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Aptly-named Tammy the Torpedo gets her close-up after winning her debut race with Joel Rosario.

Aptly-named Tammy the Torpedo gets her close-up after winning her debut race with Joel Rosario.

This horse must not get photographed very often!

This horse must not get photographed very often!

Wallyanna, who was the upset winner of the National Musuem of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (II) at Saratoga

Wallyanna, who was the upset winner of the National Musuem of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (II) at Saratoga

A Few Words of Thanks to Tom Durkin

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Tom Durkin calls a turf race during the 2014 Saratoga meet. We’ll miss you!

Like many before and after me, I was romanced to the racetrack courtesy of Tom Durkin, who I heard call the first horse race I ever watched: the 2002 running of the Kentucky Derby, won by War Emblem.

"War Emblem is still there! War Emblem and he’s pulling away! He has another gear!"

"And at the top of the stretch, a filly is in front at the Belmont but Curlin is right there with her! These two in a battle of the sexes at the Belmont Stakes! It is Curlin on the inside, Rags to Riches on the outside! A desperate finish! Rags to Riches and Curlin! They’re coming down to the wire, it’s going to be very close! It’s going to be… a filly in the Belmont!”

"And Jerry Bailey calls on Cigar for everything he has!… And here he is the incomparable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar!”

Winter Memories is in the clear, coming like a gray bullet!… It was a gray blur in the stretch!”

"And Tiznow is battling on! The American Horse of the Year and the Arc winner are heads apart with a furlong to go in the Classic!… Tiznow fights on, here’s the wire! Desperately close! Tiznow wins it for America!”

It was a whirlwind year to be introduced to horse racing, with War Emblem’s near-miss of the Triple Crown and just before that, trading hands from U.S. ownership to Japan. But it would not be the last call of the Derby I would watch that was called by Tom. Funny Cide, Barbaro, Street Sense, Big Brown, Mine That Bird all come to mind. Hearing his voice over the loudspeaker at my first trip to Belmont Park really set the tone for me, like ‘wow, I really am here, and there’s Tom Durkin talking!’ Even though at that moment he was only reading the current list of scratches and track conditions, it was still enough to send a true fan into a tizzy. The emotion of the experience made me even more jealous of those who were able to hear his calls before War Emblem and all the ones I missed in between.

So from my first visit to Belmont in 2012 to my last day at the Saratoga meet yesterday, I’ve enjoyed nothing but Tom Durkin as my race caller when I go to the track. Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga… they will never be the same for me from this point on. Like the mighty Secretariat who graced all three NYRA ovals like he did, there will never be another like him.

In a cherished moment of wisdom, I close this post out with a heartfelt thank you to Tom and a reminder to all that everything is temporary.

Wise Dan returns to the winners’ circle at Saratoga following a courageous win in the Bernard Baruch Handicap (II) over Optimizer.

Wise Dan returns to the winners’ circle at Saratoga following a courageous win in the Bernard Baruch Handicap (II) over Optimizer.

Itsmyluckyday

Itsmyluckyday

Capo Bastone

Capo Bastone

Last Gunfighter is not amused

Last Gunfighter is not amused

Moreno Tries to Go for Two in Woodward Stakes

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With many of his defeated Whitney foes holding their steam until Keeneland, Belmont, or other meets, Moreno returns after a 3-week layoff in hopes of keeping that front-running fervor going strong with an attack on the Woodward Stakes. He will aim to have things his own way again, and will likely be favored this time as the field’s lone G1 winner. But he will not be alone and will be vulnerable, especially with Suburban (II) upsetter Zivo in the cards along with a resurging Itsmyluckyday, who landed his best stride late in the Whitney. Woodward Saturday looks like a good one.

$600,000 Woodward Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday, August 30 at 6:46pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Itsmyluckyday - Paco Lopez, 120 lbs, Eddie Plesa Jr - 3-for-5 this year following an extensive layoff from an injury as a three-year-old, the Lawyer Ron son has run honorably since day one and is currently in great-looking form. He gets blinkers this race, with trainer Plesa returning a very positive ROI for first-time blinks. He’s on the right path and is G1-worthy. I think he needed that last race and will be sharp as can be in the Woodward.

2) Long River - Irad Ortiz Jr, 120 lbs, Kiaran McLaughlin - The A.P. Indy colt has long been a New York standout, but tries the Saratoga soil for the first time in the Woodward following a well-beaten 5th place finish in the Monmouth Cup (II). He is another to get blinkers on after a string of poor races. He has a sharp 5-furlong workout and McLaughlin and Ortiz have been pretty sharp all meet themselves (especially together). A.P. Indys do well at Saratoga, so this one might be the value horse to include.

