By Gene Kershner
It's somewhat of a sleepy summer racing weekend with two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan skipping this weekend's Fourstardave at the Spa after winning the last two editions. Recovering from colic surgery in May, the two potential races for the champ are the Bernard Baruch (Aug. 30) at the Spa or a return to Canada for the Woodbine Mile (Sept. 14). We're a week away from the Alabama S. and two weeks out from the Travers S. which is shaping up to be a fairly healthy field.
Here are some news and notes from around the track…
- Queen's Plate winner Lexie Lou will reemerges this weekend to try the turf in the $250K Wonder Where Stakes at Woodbine on Saturday at the same 1 1/4-mile distance for trainer Mark Casse. This will be the filly's turf debut after consecutive victories in the Woodbine Oaks and the Plate. She's bred for the grass as her dam, Oneexcessivenite, won four of 18 starts of which three wins came on the turf. More importantly, her sire Sligo Bay, a son of the great Sadler's Wells, is a Grade 1 winner on the grass.
- Speaking of Queen's Plate winners, Midnight Aria will make her first start since last year's Plate in a $50K starter allowance at Woodbine. Jesse Campbell will retain the mount on the 7-5 favorite who will take on seven others in the one mile race.
- Bob Baffert announced that Haskell Invitational winner Bayern is pointed towards the Travers on Aug. 23. He won impressively at Monmouth after a dominating performance in the Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes day. The last Haskell winner to win the Travers was Point Given in 2001, also trained by Baffert. Summer Bird (2009) was the last Travers winner to come out of the Haskell. Several horses in recent years have sputtered coming out of the Haskell including Coil (2011) and Verrazano (2013).
- Another esteemed turf writer passed away this week who was also a Buffalo native and graduate of UB Law School. Vic Zast, 69, died on Aug. 3 of pancreatic cancer in Chicago after many years as an entrepreneur, a marketer and a turf writer. I sat with him and his wife, Maureen, two years ago today at the 2012 Hall of Fame Ceremony at his beloved Saratoga and we swapped Buffalo stories. He was a Bills fan through and through and was always wearing a smile. He was the first to tell me I was elected into the NTWAB in 2012 as I hopped on the media bus at the Derby, a moment I'll never forget. He wrote "The History and Art of 25 Travers" and produced a six-part series for the Golf Channel in 2011. Zast never missed a Breeders' Cup in the 30-year history of the event.
- Speaking of the Hall of Fame, two terrific horses, Ashado and Curlin will be inducted this morning into the National Museum Racing Hall of Fame's Class of 2014. Jockey Alex Solis and trainer Gary Jones will join the two horses as inductees in the ceremony being held in the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion in Saratoga Springs. Curlin still holds one of my favorite racing moments when he made the turn at the top of the stretch in the slop at Monmouth Park to win the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic as a 3-year-old on his way to back-to-back Horse of the Year honors. The acceleration and sheer power he exhibited at that moment in the race was like none other I've ever witnessed.
- With Palace Malice's poor showing in last weekend's Whitney Stakes, the Horse of the Year race is wide open with a number of horses in the running for the honors. It will likely come down to a showdown of some big-name horses including California Chrome in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 1 that could decide who will corral this year's Eclipse. Palace Malice will point next to the Woodward Stakes to try and recover some of the steam he built coming into the Whitney. Will Take Charge is also pointing toward the Woodward.
-Today is Aug. 8 (8/8), otherwise known as Crazy Eights day in my book. The 8 horse in the 8th race at Saratoga this afternoon is named Fantastic Eyes (6-1), it's also my eldest daughter's birthday and she happens to have fantastic baby blue eyes. Can you say hunch bet?