As ominous clouds thankfully gave way to gorgeous blue skies and sunshine, the stage was set for a stellar Whitney Day of racing! Defying the curse of Saratoga, American Gal in the Grade 1 Test for 3-year-old fillies, and Gunrunner in the $1.2 million Grade 1 Whitney, proved that favorites can indeed win, while making it look easy, at the Spaaaaaa!
Adding to the drama of Gunrunner’s impressive 5-1/4 length victory, was the already legendary “tale” of the wayward horseshoe! As if carrying the high weight of 124 pounds wasn’t enough pressure, the 4-year-old son of Candy Ride had the added weight of the 63-1 long shot and rabbit, Cautious Giant’s shoe, entwined in his tail from the half mile pole! The odds of this bizarre occurrence happening would break the tote board, but the fact that neither horse nor jockey were injured, plus that Gunrunner didn’t even skip a beat, is also amazing! Although the “shoe” ran the race in the unlucky upside-down position, appropriately coming off the “rabbit’s foot,” it was certainly a lucky charm!
After being prematurely discarded, and ending up in a lucky fan’s hands, the now iconic shoe was retrieved by Steve Asmussen’s Assistant, Scott Blasi, for a “fee” of $100!
Gunrunner is maturing very well into a top-rated and classy contender for Horse of the Year as a 4-year-old, following 3rd place finishes in last year’s Kentucky Derby and Travers, and 2nd place finishes in the Pa Derby and Breeders Cup Dirt Mile. But...although he has won 4 straight races on American soil over the past 8+ months, racking up amazing Beyer figures of 111 and 110 at Churchill in the Clark and SF Foster, and 110 in the Razorback at Oaklawn, and now a career best 112 in the Whitney, I am not ready just yet to dethrone the great Arrogate! Despite his poor performance in the San Diego, I cannot get past the fact that he breathtakingly ran down Gunrunner in the Dubai World Cup in late March, or that Gunrunner was 3rd best to him last August in his record-breaking Travers! With Arrogate now set to go in the Pacific on the 19th, and Gunrunner aiming for the Woodward on Sept 2nd, I guess we’ll have to wait and see how this battle for supremacy unfolds!
Although bettors sent off fellow Cali-shipper, Bob Baffert’s Faypien, as the slight favorite over American Gal in the 7-furlong Test, Simon Callaghan’s 3-year-old daughter of Concord Point was clearly the best filly on the track! Previously trained by Baffert, it was AG’s second straight start and win for Callaghan since coming to his barn in December. Baffert’s Abel Tasman, recent winner here of the CCA0, beat her stablemate AG in the 8.5-furlong Grade 1 Starlet at Los Alamitos last December, before AG was transferred to Callaghan’s barn, and before Abel Tasman was moved from Callaghan’s barn to Baffert’s in March, which made AG’s impressive Grade 1 Test victory even sweeter for Callaghan!
Moving forward, it appears that cutting back to 7 furlongs was the optimal move for AG, while stretching out to 1-1/8 in the Grade 1 CCAO was ideal for Abel Tasman. Unfortunately, we won’t see either of these fine fillies race here again, as it’s a no-brainer that they’ll stay home before the BC at Delmar.
Earlier on Saturday’s card, the first of three races honoring Fasig-Tipton (that all ended up with double-digit payoffs!) was run in the 3rd, The 1-1/2-mile Grade 3 F-T Waya, on the Inner Turf Course for fillies and mares 3 and up. Javi Castellano guided the 6-year-old Argentinian-bred Estrechada to her first graded stakes victory for Cali Trainer Mike Puype, and she paid $20.
In the 7th Race, the F-T Lure for 4-year olds and up, at a 1-1/16 on the Mellon Turf Course, Godolphin’s Zennor, the big 5-year-old Medaglia d’Oro grey gelding, responded well to Jersey Joe Bravo in the stretch, coming off a stalking trip to pull away for the victory in his stakes debut, and paid a hefty $30.60.
In the final stakes race on Saturday, the one-mile F-T De La Rose, for fillies and mares 4 years old and up on the Inner Turf Course, Thundering Sky, with a great ride by Rajiv Maragh, scored a thrilling victory by a neck for George Weaver. The 4-year-old daughter of Sky Mesa, saving ground after breaking from the rail, timed her kick perfectly, and paid a pretty $28.60.
In Saturday’s 4th, the Winner’s Circle was packed with many friends of the dearly beloved local Trainer/Breeder, Glenn DiSanto, on what would’ve been his 63rd Birthday. The Memorial Race named in his honor was won by a Bill Mott 2-year-old maiden, interestingly named Trumpi, who for whatever reason went from 6-1 on the morning line, to 22-1 for the Hall of Famer, before the 1-1/16 race went off! For those who didn’t care what the maiden’s name was, they were rewarded with a whopping $47.40 payday, big as the namesake!
