59.51 with a final quarter-mile in a racehorse 24.53.
The good news for fans of top class racing is that they won’t have to wait an entire week to get their racing socks knocked off again.
Keeneland opens Wednesday with an array of full field turf allowances and pedigreed dirt maidens followed on Thursday by a glut of stakes for four consecutive days.
Leave the gun, take the cannoli.