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Apprentice Luis Saez has battled defending Calder jockey champion Manoel Cruz tooth and nail for the top spot in the standings in the opening month of the meet. Saez easily led all riders with seven victories the week of May 20-23; three of those wins came Friday and two came Sunday, including the feature event aboard Trippi's Sailor.
Daniel Coa and Luis Jurado also posted hat tricks last week, Coa on Friday and Jurado the following afternoon.
Among trainers, Fred Warren and Henry Collazo each had three-baggers last week. Warren teamed with Coa to win three races Friday, and Collazo won three the following afternoon. Dave Vivian also saddled three winners during the week, including consecutive wins Thursday.
The main track gradually became more speed-favoring as the week progressed before turning into a veritable gold mine for front-runners and stalkers Sunday. The turf course remains on the hard side, although it did yield several winners from midpack and beyond in the dozen races decided over the grass last week.
Thursday, May 20: The seven main-track races were dominated by stalkers and closers, with only Wise Catch managing to lead at every call on dirt. The afternoon's lone grass event was won from just off the pace by Prime Precision.
Friday, May 21: Another better-than-average day for deep closers. Four of the eight dirt races were won from midpack and beyond, far above the norm for the local surface. One of the two wire-to-wire wins was posted by the odds-on Genuine Diamond in a four-horse field. Both turf sprints were won on the lead, by Ifitwasntfortexas and Carte Blanche.
Saturday, May 22: Speed began to assert its dominance. Five of the seven main-track races were won by horses on the lead after the opening call. The turf course yielded a pair of come-from-behind winners to start the day, but that trend reversed itself in the second half of the card, with front-runners winning each of the last three inner-course events. That included Mean Sax in the Mecke Stakes, the only of the five grass races run with the rail down. Mean Sax got away with a dawdling pace, which appeared much slower to the naked eye than was officially posted.
Sunday, May 23: Not a good day for anybody with a horse trying to make up ground through the stretch on the main track. Seven of the afternoon's eight dirt races were won from either on or just off the lead, the lone exception being the favored Marilla going two turns in the seventh. The rail was out 20 feet on the grass, producing one very unlikely come-from-behind winner and Trippi's Sailor's popular victory at five furlongs in the feature.
ANYONE CHECK THE TATTOO?
Could that really have been Saratoga Blitz who won the third race Sunday? Saratoga Blitz came into the lower-level maiden claimer on the turf having never finished better than fourth or closer than 13 1/4 lengths in 11 previous starts. She had been beaten an average of 21 lengths in those 11 tries, including 26 lengths in her previous start eight days earlier.
On Sunday, Saratoga Blitz not only won, she did so despite having to take up sharply along the rail under jockey Ramon Parish nearing the three-furlong pole. The 71 Beyer Speed Figure she earned was 34 points higher than her previous career-best. She was just the third winner for trainer Charles Fontana from 78 starters in 2010.
Again, did anyone bother to check the lip tattoo after the race?
LOCAL 2-YEAR-OLD WATCH
In light of the performances turned in by graduates of the local 2-year-old division in 2009, it makes sense to keep an eye on this year's class, which includes several who figure to be purchased privately and whisked out of town as the season progresses.
Trainer Kathleen O'Connell dominated last week's juvenile action, sending out the winners of the colt and filly divisions of a split maiden allowance dash. Both wins came for her main owner, Gilbert Campbell.
Watch Me Go, a homebred son of West Acre, won the open division, earning a 78 Beyer for his wire-to-wire victory over the more experienced but slow-breaking Grande Shores. That figure was a point lower than the one Cheyann Belief posted capturing a similar juvenile dash the previous Saturday.
O'Connell and Campbell also teamed to take the filly division Sunday with Blue Eyed Sweetie, another West Acre who chased and ran down the speedy Vencedora Girl.
Mambo Meister will go off as the highweight and favorite in the Grade 3, $100,000 Memorial Day Handicap on May 31, the second graded stakes to be decided here this summer and the last until Summit of Speed day July 10. The field will be a short one. Only nine horses were nominated for the race, two each from trainers Bill Kaplan and Marty Wolfson.
Big Drama turned in one of the fastest five-furlong gate works I've witnessed here in some time Sunday morning, May 23. Working in company with three others, Big Drama immediately sprinted well clear and steadily widened the gap, posting fractions of 23.56, 34.64, and 47.80 seconds before completing five-eighths in 1:00.78. Those times are without a run-up to the pole leaving the gate and around a pretty sharp clubhouse turn over a track that has been on the cuppy side during training hours throughout the spring.
Big Drama is preparing for a likely return in the Ponche Handicap on June 12.
Miss Singhsix might have been the most impressive of the half-dozen or so Marty Wolfson-trained horses to breeze here Tuesday, completing the final three-eighths of a half-mile work in 35.59, with a final furlong in 11.49.
Here are a few more notes on recent workouts from horses racing on Saturday's program.
D'clever Cat: Was the best of the three others in the set with Big Drama on Sunday, going three-eighths in 36.07 before pulling up a half in 49.78.
Decreto: Flashed some speed in each of his last two gate works with blinkers on.
Joann's Success: Finished third of four from the gate May 8, covering three-eighths in a slow 38.70.
Madness n' Mayhem: Finished second in a set of five breaking from the gate May 8, breezing three-eighths in 36.62. Like most Tortora babies, he will make his debut in blinkers.
Indian Empire: Won a slow set of three from the gate May 11, completing a half in 52.66 over a very cuppy track.
Made for a Mission: Was easily best of a pair of Hamm workers from the gate May 13, going three-eighths in 37.58.
Waikiki: Showed some speed, tired under pressure in company with a stablemate in his May 22 gate drill.
Vee's Accolade: Quick for three furlongs in each of his last two gate drills. The May 15 work was with Cruz aboard, and his latest work May 22 was over a very cuppy and slow track.
Tatao's Widcat: Very fast for three furlongs from the gate May 16, but he tired badly under pressure, completing five-eighths in 50 and change.
Wild Rate: Returned to the gate after breaking slowly in his 3-year-old debut, he breezed an easy three-eighths in 36.97 without pressure. He has had the misfortune of drawing the rail in each of his first three career starts, but not today.
HORSES TO WATCH
Don't Say No
Trainer: Steve DiMauro
Last race: May 22, 12th
Finish: 5th by 4 1/4
Making his debut on the grass, this 3-year-old showed some early foot after a sluggish start. He was forced to take up sharply inside a pair of rivals entering the far turn but managed to recover and finished midpack. He has some sneaky turf breeding in his pedigree.
Trainer: Gilberto Zerpa
Last race: May 22, 4th
Finish: 5th by 5
He suffered through an eventful turf and two-turn debut, running up into trouble and steadying very sharply near the half-mile pole of a one-mile claiming event. A grandson of Affirmed, he recovered to put in a mild run at the leaders before tiring from the effort.
Trainer: Francisco Machado Jr.
Last race: May 21, 5th
Finish: 2nd by 4
This 3-year-old filly is sitting on her maiden win against bottom-level types. She put in a decent run but was left with too much to do after checking back to last in the opening furlong of her latest try.
Paster's Bad Habit
Trainer: Heide Root
Last race: May 21, 4th
Finish: 4th by 1 1/2
She walked out of the gate before finishing strongly and galloping out past the leaders going five furlongs on the turf under entry-level optional claiming and allowance conditions. Looks like this one is better served around two turns.