The photo blogs continue with a bit of a throwback as I continue crunching through the knee-deep archival stuff from the Saratoga 2014 meet.
They may not be the most thrilling to watch, taking place at least two fences between the apron and the course itself, but I’ve grown extraordinarily fond of turf racing since I began following horse racing. More often than not, grass runners have this magnificent look to them, which when paired with long careers and wild blanket finishes, makes them more exciting than our celebrated dirt races. Having seen some great grass horses already in the past such as Point of Entry and Winter Memories, there was reason to be antsy about my inaugural trip to a Sword Dancer Invitational (I). Anyone would be a little anxious knowing they were more likely than not about to fall in love with someone.
Of course, driving to and from Saratoga and standing up all day from sunup to sunset can take its toll on you, so I was quite exhausted and ready for a bit of a reprieve and to start raking in a few winnings at the windows. As it turned out, it was a tremendous day for those who bet and those who just love coming to the races— best known as your typical day at the Spa!
My day kicked off with a bit of a sleep-in (after a while, you really do start recognizing all the horses in the morning whether you know their names or not!) followed by a timely trip to be among the first to get the autographs of everyone in the Saratoga jockey colony. For a donation of $10, fans received an 11”x17” poster with the opportunity to snatch easy John Hancocks before the first race. Because I am a giant chicken and it’s been a goal of mine to reform my ways, I was determined to say words to a favorite jockey or two… I AM NOT WORTHY BUT HI I LOVE YOU! And good news, I do after all have a little courage inside!
Me: “Hi Johnny. Great ride yesterday.”
John Velazquez: “Oh thank you! You’re so nice!”
Yes I died. He’s probably my favorite, and he spoke to me and I spoke back. Mark this day in the books. Joe Bravo was also super nice if I had to cherrypick just one more name from the countless faces that were at the signing. Unfortunately Edgar Prado was not there nor was Joel Rosario, but it was an enjoyable little event and all proceeds went towards helping an injured rider.
The jockey poster signing proceeds went to benefit injured rider Michael Straight, who was seriously injured in a 2009 spill at Arlington. With the funds, he may be able to walk again using an bionic exoskeleton device.
As far as the ponies go, it was a day of great performances and super longshots, starting with race #1 on the inner turf course. Breaking from the rail, it was the royally-bred Darley entry of Small World and Irad Ortiz Jr! Irad, a talented turf rider, was able to take the daughter of A.P. Indy from wire-to-wire while dismissing a late challenge from Sky Bird to win at 17-1 odds. It was the beginning of some excellent gut plays…
It’s a Small World!
One of my favorite winners of the day came from one of my favorite barns. Chad Brown is more than pretty good with the young ones, and put them on grass with a great turf rider like Joel Rosario, and you’re in trouble. One of three debuters in the 9-horse third, Tammy the Torpedo lived up to her name and then some as the daughter of More Than Ready sprouted wings late in the stretch and flew home first. Of course, I could be caught cheering for her in her stakes debut recently in the Miss Grillo (III) at Belmont, where she finished third.
Can you stop a torpedo? I don’t think so! Tammy the Torpedo meets the winner’s circle at Saratoga.
Another good-looking filly from that same race, Carta de Oro, should be kept in your cards. She was unplayable that day running for the stale George “Rusty” Arnold barn, but is a real looker with great turf potential. But there were plenty of cool maidens out on the dirt as well as the turf…
Backflip heads to post.
For anyone that follows WinStar on Facebook or elsewhere, you may have seen video of one of the first Super Saver foals toppling over backwards after she was born. That filly debuted at Saratoga on Sword Dancer Day, appropriately christened Backflip. She didn’t win like many other Super Savers went on to do this summer, but it was cool to see her run for the first time under the colors of Bortolazzo Stable with Todd Pletcher training.
But alas, this pick 3 was ruined by one horse and the winner of Backflip’s race. Al Stall Jr notched his second win in just eleven starts at Saratoga this meet with the chestnut Congrats filly Top Decile, who debuted under Rosie Napravnik. That burned a bit with me, since I was a Turbulent Descent fan and this filly had speed pedigree to flaunt (Congrats over a Forestry mare). I would regret it a lot later, but that was the end of betting for me for the day.
After a short break, it was showtime for even more upsets and I hate admitting it to this day, but I would have covered the two upsetters in the races preceding the Sword Dancer, which ultimately paid out roughly $1,000 for a $1 pick 3. Saratoga is a punishing place.
