Closing Day at Saratoga can often be a sad occasion. This year, I’m not so sure. What a long strange trip the past seven weeks have been at the Upstate New York racing oasis. Highlights and Lowlights peppered the meeting, at times a little too liberally.
Princess of Sylmar was a superstar. Away from the races since her upset victory in the Kentucky Oaks, owner Ed Stanco bided his time with his star filly until Saratoga came around. It was worth the wait. Princess of Sylmar won a pair of important Grade 1 races, the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama, as if she were out for nothing but a Sunday stroll. In the process, she all but clinched an Eclipse Award on the big stage of Saratoga. As the first horse he ever bred, Stanco is deservedly over the moon with his Princess.
Palace Malice validated his class, and Belmont win, with a strong win over the unheralded duo of Will Take Charge and Moreno in the Jim Dandy. That pair is now looked at in a whole new light after hitting the wire a nose apart, and 1-2 in the Mid-Summer Derby. Palace Malice broke poorly, Orb needed the race, Verrazano wilted at ten furlongs, but to say the Travers result threw a monkey wrench in the three-year-old male division is an understatement. Your guess is as good as mine as far as who will ultimately end up champ of America’s glamour division.
With the contention of his charge, Moreno, in the Jim Dandy and Travers, trainer, Eric Guillot, announced himself on a national stage as a colorful character full of memorable quotes every time he spoke. Unfortunately, his place on the likability scale plummeted sharply with his accusation that Luis Saez used a buzzer to get Will Take Charge by Moreno in the Travers. Silly, sour grapes.
Jockey, John Velazquez had a wonderful moment when he became the all-time winningest rider at the Spa. That’s a big deal, and certainly Johnny V has proven worthy of the honor over the 20 plus years. Javier Castellano ran away with the jockey title, but just as big a story among the fantastic rider colony was the injury to his closest competition, Joel Rosario. Breaking his foot the day before a mount on Orb in the Travers, and then Game On Dude the following day at Del Mar, had to be painful, if you know what I mean.
Wise Dan could have been celebrated for his masterful repeat in the Fourstardave, but instead was the brunt of continued criticism regarding the ease of schedule chosen for him by owner, Morton Fink. Appreciation of great horses seems to be a lost art. Speaking of owners, Ken & Sarah Ramsey rode their many Kittens to a new record for races won at a single meet.
Royal Delta ran like a queen, and Cross Traffic had a coming out party. Honor Code and Sweet Reason announced themselves as future stars, but all of their three wins at Saratoga came in the slop, leaving the question out there as to whether they can bring their impressive games to a fast track. Alpha confirmed his love for the Spa. Big Blue Kitten’s rally was irresistible and Laughing was unbeatable on the lead as they both moved near the top of their respective turf divisions.
There were plenty of big performances, as is true every year at the Spa, but sadly there were far too many injuries. Horses were lost, and the sport, and everyone who cares about the horses, suffered.
None of these losses were more poignant than that of Saginaw. The seven-year-old gelding was a true rags to riches story, as he worked his way up from claimer to stakes winner many times over. He was not the most talented horse that ran on the New York circuit, but he was unquestionably the most popular. He won 14 races for Drawing Away Stable the past two seasons, as he transitioned from unknown, to cult hero, to the beloved face of New York racing. His life and tragic death will not soon be forgotten, nor should it. The fact that his connections won the most important race of their respective careers with Strapping Groom the very next day in the Grade 1 Forego goes to show that the world works in mysterious ways.
Hopefully this afternoon’s historic Hopeful Stakes will be a both exciting and safe conclusion to the meet. I’m ready. It’s time to move on to Belmont and the fall.