Updated on 09/18/2011 12:33AM

It's the Pletcher-Velazquez show, again

Adam Coglianese / NYRA
Flower Alley (right), en route to an odds-on victory in the Jim Dandy, came back to take the Travers three weeks later for trainer Todd Pletcher.

2005 Meet Diary

Wednesday, July 27

Stifling heat and humidity; three spills and two serious injuries in the steeplechase opener; a power outage in the tote system early on the card that cost the New York Racing Association an estimated $200,000 in ontrack handle; a marquee-type horse (dual Grade 2 winner Purge) who had to be scratched after washing out badly in the makeshift raceday security tents; three infield video boards out of commission; and a significant change in track conditions for the last two dirt races. Just another opening day at the Spa, where the leading owner after day is one of NYRA's biggest rivals, Frank Stronach.

Why NYRA would chose to card a steeplechase race as the meet opener is anyone's guess. The Looper (1st, $3.90), the weaker half of the Tom Voss-trained entry, overtook his stablemate Charlie Whiskey to win the allowance steeplechase. Ten started, but only six finished: Why Not Baby fell after the third fence; The Next Man fell after the sixth fence, bringing down Night Shirt in a chain reaction; and Which Coax left the course before the ninth fence. Broken arm for Matthew McCarron; broken ribs for William Dowling.

The track was sealed after the fifth race under threatening skies, re-harrowed after the seventh, and played markedly slower for the last two dirt races - an optional claimer won by a Stronach horse, Thunder Touch (8th, $5.70), and the Adirondack Stakes, won from off the pace by Folklore ($10.60).

Earlier on the card, Stronach's homebred Aristocrat (3rd, $6.90), a 3-year-old full brother to Ghostzapper, turned back a challenge from Rumspringa to win a maiden sprint.

Thursday, July 28

Henny Hughes (8th, $3.80) was purchased by Sheikh Rajid bin Mohammed al Maktoum for a reported $4.3 million following his 15-length win in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont on July 4. A bit more than three weeks later, Henny Hughes earned back $90,000 after a dominating performance to win the six-furlong Saratoga Special for trainer Patrick Biancone.

Henny Hughes shook off early pressure from Short Circuit and Hold on Tight, opened a clear lead around the turn, and never let second choice Master of Disaster get close, running his fifth furlong in a swift 11.70 seconds while under a hand ride from Gary Stevens to open a seven-length lead in midstretch. Now 3 for 3, he seems the clear-cut favorite for the Hopeful Stakes on Aug. 27.

Biancone swept the late daily double when the trouble-prone Cryptovinsky (9th, $7.90) finally got his maiden win. He prevailed over a fast-closing Drizzly, who improved markedly first time on turf for trainer George Weaver.

The pre-meet scuttlebutt said that Todd Pletcher might not dominate the trainer standings like the past two years. Right. The Pletcher-John Velazquez combo struck with Tiffany Touch (1st, $6.70), India (2nd, $6.70), and Webmistress (4th, $5.90), and presto, Pletcher has four wins after two days. Velazquez notched his fourth win on the card with Maybry's Boy (5th, $9.20).

Sweet Symphony (3rd, $2.40) improved to 3 for 3 after an easy score over three overmatched fillies in a slow-paced second-level allowance route. Main rival Lady Pegasus "freaked out" in the security tent, according to trainer Bobby Frankel, and was scratched in the paddock.

Friday, July 29

Horses from outside posts and paths seem to have an edge on the main track through the early stages of the meet. A box of the three outside horses in the day's only two-turn dirt route bagged a 7-8-6 trifecta worth $312.50 after Wicklow Highlands (1st, $25.40) prevailed in a three-way photo over Stellianos and Epic. The winner required 1:53.74 for 1 1/8 miles, and yesterday the Alabama-bound Sweet Symphony ran the same piece of real estate in 1:53.47, all of which suggests the routes are playing extremely slowly.

It appears as though Todd Pletcher is "more than ready" to defend his training title, after sending out a pair of James Scatuorchio-owned turf winners by that sire - Ready to Talk (2nd, $9.50) and Ready's Gal (8th, $7.20).

The 2-year-old filly Ready to Talk stretched out after fading in a pair of dirt sprints at Monmouth. Allowed to set a slow pace under Velazquez, she turned back all comers to win her maiden at 1 1/16 miles on the Mellon (outer) course.

Ready's Gal became Pletcher's fifth straight winner, after receiving a perfect ground-saving trip just off the leaders and slipping through on the inside to edge clear in the Lake George Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Dream Lady took a five-filly photo for second.

Quick One (7th) was the shortest price of the day at 35 cents to the dollar, on the basis of a good-figure debut win at Belmont. Running in her first statebred allowance condition, Quick One went clear three wide on the turn, moved to the deeper inside footing in the stretch, and offered only token resistance as Royal Fudge ($20.40) rolled by outside.

Saturday, July 30

Murphy's Law, it appears, has accepted a full-time position with NYRA. Today's snafu involved a pipe in the turf course irrigation system that erupted between both courses about 70 yards from the finish line, forcing the first race off the Mellon course and onto the inner. "We wanted to give it a day or so to let the area dry out," said the track superintendent, John Passero.

