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Things I Loved From My Saratoga Opening Weekend

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The very confused butterfly that fluttered about the main track. Just because you’re black and yellow like Man o’ War was doesn’t make you special, you dang drunk arthropod!

A special thanks go out to fourfurlongs who spent the entire weekend with me!

There are roughly 28932897271 things I could feasibly complain about from my 3-day excursion to Saratoga’s first, second, and third days of the 2014 meet. But, seeing as most of them are self-inflicted (i.e. the consequences of forgetting sunblock, sleeping in too late to catch some decadent racing stars in the morning), I will instead focus on the many things I loved about my trip. Thank you to work and my 10-day horse babysitting sentence for making this post later than ideal!:

Frankie Dettori’s flying dismounts
I felt so privileged getting to see one of the best jockeys in the world ride at Saratoga this weekend, especially after learning people have been begging him for decades to come over for the short summer meet. It definitely seemed to pay off, as Dettori won not one but two races on opening day (and almost a third!) and gave everyone in the crowd a thrill by doing his famous “flying dismounts” off the winner. What a guy. I will certainly remember this for a long long time.

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The ducks of Congress Park

I visited Congress Park for the first time back in May, but going back to this adorable little park in the midst of downtown Saratoga Springs was a joy, with plenty of new baby ducks waddling around. They are impressively tame thanks to the friendly humans who feed them (by the way, such an act is strongly discouraged due to the current duck population), ultimately letting me near a few of them as I sat with my people sipping some cool smoothies while complaining about life. I love complaining, you love complaining, and don’t pretend like you don’t!

Somali Lemonade winning the Diana Stakes (I)

I made a gallant effort trying to whittle down who I liked for the Diana Stakes (I), but no lie it was way too freaking hard for me to even think about going for the late pick 4 as I originally planned. Super handicapper Ciara and I agreed that Stephanie’s Kitten had a tremendous chance to get back into top form, but that there were simply too many horses that had a big chance to win. So, when in doubt, go for the heart pick! With Michael Matz being my #1 favorite trainer, while I didn’t think she could win, it was Somali Lemonade and Discreet Marq in my cheering camp (Clement is my #2 favorite). Unbelievably, it was Somali Lemonade at 11-1 odds who had the best stride in the stretch, holding off Stephanie’s Kitten and dismissing all the rest to win. SO. PROUD.

Reuniting with some good friends

You know who you people are! I hadn’t seen Ciara since the Belmont, Tory since the Wood Memorial, and Danica since the 2012 Belmont! I enjoyed reminiscing and chatting about ponies all weekend with them.

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Tourist and Ring Weekend running 1-2 in the Sir Cat Stakes

It comes as little surprise that I was in Tourist's cheering squad when the colt made his stakes debut on opening day, seeing as he was one of the special few to be included in a GHR Derby Watch piece. God, that horse was beautiful as a two-year-old, and has really muscled out as a three-year-old. In what would become one of the weekend’s best performances, the Tiznow colt took to the lead and drew away in the stretch to just miss the track record mark by .12 seconds with Ring Weekenda horse I thought highly of this spring, clipping off the rest of the classy group late in the game. Don’t mess with Tapits!


Meeting Barbara Livingston

Barbara needs little introduction as the Ansel Adams of horse racing photography. Thanks to Ciara I kind of got the inside path to officially meeting the fantastic lady, who is so tremendously nice. I’M NOT WORTHY BUT HI!

Nearly choking on my dinner while making of fun of people

I freakin’ love diners: THE kind of place to go if you want to avoid mass crowds, you’re starving, and you’re deaf to “normal” feeding schedules. I don’t know how it came up or how we were able to name so many situations, but it came to our attention that a book could be written about things people who don’t know that much about racing do/say/wear when they go to the track. It’s practically unavoidable.


The red summer dawn at Oklahoma

"Wow look at that light!" Picking a seemingly perfect morning at the Oklahoma training track to go shoot photos, the Saturday AM sunrise cast this gorgeous reddish glow over a clear, fast going with some light fog over the turf course. Absolute stunner!

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Crown Queen’s romp over the grass

In a race that was chock full of really amazing trainers and even more impressive pedigrees—a half sister to Wicked Strong, two European-breds, a Stuart Janney filly I took an earlier liking to (Cloture!), and a Ramsey-owned Kitten’s Joy— Sunday’s ninth was a 1 3/16 mile turf allowance for fillies and mares that looked extremely promising from the get go. But it all fell to one horse shortly after the field rounded the far turn, and she just about crumpled the field without being asked or urged. Crown Queen, the half sister of Royal Delta, obliterated the classy allowance field with little effort, garnering smiles all around from her connections. WATCH OUT FOR HER!

Weekend Stake Tip: The Art of Winning

Finally, a break in the clouds! While I spent the weekend writing my Brit Lit paper (an explication no less, ugh), a lot of my picks came through for me. The race of the week was the Spend A Buck (III), which had two of my three picks scratched out (#1 pick Csaba moved to the Tropical Park Derby the same day, which I wish I had known about and #3 pick Gourmet Dinner), allowing my #2 pick Cash Rules to cash in the win. Csaba instead went to the longer, ungraded Tropical Park and won by a blow-out 14 lengths. My baby and “heart choice” Dayatthespa wired the incredibly tough field in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (I) as well, which was encouraging to see. I really needed the confidence boost after a couple weeks of soggy tracks, odd results, and just missing the mark leading up to the Breeders’ Cup. Ironically, on Sunday Joshua Tree won his second Canadian International (CAN-I) the same way by robbing the field of any pace and went wire-to-wire with Frankie Dettori aboard. The Irish-bred has now earned more than $3 million with two wins in this race plus one place over the past three years with three different owners. He deserves special praise for his win this weekend, as does Dettori for his excellent pace judgement.

As the Breeders’ Cup berth races have just about wound down, it’s time to start considering early favoritism for the races. A piece of insight worth weighing: 23 of 57 (40.3%) Breeders’ Cup winners from the past four years won their last prep before winning their BC race. While it’s tough to knock the other 60% who did not win their last prep, it’s an extra special reminder to consider the horses who are getting close to if not already at their peak form. The last prep race for contenders is a huge factor, but they need not to have won them necessarily. Breezes will show a horse’s current form as well as looking at why they may not have won that last prep— did they encounter traffic? Is the pace going to be more to their liking at Santa Anita?

Over the next couple weeks, expect a lot of Breeders’ Cup insight— including the usual adage of horse profiles on the Classic contenders. I can’t wait to write more on the Breeders’ Cup and see posts from others on who they like!

Frankie Dettori guides Pounced to victory in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf

Frankie Dettori guides Pounced to victory in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf

"Wave Your Flag" Breeders’ Cup Celebration

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.


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