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Saratoga Weekly Wrap Up – Travers Week

It was, as it has been all meet, an unbelievable week of racing at Saratoga, let’s take a look back.

Credit, Joe BianchinoSometimes, sporting events disappoint.  They’re built up as some epic battle, or some intriguing chess match.  We spend hours and days evaluating and anticipating, but when they arrive, they give us but a fraction of what we expected – if that.

See: Butler vs. UCONN

With as much excitement and excitement as was swirling about in the days leading up to this Travers week, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see it become another in that long line of disappointment.

But it didn’t.

In fact, it did the opposite. It lived up to that expectation in every possible way, even if not in the way we aniticipated.

The week opened with stakes wins for Escapefromreality in the Albany, Victoria Olympia in the Alydar and Dance to Bristol in the Grade 1 Ballerina.  It was the latter’s seventh straight win, an exciting coronation for the spiriting filly, besting a very game Book Review and staking her claim as the division’s best.

The Ballerina, and really all of Friday’s card, though, was overshadowed by an injury to one of the world’s hottest jockies, Joel Rosario.  Rosario, who was slated to ride Orb in Saturday’s Travers – having been in the irons when that colt won the Kentucky Derby – took a spill just past the finish line and had to receive assistance from the paramedics.  Later, it was revealed that the up-and-coming jock had broken his foot, and would miss six weeks of racing action – including, of course, the Travers.

Without Rosario, the racing action would roll into Saturday and, most notably, into the day’s four Graded Stakes – culminating with the Mid Summer Derby.

First up on the Stakes slate was the Grade I Test, which proved a brilliant opening, with Sweet Lulu prevailing by a nose – fighting off a game Wildcat Lilly in a furious stretch drive. My Happy Face was third, though may have been best on the day having been spun seven or eight wide on the turn.

The Grade 2 Ballston Spa came next, and, as it was a few weeks ago in the Grade 1 Diana, it was Laughing who would hit the wire first, using the speed favoring track – and the favorable rail position – to edge fellow speed Pianist, and wire the field.

Then came the Grade 1 King’s Bishop, a seven furlong sprint which, this year, featured a stacked field of 14.  As the cavalry charge turned for home, it looked as though the 7-1 Mentor Cane would romp; he’d stretched out to a several length lead and did it with ease.  But just as things looked decided, the 28-1 Capo Bastone closed with fury on the outside, using two bursts of speed to power past them all and claim his first Grade 1 for Todd Pletcher and Irad Ortiz Jr.

An incredible race.  A worthy prelude.  But, still, the overture.  The symphony was about to begin.

It would be played by one of the best Travers fields in recent memory, lead by Haskell winning Verrazano, the Belmont/Dandy winning Palace Malace, and reigning Kentucky Derby winner Orb.  Most thought that one of those three was about to be crowned, made the front-runner in his division and the favorite in almost any race they entered for the near future.

Instead, it was a pair of long-shots hitting the wire first.  The impossibly long-odded 31-1 Moreno lead most of the race, and, with Palace Malace marooned at the back after a bad break and Verrazano wilting at the top of the stretch, looked the winner when he turned back the stretch charge of Orb.  But, like the King’s Bishop, a late run was coming – this time in the form of a Wayne Lukas colt that wise guys have been waiting on since the Derby.  Will Take Charge surged to the front and bested Moreno in a finish that could only have been closer if it was Alpha and Golden Ticket on the wire.

The crescendo of the Saratoga meet had hit its peak and did so in spectacular fashion.

Though a pair of breakdowns in Sunday’s ninth race cooled the Travers high, racing fans were greeted to yet another brilliant bit of work in that day’s feature as two-time Eclipse Award winner Royal Delta demolished the field in the Personal Ensign.

Royal Delta, Will Take Charge, Capo Bastone, Dance to Bristol, others unnamed, parts of a sum that was, simply put, an unbelievable week of racing.  And yet, not one of their moments of triumph could emotionally touch the excitement and sentimentality of the week’s finish, with one of the track’s greatest trainers finding his way back into its Winner’s Circle.

Allen Jerkens, The Chief, who was first named New York’s leading trainer in 1957 saw his filly, Go Unbridled, win Monday’s co-feature, the Saratoga Dew Stakes.  The 84-year-old Hall of Famer stood with tears in his eyes as he received a standing ovation from the Saratoga crowd, who was glad – as they always are – to honor their course’s history and tradition, and the great men and women who built it.

This week will be the last of 2013 from Saratoga.  A bitter pill to swallow, no doubt, but made just a little sweet by Saturday’s Woodward, which may well be the best race of the meet.

For a full preview of that race, and of the entire weekend of 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.

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