Each week on Dark Tuesdays, we will bring you “The Saratoga Skinny” looking at the coming week of racing at Saratoga and looking back at the big action the week before. “The Saratoga Skinny” will be broken into five sections: The Break (looking at the biggest story of the upcoming week), The Turn (focusing on Stakes races on Saturdays), The Stretch (focusing on other stories in the upcoming week), Going to the Whip (some thoughts on the week before and a few light-hearted jokes, when appropriate) and The Finish Line (discussing important upcoming events in Saratoga). Now that you know how “The Saratoga Skinny” works, let’s get into it!
The Break: Dandy Match Race?
Well, that’s about all you’re going to get when they enter the gate for the Grade 2 Jim Dandy this Saturday, July 29, at Saratoga Race Course.
In what has become commonplace for the Jim Dandy recently, a short field is expected to contest Derby champ Always Dreaming and Preakness victor Cloud Computing in this year’s edition.
There will be plenty of grumbling this week about why can’t they find horses to fill the race and how the non-graded Curlin Stakes the day prior is stealing horses from the Jim Dandy. In all actuality, though, is it better to have subpar horses fill up gate positions, or just leave it up to the big two to fight it out for 3-year-old supremacy at The Spa?
I’ll take it one step further: how about we cut it back to just Always Dreaming vs. Cloud Computing and have a good old-fashioned match race?
From a betting perspective, a match race doesn’t lend itself well in today’s multi-race, exotic wagering-driven sport, but for pure fans, it would be indeed thrilling to see two Triple Crown race winners go nose-to-nose on racing’s biggest stage at Saratoga.
It would hearken back to the golden age of match races. Man o’ War easily beating Sir Barton in 1920; Seabiscuit’s 4-length victory over War Admiral in the 1938 Pimlico Special; Alsab’s nose win over Whirlaway in 1942; and Nashua defeating Swaps in 1955.
The last significant match race was 42 years ago when filly Ruffian faced Foolish Pleasure at Belmont Park in 1975. Ruffian was euthanized after the race and has soured everyone on match races since then. It has become accepted that they are too dangerous, but horses train every morning “in company” going nose-to-nose, so it could be reevaluated if match races are safe or not.
I wasn’t alive during these races, so I admit that I didn’t live through the pain of losing Ruffian, but could we have a match race on occasion? In a game always looking for a new promotional angle, why not rely on one as old as the sport itself? Didn’t horse racing start by one guy saying to another, “Hey, my horse is faster than yours. Want to race them?”
There may be nothing more compelling nor a better way to prove who’s better than pitting two great horses against one another. A match race is a showdown and helps build rivalries. If promoted correctly, it would grab the attention of the media and public.
Logistics aside, including how the graded stakes system would look at such races or if tracks would be able to attract top horses to run in these match races, it would be intriguing to figure out a way to make these events happen.
We won’t get our match race on Saturday, as Graded Stakes winner Good Samaritan has been entered by Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott and looks like the most likely threat to the top two, but he will be making his first start on dirt. Good Samaritan was expected to try the Kentucky Derby trail early in the year, but was sidelined to start 2017, so this dirt try has always been the plan.
Trainer Doug O’Neill also has shipped in Pavel for the Dandy off an impressive 6 1/2-furlong debut win at Santa Anita to start July. O’Neill is high on his colt’s chances. Giuseppe the Great has been entered for trainer Nick Zito off his fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Dwyer, which was preceded by his runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens at 30-1 odds.
These trainers have every right to enter their horses to try to take down the Triple Crown race winners. Still, all eyes will be on the top two, watching if Always Dreaming for trainer Todd Pletcher can come back after his disappointing eighth-place finish in the Preakness to challenge the Chad Brown-trained Cloud Computing. Reports on both colts indicate that they are training well coming into the race, so all we can do is hope for a clean trip for both and a showdown in the Saratoga stretch.
It is tough to even think of a racing industry where match races would be prevalent, but with two Triple Crown race winners headlining the card, it provides some “food for thought” for a way to add some extra excitement to the game.
The Turn: Travers Day Preps
The Jim Dandy undercard has three major stakes races featuring horses hoping to perform well enough to move onto Grade 1 stakes contests in 4 weeks on the Travers Day undercard.
The Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap for sprinters going 6 furlongs will bring back last year’s Vanderbilt winner, A. P. Indian, who went on to win the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga last year. A.P. Indian was forced to miss the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship at the start of July with a minor ankle problem, but trainer Arnaud Delacour has said that he is training well with a focus to defending his Saratoga sprint titles.
Others entered in the Vanderbilt include Awesome Banner, Bird Song, El Deal, Green Gratto, Limousine Liberal, Spartiatis and Ready For Rye. If Bird Song wins the Vanderbilt, there will be celebrations all throughout town, since he is owned by Saratoga “royal” Marylou Whitney.
