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Toasting with Andrew Champagne

Saratoga Notebook: August 13th, 2014

Saratoga Mud 615 X 400
Photo: Andrew Champagne
Mother Nature wreaked havoc on Wednesday’s card at Saratoga. In addition to flat races being forced off the turf, NYRA made the decision to cancel the day’s steeplechase race (the first such decision since July of 2008).

Among the races forced off the grass was the $100,000 Troy Stakes, which became a 5 ½ furlong dirt sprint. Only five horses contested the event, but it featured no shortage of drama.

Spring to the Sky survived both a steward’s inquiry and a trainer’s objection and emerged with his third consecutive victory. The 5-year-old son of Langfuhr, who took down a $100,000 stakes race on turf earlier this meet, notched his sixth win in 23 career starts, and in doing so knocked off a Grade 1 winner.

Dads Caps, who won the Carter earlier this year, was sent off as the 1/2 favorite, and he loomed an imposing presence as the field turned for home. However, he could not get by Spring to the Sky, and just barely held on for second ahead of the surging Sandy’z Slew, who finished eight lengths ahead of the rest of the field.

The inquiry and objection looked into the stretch run, where the top two horses both drifted away from the inside rail. After a short wait, the stewards opted to let the original results stand, and as such awarded $7.40 for every successful win wager on Spring to the Sky.

- The day’s other big news came away from the track, specifically regarding the announcer’s booth that sits above it. Larry Collmus was introduced as the heir apparent to Tom Durkin, who is retiring at the end of the Saratoga meet.

Collmus currently serves as the track announcer at both Churchill Downs and Gulfstream Park, and was previously the voice of Monmouth Park (where one of his most famous calls, the battle between Mywifenosevrything and Thewifedoesntknow, took place). He’ll begin his job with NYRA in April of 2015.

- Chalk players were left tossing their tickets at the top of the stretch during the second race. Shireffa, who was sent away the even-money favorite, was left in the muddy wake of Desert Valentine, who improved to 2-for-2 with an impressive score in her first try against winners.

Last seen running away with a maiden claimer at Belmont Park, the Wild Desert filly rated behind the favorite, who set sizzling fractions over the slow track. In fact, while Desert Valentine frolicked in the mud, Shireffa could do no better than a fading fourth.

- Amulay allowed owner Roddy Valente to celebrate his birthday in style after the fourth race. The 4-year-old filly recorded her seventh lifetime win by splashing home two lengths clear of 2-1 favorite Ginny’s Grey in one of the races taken off the turf.

Last seen running fourth in the slop at Monmouth Park, Amulay and jockey John Velazquez were received by a crowded winner’s circle after the score, which came after the pair stalked early pace-setter Jane’s Heir, who tired and finished a distant third.

- When the sixth race came off the turf, a powerful set of main-track-only horses drew in. Two of them ran 1-2, and trainer Todd Pletcher recorded his 20th win of the meet with 6/5 favorite Eastwood.

Winless in 2014 and a beaten favorite last out at Belmont Park behind Confrontation, Eastwood rated behind Dubai returnee Zee Bros. On a day where the muddy track wasn’t kind to early speed, the early pace-setter retreated in midstretch, and Eastwood drew well clear for his third career victory.

Meanwhile, Zee Bros did well to hold second. He was sixth in the Dubai Golden Shaheen this past spring, and he could be a stakes-quality horse stateside later this year.


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Meet Andrew Champagne


A native of upstate New York and a graduate of Ithaca College, Andrew Champagne fell in love with horse racing at a very early age on summer trips to Saratoga. His turf writing credits include time spent as a sportswriter, weekly columnist, and handicapper at The Saratogian, a summer working for The Saratoga Special, and "field research" at OTB facilities in Saratoga Springs and his hometown of Kingston. He also spent two years in the athletic communications office at Siena College, and interned with NBC Olympics at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

Andrew moved to Pasadena, Calif., in October of 2013, and now serves as an Associate Producer in HRTV's Digital Media department and Horse Racing Nation's Southern California writer. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewChampagne, and email him at

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