Trip of a lifetime…Spa Week 1 in review

It’s official…I’ve now done what every racing fan must at least once in their lifetime.  I made my first visit to Saratoga last week and enjoyed the many fruits of the nation’s most majestic racetrack from Wednesday thru Saturday.  The week sent straight from racing heaven culminated with a trip to Monmouth to see the filly that exudes excellence, Rachel Alexandra.

What is it that makes Saratoga so special?  After four days, many trips to the paddock, numerous freshly squeezed lemonades, a few trips to Hattie’s, an appearance with Steve Byk on At the Races, a Capital OTB News Desk unveiling, my first viewing of Post Time USA, seeing Alan Garcia at dinner on both Friday and Saturday evenings, I really don’t know what makes Saratoga so great.  Want to find out?  Go, especially if you’ve never been.

Let’s take a look at the opening week stakes and some facts and figures:

SCHUYLERVILLE

The favorite did not disappoint in the opening day feature as Hot Dixie Chick stalked, pounced, and pulled strongly clear amid the raindrops that began to fall in earnest as they left the gate.  She defeated what looked like a very strong field and stamped herself the clear favorite for the Spinaway on the penultimate program of the meet.  This was also the 2nd consecutive Schuylerville for Steve Asmussen and Robby Albarado.
Beyer Speed Figure: 103
Click here to watch the Schuylerville

SANFORD

What looked like  a group that was inferior to the fillies that ran a day before on paper proved to be just that in actuality.  Backtalk won in what was a very exciting, but particularly slow race, as he surged late to get up on the wire.  He is now the first two-time stakes winner for Smarty Jones and will be among the juveniles pointing to the Hopeful.  The win gave Miguel Mena and Tom Amoss their first Saratoga stakes wins.
Beyer Speed Figure: 82

LAKE GEORGE

Steady rain throughout Friday morning and early afternoon forced this event to the main track and a field of only four was left to contest the nine furlongs over a sloppy oval.  Be Fair was sent directly to the lead as a result of jockey Rajiv Maragh’s aggressive early tactics.  She was confronted by heavy favorite Mary’s Follies at the top of the stretch but repelled that rival and went on to win by over a length. 
Beyer Speed Figure: 93
Click here to watch the Lake George

DIANA

When trainer Jonathan Sheppard plotted the 2009 course for his champion mare Forever Together he probably hoped for a repeat victory in a major stakes race.  It might not have been the Diana, but that hurdle is out of the way as the gray mare rolled home to grab her 2nd consecutive victory in the storied Grade I turf event.  She seems well on her way to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Beyer Speed Figure: 101

JIM DANDY

There were a number of questions that had to be answered in the Jim Dandy and chief among them was whether Kensei was capable of running back to his sharp win in the Dwyer.  He proved, without question, that he is among the best 3YOs in the country as he stalked the pace, took over, and kicked strongly clear to score his second consecutive graded stakes win.  His silks probably looked familiar as he’s also owned by Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables and that will set up an interesting situation given that Rachel Alexandra is also a possible participant in the Travers.
Beyer Speed Figure: 106

FOURSTARDAVE

A field of talented turf veterans was assembled and it ended up being the runner making his stakes debut that took the top prize.  Justenuffhumor, who is kin to multiple graded stakes winners Lewis Michael and Dreaming of Anna, came bursting through towards the inside in deep stretch and won going away.  He seems destined for the big stage as far as turf racing goes and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the Breeders’ Cup Mile later this year.
Beyer Speed Figure: 103

GO FOR WAND

A cloudburst just before the Go For Wand that lasted through the running of the race and it had an effect on the race as eventual winner Seventh Street benefited from being placed well off the rail.  When Spritely made a bold move on the rail it looked as if she was going to kick clear but the daughter of Street Cry battled back and scored.  The final three furlongs was somewhat excruciating in length, but that probably had a great deal to do with the conditions.
Beyer Speed Figure: 96

AMSTERDAM

The return of Florida Derby winner Quality Road was switched to the Amsterdam rather than the Jim Dandy, so only the weekend vacationers who stayed through Monday were able to witness a sharp performance by the son of Elusive Quality.  He defeated Capt. Candyman Can and all the rest en route to stopping the clock in 1:13.45, good for a new track record.  Expect him to be very sharp in the Travers, his 2nd start off the long layoff.
Beyer Speed Figure: 103

Leading Jockeys:

A. Garcia             38: 9-2-5
R. Dominguez   42: 6-9-11
R. Maragh          37: 6-2-3
J. Leparoux      39: 5-8-3
E. Prado              36: 5-4-7

Leading Trainers:

W. Mott                19: 5-1-2
S. Asmussen       17: 4-2-3
T. Pletcher           21: 3-1-4
A. Dutrow            7: 3-1-3
N. Zito                   13: 3-0-2

Three Thumbs UP:

1.) NYRA: The 500k Guaranteed Pick 4 was  a rousing success as the pool swelled to over 830k.  The guarantee looks like it’ll be easily reached week in and week out, weather permitting.

2.) Churchill Downs– The 2YO racing under the Twin Spires is obviously the best around as stakes winners Hot Dixie Chick and Backtalk were both exiting scores in Louisville.  Second time starters Kinsey and Dublin both won competitive juvenile heats on Thursday and Saturday and each debuted at Churchill.

3.) Kensei– Considered a one-hit wonder, this son of Mr. Greeley more than validated his Dwyer win by scoring decisively in the Jim Dandy.  He has come to hand quickly and is a serious threat in the late-season 3YO events.

Three Thumbs DOWN:

1.) IEAH Stables- After an opening day win by Optimer in a 20k claimer, the stable failed with favorite Burley’s Gold on Saturday and with Kip Deville on Sunday.  The problem with those two efforts was how poorly both of those runners ran and further added to what was a forgettable week for trainer Richard Dutrow, Jr.

2.) Shug McGaughey– An opening week that included losses at short odds by Consequence, Colors Flying, and Gone Astray only added to Shug’s 1-17 record over the past 30 days.  His horses should be handled carefully until the stable turns things around a bit.

3.) Rain– It is supposed to be gone from the upstate NY area for all of Week 2, which will guarantee terrific racing day in and day out.

I hope that your Week 1 was enjoyable and somewhat profitable.  Week 2 will be headlined by the Whitney, so here’s a view of last year’s to get you primed:

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