Joining Bill Mott in the Winner’s Circle was Glenn DiSanto’s dear friend and fellow Trainer, Jim Bond, for what was a bittersweet tribute to their fallen colleague. In a prelude to Saturday’s Memorial, in Friday’s 1st Race, a filly still owned by Glenn’s Summit View Farm in Greenwich, Quick On The Draw, and now trained by his close friend Jim since his passing, broke her maiden, symbolically crossing the finish line, 6-1/4 lengths ahead of the field! It was evident to everyone there with Jim in the Winner’s Circle, most with tears in their eyes, that an Angel named Glenn was aboard for the victory!
I would like to thank my buddy Bob Giordano for giving me one of the special black and yellow (Glenn’s colors) pins, that you could see worn by so many all over the track, that were made to honor Glenn, as I’m proudly wearing it, too. At the same time, I also want to congratulate Bob on being named Fan of the Year by ThoroFan, for his instrumental and ongoing role in the creation/development of ThoroFan’s Annual Guide to Saratoga Trainers’ Saddle Cloths, which is so helpful for identifying horses during early morning workouts. Bob will be honored this Saturday morning at ThoroFan’s Annual Awards Brunch at the Embassy Suites.
In other non-stakes action on the loaded Whitney Day card, Delta Prince, the 4-year-old half-brother to 3-time Eclipse Award winner, Royal Delta, won impressively for Stronach Stables and Jimmy Jerkens, with Johnny Velazquez up in the 5th Race. After this win over the Inner Turf Course at a mile in a $90K Allowance, it’s expected that he will be nominated for the Bernard Baruch on Labor Day.
In Saturday’s finale, another $90K Allowance, with this one on the dirt going 7 furlongs, multimillionaire Neolithic, following his 3rd place finishes behind Arrogate in the world’s two richest races, the $12 million Pegasus Cup, and the $10 million Dubai World Cup, thrilled his Starlight Racing partners, with his late closing victory by a neck! He is expected to race next in the Woodward.
In Sunday’s action, Rally Cry, the 4-year-old son of prolific young sire, Uncle Mo, dominated the field in the $100K Alydar, going a 1-1/8 on dirt in 1:48.58, and recording a gaudy 110 Beyer in his 8-3/4 length romp. The Alydar was the first stakes victory for Rally Cry, who will probably next battle Gunrunner and Neolithic in the Woodward.
In a talent-laden, Grade 1 or 2 caliber field for the inexplicably ungraded $250K Troy, on Jockey Legends Day in Sunday’s 10th, Green Mask smoked the competition, nearly breaking the track record for 5-1/2 furlongs, for Trainer Brad Cox, with new Hall of Famer Javi Castellano on board. The 6-year-old gelding went over the million-dollar mark in career earnings with this win, and firmly established his status as one of the best turf sprinters in the country, with his time of 1:00:49, just .03 ticks off the track record set by Lady Shipman in 2015! Cox hopes to run him back again on a short 3-week schedule, perhaps in the Belmont Turf Sprint, and again at Keeneland going 5-1/2 furlongs in October, for his final prep before the Breeders Cup.
It was a very exciting week off the track, as well, but I’d need an entire book to cover it all, so I’ll try to summarize it in closing!
On Wednesday, a nice crowd gathered at the Washington Inn, to benefit Old Friends, and to honor founder, Michael Blowen, equine photog extraordinaire, Barbara Livingston, who was signing copies of her latest book, Old and New Friends, along with personable owner/breeder, Ken Ramsey, among others. And on Sunday, Old Friends at Cabin Creek and Joanne Pepper, of our local Bobby Frankel division, held their biggest fundraiser of the year at Prime at the National.
On Thursday at the Rec Center, fans packed the gym for the always popular Racetrack Chaplaincy Charity Basketball Game, that pits the best Jockeys in the world against the Trainers, although both teams had a few ringers! The breakout performance of the night was turned in by Luis Reyes, the bug boy and fellow Boricua to Angel C, Johnny V, the Ortiz Bros, and Manny Franco and Eric Cancel. Luis wowed the crowd with a variety of moves and shots, and helped lead the Jocks to their thrilling one-point victory!
In Friday morning’s Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, it was wonderful to see fellow Hall of Famers Johnny Velazquez and Ramon Dominguez introduce Javi Castellano. Ramon remarked that “Javier was destined to be a winner,” while Johnny expressed his gratitude for having Javi not only as a peer and fierce rival, but also as a good friend. In Javi’s heartfelt speech, where he thanked absolutely everyone in his life, he closed by saying, “the highs can be high, and the lows can be low, but I hope we can always stick together and be loyal to one another and the sport that benefits us”.... The Sport of Kings, that everyone who was in attendance is so very passionate about!