Friday, 28 July 2017 10:42

Weezie at the Flagpole: Over 32 Thousand Joyful Fans as the Ponies Return to the Spa

By Louisa Foye | Sports

On a typically sultry Opening Day, over 32+ thousand ardent fans converged on Saratoga for the annual tradition that has few rivals! Despite a very challenging betting card, happy faces were in abundance, as nothing compares to the joy horse racing fans feel when the ponies return to the Spaaaaaa!
The Ortiz bros started right out where they left off at Belmont, with their 1-2 finish in the 1st Race on Opening Day, both for Rudy Rodriquez, and their battle continued throughout the weekend! It was big bro, Irad “Juni” Ortiz, who stole the show on Saturday, however, with his 4-bagger, including big wins in both the Grade 3 Sanford for 2-year old’s, on the red-hot Florida-bred, Firenze Fire for Jason Servis, and on his beloved Lady Eli in a thrilling 79th edition of The Diana!
Not to be outdone, and serving notice to all the Trainers who can book his services with his fine Agent, Ruben Munoz, young Panamanian rider, Ricardo Santana, Jr., arrived in Saratoga with a bang, just like last year, ready to rumble with the acclaimed NY-based Jocks! He won 2 straight races on Opening Day, at prices of $20.80 & $12.20, and continued his winning ways on Sunday, bagging 3 straight, with payouts of $13.20, $43.80 and $24! Do not ignore this aggressive and passionate rising star, based in Oaklawn and Kentucky!
But the story of the weekend was undeniably the great Lady Eli! Overcoming crazy pre-race shenanigans, that saw her stablemate, Antonoe, one inside her in the 2 hole, break through the gate, precipitating her break as well, Lady Eli did not let this unnerving situation diminish her desire for victory!
Ever the courageous champion, the gutsy 5-year-old mare also survived a late and lengthy Stewards Inquiry. The beautiful star brought tears to my eyes as she crossed the finish line, much as Rachel the Great, and Wise Dan had done before her! She will go down as one of the greats when she closes out her career this Fall, projected to run in the Flower Bowl once again at Belmont, and in the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Delmar.
Per Owner, Sol Kumin, she will then be retired, and sold for insurance/business purposes, much to the chagrin of regular fans like me! We will never forget her huge heart, and unbridled passion to run, battling back from her nearly fatal bout with laminitis, while adding on multiple Grade 1 victories to her already stellar resume, following her recovery!
There was more drama on Sunday, with the exciting and somewhat controversial finish to the Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, in the second Grade 1 of the young meet. Following Arrogate’s inexplicable and stunning defeat in the San Diego Handicap at Delmar Saturday evening, Mike Smith took the red eye here to ride top 3-year-old filly, Abel Tasman, and he made it clear from the start that he was all business!
With a risky outside move, reminiscent of a classic Angel Cordero tactic, “Mikey” made a bold decision on the backside, that thankfully did not backfire! The Hall of Famer continued his aggressive race riding throughout a brutal, albeit totally legal stretch drive, that found him strategically pinning a very game Elate, with Jose Ortiz aboard for Bill Mott, to the rail, in an intimidating fashion! Abel Tasman prevailed by a head, following another Stewards Inquiry, and a claim of foul by runner-up Jock, Jose Ortiz.
Jumping at the break in the CCAO, a very good Salty, trained by Mark Casse and ridden by Joel Rosario, came from way back, going wide down the stretch, to battle for the show, and I’m hoping to see these 3 fine fillies come back to battle in The Alabama, too!
I had the pleasure of meeting longtime Bob Baffert Assistant, Jimmy Barnes, Saturday evening at Bookmakers, as I was waiting to watch Arrogate race at Delmar, with my friends visiting from Cincinnati, who were also staying at the hotel. I felt horribly for Jimmy Barnes, as we watched in stunned disbelief, but after I blurted out, “I’m soooo sorry”, he very graciously quipped, “I was afraid this might happen”, as he hurried back to his room! I only wish I knew exactly what he meant by this statement, but thankfully, Baffert confirmed post-race that Arrogate is fine!
I was also nonetheless thankful that after Jimmy Barnes saddled Abel Tasman the next afternoon for the CCAO, that she was declared the winner, following the inquiry, as it would have been a disastrous weekend for their barn if she had been taken down!
The often used saying, “they are not machines”, certainly applied to Arrogate this race, as it had in a previous race at Delmar, when he also lost, making him 0-2 on this surface. Aside from the ridiculous chatter on social media, suggesting that Arrogate would now be retired, you can count on the fact that the ultra-competitive Baffert, along with Juddmonte Farms, will not think of letting their amazingly talented charge go out like this! Baffert was quoted as saying, immediately following his abysmal race, “that’s why I have white hair”, but this is also why Arrogate will race again!
