Main Sequence surged late to win the Sword Dancer Invitational (I)
When I think “Saratoga,” I think of the racetrack’s famous Whitney Stakes every August. It probably has something to do with the fact that my very first visit to Saratoga was Whitney Day two years ago, with the 2014 edition being my third consecutive Whitney I’ve attended. What can I say, it’s a great and important race that always promises thrills and powerful moments in the world of Thoroughbred horse racing.
This year, I began the day very early, waking up at 3:30am to drive from my home in western Massachusetts to upstate New York. Arriving a touch before 6am, I was unfortunately met by cloud cover hovering over the Oklahoma training track— bad news if you’re a photographer, even worse if you don’t have a speedball lens. Cranking up the ISO high and opening up the aperture, I was delighted to see a lot of horses breeze including G1 winners Tonalist, Stephanie’s Kitten, Real Solution, Tourist, and Lea. While I’m a habitual lone hawk of a railbird, I was joined immediately up and down the rail by a familiar face/long-time photographer Jay Moran, who shot for a few hours with me. Rumor had it that Horse of the Year Wise Dan *might* be breezing that day, so we waited it out. Unfortunately for us, Wise Dan did breeze, but did so over at the main track. Oof! Maybe next time. It was still a pleasant morning shooting the ponies while complaining about The Walking Dead and how well Palace Malice might do later in the afternoon.
Fast forward to opening time, the day’s card looked promising from the pages of my $6 program, which like its Belmont Stakes counterpart from June, was colorful, well-made and missing the value that one craves from the free Saratoga Special. A slew of nice maiden races and allowance types; two restricted turf stakes, and three graded races. The atmosphere at the Spa hummed with excitement, where just a breath away from the bugler’s call were the Fasig-Tipton sale yearlings due to be sold in the coming days. Perhaps that is part of the spirit of Saratoga’s Whitney weekend after having experienced it for three runnings; some come to prove their might, others come to brandish it.
Fittingly enough, the horse named for Marylou Whitney was in the Test Stakes on Whitney Day: the Ramseys’ Thank You Marylou.
While there were many good races with excellent outcomes, a few horses come to mind that I really want to point out to watch for down the road:
Probably the most memorable horse of the day that I found myself talking up more than the stakes winners was a two-year-old that ran on the grass. In Race 3, I decided to do an exacta box against the ludicrously vulnerable favorite Cordero [IRE], who was coming off a very blah showing at Ascot. While I initially just liked him for his trainer and rider, Graham Motion and Irad Ortiz Jr, as well as his red-hot freshman sire Warrior’s Reward, Strong Coffee was by far the best horse in the paddock and just a work of art period. He made some really well-bred company look cheap, including Face the Music, who is out of a half to Point of Entry. Sure enough, the dark bay colt ran to his looks without much effort. Graham Motion would win again later with another maiden on the dirt, Pride of Stride.
Strong Coffee broke out in front of #5 Cordero [IRE] and #8 Frenchman Bay, who surprised me as a good-looking Super Saver colt.
Irad Ortiz Jr. had a vicegrip on the day’s card, impressively snatching up four wins as a co-leading jockey of the Belmont spring/summer meet ought to do. He won the first race with Dowse’s Beach, who is now 2-for-2 at this Saratoga meet, Strong Coffee in the third, Pride of Stride in the fifth, and of course, Sweet Reason in the ninth’s Test Stakes (I).
I admit, I am not a big Sweet Reason fan. When she rolled home very easy in the sloppy Spinaway (I) as a two-year-old last year, I chalked it up to a nice mud-loving youngster who had her way with the field. This notion seemed to prove legitimate in the early spring races, as I watched her struggle going longer at Aqueduct but then she finally broke through when turned back in the Acorn Stakes (I). Quite heroically again, in the Test (I) she looked the beaten favorite some 7 lengths back in a tough field. The talented Miss Behavior put her nose to the neck of graded stakes winner Fiftyshadesofgold down on the inside while the pressure turned on as Sweet Reason finally made her run. In a determined drive, the Street Sense filly swooshed out front in the waning moments of the race, winning her third Grade 1 victory pass and charming the crowd to their feet.