Runners coming out of the Vanderbilt may next focus on the Forego at seven furlongs on the Travers undercard on August 26, where top sprinter Mind Your Biscuits will likely make his next start after his Belmont Sprint Championship win.
Another Jim Dandy undercard feature, the Grade 2 Bowling Green at 1 3/8 miles on the turf, will bring back surprise Grade 1 Manhattan winner Ascend, who took that race on the Belmont Stakes undercard for trainer Graham Motion at 28-1 odds. Motion has chosen this race over other possible entries, including the Grade 1 Arlington Million, because he wants to prepare Ascend to run in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer on Travers Day.
Bigger Picture, Closing Bell, Frank Conversation, Hunter O’Riley, Sadler’s Joy, and Hello Don Julio also will contest the Bowling Green.
3-Year Old Sprinters
The Grade 2 Amsterdam for 3-year olds going 6 1/2 furlongs finishes off the graded stakes action on Jim Dandy Day and will feature Coal Front, the undefeated Todd Pletcher trainee. The late-developing colt didn’t make his first start until April of his 3-year-old season, but has reeled off back-to-back wins to start his career. Pletcher told Daily Racing Form that “the timing is good for the Amsterdam” after Coal Front came “off a very fast allowance race” on June 8 at Belmont Park. That performance was somewhat flattered when the runner-up in that June 8 race, Patternrecognition, came back to run a good second behind impressive allowance winner Takaful on opening day at Saratoga.
Others running in the Amsterdam include Aquamarine, Mo Cash, Singing Bullet, Toga Challenger, and Excitations. Horses coming out of the Amsterdam may next go to the Grade 1 Jerkens (formerly the King’s Bishop) on Travers Day. Both Takaful and top Bob Baffert trainee American Anthem, who won the Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes day, are being pointed to the Jerkens.
The Stretch: Girl Power
The Grade 3 Shuvee on Sunday, July 30, finishes the graded stakes action for the week and will bring together a very nice field of older females going 1 1/8 miles on the dirt. Trainer Steve Asmussen will target multiple graded stakes winner Terra Promessa to the Shuvee (read more from Asmussen here). Based on how she runs in the Shuvee, the Grade 1 Personal Ensign on August 26 could be possible for Terra Promessa, with a well-spaced, four-week turnaround.
Paid Up Subscriber, who finished second in her last start while chasing down top filly Songbird in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on Belmont Stakes day, will look to chase down Terra Promessa, who will likely be on the lead in this spot.
Apologynotaccepted for trainer Bill Mott is likely to enter the Shuvee, while Carrumba, Highway Star, and Mom’s On Strike are all possible.
The Travers Day undercard will bring back many of these top females in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, the likely next start for multiple Grade 1 winner Forever Unbridled. Trainer Dallas Stewart has said for a while that his prized mare would be pointed to the Personal Ensign as her main summer goal. After finishing third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff behind top females Beholder and Songbird, Forever Unbridled underwent routine minor surgery to remove a bone chip from her left-front ankle last December, but she looked great in her return to win the Grade 1 Fleur De Lis at Churchill in mid-June.
The main question still surrounding the Personal Ensign is if Songbird will show up at Saratoga for this race, so we will follow this in “The Saratoga Skinny” all summer.
Going to the Whip: Inquiries Abound
• Nothing gets horse racing Twitter riled up more than big-time inquiries. Opening weekend at The Spa had two huge inquiries in the two Grade 1 stakes races. In both cases, the stewards made the right decision to not take down Lady Eli in the Grade 1 Diana and Abel Tasman in the Grade 1 Coaching Club America Oaks.
• The “under-the-radar” star of opening weekend may have been Mr. Crow for Pletcher, who romped in the opener on Saturday. breaking his maiden by 11 1/2 lengths. The 3-year-old received the highest Beyer Speed Figure for his crop so far, recording a 109 in the victory. People were quick to recommend that Pletcher enter Mr. Crow in the Grade 2 Jerkens after the race, but Pletcher may instead bide his time and put Mr. Crow through his allowance conditions, since the win was only his second career start.
• There is nothing that I like better than seeing people tweet out photos of the Twin Bridges when they drive up to Saratoga. Please, please, please tag me in any photos that you take of those gross bridges on the Northway that congest traffic every day.
The Finish Line: Jockey Karaoke
If you’re in town on Monday, July 31, head over to Vapor Night Club to see the best jockeys in the game try to sing in the 7th Annual Saratoga Jockey Karaoke Contest and Fundraiser to benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF). The event at the night club inside the Saratoga Casino and Raceway is one of the most memorable nights of the Saratoga meet and is for a great cause! Tickets are available here.
Keep up to date on all the Saratoga news by following me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim and on Instagram and Facebook, too!