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After the retirement of Evening Attire, a fixture in the barn since 2000, Pat Kelly won just 3 races from 128 starters during the first nine months this year, but he doubled that total in the span of just three racing days.
Shrewd One got the ball rolling in the fourth race on Oct. 1, an off-the-turf sprint at six furlongs for 2-year-old New York-breds. Kelly, by his own admission is ". . . something like 0 for 1,000 with my 2-year-olds," but Shrewd One ($50.50), a colt by Smarty Jones, rallied from behind to win going away as the seventh choice in a field of eight.
"I thought he'd run okay, but I didn't expect a win," Kelly said. "If I did, I'd be celebrating in the Bahamas."
Shrewd One, a Flying Zee Stables homebred by Smarty Jones, is now under consideration for the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow, at one mile on New York Showcase Day, Oct. 24.
Three races later, Pynaformer ($10.80), a 3-year-old gelding who had been unsuccessful in 14 previous attempts, finally put it all together for a last-to-first maiden triumph on the Widener turf.
Kelly struck again in Saturday's nightcap with Spa City Fever ($17), a Roaring Fever gelding who grabbed the early lead in an off-the-turf maiden special weight and widened at every call to cap off a $190,949 pick six for one winner.
Spa City Fever is now someone's favorite horse of all-time.
The Brothers Dutrow
Rick Dutrow, who has won three New York training titles and been in the top three every year since 2000, was having a typically solid meet with 8 wins from 21 starters heading into this week's action, good for 38 percent winners. That would be the top win rate except for the fact that brother Tony has rolled a "7" with his first 11 runners, winning with 2 of 3 dirt starters and 5 of 8 on the grass, including the venerable Redefined's 1:08.02 clocking in a six-furlong turf sprint and an overnight stakes win from Legally Blanca in the Chaldea.
Along with Redefined's exploits, wins last Friday by the 8-year-old Bon Marie ($4.80) and 6-year-old Cavallo Pazzo ($9.70) exemplified the family tradition of keeping veterans in sharp form. Bon Marie upped his record this year to 3-2-1 from 6 starts on turf, while Cavallo Pazzo was winning his fifth dirt sprint in a row.
Rick sent out Rising Moon to win the Mr. Right overnight stakes off a 45-day freshening; the 6-year-old has run on dirt nine times and has never failed to record a Beyer Speed Figure of at least 95.
The downside to all this is that the bandwagon is full to overflowing: Tony's average mutuel at the fall meet is $6; Rick's ($4.40) is the only one that's lower among the top 12 trainers.
With well more than 4,000 wins, it seems like Johnny V. has been around forever, but the reality is he won't turn 38 until late November. Unless they expand Saratoga from its current six weeks, his record of 65 wins at the 2004 meet is likely to stand for quite a while, and he seems to be riding with a renewed purpose this fall. Heading into this week, he was tied for second in the standings with Ramon Dominguez with 19 wins, two behind meet leader Rajiv Maragh.
Take out the favored mounts, however, and they looked like this:
Dominguez had ridden 35 favorites from 123 mounts, while Velazquez had ridden about half as many favorites (18) from 87 mounts, and yet they had the same number of winners.
Off-the-pace horses fared pretty well on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. In addition to the aforementioned Rising Moon, who came from seventh in a field of eight to win going away, Headache ($5) and Shareholder Dues ($5.30) also rallied from next-to-last on the Sept. 30 program.
On Oct. 1, Shrewd One was able to rally from sixth in a field of eight, and three other winners also came from off the pace.
Horses with tactical speed fared considerably better on Friday, Oct. 2, when 4 of 5 dirt winners were within a head of the lead at the pace call, and another was just one length from the lead at that point.
On Gold Cup Day, the main track, by my figures, was playing approximately three ticks faster than par through the Beldame, but slowed down to about three ticks slower than par - a swing of more than a full second - once the monsoons arrived for the Vosburgh.