Like the other four starters in the $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes, Flower Alley (9th, $3) was eligible for his second-level allowance condition. He dueled Mr. Congeniality into submission, brushed off challenges from Reverberate and Andromeda's Hero approaching the stretch and drew off under heavy pressure in a badly strung-out field. It will be interesting to see whether Todd Pletcher can complete the Jim Dandy-Travers sweep, something he has failed to do in recent years with Jim Dandy winners Graeme Hall, Strong Hope, and Purge. Noble Causeway was the second choice at 7-2 when he was scratched shortly before the start, after failing to warm up satisfactorily for Jerry Bailey.

Sand Springs (7th, $6.10) has quality speed, and when three program scratches left her in total control of the early pace, school was out in the $500,000 Diana for fillies and mares on the turf. Sand Springs coasted along setting moderate fractions, and then unleashed a final three-eighths in 34.68 seconds to remain clear from Que Puntual and Angara. The deep closer Film Maker raced four wide approaching the stretch and would have had to sprout wings to make up any significant ground in the lane.

Sunday, July 31

After just five days at the Spa, Pletcher and Velazquez are taking no prisoners. They teamed up to win a stakes race for the third straight day when Ashado (9th, $4.30) stalked the pacesetter, Andujar, and took over turning for home to take the Go for Wand Handicap as much the best.

Pletcher has 10 wins already, seven more than his closest pursuer, and Velazquez has opened up a 12-7 lead in the jockey standings, including four stakes scores.

Willard Straight (4th, $6.30) had also been entered in Monday's Bernard Baruch Handicap, but Pletcher opted to run him in an easier optional claiming spot, and the deep closer responded with a game nose victory over 15-1 shot Control Tower. Control Tower had not been out since last October, but a check of trainer Graham Motion's stats indicated he was winning at a 31 percent rate from a 54-horse sample of runners coming back from a layoff of 180 days or more.

First-time starter Halo Humor (5th, $8.80) was the second 2-year-old maiden winner in two days for trainer Steve Asmussen, joining Saturday's second-time starter Private Vow ($5.60). Both were ridden by Jerry Bailey.

Mayo Post (7th, $3.70), owned by Austin Delaney, romped by five lengths in a preliminary allowance sprint, to go along with a nine-length maiden win in his seasonal bow at Belmont when he returned from a long layoff with a trainer change to Jimmy Jerkens. On Saturday, the Delaney-owned Continental Reins ($9.40) also won, and is now 2-2-0 in four starts for Jerkens.

Favorites are off to a strong 20-for-48 start (42 percent).

Monday, August 1

Indian Vale (7th, $10.80) stretched out to 1 1/8 miles off a debut sprint win at Monmouth, and romped wire to wire by 13 lengths against preliminary allowance fillies to give Todd Pletcher his 11th win of opening week. This late-developing daughter of A.P. Indy looks to have a bright future, though it should be noted she raced with the grain of a speed-favoring main track.

Divisions of a juvenile maiden dash for New York-breds at 5 1/2 furlongs went to second-time starter Cured (2nd, $34.20) in 1:06.80, and first-time starter What's Your Edge (4th, $10) in a livelier 1:05.89.

Cured outdueled the Pletcher-trained Mr Sam I Am, who was 35 cents to the dollar after a big-figure effort first time out at Belmont.

What's Your Edge went head and head with Metro Meteor, and edged clear late to become the third maiden winner (and second juvenile winner) at the meet for Rick Violette. Metro Meteor, who had been knocked off stride early in his debut at Belmont, added Lasix and blinkers for Linda Rice and held stubbornly.

Artie Schiller (8th, $2.90) stalked a slow pace set by defending champ Silver Tree, and wore that rival down with a determined run in deep stretch of the Bernard Baruch Handicap.

Wednesday, August 3

Hazy, hot, and humid conditions triggered a fast-moving summer squall that soaked the Spa just after the fifth race. The track was sealed for the last four races, and the seventh was taken off the turf and thus became the first example of the new "all win" rule in the pick six. Those who scratched into the post-time favorite in the pick four caught a break when Provincial (7th, $5.20) inherited that role by a few bucks over runner-up Amanuensis.

If you like meat-and-potatoes handicapping and had to miss one day at the meet, this was the one. The card began with a $507 daily double made up of two inscrutable steeplechase longshots, Mr Perkolater (1st, $49.60) and Mauritania (2nd, $17.20), and was followed by 2-year-olds at five furlongs on the main track, and at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Doc O Dynamite (3rd, $8) won the baby dash - the third front-running juvenile maiden winner of the meet saddled by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Jerry Bailey.

My Interpretation (4th, $8.50), part of a three-ply entry for three different trainers, stretched out off two dirt sprints at Belmont to win the turf route for juvenile fillies. Pletcher firster Summer Palace, bet to 8-5, was eliminated on the first turn when checked sharply on the inside.

