11/15/2012 4:19PM

Hovdey: Get your popcorn ready for four great stakes

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Let’s play pretend. Let’s pretend there is a weekly commercial network program offering a package of interesting stakes events, complete with compelling storylines and reason to care about the players down the road.

Let’s pretend there is such a show Saturday. Kick it off with the $150,000 Discovery Handicap from Aqueduct, at 1 1/8 miles on the main track for 3-year-olds. This puts the viewer in New York, never a bad thing when it comes to validation of a sporting event, and flags the fact that no matter what time of year, there is usually a race there worth watching.

This year’s running has caught the eye of John Servis (Adirondack King), Graham Motion (Stephanoatsee), and Rick Dutrow (Willy Beamin), trainers who know what it’s like to win a Kentucky Derby. Beyond that, viewers might enjoy a little history, especially when the race is named for the blaze-faced chestnut who, compared to the modern version of the Thoroughbred, seems more related to the Tyrannosaurus rex than a descendant of Eohippus.

Discovery ran 63 times between June 1933 and September 1936 and won 27 races. How much he won is inconsequential (it was $195,287), since his career spread neatly across that period of time when the United States was clawing its way slowly from the cash-strapped depths of the Great Depression. Discovery’s earnings would buy you $3.4 million worth of stuff today.

More significant, Discovery won major handicaps carrying 139, 136, 135, and 132 pounds during an era when racing secretaries seemed more concerned with social engineering than showbiz. Discovery, for his part, never complained.

“He has a high order of intelligence and the instincts of a gentleman,” wrote John Hervey, who recognized Discovery as the most popular Thoroughbred in the land.

If there had been a formal Horse of the Year title in 1935, Discovery would have won hands down. That season he raced 19 times, travelling more than 9,000 miles by rail and van. He won 11 races – one of them the Brooklyn Handicap at a 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct – but it was his third-place finish in the Massachusetts Handicap under 138 pounds that endeared Discovery to fans forever, and not simply because he was beaten only a neck and a nose while conceding 22 and 30 pounds.

Hervey insists he would have won had a rival jockey not grabbed Discovery’s saddle towel at the half, thereby allowing the others to get the jump to the far turn. Discovery entered the Hall of Fame in 1969, which was fine, but his daughters also produced Native Dancer and Bold Ruler, which pretty much puts him in every major pedigree worth a hoot.

The Discovery would segue neatly to the $175,000 Mrs. Revere for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the turf at Churchill Downs, where viewers would not only enjoy a change of surface but also confirmation that America’s most famous racetrack offers attractions other than those called Derby or Oaks.

The Mrs. Revere has become a late-season magnet for some very good fillies, soon to be thrown into the deep water of grass racing against their elders. Recent winners include Snow Dance, Precious Kitten, Aruna, and 2011 winner Marketing Mix, last seen finishing an admirable second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. This year’s running is spiced by the ongoing rivalry of Centre Court, trained by Rusty Arnold, and Colonial Flag, from the barn of Michael Matz, although Peace Preserver and Miz Ida should have a say in the outcome.

As for the name of the race, Mrs. Revere was a daughter of Silver Series (and a great-great-great-granddaughter of Discovery) out of the mare Gudewife who won seven stakes while trained by Bill Mott in the early 1980’s. The real Mrs. Revere was Rachel Walker, who married Paul Revere in 1773 while apparently unaware at the time that her husband enjoyed the occasional nighttime horseback ride.

Onward, after commercial breaks, to Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C., where on Saturday the American steeplechase season comes to an end in the exciting $100,000 Colonial Cup over 17 fences and 2 3/4 miles.

The Cup is spectacle as much as horse racing for a certain type of Thoroughbred, so it’s okay not to be aware that Demonstrative (by Elusive Quality), Divine Fortune (by Royal Anthem), and Spy in the Sky (by Thunder Gulch) are considered the favorites in a deep field, or that Slip Away, a 9-year-old son of Skip Away, is the 2010 Colonial Cup winner and former Eclipse Award champ making his second start of the year. Jonathan Sheppard, who has won the Colonial 14 times, has two in the race.

Bet among yourselves, though, because the good folks of South Carolina have yet to give in to the temptations of pari-mutuel wagering. For the record, they do have a lottery – for children’s education, of course – led by the popular Palmetto Cash 5.

Finally, playing the yang to the Colonial’s yin, wrap the show deep in Cajun Country with the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

Context is required, since those jumpers, those turf fillies, and those 3-year-olds in New York need to work just as hard while earning considerably less than the young ones twirling around Delta’s six-furlong layout. That cool million comes from the track’s casino ownership, and for their money they have attained Grade 3 status and a spot on the revamped list of races for eligibility to run in next year’s Kentucky Derby.

Nine will be running, which guarantees a thriller on both sharp turns, with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint winner Hightail set to meet Best Pal winner Know More, Sanford winner Bern Identity and Champagne runner-up Goldencents. In addition to the rewarding purse, as far as the Kentucky Derby points system is concerned the winner of the Delta Downs Jackpot will considered every bit as qualified as the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Is this a great country or what?

Good show. Roll credits.