Nice work, Irad and Sweet!
For a non-graded stake, I have become rather fond of the De La Rose after choosing Assateague (23-1) just this past year. This time I would be cheering for a heart pick with no money on her nose for fear of jinxing her in her return to the races. I’ve been a fan and follower of Dayatthespa since the chestnut mare was a 2-year-old racing on ‘Toga’s grass, and since then she has grown into a G1-chewing powerhouse on the front end of the filly turf mile league. She’s evaded me a number of times due to injury or off-goings, but Whitney Day was finally our chance to meet. Eyeballing a full field which included graded-winning stablemate Pianist, the key threat would come from the outside in the form of Juddmonte juggernaut Filimbi, who had the peaking form that was up to the challenge.
Breaking smoothly, Dayatthespa got off to a good spot at the front, but faced early pressure from Alaura Michele. Putting that filly away well before the race was over, ‘Spa tapped into her trademark reserve swinging into the stretch, deflecting bids from all but one: Filimbi, who made a mid-pack move, shuttled up to the outside of ‘Spa. The panic that had been resonating within throughout the race had reached its climax: would ‘Spa fight back, and win, off her long layoff to an improving and talented filly? The two traded the lead back and forth for several strides, but Dayatthespa’s fitness could only hold off Filimbi for so long, as that filly eventually wore down the lead and got away from the big horse, striding off to score by 1 3/4 lengths. It was a gallant race and by no means a shameful second; Daytthespa was still very much the mare full of bulldoggish tenacity turning back all but one with a flick of her bobbing tongue.
Dayatthespa after her courageous run in the De La Rose Stakes, tongue sticking out and all
If there’s one race to remember in the summertime, it has to be the storied Whitney Handicap (I), which received a pay increase this year to $1.5 million, beckoning 9 entries to the post. In my analysis, I gave about half the field a sporting chance to beat favored Palace Malice, with a select few possessing a legitimate chance to include on all or some tickets: rail post Will Take Charge won the Travers here last year and had speed to burn in the stretch, the improving and talented Itsmyluckyday, and “value” co-choice Moreno, a gelding I’ve been enchanted with since his two-year-old year and picked the day of his maiden snap at Belmont Park. Moreno had buoyed my hopes for him even more last out on Stars and Stripes Day at Belmont, turning in a fantastic performance in the Suburban Handicap (II) only to lose in the final moments of that race. It was going to be a good race no matter what, with the favorite looking strong heading back to 9 furlongs.
Belmont-Met Mile winner Palace Malice looked lordly heading to post as arguably the best horse in the country.
Palace Malice looked good. Romansh looked ready. And they were off and running in the 87th Whitney Handicap (I)!
Moreno jetted for that lead with Golden Ticket out to track him early along with Palace Malice and Itsmyluckyday. The field bunched up early, with no one touching Moreno cruising through respectable fractions on the front end. Seeing the gelding out there, I thought of his Travers run. Despite being a big fan, I didn’t give him much of a chance back then, but after seeing him take the first quarter in :24 and change, I had seized in hysterics: “HE’S TAKING THEM FOR A WALK!” In the Whitney, Moreno was not walking… but he was alone on the lead at Saratoga once again.
It was the Suburban all over again turning for home, as Junior Alvarado reached deep for Moreno’s biggest gear. The gelding stepped it up, inspiring shades of his sire Ghostzapper, successfully keeping Itsmyluckyday at bay as Palace Malice toiled. They were clear, clear, clear! With no one else in sight, Moreno passed under the wire finally a winner once again with no one to fight him for a photo. He was a millionaire, a Grade 1 winner, and a Whitney hero to seal another perfect Whitney Saturday at the Spa.
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