Saratoga Diary: Slim pickings Thursday
by DICK POWELL
Even with fast and firm conditions for the second day in a row, field sizes are brutally short. The first five races have field sizes of six, six, seven, four and seven. Sunny and humid conditions might lead to afternoon thunderstorms.
In race 1, Lightning Lilly acted up and broke the stall door open. The assistant starter never let go and kept her under control but Kendrick Carmouche was kneeling in a crouch in front of the starting gate for quite a while. He finally got to his feet and jogged around to the back of the gate where he re-mounted her. At the start, even if less than 100%, he gunned Lightning Lilly to the front and she was right there turning for home. David Cohen sent Satin Sheets up a big opening on the rail after Jomar Garcia drifted out some aboard ARCHUMBABY. Garcia came back to the inside and gutted out a win. Cohen filed an objection based on the start, not the finish, and it was disallowed. The winner had been racing in one-turn mile races at Belmont Park and was the strong horse in the stretch.
Carmouche showed he was none the worse for wear after the incident in race 1 when he came back and put ROYAL HEIST on the lead and fought off all challengers. I love watching the head-on replays of Carmouche in sprint races and watch what he does with his hands to get his horses away cleanly from the starting gate. The Mertkan Kantarmaci-Eduardo Jones daily double came back $58.50.
The only suspense in race 3 was which Chad Brown trainee would win the one-mile inner turf maiden special weight event? With some late money, HIIZEEM forged to the lead with Javier Castellano and held off stablemate Frontier Market and Irad Ortiz Jr. Paying $5.30, he was the first favorite to win after 16 straight lost going back to Monday’s fifth race.
Race 4 was the $100,000 Birdstone Stakes going 1 3/4 miles on the dirt. It only attracted a field of four so what could go wrong? Jose Lezcano put Carlino on the lead and slammed on the brakes. Six furlongs were run in 1:19.16 and Johnny Velazquez could no longer wait with the odds-on favorite and defending champion, Hard Study. Johnny took him three wide down the backside but the others had plenty of energy and he was like a harness horse parked on the outside. Chris Landeros had BIG DOLLAR BILL far back but began to close the gap on the final turn and joined the leaders on the outside. From there, it was a matter of who was going to tire less and Ian Wilkes had this one ready as he gamely fought to win over the heavy favorite. If the internal fractions are to be believed, the fifth quarter mile was run in 23.50 seconds.
Tragedy was averted in race 5 when things got very tight in the stretch. Manny Franco had No More Excuses on the lead and with right-hand urging, started to come over to the inside. Joel Rosario saw a momentary opening and sent Asian’s Way into a hole that might never have existed. When No More Excuses lugged in, Asian’s Way almost went down and cut off Non Finisce Mai in the process. The culprit was clearly Franco but I have to question Rosario’s decision to willingly run into traffic. He had to use his right elbow to keep Franco off him and it was lucky that nobody was seriously hurt. DARING PROSPECT had the clear trip on the outside and beat favored Loose. Amazingly, Asian’s Way regrouped and was third. There was a long steward’s inquiry and No More Excuses was disqualified from fifth and placed last for the interference she caused in the stretch.
Race 6 was a maiden $40,000 claimer for fillies and mares going 5 1/2 furlongs on the Mellon turf course. SOUPER ECHO was making her turf debut after just missing in her first two starts on the dirt for Mike Trombetta who only wins 8% with this surface switch. Jose Ortiz gunned her to the front and held off the late charge of No Deal.
The action switched to the inner turf course for race 7, a starter allowance going 1 1/8 miles. Manny Franco has had an eventful day and could be facing a suspension from race 5. He had SENTRY in tight quarters at the top of the stretch and with a slow pace, the field was bunched up. Sport and Rajiv Maragh was leaning in on him but Manny, who was sixth with a furlong to go, got Sentry clear and he finished full of run to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Shortlist held on gamely for second while Herecomesyourman was a wide-trip third after being way behind early.
DREAM PAULINE looked like a monster when she broke her maiden 242 days ago on the main track at Aqueduct. She drew off that day to win by six lengths but missed all the big races in her division this spring. The daughter of Tapit out of the Grade 1 sprinter Dream Rush stalked the two early leaders and ran them down in the stretch. Yes, it was only going six furlongs but you had to like her ability to sit behind horses, eat dirt, and pull out to a convincing win. She lengthened her stride nicely for Javier Castellano and looks like she can stretch out. After a half-mile in 45.76, she came home in at :23 and change for her last quarter mile.
Shug McGaughey won his second race of the day in race 9 when DANCELAND won a high-class allowance race going nine furlongs on the inner turf course. Johnny Velazquez had the daughter of Tapit on the rail behind a slow pace then found a seam turning for home to run down a very determined leader, Dynatail.
Friday’s early Pick 5 concludes with race 5, a state-bred maiden special weight event going six furlongs. Chad Brown sends out #5 MORE MISCHIEF who makes her career debut off some solid workouts and a terrific pedigree. She’ll get bet but is worth a single in the last leg.