Despite his dubious 0-2 record at Delmar, you can bet on the fact that they’ll have him ready to go in his swan song at Delmar in the Breeders Cup, even if they change their previous plans to run him next in the TVG Pacific Classic at Delmar on August 19th. Very interestingly, Baffert told Steve Byk during his radio interview after the weekend, that if Arrogate wasn’t back to his old self in time for the Pacific Classic, that perhaps he’d consider bringing him back to Saratoga for The Woodward! Now the thought of this possibility has me and every other Saratoga racing fan foaming at the mouth!
Accelerate, who wired the San Diego field from the one hole, recorded an impressive 109 Beyer with his shocking defeat of Arrogate, and with many “bridge jumping” scenarios in effect, paid more to place and show at $32 & $22, than it did to win, at $17! The second-place finisher, Donworth, paid a whopping $119.80 & $67.40 to place and show, while Cat Burglar paid $38.20 to show!
In other racing action at Saratoga, Woodbine shipper, Dream It Is, dominated Friday’s 99th running of The Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies, as she crushed the field of 9, by 9 lengths, despite running on the wrong lead! Racing for the first time ever on dirt, for Trainer Barbara Minshall, the first female Trainer to win a leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the daughter of Preakness champion, Shackelford, will hopefully return on September 2nd for The Spinaway.
In Friday’s Lake George for 3-year-old fillies at a 1-1/16 over the Mellon Turf Course, Kentucky shipper, Proctor’s Ledge, running for the first time on lasix, gave Trainer Brendan Walsh his first ever win at Saratoga! The daughter of Ghostzapper was ridden by Javid Castelllano, who also rode her Dad to his first Breeders Cup victory in 2004 at Lone Star!
Another eye-opening performance was turned in on Friday by Takaful in the 4th Race. The 3-year-old son of Bernardini, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden by Jose Ortiz, recorded a 105 Beyer in the 6-furlong Allowance, and is obviously a late bloomer in Kiaran’s barn! And in Saturday’s 1st Race, a Maiden Special Weights, also at 6 furlongs, Mr. Crow, a 3-year-old son of Tapizar, was very impressive for Todd Pletcher and Luis Saez, recording a 109 Beyer in victory! I hope we see this pair of speedy 3-year olds race next, against each other, in the H. Allen Jerkens, formerly the King’s Bishop, in the Travers Day 7-furlong sprint!
On a wet and dreary Monday, filled with scratches and races taken off the turf, Miss Ella rallied in the stretch from way back, under a masterful ride by Joel Rosario, for her repeat victory in The Caress Stakes for fillies and mares 4 years old and up, for Graham Motion.
Earlier on Monday’s card, it was heartwarming for friends, family, and fans alike, to see Kentucky and Louisiana-based Trainer Merrill Scherer, who just turned 78 on Friday, win the 2nd Race, with his MTO (main track only) entry, Morning Buzz. Many missed Merrill, following his absence from the Spa last year, while he was struggling with his first-born son’s battle with terminal brain cancer. Richie, a much respected and loved Trainer, based at Arlington Park in Chicago, lost his battle in May, and it has been heartbreaking for Merrill, to say the least, to deal with the loss of his child. Needless to say, an always difficult win at the Spa was much deserved for Merrill, and welcomed by the many that love him.
Following Monday’s card, many in the horse racing industry gathered at Guiseppe Grisio’s Bravo Restaurant (he and wife Lauren also own Mama Mia’s!) for the 5th Annual Hay, Oats and Spaghetti Fundraiser, to benefit the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. The Grisio’s so very generously donate all their delicious food, and wine & beer, every year, for this worthy cause, which is always very well attended by so many who care dearly about the aftercare of our beloved equine heroes, following their on-track careers.
In closing, as I reported last week, Tyler Gaffalione flew up from Florida for Monday and Wednesday’s cards, and although his mount in the feature, Eila, was scratched by Trainer/Owner Ralph Nicks, Tyler made the most out of the first day of his trip, as he rode 11-1 shot, Alien Invasion, to victory for Mike Maker, in the final race of the day!
With a great week of racing ahead of us, highlighted by the matchup of Kentucky Derby champion, Always Dreaming, and Preakness champion, Cloud Computing, in Saturday’s Jim Dandy, I’ll be looking forward to recapping the action for you next week!

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