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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. 

Discreet Marq breezes over the turf training course at Saratoga with Irad Ortiz Jr up 

Discreet Marq breezes over the turf training course at Saratoga with Irad Ortiz Jr up 

Ken McPeek trainee galloping in the Saratoga drizzle

Ken McPeek trainee galloping in the Saratoga drizzle

Golden Ticket and Last Gunfighter break from their outer posts in the Whitney Handicap (I)

Golden Ticket and Last Gunfighter break from their outer posts in the Whitney Handicap (I)

Street Story

Street Story

Time to play GUESS THAT MYSTERY PLETCHER HORSE!

Time to play GUESS THAT MYSTERY PLETCHER HORSE!

Princess of Sylmar breezed with a gray workmate preparing for the Personal Ensign (I)

Princess of Sylmar breezed with a gray workmate preparing for the Personal Ensign (I)

Fabulous Fillies Day: A Photo Blog

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More Saratoga photo blog time! I spent August 15, 16, and 17 at Saratoga Race Course recently with camera in hand as a planned birthday gift to myself. Each day will get its own blog using photos I took for each one.

The great thing about Saratoga is that no matter what, something good always happens there.

A pearl of wisdom shed by my own brain cells, it was a sentence that would live on throughout the weekend’s peaks and valleys at one of America’s most treasured racetracks. And to me, the happiest place on Earth—a little shred of paradise called Saratoga Race Course.

On track to get that $30 season pass to pay for itself (it is $5 general admission this year at Toga), Fabulous Fillies Day on August 15 would mark my 5th visit to the track this meet with the following two days marking days 6 and 7 as the ideal birthday gift to myself. With two Grade 1 events lined up for the 3-day weekend, the ultimate part about going to Saratoga is finding that what you expected to be great was not nearly as great as the things that you weren’t expecting.

I awoke in a sluggish food coma that morning, dragging myself out of bed somewhat sickly to make that dark drive to catch the golden light of dawn at the Oklahoma training track. Never again will I attempt a Double Whopper with Cheese plus a Red Robin bacon cheeseburger plus birthday cake in a 5-hour span.

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Obviously everyone got the memo about wearing pink.

But Friday was not so much about catching the light as I thought it would be; whatever fragments of light showed up in the early morning hours quickly made like Houdini behind a blanket of clouds for the rest of the day. It was so unusually cold, it had me thinking it was September as I pulled on a hooded sweatshirt, which would stay on for the rest of the day. Familiar face and fellow railbird/pony paparazzi fourfurlongs aka “Homeslice” arrived just before me. “You just missed Mr. Speaker!”

It was no great surprise, or not much of a loss really. I had already caught the Travers hopeful on camera, and on a much prettier summer morning on the Oklahoma training track. Wet dew coated the grass and dampened our shoes as we got in some morning hour shots with whatever available light we could. One of my favorite things about hanging out with the Slice is her carefree attitude and nonchalant approach to everything. We talked about our hopes for the future, recent stories from our everyday in-between-Saratoga lives, horses, and photography. If you’ve seen her work around here and elsewhere, Slice has a very distinct style and knack for the extreme close-up. I remarked trying to replicate it or get into it, but it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Half-jokingly, I tried the “unusual angle” stylings of Slice, which produced one of my favorite frames of the Saratoga meet thus far:

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It began to rain here and there, forcing us onto the roofed corner patio— dare I nickname it the “mini Whitney viewing stand”— and made us wary of catching any turf workouts that day. But, the turf ponies came out soon enough inside the grassy oval, making it look like they were playing rather than galloping or breezing.

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Trainer Tom Morley and Maggie Wolfendale (the future Maggie Morley) galloped in the rain.

Friday was the one and only day I chose to not buy a program, seeking to just enjoy the day and whatever it had to offer. With pink being the color of the day, the hat hawkers were out in force more than usual, trying to sell passing ladies— and yes, even gentlemen— an expensive, poofy hat. "I actually don’t own any pink… I checked before I got dressed this morning."

Homeslice: “Me neither.”

We came not for the hats or the Escada boutique on the grounds, but for the ponies dammit! With just one stake on the card— the John Morrissey for New York-breds— I was content to snap pictures all day while intermittently judging people, which I love almost as much as paddock judging, which I was forced to do without a program on hand to sniff out past performances.

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Lady Bling and Irad Ortiz Jr on their way out of the paddock. Lady would act unladylike at the gate before going on to win her race.