3) Micromanage - Rajiv Maragh, 120 lbs, Todd Pletcher - 2-for-2 at Saratoga, the Medaglia d’Oro colt won the August 7 Birdstone Stakes by daylight after being a dusted 7th to Zivo and Moreno in the Suburban (II). Kind of an awkward horse to look at from his PPs as a G3 winner who cannot seem to gain footing on an upper class. The loss of Castellano and Pletcher’s poor recent stats do not help me like him.

4) Moreno - Junior Alvarado, 122 lbs, Eric Guillot - The Ghostzapper gelding knocked and knocked and knocked and finally popped the G1 cork last out in the Whitney, going wire-to-wire to win uncontested. Never off the board at this distance or at Saratoga. He’ll surely have a target on his back this race as he tries to replicate the Whitney. Alvarado fits him perfectly and he had another good breeze. Another “con” may be the 3-week turn-around as Moreno is accustomed and performs best with 4 week beats. However, he is again the lone speed and is on a roll.

5) Prayer for Relief - John Velazquez, 118 lbs, Dale Romans - The 6-year-old Jump Start son has been winless in 7 starts this year, showing up well but not good enough to win in several spots, and ultimately weakened to 4th in the Whitney last out. He has 4 wins in 15 tries at the distance and picks up Johnny V with Brisnet giving him the highest speed figure at the distance. Form-wise, I’d list him as an exotics only horse.

6) Romansh - Jose Ortiz, 120 lbs, Tom Albertrani - Bernardinis typically love Saratoga, but the trip was what cost this one in the Whitney as Romansh bumped at the start and went very wide throughout the race to be 7th. Will a repaired trip help? It’s very possible, as this horse had 3 wins in 6 starts at the 9-furlong distance. However, he may have been at his best form earlier in the year.

7) Zivo - Jose Lezcano , 120 lbs, Chad Brown - The 5-year-old New York-bred son of True Direction upset the Suburban (II) in his last start at 20-1 odds over Whitney hero Moreno and currently carries an impressive 6-race win streak into the Woodward. He looks good by all accounts with no losses for the year for a hot Chad Brown barn. He handles the layoff well enough, but will class affect him? Moreno would do well to put a lid on the pace if he wants to stop Zivo again as well as the next horse…

8) Norumbega - Javier Castellano, 120 lbs, Shug McGaughey - Loved this horse by appearance alone when he won the Brooklyn (II), but the Tiznow colt came back to run a bizzarely bad race in the Suburban (II), finishing 8th. He’s spent some time at Fair Hill getting back up to speed and looks like he’ll be fit judging by works and the addition of top jockey Castellano and blinkers. He packs a monstrous late run when he fires, and is 2-for-2 at Saratoga.

9) Last Gunfighter - Joe Bravo, 120 lbs, Chad Brown - Originally the top seed for Chad Brown’s dirt horses, Last Gunfighter got schooled by Zivo in the Suburban (II) despite being favored and then went horribly wide throughout in the Whitney (I) to be 5th. Bravo replaces regular rider Castellano and does best with routes, although his Saratoga record is less than perfect. Gunfighter would have his best shot being put back towards the front, but still has to conquer that class issue as well as declining form.

10) Stephanoatsee - Joel Rosario, 118 lbs, Nick Zito - The half brother to Shackleford makes his third start with trainer Nick Zito and might have won his last start at this distance, beaten 2 lengths by Abraham in an allowance race at Saratoga. He hasn’t won in 2 years, but is put into a G1. Either Zito knows something I don’t or he thinks Stephanoatsee has a big chance. Either way he’d have to improve further; addition of Rosario helps.

Top 3 Picks in Order (with preferred odds)

1) Itsmyluckyday (5-1)

2) Moreno (3-1)

3) Norumbega (8-1)

Likely to get a good setup and a tenacious horse all-around, Itsmyluckyday is fitter than ever and ought to get a good run if not a win here. But, he is beatable, with Moreno likely to go after another uncontested lead. I wouldn’t debate that Mo is better than ever right now and won’t give newly-blinkered Itsmyluckyday the fight of his life when cornered. Norumbega, newly-retooled and fresh, can sneak up on them late in the game. Fourth choice is the seemingly unstoppable Zivo.

Value Pick: Norumbega (8-1 or better) has a lot going on for him behind the scenes with the addition of blinkers and a win percentage of 20% or better for trainer and jockey. Even more interesting, Castellano has never ridden Norumbega in a race. 

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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