08/27/2012 10:33AM

Saratoga's Closing Weekend, and Other Stuff

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There are so many things that Saratoga gets right. But as the end of the meet rapidly approaches, one of the things I find particularly special about Saratoga is the way it says goodbye.

For many, myself included, the conclusion of Saratoga is bittersweet. Beyond the best race meet in this country in an unparalleled setting coming to a close, it marks the end of summer, and all the great things that goes along with it. And it will be a long time, almost a year, before the next Saratoga meet comes around, which is a not-so-subtle reminder that none of us are getting any younger.

But instead of being melancholy, Saratoga manages to close with precisely the right tone. Yes, it is true that the focus of closing weekend at the Spa has widened over the years with the inclusion of such major events as the Woodward and Forego, and as usual, they will be good races this year. Mucho Macho Man will try to duplicate his sensational Suburban victory in the Woodward against the underachieving To Honor and Serve and a pair of Saratoga lovers in Cease and Stay Thirsty, while “Big Race” Dale Romans, who won his second million dollar event in eight days when Dullahan beat his elders in Sunday’s Pacific Classic, will expect a rebound from Met Mile winner Shackleford in the Forego.

However, for me, and many others I’m sure, closing weekend at Saratoga has always been, and always will be, about the 2-year-olds, about the Hopeful and the Spinaway, about the future.

The closing day feature, Monday’s Hopeful, is expected at this point to lure Bern Identity, who capitalized on a pace meltdown to win the Sanford on the third day of the meet, and a group of impressive last out maiden winners. In that group, according to the NYRA, are Carried Interest, one of the most impressive first out winners all year in New York, but who missed the Saratoga Special due to a tender shin; Palace Malice, who scored emphatically last time after losing narrowly to Carried Interest in his debut; Fortify, who was most impressive visually winning his debut earlier in the meet; and Overanalyze, who handily won his debut earlier in the meet in good time. But one I am especially interested in seeing in the Hopeful is Shanghai Bobby, who missed a scheduled start in the Saratoga Special because of a minor illness. Shanghai Bobby won a baby race at Aqueduct in April, but he opened my eyes when he won the overnight Track Barron last time out despite engaging in a vicious early pace battle.

But Sunday’s Spinaway has the potential to be something truly special. Among those listed by NYRA as probable starters are the Stonestreet Stables pair of Teen Pauline and Dreaming of Julia, two of the top three or four most impressive debut winners of either sex all Saratoga meet; and Seasoned Warrior and Corail, who were also eye-catching maiden winners at the meet. These four were so good that, unfairly or not, they overshadow So Many Ways, who won the Schuylerville Stakes on opening day to improve her record to 2 for 2.

I’ll sign off with a few quick thoughts on some of what transpired over the weekend:

I don’t know about you, but a weekend that, on paper, at least, was supposed to be the biggest of the summer left me kind of flat. We all knew going in that this was a weak Travers, but it was still the Travers, and in the end it was entertaining with an historical dead-heat for win between Golden Ticket and Alpha. But it’s hard to be positive about the Travers when subjecting it to any sort of analysis. Golden Ticket looked home free in mid-stretch, but wasn’t. Alpha looked like he was going to win a few strides before the wire, but he was unable to completely close the deal. It was almost as if no one really wanted it. Indeed, a final quarter mile in 25.49 seconds made the limited Fast Falcon look like Silky Sullivan.

The Pacific Classic was better than the Travers from an artistic standpoint. But even allowing for the possibility that Dullahan is the biggest Polytrack freak we have ever seen and giving him credit for beating his elders, it’s hard to get wound up when Dullahan was just so dismal previously in the Haskell and Belmont Stakes. And Game On Dude ran well, as he usually does, finishing second. He simply got beat, and like every other older male, he’s not a killer.

Royal Delta used to be a killer, but her flat second in the Personal Ensign was her second straight sub-par performance, and you have to wonder what’s happened to her. Royal Delta was actually fortunate to be second. It’s Tricky was brutally unlucky with a terrible start, and should have been unsaddled.

For me, the one stakes performance of the weekend that was worthy of a “Wow!” was Zagora’s score in the Ballston Spa. I’ll admit that I thought Zagora had lost a step or two this year, but her late punch was never more powerful than it was Saturday, and that is saying a lot. In fact, I think Zagora’s Ballston Spa was the best performance by a female turf horse so far this year.