12/01/2008 12:00AM

A difficult day at Aqueduct


NEW YORK - The last day of major stakes racing in New York until next spring took place Saturday at Aqueduct, and it was not an artistic success. Wanderin Boy, who over his five seasons of racing became as familiar as that old beat-up pair of sneakers you can't bring yourself to part with, suffered fatal injuries in the Cigar Mile. Springside, so dominant winning the Demoiselle Stakes in just her first career start on conventional dirt, suffered serious injury just past the finish. Even the Cigar Mile wasn't over when it was over. It had to be decided by a stewards' disqualification.

The injuries to Wanderin Boy and Springside are profoundly sad, especially for their respective connections. You obviously wish things like this would never happen. But at the same time, you know that when half-ton animals such as these do what they are put on this earth to do, which is to run, injuries - sometimes catastrophic ones - are inevitable.

The fact that the Cigar Mile was settled in the stewards' stand was unfortunate. No one likes to see a Grade 1 event decided in this fashion. The one molecule of comforting news here is that the disqualification of Harlem Rocker from first to second behind Tale of Ekati was absolutely the right call.

There is no disputing that as he was moving to the lead near the eighth pole, Harlem Rocker came over from the three path and forced Tale of Ekati to steady and alter course to the outside. Was Harlem Rocker moving the better of the two at that point? Yes. Did Tale of Ekati have a chance to come back on Harlem Rocker after altering course to the outside? Yes. But those two points aren't as important as this one: Would Edgar Prado on Tale of Ekati have been able to keep on riding his mount on the inside when Harlem Rocker came over without either (A) being put over the rail, or (B) clipping Harlem Rocker's heels? The answer is: Absolutely not.

Put it this way: With the way Tale of Ekati came back on Harlem Rocker to miss by only a nose, do you think Harlem Rocker still would have been a lip the best had he not forced Tale of Ekati to steady and alter course at a crucial point in the race? No, this was a clear example of the outcome of a race being affected by an infraction. Even with a Gradeo1 win hanging in the balance, it would have been an outrage if Harlem Rocker hadn't come down.

And while those on the Harlem Rocker side can argue with those on Tale of Ekati's side, it is the people who were in one way or another attached to Bribon who might have the biggest complaint. Bribon finished a fast-closing third in the Cigar Mile, beaten less than a length. But Harlem Rocker and Tale of Ekati likely would have been arguing over second money had not the stricken Wanderin Boy forced Bribon to thread a needle along the rail at the top of the stretch and then knocked his hind end out from under him.

A few thoughts on some other weekend stakes events:

* For whatever reason, the Commentator who finished a soundly beaten third at 2-5 in Friday's Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs was not the same Commentator that we know so well. The Commentator we all know never in his life blew the kind of clear lead through easy fractions that he blew in this race. That said, it was a fine piece of training by Helen Pitts to have Einstein ready to capitalize on the situation and win in what was his first start in nearly four months.

* I'm not saying I've changed my opinion of Stardom Bound, who should be a unanimous selection for champion 2-year-old filly. I still think she is something special. But the form of Stardom Bound's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies victory was brought into question by the results of the Demoiselle and Saturday's Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill. Dream Empress, who was beaten 1 1/2 lengths finishing second to Stardom Bound in the Breeders' Cup, was beaten 14 1/2 lengths finishing fourth in the Golden Rod as the

7-5 favorite. Sure, this was Dream Empress's first career start on conventional dirt, but she never even lifted a hoof. Sky Diva, who was beaten three lengths finishing third in the Juvenile Fillies after being closer to a strong pace than she had to be, was beaten 9 1/2 lengths finishing third in the Demoiselle. Sky Diva again might have been closer to the pace than she should have been, considering how well she ran winning the Frizette from well back. But the fact that the Demoiselle, like the Frizette, was run on dirt eliminates the switch from Santa Anita's synthetic track as an excuse. Whatever, this was no way for a 2-5 favorite to perform.

* Some people were still looking for their Kentucky Derby colt because they were skeptical about Midshipman and the other synthetic-track horses coming out of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and have no idea what to expect from two-time dirt Grade 1 winner Vineyard Haven after he winters in Dubai along with Midshipman. Those people might have found "The One" on Saturday at Aqueduct - and it's not a joke to suggest that The One doesn't necessarily have to be Old Fashioned, who ran off and hid in the Remsen to improve his unbeaten streak to three.

Three races before the Remsen, Quality Road, a Jimmy Jerkens-trained son of Elusive Quality, was a most impressive winner of his debut. This was only a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race, but the 101 Beyer Speed Figure that Quality Road earned (one point higher than Old Fashioned got in the Remsen) combined with an eye-catching visual presentation made for a compelling package. Oh, Old Fashioned is pretty okay, too.