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After the first 21 days of the 2006 Saratoga meeting, Todd Pletcher had won 17 races to Bill Mott's 5. By the end of the 35-day meeting, Pletcher had won 24 races to Mott's 9.
This year, Mott won three races on Friday's card on Day 21, opening a 16-9 lead on Pletcher (and Rick Dutrow, who also has 9) with 15 cards to go. The race isn't over, since Pletcher could easily win a dozen between now and Sept. 3, but it's beginning to look like one of those horse races where the 1-5 favorite just may not get up in time.
Mott's three Friday winners all came on the grass, leading a couple of people to suggest that maybe a season of nearly perfect weather and four or five turf races a day was partly responsible for the turnaround. Nice theory, one problem: There were 86 grass races over last year's first 21 days, as opposed to 83 this year.
As for Friday's card:
Race 1: The opener looked like one of those races too, as 16-1 first-time-Contessa Mad Bob Cat shot to the lead and 1-2 favorite Al Basha looked like he wasn't going to get there, but he finally did. It was Cornelio Velasquez's 27th winner of the meet, putting him seven ahead of Mad Bob Cat's pilot, Kent Desormeaux, who fortunately had three mounts for Mott later on the card to close that race back up a bit.
Race 2: Trainer Michael Trombetta doesn't ship up to New York very often, but as his 20-for-55 record with firsters in 2006-07 suggests, he's pretty good at picking his spots. Here he sent out Cave's Valley, a $130k Stephen Got Even 2-year-old colt, to a 7 1/2 length romp in 1:03.79 for 5 1/2 furlongs, good for a Beyer of 90. The colt is owned by Harry and Tom Meyerhoff, who did pretty well with a horse named Spectacular Bid nearly 30 years ago.
Race 4: Early favorite for the new Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf? Prussian ($5.90), first of the three Mott/Desormeaux winners, made about as good-looking a debut in a juvenile grass race as you're likely to see. The Danzig colt from the Alleged mare Crystal Downs coasted to the front under wraps, turned back one early challenge, then simply rocketed away from the field in upper stretch to open a seven-length lead and win by 6 3/4 in 1:42.68. Prussian didn't set a demanding pace or have a straw in his path, but left the impression that he was toying with the opposition and might turn out to be a pretty serious racehorse.
Race 5: Mott's second winner was pretty hard to like beyond her trainer: Stormy West ($21.20) had failed four straight times at this N1x level at Keeneland, Churchill and Belmont, losing ground and position through the stretch each time. But today she ran down seemingly home-free Milk Town in deep stretch to win by a length going away.
Race 6: A pair of well-played 3-year-old fillies making their debuts crushed a field of statebred career maidens here, as 3-1 Schosberg firster Light Tactic ran down 2-1 Hough firster Sashay Renee to win by 3 3/4 lengths, and it was another 6 3/4 lengths back to third. Both of them appear bound for statebred stakes action, as Light Tactic earned a strong 89 Beyer for her 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.92. Sashay Renee's 78 in defeat should make her about 2-5 against this bunch next time out.
Race 8: Mott completed his trifecta with Sharp Susan ($7.30), a front running winner of the G2 Lake Placid for 3-year-old fillies. Sharp Susan was beaten just half a length last time out when third in the Lake George opening week to Del Mar Oaks-bound Rutherienne.
--Mott and Pletcher both have two morning-line favorites on Saturday's card.
In the 2nd race, the first seven-furlong baby race of the meet, Mott sends out 5-2 Commandeered, who was a good second to Hopeful candidate War Pass in his debut July 27. One of the firsters will have to be pretty good to beat him, though several have strong connections and pedigrees. Mott's other ML choice is Fancy Fusaichi, a 3-year-old filly who just missed against a similar group of turf-sprinting maidens last time out.
Pletcher has the favorites in both stakes on the card. In the $100k Yaddo for statebred fillies, J'Ray, a multiple open stakes-winner, meets fellow New York-breds for the first time since her maiden victory and is going to be a lot shorter than her absuridiculously high morning-line of 5-2. Pletcher also will send out the only two Grade 1 winners in the Alabama field, Mother Goose and CCA Oaks winner Octave and American Oaks winner Panty Raid.