On Sunday, Oct. 4, the drying-out main track was sealed and muddy for the first four races and harrowed and upgraded to good thereafter. It played honestly in terms of paths and running styles.
As far as the turf is concerned, you know the story of how the Flower Bowl and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic were run under bog-like conditions. Before the rains came, the main distinctions were among the six-furlong sprints on the inner turf, where tactical speed was a must, and the 1 1/16-mile routes on the Widener, which were dominated by stretch-runners.
In addition to needing some positional speed, the post position cutoff has been numbers 1-7 for inner-turf sprinters at six furlongs. Horses drawn wider than that were a collective 2 for 49 to start the week.
It's a six-day week, with the $100,000 Pebbles for 3-year-old turf fillies highlighting Monday's Columbus Day card. Before that are the fall meet's two marquee races for 2-year-olds on Saturday, the Grade 1, $400,000 twin-bill of the Champagne and Frizette, along with the $300,000 Jamaica, a newly minted Grade 1 for 3-year-olds scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on the inner turf.
Stanley Hough could have a memorable day on Saturday, with Discreetly Mine coming into the Champagne off a runner-up finish in the Futurity, and Awesome Maria likely to be favored in the Frizette after a decisive win in the Matron.
On Sunday, Girolamo, owned by Godolphin Stable, figures to be a clear-cut favorite in the $150,000 Jerome, a Grade 2 stakes for 3-year-olds out of the chute at one mile.
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
Why does it seem like Mother Nature has it in for the New York Racing Association? To recall, Travers Day was a total wash-out, and after that there was no measureable rain in the Saratoga area for the next three weeks. This goes along with a long list of wash-outs over the past few years.
After the heaviest rains last Friday night and early Saturday morning passed by off to the east, it seemed as though Belmont Park had dodged the proverbial bullet and there was only a slight chance of scattered storms through late afternoon.
Lo and behold, a razor-thin line of yellow and red stuff on the Doppler radar took up residence directly over Elmont, Long Island, and dumped more than two inches of rain, turning Big Sandy into Big Sloppy before the start of the Vosburgh. And the rain would kick into overdrive just when the fields for the Vosburgh, Flower Bowl, and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic were approaching the starting gate.
Do you suppose Mother Nature follows both politics and racing in New York and was just trying to make her feelings known?
Or maybe she just needed to get out on Interpatation after betting on him in the Turf Classic the three previous years, or what?
HORSES TO WATCH
Sky's the Limit
Trainer: Bill Mott
Last race: Oct. 3, 3rd
Finish: 1st by 3 1/4
Three-year-old colt by Sky Mesa had closed fast to miss by a neck in his debut at Calder last December and returned from a layoff to show vastly improved speed in a wire-to-wire maiden triumph. His time of 1:34.84 for the mile earned a 94 Beyer.
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin
Last race: Oct. 3, 4th
Finish: 5th by 1 1/4
After beginning his career in England and Dubai, he has had some tough luck in three fifth-place finishes. He ran in the two toughest first-level allowances at Saratoga (against Jerome-bound Girolamo and chasing Mesa Sunrise's blistering pace in a 14-horse field), and was lucky not to go down after being boxed in and clipping the pacesetter's heels in deep stretch last Saturday.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Last race: Oct. 4, 9th
Finish: 1st by 7 1/4
Finished determinedly for second in his turf debut at Saratoga and improved several lengths for an opportunistic win in the off-the-turf Pilgrim Stakes second time out, drawing off with authority and earning a 90 Beyer. Barn has all kinds of options with this versatile son of Giant's Causeway.
Trainer: Rick Dutrow
Last race: Sept. 30, 8th
Finish: 1st by 3 3/4
Gave way in the Sword Dancer on turf but rebounded off a 45-day freshening to win the Mr. Right overnight stakes with a strong run through the stretch. The rock-solid veteran earned a 96 Beyer for the effort - the ninth time from nine career dirt starts that he has run at least a 95.