Saratoga Race Course Weekend Wrap Up – Jim Dandy Weekend
With Saratoga’s weekend racing concluded, we take a look back on all that was. And in a word, it was…eclectic. In another? Weird.
Sun – Rain. Favorites – Long-shots. Longer shots – And then another even longer shot. These past three days at the Saratoga Race Course have been a whirlwind of baffling and exciting action, and while they were headlined by a trio of graded stakes, the excitement didn’t end there.
Instead – spurred on by a healthy dose of rain and some off-turf and sloppy track racing – the parade of long-shots seen welcomed into the Winner’s Circle took a great deal of the attention. Of 31 races run this weekend, nine were captured by horses paying over $20 to win, with a handful of others hovering near the $15 mark. Three winners paid over $50, with Lady Utopia – one of the longest shots of the weekend and a filly who hadn’t finished within 16 lengths of the lead in her young career – clipping the wire first at a jaw dropping 70-1, sending some, either clueless or all-seeing, gambler home with $142.
That in itself was enough to have handicappers everywhere shaking their heads. Add in the fact that Lady Utopia was followed across the line by the 40-1 Thirty Minutes, and disgruntled sighs quickly turned into obscenity-laced mutterings for those holding tickets – except the lucky few with exacta stubs paying $2,152. This only a day after three straight long-shots drove handicappers deep into a bottle – capping an insane pick four that paid $91,156.
Still, as is the way every weekend at Saratoga, it was the features that took center stage – beginning with Friday’s $100K Curlin Stakes. The question coming in was whether or not there would be enough pace for Chad Brown’s Street Life to claim the race and his spot in the Travers. It was a question that would be answered with an emphatic, “Who cares? He’ll win it anyway.” The honest pace likely had a lot to do with the win, but Street Life was a convincing winner through the slop – rounding the turn in what was likely the ten path, and bounding down the center of the track to a length and a half win. “[Jockey Jose Lezcano] had so much horse on the turn, it was clear to me at the quarter pole that he was the best horse in the race,” said Brown, a Mechanicville native. The win served as justification of Brown’s decision to run the horse in Friday’s feature, rather than Saturday’s Grade II Jim Dandy.
The Dandy has served as a preparation for the Travers for years, and was once again employed as such in 2012 with eight three year olds taking to the starting gate – six of whom had done the same in this year’s Triple Crown. In the end, it was the favorite, Alpha, claiming the lead at the start and never relinquishing it – despite lackluster fractions. The challenge everyone kept waiting for never really materialized – that was until mid stretch when Neck ‘n Neck took up the cause for the rest of a lethargic and largely uninterested field. Alpha took the threat in stride, responding with a second and third gear and an impressive win in the slop of Saratoga. “We knew he was training great and ready, and it all worked out today,” noted trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. It was a great run for the colt, the kind of effort that on other days would have been the toast of Saratoga. But unfortunately for Alpha, we had all just watched Winter Memories run.
The James J Toner filly had taken to the inner turf the favorite for the Grade I Diana stakes, and showed us all why at the top of the stretch. The fourth of six champion caliber horses as the field turned for home, Winter Memories felt the smallest urge from Javier Castellano and bolted away from the pack – opening a two length lead before her foes realized she was there. 2011 Champion Zagora and European, Dream Peace, tried in vein to track her down, but this was Winter Memories’ race. It was a dominant performance by the four year old, the most impressive of the weekend – though Currency Swap certainly did his best to equal it in Sunday’s feature, the Grade II Amsterdam.
This six furlong sprint had all of the pace that Saturday’s action did not. Lead by Todd Pletcher trainee Doctor Chit, the early fractions clicked by with reckless abandon, though as the field took to the stretch, the good Doctor was still on the lead. It wasn’t until the pace had dissolved in mid stretch that Currency Swap managed to rally his way to a lead he’d never let go. “It was our day…I’m so excited for the King’s Bishop,” trainer Teresa Pompay noted as part of a glowing review of her horse – intimating that the Travers day Grade I would be next for the three year old whose exciting performance capped an electrifying, confounding, and breathtaking weekend at Saratoga.
Weekday racing resumes on Monday. Follow me on Twitter – by checking out the link below – for live tweeted updates and handicapping advice throughout the week, and be sure to check back at 1045theteam.com for a preview of next weekend’s action, including feature race breakdowns and best bets.