We’re past the halfway mark at Saratoga and into the fifth of seven weeks into the meeting. There’s plenty to discuss as we look forward to next week’s Travers Stakes and the feature race of the 40 days of racing at the foot of the Adirondacks.
Some thoughts as we head into Alabama weekend…..
On the left coast we’ll see if Arrogate (Even) rebounds from his performance last month in the San Diego H. in Saturday’s Pacific Classic at Del Mar. The big question is whether he just hates the track of if he just wasn’t ready for the San Diego and Baffert thought he could go through the motions and win easily. I’m going to go with the latter. I think he romps this weekend to reinforce his standing as the most dominant racehorse in the game right now, with apologies to Gun Runner.
In recent years, the CCAO winner has fared well in the $600,000 Alabama Stakes and this year is likely no different. Abel Tasman has been the class of the 3-year-old filly division, but her connections are passing on the Alabama. Baffert mentioned both next weekend’s Personal Ensign, (where she would face Songbird) or the Cotillion at Parx in mid-September as possible next starts.
The most intriguing entry in the Alabama is New Money Honey (6-1), who will look to transfer her success on the turf to the dirt in the 137th Alabama. She has four wins and a second in six starts and will be looking for her third straight Grade 1 victory in the nine-horse race. She’s won at the Alabama mile-and-a-quarter distance, albeit on the turf in the Belmont Oaks last month. Javier Castellano will retain the mount.
With this year’s Queen’s Plate winner entered in Holy Helena (4-1), there will be some interest in these parts on how she fares against the class of the division. She should handle the track better than Inglorious did in 2011, when she finished a dismal last after skipping the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie to try the Spa. Johnny Velazquez takes over the irons from Luis Contreras and will leave from gate No. 2 on Saturday.
The race has also attracted the top-two finishers of the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont in Unchained Melody (3-1) and Lockdown (5-1).
An inaugural horse racing conference was held earlier in the week at the Saratoga City Center, which has been receiving rave reviews from those attending (and some hate from the usual suspects on Twitter). The panels seemed to be well represented in the various facets of the game. Panels on such diverse topics as breeding, international racing, horseplayer advocates, women in racing in addition to jockey, trainer and owner sessions gave attendees the opportunity to listen to what interested them most.
Last week on the At the Races daily radio show on satellite radio, Justin Nicholson, one of the partners of the for-profit venture that is putting on first annual Equestricon, told the listening audience that they had sold 1,000 advance tickets and had hoped for total paid attendance of 1,500.
It was difficult to determine via Periscope how well attended the panel sessions were as the camera never panned the audience. Founder Dan Tordjman on At the Races on Tuesday morning was upbeat related to how everything came together in just one year’s time. “The overall vibe is just so positive here, it’s exactly what we were trying to project from day one,” said Tordjman.
No announcement has been made for the 2018 conference, but the founders will likely want to establish some consistency and learn from this year’s experience and return to Saratoga before embarking on different convention destinations. I could see it being a lead-in to future Breeders’ Cups earlier during that week when racing converges for the annual championships. The Breeders’ Cup was one of the signature sponsors of the inaugural event.
Have I mentioned how much I love Jose Lezcano on the turf during this Saratoga meeting? He’s always been sneaky good on the weeds, but he’s had a few nice scores over the past few weeks. He added another nice win on Wednesday aboard Mobridge ($6.70) for trainer Bill Mott, who has struggled.
The Pletcher/Brown training duel is on. Heading into Thursday’s card, Pletcher added a win on Wednesday to tie (at 24 wins) last year’s training champion, who unseated the Toddster for the first time in recent memory. Pletcher has 85 starts versus Brown’s 75 thus far into the meet.
Who’s hot and who’s not in the trainer ranks? Jason Servis is winning at a 41 percent clip (7-for-17) and Charlie Baker (5-for-17) are both trainers on the hot side. Baker had a cool Belmont spring meet, but was obviously readying his live runners for Saratoga, an angle to keep an eye on every year heading into the Spa.
On the icy side, Mark Casse (3-for-54) has struggled along with Steve Asmussen (3-for-34) thus far. A surprisingly cool trainer is Christophe Clement (2-for-29) who usually has a strong string of turf horses at the Spa.
On the jockey side, the Ortiz Brothers who are leading the charge atop the standings. Jose (35 wins) leads Irad by two heading into the weekend. Jose has been dynamite in turf springs and Irad has excelled in turf routes on their way up the leaderboard.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.