With Todd Pletcher running a bit dry since Stopchargingmaria’s Alabama (I) victory, he made for a pretty bad bet at short odds in race #8 with Our Amazing Rose and Discreetly Elusive. I didn’t forget how impressed I was with a Candy Ride [ARG] I saw earlier in the meet, and Dulcedumbre was coming out with Alan Goldberg’s small stable with red-hot Irad Ortiz Jr up. Singing falsetto to her 12-1 morning line, she cut the corner coming home and that’s all she wrote; it was Dulcedumbre sprinting home a grand winner over the two Pletchers. I felt soulless after that one, knowing I just made a huge mistake not doing the pick 3 like I had planned. It only got worse…
And they’re off in the Alydar!
Alydar is more than worthy of his own race, and the second running of his namesake stake at Saratoga over 9 furlongs drew 6 horses of varying ability and form. The favorite was Alpha, who won last year’s muddy running of the Woodward (I), which would make sense but aha! He hadn’t done much since winning the Travers (I) on a dry and fair track which screamed suspicion, even for a horse who won all of his starts on this track. Dawly looked interesting, but he was a bit of a tough sell class-wise. Roll on to examining the biggest longshot Farhaan and there it was again, that little voice mocking me from the inside— he’s got Irad Ortiz… he lost his last but that was on all-weather… and you know how this race went already!
Last early, it was all Farhaan closing in at the end to win the Alydar at about 8-1 odds (longest shot).
You’re killing me, Toga! And now on to the feature race: the star-studded, sizzling Sword Dancer!
If I had bet on this race from a strictly visual perspective, I just about died seeing how beautiful 4-year-old O’Prado Ole was in the flesh. Yet another chestnut stunner by English Channel who picked up the mount with John Velazquez, he was assigned longshot odds in the field of 7 horses. At this point I was getting text messages about who I liked. Honestly, most of the field had a pretty darn good shot, and I would be busy rooting for the beautiful War Dancer, a horse I’ve liked for a while. However on that token, I’ve liked Imagining since last year’s Joe Hirsch (I) at Belmont. But the one horse who had every right to make everyone betting against him a wee bit damp in the pants would be breaking from the middle…
On the muscle and as bright as a copper penny, Graham Motion has obviously done great work with Main Sequence, who needs little introduction as the closing hero of this past United Nations Stakes (I). With Imagining setting the pace, I anticipated another really great showing from this classy gelding and I was not disappointed by what I saw.
Spotting the field several lengths at the start, Main Sequence was slow into stride taking his usual position at the back of the pack as Imagining took command over O’Prado Ole and War Dancer. Setting a sharp yet confident pace for the 1 1/2-mile distance, it was beginning to look like Imagining might get away just based on how good he looked running. The blinkered Shug horse, big and intimidating, was beginning to draw away smidgen by smidgen. G1 winner Twilight Eclipse, who lost this race last year by just a length, kept close tabs on Imagining as the field began bunching up early, almost a half lap around the course remaining. Main Sequence, threading his way up front slowly, began hitting his stride rounding the far turn. "Main Sequence! Main Sequence is coming powerfully on the outside!"
Was he going to get there? Imagining let it rip as soon as he set his path to straight, with Twilight Eclipse glued to him. When was Main Sequence going to get going? It didn’t look good, but as soon as I thought those words, Rajiv Maragh shook him back to life, and Main Sequence popped his knees skyward into a frenzied drive. The crowd screamed for one, the other, the other one.
It was Main Sequence in a brave dive to the wire over Imagining and Twilight Eclipse!
Big winners Rajiv Maragh and Main Sequence, now a two-time G1 winning pair!
In one of my favorite races from the Saratoga meet, the Sword Dancer fell to the courageous Main Sequence putting in another fantastic performance over top turf horses. Trainer Graham Motion was incredibly gracious for this fantastic horse in the winner’s circle, and there were thanks all around. If I didn’t love him already, Main Sequence kept glancing over at my clicking camera and before they led him out, he stopped his handler and gazed back over his shoulder in a very obvious model pose. Main Sequence, the ham of American turf racing!
Be sure to get my good side, Dawna! Main Sequence, the Ariana Grande of racehorses.
My Sword Dancer day lesson: be it running in a big race or saying hello to a human hero, there’s a little courage in us all if you dig a little deeper!