Saratoga Weekly Round Up – Whitney Weekend
Happy Birthday Saratoga.
Last week we celebrated the coronation of John Velazquez as the course's all time winningest jockey. This week, Saratoga Race Course threw itself a birthday party. August 3, 1863 is when racing first came to a small resort town known for its natural springs - making last Saturday the course's 150th birthday.
The festivities included a Winner's Circle ceremony, a singing of both verses of "Happy Birthday" - apparently there are two - and the above cake made by Carlo's Bake Shop of TLC's Cake Boss fame. After the cake had been cleared, though, the real racing began with Saturday's Whitney Handicap taking center stage.
One of the meet's most prestigious races, the Whitney is always one to look forward to, but this year, the race seemed even more exciting than usual. Eight horses took to Saturday's starting gate lead by reigning Whitney and Breeders' Cup Classic champion Fort Larned. Multiple Graded Stakes winners and gaudy career earnings rounded out a classy, competitive field that had most thinking that any of the eight could win.
A poor break hurt Fort Larned who folded at the top of the stretch, allowing Todd Pletcher's Cross Traffic to assume control of the race. Mucho Macho Man and Successful Dan each came charging in the stretch but neither could get there - though the latter may have had enough, but was impeded by Mucho Macho Man who was forced outside by a winding, hard to control Cross Traffic.
John Velazquez had the mount on the now three-for-five colt - whose two losses have come by only a head and a nose respectively - meaning that on the course's 150th birthday, one of its most prestigious races was won by a perhaps now division leading colt, ridden by its greatest jockey, and trained by a man who may well end his career as its leading trainer.
A cool bit of history at America's oldest sporting venue.
Tote board magic in Sunday's first race got us off the nostalgic Saturday with a jolt, as 11-1 Calm Pacific came in on top of 36-1 Brilliant Command for an exacta that paid $772. There would be no such price in that day's feature, though, as only five horses competed in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt Stakes, and almost all were short prices. On the wire, it was the third betting option, Justin Phillip, who stalked the early lead and took over in mid-stretch to claim an impressive win and effectively take us into Tuesday's dark day.
This week is Hall of Fame week at the Spa, with the 2013 class being inducted Friday night and celebrated with Friday's Grade 2 feature. Saturday will see the Saratoga return of Wise Dan, the reigning Horse of the Year, who will be back to defend his title in Saturday's Grade 2 Fourstardave. Rounding out what should be a great week will be one of the most fun days of the meet, with the two-year-olds taking center stage in Sunday's Adirondack and Saratoga Special, both Grade 2's.
For a full preview of those races and of the entire weekend of racing action - including "best bets," "sure things," and other betting advice - check out NoTicketSports.com.
Also, follow me on Twitter @Joe_1045 for more live-updates and handicapping tips from Saratoga.