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Days 36...and 37
Day 37 of the 36-day Saratoga meet turned out to be the only one without a single surprise or upset. In a scheduled announcement the day after the meet closed, Gov. Eliot Spitzer formally recommended that a reorganized NYRA continue to operate Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. The nod was both expected and inevitable, as was the political fallout: You'll be shocked to hear that NYRA is delighted and that Spitzer's rivals and the other biders are unhappy.
You can read the Memorandum of Understanding between NYRA and the state here. The lynchpin of the deal is that in exchange for dropping its ownership claims to the tracks and the land beneath them, NYRA will be given a 30-year franchise extension and get bailed out of bankruptcy.
The Governor's recommendation is only one piece of the puzzle and is likely to be modified as it bounces around Albany. A temporary franchise extension is still going to be needed before the current one's December 31st expiration date, given the unlikelihood of tying up everything by year's end. But for now, people in New York racing can probably exhale a little. The For-Sale sign on the tracks is down, Aqueduct isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and slots-at-Aqueduct (and the substantial purse increases they will bring) are back on track.
---FInal thoughts on the final day of racing:
*Race 2: In Sunday's second race, Barclay Tagg unveiled Rollers, who won his debut by 6 and might be the best statebred 2-year-old colt who's run this year. In Monday's second, Rick Dutrow unleashed the filly version in Jovanna, who won her debut by 12 in 1:10.83, earning a Beyer of 87. Dutrow had entered Jovanna as a first-time starter in last week's Jena Jena Stakes, then scratched her and won the race by 14 lengths with the more experienced Expect the End (who earned a Beyer 83).
*Race 4: This was the race that decided the jockeys' title in Cornelio Velasquez's favor as it was his lone winner of the day while Kent Desormeaux went 0-for-10 (with three seconds, three thirds and two fourths.) It was appropriate that Velasquez's winner, first-time-gelding Steve's Double, was the longest shot in the field, because Velasquez really earned the title the hard way. He routinely rode upset winners and did it without the backing of a major outfit.
*Race 5: Big Brown's scintillating 11 1/4-length blowout debut on the grass probably has the phones ringing from Nad al Sheba to Lexington with offers to purchase the precocious 2-year-old grass freak. The Boundary colt ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.33 an hour before 3-year-old stakes fillies were timed in 1:40.08 for the same route. Big Brown earned a 90 Beyer in victory. He and Prussian, the Mott colt that won his debut over several of the same runners, emerged from the meeting as the top grass juveniles around -- and remember, that's a division that has its own (Friday) Breeders' Cup race this year.
*Race 7: Classic Neel was the 1:40.08 filly and her first stakes victory in the $83k Weekend Madness was overdue after narrow losses in stronger fields: The El Corredor filly was beaten a neck in the Appalachian, a half in the G3 Lake George and 1 1/2 in the G3 Lake Placid. She kept it close again, winning by a long neck over 21-1 Unspoken Word in a blanket finish.
*Race 8: Rosinka scored her fourth straight victory and her first in a graded stakes with a deceptively narrow neck score over Mauralakana in the G3 Glens Falls. The 4-year-old Soviet Star filly had a six-length lead in midstretch before taking an awkward step, bobbling, and losing momentum. Makderah, the 4-5 favorite, probably wasn't at her best on the rock-hard footing, but got no help from John Velazquez, who had her bottled up inside the entire run down the backstretch and finally had to steady sharply in upper stretch. Velazquez finished sixth in the rider's standings with just 22 winners at the meet.
*Race 9: The 103rd Hopeful Stakes was a microcosm of the meeting, with Majestic Warrior, a 6-1 shot from Mott, running down Ready's Image, a 3-5 shot from Pletcher, to win by 2 1/4 lengths. If there had been a future book on the trainer's title, Mott would have been at least 6-1 and Pletcher would have been 3-5 or less, but this race extended Mott's tally to 27 at the meet, 14 more than Pletcher, Dutrow, Rice and Contessa.
Majestic Warrior, owned by George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stable, is a blueblooded son of A.P. Indy and Test/Ballerina winner Dream Deal. He trailed early in the field of four, 10 lengths behind a quarter in 22.60, 11 lengths behind the half in 45.00, and still 5 1/2 lengths behind Ready's Image and Maimonides after six furlongs in 1:09.40. He stormed past the tired leaders in the final furlong and stopping the timer in 1:23.04, good for a Beyer of 95.
