Holiday weekend behind, winter begins

Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone.  There are no more Grade I races this year east of the Mississippi and only one graded stakes race in NY.  What does that mean?  Very little in the grand scheme of things as one of the biggest money-making seasons in New York racing is set to begin.  Racing begins on Wednesday on Aqueduct’s inner track and it’s configuration makes it prone to producing numerous trips that create great bet-backs and great bet-againsts. 

If anything, Ramon Dominguez’s skills are even fuller display on the inner track.  Handicappers will have to begin to decipher if 15k beaten claimers to 10k N2L are a drop in class and if a speed horse with the far outside post can clear and avoid a five-wide trip around the clubhouse turn.  There are only five days left (weather permitting) of turf racing and once those days are past, old man winter will officially be in residence.  However, fret not as this is a time when racing’s die-hards can prosper.

Let’s take a look at some of the major races from the weekend:

FALLS CITY

The scratch of Swift Temper left Unbridled Belle a huge favorite in what was to be her final career start.  The accomplished daughter of Broken Vow made a bold move on the far turn but was beaten to the punch by Serenading, who was coming off a strong win at 10 furlongs at her home track, Woodbine.  Beware of her trainer, Josie Carroll, who has now scored in stakes races in this country with Careless Jewel, Springside, and Good and Lucky.

Watch the Falls City.

TOP FLIGHT

The first powerful Godolphin Stable runner of the weekend surfaced here as Sara Louise, the winner of the Pocahontas last year and the Victory Ride this year, rebounded from a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint with a determined victory.  She wore down the leaders and held Justwhistledixie safe as that gal was making her first start since a 2nd place finish in the Acorn back in June.  Both of these fillies are slated to return in 2010 and should both be worth watching.

Watch the Top Flight.

CLARK

I’ll shamelessly admit that I became a fan of Blame in September when I had a long talk with his jockey, Jamie Theriot, prior to and after the Super Derby.  He guaranteed me that this son of Arch had a tremendous amount of talent and was going to be a force as he further developed.  Since then he’s 2-o and has beaten older horses in consecutive starts.  First it was the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland then he beat a bulky field in the Clark (G2) which is the signature event of the Churchill fall meet.  He made the lead in mid-stretch after going five wide around the turn and he turned back a couple of solid animals in Einstein and Misremembered for a solid score.  Here’s to hoping for a huge 2010 for Blame.

Watch Blame win the Clark.

CITATION

Trainer Humberto Ascanio, the long-time assistant to the late Bobby Frankel on the west coast, saddled two horses in this affair and it was Fluke, the NY invader, who proved best at 9-1.  Given a perfect ride by Joe Talamo, this son of Wild Event exploded between horses at the eighth pole and kicked clear strongly to earn his first stakes win in America.  True to the form of his boss, Ascanio didn’t hesitate to run a recent allowance winner in a Grade I and his faith was rewarded. 

Watch the Citation.

DEMOISELLE

What looked like an uninspiring race on paper proved to be just that on the track as Tizahit, who had been pounded in the Tempted, scored in a rather pokey 1:53.09 for the nine furlongs.  She held off the slight favorite Protesting, who was coming into this event off of a maiden win on the Polytrack at Keeneland.  Pardon me if I don’t think the Kentucky Oaks winner was in this field. Heck, I’ll be surprised if the Busanda winner was in this bunch.

Watch the Demoiselle.

REMSEN

It looked pretty clear that the power in the two races for 2YOs on the Aqueduct card was definitely in this event as Champagne (G1) winner Homeboykris was set to square off with Nashua (G2) winner Buddy’s Saint.  Unfortunately, only one showed up and a lot like their female counterparts in the aforementioned Demoiselle, these horses took their time finishing the nine furlongs.  Besting the fillies by only .14 seconds, eventual winner Buddy’s Saint earned a Beyer figure of 80, a 22 point drop from his Nashua score.  He is certainly one for the conversation for next year but color me doubtful at this point in time.

Watch the Remsen.

