Saratoga's Mellon turf a case study of firming up after rain
by DICK POWELL
Dirt tracks often times get immediately faster when they get wet but some turf courses get firmer after it rains. Uh? I thought rain softens turf courses so how does it make them firmer?
It doesn’t happen overnight but we had the perfect situation this weekend at Saratoga. Friday morning saw rain and at 8 a.m., all five turf races were moved to the main track. The rest of Friday turned out to be a brief shower then heat and humidity came through.
Surprisingly, the first two turf races were taken off the turf on Saturday. Nobody could believe it since the little rain we had was 24 hours ago and it had plenty of time to soak into the two courses. As the other turf races progressed on Saturday, it rated “good” for race eight, the $300,000 Lake Placid Stakes (G2) for fillies going 1 1/8 miles on the Mellon turf course.
The riders seemed a bit hesitant to go too fast at the start and the first half-mile was run in 50.03 seconds and six furlongs in 1:14.11. From here, the last three furlongs were run in an unbelievable 33.63 seconds; hardly a “good” turf course but more like firm; very firm. The last three-sixteenths of a mile were run in 17.00 seconds.
On Sunday, all the turf races were left on and it was rated “firm,” less than 48 hours after the rain on Friday. Race two was on the inner turf course and it was dominated on the front end through slow early fractions and a last five-sixteenths of a mile run in 29.21 seconds. Final time of 1:41.31 seconds was about par.
Race three was on the Mellon turf course at 1 3/16 miles with the start of the top of the stretch. After a first half-mile in 49.02 seconds, Jose Ortiz took things into his own hands and sent EMPRESSOF THE NILE (Pioneerof the Nile) on a mission. His third quarter mile was run in 22.63 seconds and the next quarter mile was run in 23.14 seconds. Ortiz continued to pour it on and wound up running the final three-sixteenths in 17 seconds flat.
Empressof the Nile’s final time was 1:51.79, just a tick off PHI BETA DOC (Doc’s Leader) track record of 1:51.61 seconds set in 1999. Considering the pace was extremely slow, it was a sign of how firm the Mellon turf course had become.
Race five was on the inner turf course and the times were much slower than the Mellon turf course. Two-year-old filly maiden special weight runners took a reasonable 1:43.23 seconds to cover the 1 1/16 miles.
Race seven was a turf sprint on the Mellon turf course for New York-bred allowance runners and when ITALIAN SYNDICATE (Girolamo) broke a bit slow, it enabled Jose Lezcano to have the early lead all to himself aboard NEW YORK’S FINEST (City Zip) and he was rolling. The first half-mile was run in 43.97 seconds and nobody was able to mount a serious threat. His final time was 1:00.99 seconds; a half second off LADY SHIPMAN (Midshipman)’s course record set two years ago.
Race eight was back on the inner turf course and fillies and mares, $35K claimers non-winners of three lifetime, took a reasonable 1:36.24 seconds to cover the mile.
Finally, race 10 was another turf sprint on the Mellon turf course for conditioned $40K claimers. Johnny Velazquez chased a fast pace aboard VENTRY BAY (Scat Daddy) and held off the closers to win by 1 1/2 lengths to win in 1:00.88 seconds; even closer to Lady Shipman’s course record and the fastest of the 2017 meet.
Sunday showed us two things: First, the Mellon turf course dries out and becomes firmer faster than the inner turf course. Second, rain can hold a turf course together once it has time to soak in and is followed by sunny weather.