The Best Of Saratoga

by John Piesen 

With the Saratoga race meeting at its halfway point, it seems like a good idea to review the Top 15 moments of the first half of the meeting. We’ll start from #15 and work our way up to #1. You may choose to agree or disagree about many of my choices, but I doubt there will be an argument about #1.

Here goes…

Todd Pletcher, with 17 winners and a .260 batting average, as expected is en route to his fifth Spa training title.

But Linda Rice is just as good a story. After knocking off The Toddster last year, she’s come Back as strong as ever, saddling nine winners from a mere 36 starters, a .250 average. She did’nt even let a traffic ticket for driving her golf cart across Nelson Avenue slow her down.

Ramon Dominguez, seeking an unprecedented tenth straight New York race-meet title, has to play some serious catch-up. Johnny Velazquez, enjoying the fruits of The Toddster’s success, tops the standings with 29 winners, with Castellano second with 24, and RD third at 23.

Let’s make the title odds: Johnny V, 6-5; Dominguez 2-1; Castellano 8-1.

Randy Romero’s acceptance speech when inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame across Union Avenue from the racetrack. Not a dry eye in the room as Randy, the ultimate Mr. Nice Guy, who overcame more adversity than the law should allow, spoke at length from the heart.

It was ironic that the award-winning 1979 film Casey’s Shadow, which was based on the life of Randy and his Cajun family, was shown on national cable TV the same evening.

Jess Jackson spent $2.3 million of his Rachel winnings back in February to purchase a colt named Brock at the 2-year-old sales in Florida.

Jackson named the colt Brock, presumably for baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock, and sent him to trainer Asmussen at Saratoga.

Dead on the board at 7-2 for his debut last Saturday, Brock checked in eighth of nine, beaten 15 lengths, with no excuses.

But why should Steve worry? At this point, he merely has three Breeders’ Cup favorites in the barn – Rachel (Distaff), Kantharos (2-year-old male) and Majesticperfection (sprint).

The John Piesen Racing Hotline confidently released Bearpath in the Sword Dancer last Saturday. Partially due to a switch to Calvin Borel, Bearpath was hammered from 10-1 morning-line to 4-1 second choice in the field of nine.

But, ironically, Calvin, who has made a living by riding the fence, took Bearpath six-wide on the final turn, while Gomez gunned Telling (10-1) down the rail to beat Bearpath 1 ½ lengths to win the Sword Dancer for the second straight year.

The ’09 Sword Dancer was the first Grade One for Oaklawn Park-based trainer Hobby. The ’10 Sword Dancer was Hobby’s second Grade One.

Hobby had to surprized because the NYRA TV announcer told his audience that Telling had absolutely no chance.

No Such Word gave Larry and Cindy Jones their third straight Monmouth Oaks victory, but look for No Such Word to make her next start in Pennsylvania, Indiana or West Virginia – anywhere but New York.

Larry has won five graded stakes in New York, but he’s hesitant to race there again.

“It costs about $6,000 with the workmen’s comp and all just to run these days a horse in New York,” he told me this morning. “No place else does this happen. I’m sure this deters a lot of folks from shipping in.’

In the meantime, Team Jones has a couple of hot-shot 2-year-olds cranking up to run at Delaware Park. One filly he likes better than Hard Spun. We’ll keep you posted.

Needless to say, much of our conversation was focused on Eight Belles, a conversation that – two-plus years later -- left us both in tears.

Attention trades:

Pure Clan, the best grass mare in the land, was being pointed by trainer Holthus for a comeback race in the Flower Bowl on Oct. 2 at Belmont Park. PC won that race last year, and would have been favored to repeat.

But word came Monday from Kentucky that Pure Clan has soured on racing, and was retired, much to the dismay of Team Holthus, which was looking ahead to the Breeders’ Cup Filly/Mare Turf, a race in which Pure Clan was a fast-closing second last year.

Maybe Pure Clan, a personal favorite, can be bred next spring to A.P. Indy.

Last Friday, jockey Maragh rode four at Saratoga, and batted .500, winning race one on Matt’s a Giant at $29.40, and race eight on Splendid Behavior at $34.20.

On Saturday, Maragh won race two on Private Rules at $18.60…and that evening, he caught a flight to San Diego, and, on Sunday, he scored his first Grade One on Wasted Tears ($4.20) in the John C. Mabee Stakes at Del Mar.


Hard to believe but trainer Zito managed to go winless (0-for-21) for the first half of the meet. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if Nick breaks the ice with a first-starter named Rock Hard Nicky?

Zito still plans to run three in the Travers – Ice Box, Fly Down and Miner’s Reserve.

All three will have to catch Trickmeister.

Continuing the legacy of George Steinbrenner, Position Limit on Sunday won the Adirondack Stakes for 2-year-olds by five lengths. This is the same Pletcher-trained filly who won first pop at Belmont last month on the day after The Boss’s death.

Position Limit is a daughter of Bellamy Road, arguably the best horse whom George bred and owned in his 40 years as the master of Kinsman Farm.

And in the race before the Adirondack, Codetta, a daughter of Dream Supreme, George’s best mare, dead-heated for first in a maiden race.

Usually, NYRA tries its best to spin the story when business goes bad. But there was no spinning in a Monday press release.

The release stated that, despite generally good weather, attendance and handle both are down 10 per cent at the halfway point of the meeting. This will be the second straight year that Saratoga numbers decline following a quarter-century of unparalled bottom-line success.

The obvious explanation is to blame the economy. The capital area really Is suffering. But there’s got to be more than that.

Management carded the Saratoga Special as race three on Monday in order to keep the race out of the Pick Six. Kantharos (2-for-2) was the 4-5 program favorite in a field of six 2-year-olds going 6 ½ furlongs.

But two scratches, including second-choice Sovereign Default, reduced the field to four, and Kantharos aired by seven under Gomez, who was replacing the injured Albarado. Tough break for Robbie.

Unfortunately for management, the Pick Six still became a virtual Pick Five as Tahitian Warrior won race eight at 3-10, denying NYRA a much-wanted three-day carryover into Wednesday.

The bottom line is that Kantharos is looking like the best 2-year-old in years.

On the first Sunday of the meet, Javier Castellano made Saratoga history by riding the winners of five straight races. This was two days after we projected Castellano in this venue as the one who could dethrone Dominguez.

Unfortunately, Castellano would later endure an 0-for-26 stretch…and (as noted above) is now a longshot to win the title.

The “experts” tried their best to convince us that Quality Road was a lock at 2-5 in the Whitney, but, despite setting soft fractions, QR got nailed by Blame in the last jump.

Memories are so short. Now Blame is the superstar…not Quality Road.

Regardless, the Whitney was the Race of the Meet to date.

Thank you Lisa’s Booty Trap, and owner-trainer Snyder, for giving racing a much-needed feel-good story of the year.

One final thought: Last Friday morning, we wrote how closers were dominating the Saratoga meeting. That afternoon, front-runners and/or stalkers won all nine races. And the speed has since continued to flourish.

Hey…that’s Saratoga.

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this week, don’t forget to check out John Piesen Racing, and we’ll see you back here Friday for a look at the weekend action, specifically the Alabama and Arlington Million.


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