It's possible that Velazquez compromised Ready's Image by going after Maimonides as soon as he did, but that's easy to say in retrospect. In a short field he was more worried about Maimonides getting loose than he was about getting caught from behind. In any case, Ready's Image ran his final furlong in just over 14 seconds, and Maimonides came home even slower, raising questions about just how far either of them will end up going. Majestic Warrior seems likely to return in the Champagne Oct. 6.
--The Hopeful was the year's first Grade 1 race for 2-year-old colts. The second is Wednesday's Del Mar Futurity, a/k/a Leg 5 of Del Mar's closing-day mandatory-payout pick-six, which also has a three-day $993k carryover going in.
The pool is going to be gargantuan and, okay, I admit it, I downloaded the past performances and peeked -- but just long enough to know I won't be playing. Sometimes these massive carryovers are a good idea for smaller players because if the sequence turns out to be an easy one -- one of the two favorites wins every leg of a bunch of 6- and 7-horse races -- it will pay four or five times as much as it should. But this thing looks impossible. Even after early scratches you're looking at competitive fields of 11, 10, 14, 12, 13 and 10, with no gimmes. Good luck to those brave enough to take a swing.
--The Saratoga section of the DRF.com homepage is going to disappear soon, and if that's where you've been clicking to get to these posts, you'll be out of luck. The new entry point is in the left-hand column of the homepage.
Steve, great blog, I look forward to reading it daily. On a UK racing website, Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor, says that they are considering the classic, along with the dirt mile and sprint for Discreet Cat. Given that he is likely only to have raced only in the Vosburgh at 6 furlongs, how do you rate his chances. Also, does it not seem that Sheik Mohaommed is determined to me standing this years classic winner now that he owns the bredding intrests to Street Sense, Hard Spun, Any Given Saturday, and Manduro?
steve, rollers impressive, but what about law enforcement? won aspirant at finger lakes with 90 beyer. $250,000 ny breeders futurity next. if rollers is nominated, what a showdown.
Steve, take another look at the Del Mar pick six. I think Phoebe's Song and Placid Lake are a cold exacta in the eighth while Drill Down and Patch of Blue are legitimate singles in the last two legs. Keep in mind a mandatory pay out and even with the first three legs being puzzlers this six looks to be a good thing.
Sad that as my Saratoga subscription ended, and I signed up as usual for the Belmont fall "deal" with its five extra cards, I find that I cannot download DelMar for Wednesday. You probably saved me money on the closing day million dollar pick-six carryover (because I never win) but I'm still pi$$ed.
Steve, this is unrelated to your latest blog, but thought u might know. Why doesn't Nyra pan to the back of the field during the running of a race. One never knows what a horse in the back is doing until they turn for home.
Steve - It is great to see the Saratoga season discussed with one final post from you. I'm sure others would agree that the day after Closing Day is the toughest of the year as we are faced with the prospect of impending winter and 46 weeks until we gather under the ancient Grandstand roof at the Spa. There's lots more quality racing to play from Belmont, Keeneland etc... but the chance that Saratoga affords us to immerse ourselves in the game is truly unique. And thanks for keeping your blog alive going forward!! DF
Hi Steve; Wish I could have passed Del Mar pick-6,like you. A good player like myself did good all summer stayin discipline until Labor day weekend & Del Mar final. Got to stay with dirt & TURF.--going with #10 in 10th. Hope Mike Smith remembers to ride my horse like LURE. Talk to uou soon --Ponyman
Steve, Like you, not much on appearance handicapping, but I did happen to be at the paddock for both of Majestic Warrior's races, and his loud whinnying was quite noticeable, even attracting Mott's attention. I won't be there for his next race, if it's at Belmont, but would be interested to hear if he causes the same commotion. Who knows, perhaps a bet against if he's quieter. Keep up the great work with the blog - very informative and inciteful. Phil
Steve, any reason why the state would commit to a 30 year extension and not something shorter? I can understand giving the NYRA a contract long enoug to make significant changes and improvements so they can recoup any investments they make, but 30 years seems like a looooong time. Looking forward to your Fall Championship comments!
Steve: Before your blog is removed, would it be possible to set it up as 'downloadable' file that would include your journal and the comments from day one? It would a fun reprise of the 07' Saratoga meet. Hope you're comfortably back in the City and not as Cappy used to say "five pounds over." Back in Orlando is .. Larry E