GAZELLE

The comeback of 2008 Eclipse Award winner Stardom Bound was foiled by Richard Migliore and the boys in blue as Godolphin’s Flashing made the lead, kicked clear at the 5/16ths pole and roared home a convincing winner.  She is now a two-time Grade I winner having taken the Darley Test at Saratoga back in early August and there is at least a chance that we will see her again in 2010.  Trainer Saeed bin Suroor had this to say after her victory: “We’re going to talk it over and maybe she will race next year.”  As if we needed any more convincing, Flashing’s handy victory, which followed two straight defeats on synthetic surfaces, further proved that dirt and the fake stuff are still incredibly different.

Watch the Gazelle.

CIGAR MILE

While the field for this, the final Grade I of 2009 in New York, lacked the fire power it once looked like it would contain, a solid group went postward with the Godolphin Stable entry of Vineyard Haven and Pyro favored.  Met Mile winner Bribon looked to pull off a rare double by winning both Grade I dirt miles in NY but he came up just shy as Kodiak Kowboy, the Carter and Vosburgh winne, picked up his third Grade I of the year with a strong stretch drive.  He further stakes his claim to the Eclipse Award for Champion Sprinter, even if this race is not a sprint.

Watch the Cigar Mile.

GOLDEN ROD

In a race that featured Sara Louise and Rachel Alexandra in 2008, the Dale Romans-trained Sassy Image earned her second graded stakes win of the Churchill Fall Meet with a strong late run.  She has come to hand nicely for Romans since a couple of so-so efforts at Saratoga which were followed by a dull eighth-place finish in the Alcibiades over Keeneland’s Polytrack.  She is definitely one to watch in 2010.

Watch the Golden Rod.

KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB

The headliner on closing day under the Twin Spires was the Kentucky Jockey Club where Super Saver, who was most recently a tiring fourth in the Champagne, was among the favorites with Thisskyhasnolimit, who was coming off a sharp win in the Iroquois on opening day of the fall meet.  It was the former who rose to the occasion as co-leading rider Calvin Borel put this son of Maria’s Mon on the lead and he never looked back.  After allowing his rivals to move along his side at the quarter pole, Borel set his colt down and he showed an impressive turn of foot to draw off late.  This effort was clearly the best of the weekend as far as 2YOs go and this guy would naturally seem to be a Derby player provided he can progress a bit as a sophomore.

MATRIARCH

During his magical career Bobby Frankel dominated a few races in California and the Matriarch was certainly one of them.  He earned his eighth Matriarch in 2007 when Precious Kitten beat defending Eclipse Award winner Wait a While and he immediately pointed Ventura to this spot after she came up just short in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.  Unfortunately, Frankel died twelve days before the Matriarch but he was certainly watching as one of his favorite mares strutted her stuff in fine fashion to score with tremendous ease.  She was making her final start in this event but memories of her and her unique and revolutionary trainer won’t soon be forgotten.

HOLLYWOOD DERBY

The Usual Q.T., a Cal-bred son of super sire Unusual Heat, defeated a field that included six other graded stakes winners as he himself was coming off a game win in the Oak Tree Derby on Breeders’ Cup Day at Santa Anita.  Given an absolutely perfect ride by jockey Victor Espinoza, this bay gelding took over off the top of the turn and never looked back, defeating Colonial Turf Cup and Virginia Derby winner Battle of Hastings by a length and a half.  He stamped himself as a serious player for the stakes races at Santa Anita early in 2010.

Watch the Hollywood Derby.

Well that about does it for the weekend stakes races.  This Friday Delta Downs will be the focal point of the racing world as the $750,000 Delta Jackpot (G3) headlines a card that features six stakes races.  Tune into At the Races with Steve Byk on Friday afternoon at 6:30 PM EST as I’ll be on to discuss the Jackpot plus a few of the bigger races on Saturday.  Until then, good luck and get cracking on the Pick 6 carryovers Wednesday at Hollywood and Aqueduct!

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