My first winner of the day came immediately in race #1 to kick off what I will remember as the most regretful weekend at Saratoga I’ve ever had when it comes to the betting department. Lady Bling made a beeline to the front coming off the hocks of favored Bebop Raindrop to score at 3-1 odds on the grass while breaking her maiden. Other successful maidens of the day included Flat Out lookalike and daughter of Flatter, Upstart, who just ran away from the field in open company and Trecastle, a handsome son of Medaglia d’Oro wearing the Darley colors.

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Jose Ortiz keeps the Ortiz fever going with maiden winner Upstart.

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Trecastle— wow! What a looker! 

The highlight of the undercard came in the 9-furlong allowance for older mares, which was attended by just 6 horses, but really put the “filly” in Fabulous Fillies Day. Several entries exited unsuccessful bids in the Coaching Club American Oaks (I) last out, and I believe all but one entry all lost to Stopchargingmaria at one point or another. There were different pluses and minuses to say for each, and with a skewed analysis by Maggie Wolfendale, I went with a gut reaction pick after seeing one filly act cool and collected while looking pretty lean cuisine. “I actually like Penwith.” I’m not normally a picker of Bernardinis, especially struggling off-form ones, but she looked ready and had the pedigree to go 9 furlongs. And run she did, storming home by 5 lengths at 8-1 odds in front of Sheer Drama. Irad Ortiz Jr was on figurative fire, giving Darley one of its two wins of the day.

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Penwith took off in the stretch easily enough under Irad Ortiz Jr. 

To add to the pig pile of “nice win, wish I bet on it” moments, Maximova, a filly trained by Christophe Clement, also won her next race. I liked her enough to bet on her on opening day. She was throttled back in the field until late in the stretch, and just bounced away from that field, again with Irad Ortiz Jr in the irons. Yet another good New York-bred to watch for on the grass!

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Everything built up to the feature race of the Friday, the John Morrissey Stakes for New York-breds going 9 furlongs on the dirt main. It was a pretty open race with a lot of different ways it could ultimately go, but the big favorite was Empire Classic Stakes winner and top New York-bred Saratoga Snacks, who would be breaking from the rail post.

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Joel Rosario heard some little kids cheering on “number 1,” while jogging past on Brigand. They quickly changed their chant from “Go number 1… and go number 2, hustle!” #sometimeskidsarecute

The tempo was fast, with Weekend Hideaway taking advantage of a few missteps by Saratoga Snacks to grab ahold of the lead right out of the gate. Moonlight Song also broke well from the #5 post and went into a stalking position behind Weekend Hideaway, who set up sizzling fractions of :22 flat and :44 3/5 fractional times. Would a closer grab it?

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Nope! Weekend Hideaway did it wire-to-wire by 2! Big Business was up for second with longshot West Hills Giant closing in for 3rd!

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Sam the Bugler was always down to do a request, especially for the kids.

For a day mired in drizzle, overcast clouds, and pink (ugh) fashionistas, it turned out to be a memorable, lovable sort of day nonetheless. I think it was the first day I ever planned on definitely going to Saratoga where there wasn’t a big horse running or a big graded stake going down. I was there just to be there, and by the end of the day, I was way glad I was because it was going to be my last day with Homeslice, who I believe is in Maryland for goodness knows how long. After finding each other’s Tumblr accounts roughly a year ago, we met in-person at Belmont’s Super Saturday and since then, we have met up for the Cigar Mile, the Wood Memorial, the Belmont Stakes, and Saratoga’s opening weekend. It was depressing in the most uplifting of ways saying goodbye to my friend, who no doubt will go on to do great things as a professional in racing.

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"Slice" and Barbara Livingston, who is also just finding out she’s LEAVING US!

To quote Arnie from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, “It’s not goodbye, it’s goodnight.”

Street Girl (her legs anyway)

Street Girl (her legs anyway)

Working on photo blogs, no Travers for me

A really stellar portrait of me at Saratoga done by the fabulous fourfurlongs in case you haven’t seen it yet!

I’ve attended a LOT more days at Saratoga than I originally anticipated, and as much as I absolutely love soaking in the scene over there I’ll be skipping both Personal Ensign and Travers days. The massive crowds, the driving back-and-forth, the inevitable price gouging, and me being scheduled to work is pushing me in the direction of enjoying the races from the couch. 

BUT! I am making plans to attend Woodward Day as well as Tom Durkin’s last day at the end of the month. I also have a reservation for a photography workshop taught by Tod Marks on that Saturday, so the Saratoganess isn’t over yet.

Photo blogs and handicapping for Saturday coming down the pipeline as well. Do let me know if you have a Saratoga race you’re interested in me picking apart. I’m in the process of typing it, but I had that $1,000 pick 3 on Sword Dancer day… if only I hadn’t ragequit earlier in the card after losing another pick 3 by a head I’d be a lot happier right now!

High hoof!

Dawna

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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