Saratoga Diary: Fast times at the Spa
by Dick Powell
The weather yesterday was fantastic and today was even better. Expected heat and humidity held off and there was a stiff breeze blowing down the homestretch. The temperature was in the low 80s and it felt great.
With the sun and breeze, I thought the main track might dry out some and slow down but it was not to be. There was more clay added to the surface this year and it has been yielding faster running times. Race 1 was a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for $40K claimers and ALWAYS A SUSPECT got the job done after he battled for the lead and got it by a neck for Joel Rosario. The pace was a bit on the mild side with the first quarter in “only” :22.75. There is a big run up at this distance because the starting gate is backed up some so it is not out on the clubhouse turn and it is not unusual to see first quarter-miles run under :22.
The pace kept quickening and with a third quarter in :23.28, the Brian Lynch-trainee won it in 1:15.16 – sensational for $40K claimers. Joel Rosario did everything right, including finding gate speed that had not been there in his prior starts.
Race 2 saw juveniles going 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf course. With a long run into the clubhouse turn, I liked SEANOW breaking from post 10. Like a Quarter Horse, Johnny Velazquez gunned him to the front easily and then backed the pace down. He cut the corner turning for home and held off favored Digital Footprint. It was a big win for Todd Pletcher, who got a win in a race that Chad Brown usually wins.
Race 3 was a seven-furlong money allowance dirt sprint and here the track could not be faster. Once again, Joel Rosario found speed from a horse not known for it and chased brutal fractions of :44.20 and 1:08.15. NO DOZING found more in the stretch and ran down a dead-game Behavioral Bias in the deep stretch to win in 1:20.81!
The Mellon turf course at 1 3/16 miles starts near the top of the stretch and gives everyone plenty of time to work things out. Javier Castellano sat off a soft pace with WAR CABINET and won going away for Shug McGaughey by a neck over the second-longest price on the board; Beau Belle.
Race 5 was back on the blazing-fast main track and Joel Rosario sent TEE IT UP to the front. He withstood heavy pressure from Aggregator and then had to withstand the final rally of Our Girl Abby. There was a bump in the stretch and with the nose margin, the stewards took a look but let the narrow result stand as they ruled that the inside horse came out and the outside horse came in.
Winchell Thoroughbreds owned Tapit, who won the Wood Memorial (G1) for Michael Dickinson. He lost his next two starts and was retired to stud. Since then, he has become one of the world’s leading sires and they sent out Winchell-bred NITROUS, who missed by a neck in his well-bet career debut at Churchill Downs going five furlongs last month. In Race 6, the diminutive gray went to the front and never looked back, winning the 5 1/2-furlong dirt sprint by over three lengths for Ricardo Santana Jr. and Steve Asmussen. His final time of 1:03.70 was very good, but remember how fast the track was playing. Puttheglassdown rallied from way back to be a good second.
I like speed going three turns on the inner turf courses; especially when they are running on the hedge. Race 7 was run at 11 furlongs and the horse that fit the profile was Hello Don Julio and he almost went gate to wire. Kendrick Carmouche, who likes the lead no matter what the distance, did all the work but could not hold off the final rally of Chad Brown’s CALL PROVISION under Irad Ortiz Jr.
Race 8 was a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint for first-level allowance fillies and mares. BATTLE JOINED was coming off a fast win at Belmont Park going six furlongs when she set insanely-fast fractions and she came back here and showed it was no fluke. On the lead from the start, she was passed in the stretch by Conquest Tizfire but courageously fought back on the inside to win by a half-length. The minute Irad Ortiz Jr. hit her with the whip, she swished her tail but he was smart enough to hand-ride her to the wire, where she asserted herself by a half-length. The two speed horses completed a generous $40.20 exacta.
The Sanford Stakes (G3) has been run since 1913 and none were more prominent than Upset’s victory over Man o’ War in 1919. Superstars like Tom Fool, Secretariat and Affirmed have won it but in today’s world of pointing for the two turns of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), it is no longer the target of trainers with hot juveniles. That said, Todd Pletcher had two in here and SOMEBEYAY got up late to deny Mark Casse and John and Debi Oxley a second win on the weekend in a juvenile graded stake. The son of Into Mischief was the tepid 2.85-1 favorite and rallied from just off the pace in a very professional performance. Don’t know how far he will go but he seems like a very sensible colt.
Pace makes the race and slow-paced turf races usually results in bunching and bad trips. The Diana Stakes (G1) going nine furlongs on the Mellon turf course saw bad trips for Proctor’s Ledge and A Raving Beauty. Joel Rosario looked like he had it won with 15-1 Ultra Brat but Johnny Velazquez kept SISTERCHARLIE clear on the outside after saving ground on the first turn and got up in time at the wire. She won a Grade 1 two starts back then was way back after a poor start last out. The Irish-bred filly was second in the Prix de Diane Stakes (Fr-G1) last year at Chantilly in France and it would have been quite the double had she won that day and the American version (name only).
Hopefully they run Race 11 before the sun sets. As for tomorrow, even if the expected rain doesn’t come, the main track will be prepared for it and might be more speed favoring than usual. In Race 7 , George Weaver sends out FRENCH EMPIRE (#3) and she showed decent speed going a two-turn mile on the turf in her career debut. Now, she switches to the main track and gets Irad Ortiz Jr. for the first time.