I've been watching New York racing for a long time but I don't think I have ever seen a main track like the one that the Test S. (G1) and Whitney H. (G1) were run over. Usually, New York's main tracks quicken when they get wet and when rain finally hit the Saratoga area late in the afternoon on Saturday, you would expect the main tracks to get faster.
With rain in the forecast, the main track was pretty tight after being sealed after morning training. The weather radar showed rain all over the Saratoga region beginning around 2 p.m. (EDT), so the water trucks took the afternoon off. When the rain finally came around 4:30 p.m., it wasn't as hard as expected and it seemed to make the track greasy.
Earlier in the day, three-year-old and up maidens went seven furlongs in 1:24.53. The Test has been run 86 times and TURBULENT DESCENT's (Congrats) final time of 1:24.17 was the slowest since 1963. A graded winner on Cushion Track, Santa Anita dirt, Polytrack and now Saratoga's main track, she gives the impression that she would run on broken glass if asked.
After a bit more rain, the Whitney Invitational was run at nine furlongs. All meet long, nine-furlong races on the main track here have been dominated by speed horses. They have a speed bias of 76 percent and the average beaten lengths for the winner is only 1.7 lengths.
Saturday's Whitney seemed to have a lot of pace in it and the betting public made Metropolitan H. (G1) winner TIZWAY (Tiznow) the lukewarm 4-1 favorite. In the Met Mile, he flew home in the blazing-fast time of 1:32.90, the fastest since timing went to hundredths of a second and equal to Honour and Glory's 1:32 4/5 stakes record.
Now, Tizway was on a track that was far slower but still speed favoring. Go figure. With regular rider Rajiv Maragh, he sat behind dueling leaders Friend or Foe (Friends Lake) and Morning Line (Tiznow) through a half in :49.11. He let them continue to lead until midway around the far turn when he could wait no more. Ordinarily, taking the lead with three furlongs to go in a nine-furlong Grade 1 race is not the way to go but it was the right move at the right time on the right track.
Tizway opened up a clear lead turning for home and separated himself from the rest of the competition. He covered the mile in 1:39.32 and came home in 13.11 for his final eighth of a mile. His final time of 1:52.43 was the slowest Whitney since 1959.
What was amazing about Saturday was that the track continued to be rated as "fast" and, if you didn't know better, you would never know it had rained. Not enough to change the track but enough to slow it down dramatically.
Tizway's two recent Grade 1 stakes wins on alarmingly different main tracks is a great testament to his ability and desire. Jimmy Bond has done a great job training him here up at Saratoga all season and, at the age of six, he's still firing bullets no matter how the track is playing.
Give some extra credit to Giant Oak (Giant's Causeway), who rallied from dead last to get up for third. All the reports I had heard the past two weeks were positive and he showed that they were right with a big rally on a track that favored speed all day. He likes Churchill and should be tough by the time the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) rolls around.
Speaking of the Breeders' Cup, they announced this week that the 2012 edition was going back to Santa Anita, much to the consternation of the New York Racing Association (NYRA) that was trying to get it for Belmont. Much has been written about the decision to go back to the left coast but one thing is obvious: without lights, Belmont is at a serious disadvantage.
With the races on the West Coast, the post times can be late enough to come right up against prime time in the East. Churchill Downs installed permanent lighting a few years ago and now they have the ability to have post times any time they want.
Churchill is a mile main track that sits on a relatively small footprint. Lighting it was possible at a reasonable price. Belmont is a mile and a half main track with two huge turf courses inside of it. Not only would you need 1 1/2 miles of lighting around the outer perimeter but you would need light stanchions inside the hedge of the inner turf course to light the three tracks from opposing directions. It would be very expensive to do and very unlikely to happen.
Without lights, Belmont is looking at a Classic post time of 4:30 p.m. (ET) with the sun setting. With lights, Churchill is looking at 7:30 p.m. post time and the electric ambience that we saw Friday and Saturday nights there last year. Santa Anita is almost guaranteed sunny weather and the time zone change works in its favor.
Like it or not, the Breeders' Cup is a TV event and if more viewers are exposed to our sport by racing later in the day, so be it.
by Dick Powell, longtime racing observer and has set the North American morning-line odds for Dubai racing.
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