Pletcher also has a shot in the 4th to win the day's, if not the meet's, most unusual race: An "OC 35k/N1x" on the dirt at TWO MILES. They'll start from the seven-furlong chute and cross the wire twice. Pletcher will send out Nite Light, who won a $35k maiden claimer at Momouth last time out and should like long distances: His sire, Thunder Gulch, won the 1995 Belmont and his dam, Lite Light, won the 1991 CCA Oaks.
We might see a third track record at the meeting given how infrequently the 16-furlong distance is attempted: James Boswell holds the Saratoga standard of 3:26, set in 1983. And as every schoolchild knows, the North American dirt record for two miles is Kelso's 3:19 1/5 at Aqueduct in 1964, the last of his five straight victories in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
--If you're coming to town for Alabama or Travers Day, you could already be out of luck getting a dinner reservation much closer than Schenectady, but all is not lost:
PJ's Bar-B-Q, a few miles south of the track on Route 9, offers seriously excellent eats, as confirmed by tonight's takeout meal fresh from their two 20-foot firebrick barbecue pits. There's ribs and chickens by the rack, bird or pound; every conceivable pulled-something sandwich; veggie burgers for the killjoys in your crowd; over a dozen sides ranging from Cheesy Creamy Bacon Grits to Sweet Potato Souffle flame-roasted with maple syrup; and shoo-fly pie and apple pandowdy for dessert. You can phone in and pick up a take-home order or just take it out back into the big picnic area where no one will look crosseyed at you for making a complete pig of yourself.
On the appetizer front, the Buffalo Chicken Spiedie from the Grey Gelding Tavern downtown gets a stakes quality Beyer figure for those of you who like the spicy sauce.
Dave: I don't think Pletcher's either over-rated or over-extended. He's had amazing long-term results with a huge stable. He's on a bad run right now, getting worse by the day at Saratoga. As for the 80/10/10 thing, I'd hate to try to quantify it that way, but if I had to I'd change those numbers to something more like Horse-94, Trainer-5, Jockey-1. That's no knock on jocks, who can obviously make a huge difference in any given case. But the very best horses have been trained by anyone, and at th highest level, where the top jockjeys are virtually interchangeable, it doesn't matter who rides them in terms of talent, though prior familiarity with the horse is always a plus.
Steve-maybe you've found a new calling-restaurant reviewer extraordinaire! But I digress-do you think Pletcher is in fact over-extended or perhaps over-rated? How much training does he or can he actually do? I've heard it said that a trainer and a jockey each contribute 10% to a race and the horse factors 80% to the outcome. Your thoughts?
Prussian's debut evokes Paradise Creek's. Prussian's lower to the ground. Master Mott's running the Saratoga table after hustling hope onto the other trainers at Belmont. Genuflecting, Flop
Wow, PJ's rivals any bbq place in the South and I have been to many. If they close up after the season, they can all winter in my back yard in Nashville! What a menu!
STEVE: The restaurant views are fun and helpful. However, be a little guarded with those menus else, in September Crist may be listed as "5 lbs over!" Enjoy the blog. Larry
Three cheers for PJ's Bar-B-Q! Steve, you're absolutely right, let the killjoys eat the veggie burgers but PJ's has the real thing, sort of an outdoor Hattie's Chicken Shack with an expanded menu. This is your first daring culinary choice of the 2007 Spa season, who knows what we can expect next!
Tired of the downtown scene, on our last trip we ordered take out from PJ's and ate by the hotel pool. Awesome.
Steve, I've been a big fan of your writing since your days with the Gray Lady. But your food comments this season have taken it to a new level. Not only would I skip dessert to save room for a Hostess or Drakes product, But I generally try to include Cheez Waffles at my most festive occassions. Good Luck the rest of the meet !
I might be the only person in the world to think it, but I love these 2-mile+ marathons. Nite Flight was game, but just could only get 15 furlongs in an entertaining affair. Thanks, PJ Campo, for changing things up. Maybe something like this could lead to a resurrection of the Display Handicap, only at the Spa, even as just an overnight race? It's been a long time since they've done an 18-furlong stakes, and if the middle of the meet is as random as this year, as per one of your recent articles, at least it makes things a little less ordinary for a moment (even if it's a "Saratoga ordinary").