Sunday, July 27, 2008

Early Saratoga Lists and final Tour note

It's worrisome when rain is omnipresent at the beginning of the Saratoga meet. In all likelihood this points to a weather pattern that will persist throughout the summer. Those are tough conditions for those on the backside as well as horses and fans. Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope for better.

Along with the noteworthy performances there have been, as usual, surprises and disappointments. The disappointment ledger has to be led off with Ocean Colors who ran miserably in the opening day Schuylerville S. (gr.III). Of course weather can always be an issue, however, she broke well, led past the first fraction and just kept backing up thereafter. Being the second to last foal out of Derby winner Winning Colors she is a sentimental hopeful for almost everybody. I also have to put Grasshopper high on my disappointment list. I know he finished third yesterday but I didn't see The Whitney H. field as a particularly strong one. Yes, he's been knocked around by some of this group before. Yes, his last two races were dismal, but, he likes Saratoga and up until his Pimlico Special performance I would have counted him as one of the best fighters out there. Commentator did set some pedestrian fractions and the track did seem tiring but this is the Grade I Whitney! On the disappointment side I'll also put Bustin Stones just because it was a disappointment not to get to see him run. Let's hope he's better by The Forego. At least that would be my best guess for his next appearance. High on the list also has to be The Sanford S. (gr.II). Yes, the race! Four horses? Yes, I know, the weather! But four horses? Couldn't the secretary get on the horn and offer some urging to someone? I know I've ranted about this before but I abhor these small graded stakes fields, especially with younger horses. Who are they really beating? It's not as though everyone defected because they have to run against Man o' War or Secretariat! It's just a pity. Maybe it's a pity that we can't produce enough horses that we can have a full field of two year old's at SARATOGA! for such an historic stake such as the Sanford. I would also add to the list yesterdays Vanderbilt H. (gr.II) won by Abraaj in 1:10 .23 although Sammarco did set blazing fractions (22.06 - 44.56 - 56.98) . I just felt underwhelmed by the race. And if Alan Garcia had to hit Abraaj for another 100 yards I'm sure PETA would've been on the phones again! I'm going to list the field for the Go for Wand H. (gr.I) handicap as a disappointment also. With the exception of Ginger Punch only two other horses had won a graded event: Indescribable (the gr.III Arlington Matron) and Moon Catcher (the Gr.II Del. Oaks).

That brings me to the some surprises under which I would also include possible discoveries. The first also came on yesterdays card in the second race, a MSW for 2yo's. Munnings, a Speightstown colt, won by 4 -1/4 after hitting the gate, expending early energy and being challenged! Not to mention doing it in 1:09.84! - 2/5 seconds faster than the gr.II Vanderbilt H.
Where was he on Thursday for the Sanford? Of course times don't always tell the true story. Benny the Waiter won the first race, a 6f [S]Alw 61,000 N1X affair in 1:09.74! But, by the end of the day, horses looked like they were running uphill to the line. Maybe the bit of rain that fell? - who knows? Another surprise, again yesterday, had to be Forever Together in the Diana (gr.I). She beat a stellar field showing once again that you can never count out a Jonathan Sheppard trained horse.

As for the noteworthy category I would put Ginger Punch right up top. I know I ripped the field in the disappointment section but you have to admire how good she is. The jockeys in the Go for Wand, appeared to me, as though they were riding to do everything they could to keep Ginger Punch from winning rather than running to win themselves. In the end, class (of which grit and guts are a large part) won out. Ginger Punch and Bejarano split a seam that few jockeys, let alone horses, would have attempted. But, once through there was no doubt who was the best. The best race I have seen yet was Friday's 6th. An OC35k NW3L (69k). One of my watch horses Real Estate won, what would would have been an epic battle, had it occurred in a stakes race. He didn't break great but got to the lead, was challenged coming out of the turn by Visible Truth and then by Aqunio and the three of them banged it out the entire length of the stretch. Real Estate finally prevailed when there seemed no way he could. He had set fractions of 21.98 - 44.76 - 56.73 and won in 1:09.38. What a game performance! As a last entry on the noteworthy list I'm going to put today's Jim Dandy even though it hasn't been run yet. I think it is likely to be the best field (most contentious) we see at the Spa this year. It includes Pyro, Da'Tara, Tale of Ekati, Macho Again, Anak Nakal, Mint Lane and Tiz Now Tiz Then. Wow!

Big Brown looks like he's running hot again. A six furlong move in 1:10 .96 and striding out 7 in 1:24.90, working by himself! Now if only three horses show up for the Haskell next week I'd understand. I won't like it but I'd understand.

News that Swiss Yodeler is going to Harris Farm in Ca. is great news for Ca. breeders. I know he's 14 but I have thought for a long time he belonged in Kentucky. I imagine it's a credit to Heinz Steinman, his campaigner and owner, that he wants to keep him close to home. I can't believe he hasn't had some big offers.

The Tour:
Hat's off to Carlos Sastre who will be sipping champagne on the Champs-Elysees today! He made the big move on l'Alpe d' Huez and he made it hold by running the Time Trial of his career yesterday. His team CSC, also the tour winning team, was by far and away the best team in the field. With Andy Schleck they will also bring home the white jersey for best young rider! What a Tour for CSC! One has to feel for Cadel Evans, another podium finish but not a win. He had to run too much of the race alone. The truth of the matter is that bicycling, at least the tours are absolutely a team sport and all need to have the same agenda! Think about that when you think of Lance's 7 straight Tour wins. There were a lot of very unselfish teammates ridding alongside and very often out ahead of him. In Any event Congratulations to Carlos Sastre and Team CSC for a much deserved win at le Tour de France!

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