Gold and Roses (8th, $5.50) outdueled Galloping Grocer through fast early fractions, and edged away from that rival in a strung-out New York Stallion field through a final three-eighths in 41.43 seconds.

Thursday, August 4

Scott Lake scratched Maybry's Boy and ran Jumpstarter (1st, $14.20), and the Delaware Park shipper turned back challenges early, middle, and late; follow.

Immersed in Gold (2nd, $7) was the second 2-year-old turf winner in two days saddled by John Kimmel. Heights set a slow pace, remained well clear past midstretch, but weakened nearing the wire and was nailed.

Limero (3rd, $4.20) scored off the reclaim, slipping through along the rail turning for home to win with something left. The first winner for Richard Dutrow Jr., who has returned from a 60-day suspension. Limero was claimed again, from his fourth straight start.

Unobstructed View (4th, $6.50) the meet-leading 12th win for Pletcher, and his fourth 2-year-old winner, after outdueling Lunargal and edging away.

Flying Zee Stables has now had five turf winners at the meet with four different trainers: Classic Expression ($13.60) for Phil Serpe, Stock Tip ($110) for Patrick Biancone, Cosmonaut ($8.10) and Square Dancing ($37.40) for Carlos Martin, and now Expensive Lesson (5th, $9.30), who saved ground on both turns, eased out into the stretch, and wore down Jetastik for Frank "Pancho" Martin.

Karakorum Splendor (8th, $3.70) pressed Avery Hall early, and prevailed with a last-ditch surge to get up in the filly division of the New York Stallion Series.

Blue Sunday (9th, $3.10) won a second-level allowance in a meet-fastest 1:09.72 for six furlongs. He will try to stretch out in the 1 1/8-mile Albany on Aug. 24.

Friday, August 5

The battle is on. Edgar Prado rode winners for four different trainers (Bond, Hough, Romans, and Dutrow), and pulled to within three wins (16-13) of John Velazquez for the meet lead.

Steve Asmussen got his 3,000th career winner when Forest Music (8th, $9.80) wired the six-furlong Honorable Miss Handicap. Making her first start since being purchased from Michael Gill and turned over to Asmussen, Forest Music rolled through super-fast splits and maintained a clear edge over late-rallying Ebony Breeze; fifth stakes win at the meet for Velazquez.

Favorites are tearing it up at 33 for 84 (39 percent) through nine days, and bettors had no problem figuring out the Spa's first-ever turf dash. It was won decisively by the favorite, Second in Command (6th, $6.60), who was followed under the line by the second, third, fourth, and fifth choices in parimutuel order. Linda Rice-trained runners remain very live.

Divisions of a 2-year-old turf route at 1 1/16 miles won by Church Service (2nd, $18.20) in 1:44.60 and Mystic Ruler (4th, $13.40) in 1:45.82.

Church Service came through inside Straight Run, who set the pace (1:12.58) and raced greenly when challenged from both flanks in the lane.

Mystic Ruler followed Under Thunder through a dawdling pace of 1:15.33, and outfinished the latter as the tempo intensified. Mister Zee raced wide and finished well. Devil's Preacher steadied repeatedly while racing greenly; worth following.

Saturday, August 6

The ups and downs of the game: Nick Zito is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday, so it would have been a shame if today's fiasco with Noble Causeway (3rd) was all anyone wanted to talk about. Scratched moments before last week's Jim Dandy after warming up too stiffly for Jerry Bailey's liking, Noble Causeway was deemed good to go after working a half-mile on Tuesday, and returned in a second-level allowance at 1 1/8 miles. He dropped far back soon after the start, was pulled up entering the backstretch, and was vanned off the racetrack, to the dismay of bettors who made him the 9-5 favorite.

Zito probably never felt worse, but three hours later, after he stretched out Commentator (9th, $8.40) for a front-running upset of odds-on Saint Liam, in the Whitney he probably never felt better. The New York-bred Commentator, who began his career with two wins at Saratoga last summer, had returned from a layoff to miss Belmont's seven-furlong track record by just a tick, and answered big questions about class and distance after turning back Saint Liam. It was nine lengths back to the outclassed remainder.

Leave Me Alone (8th, $10.80) left them behind in the Test Stakes, dueling Maddalena into the ground and widening through the lane to score by nearly eight lengths. In the Gold blew the break and spotted the field several lengths. Sense of Style was simply awful at 2-1.

Sunday, August 7

Speed has been essential on dirt lately. All six dirt stakes during week No. 2 were won by horses setting or forcing the pace, capped off by Santana Strings (9th, $21.20) in the six-furlong Amsterdam for 3-year-olds.

Santana Strings pressed the pace from outside, took a short lead approaching the quarter pole, and edged clear. Silver Train was wide attempting to rally from sixth, and could manage only an even finish at 6-5. Vicarage, the second choice, raced widest and had little chance to make up ground on this track.

Chantal Sutherland is continuing to gather momentum against what is widely considered the toughest jockey colony in the world. She lit up the board with turf longshots Stock Tip ($110) and Square Dancing ($37.40) opening week, and notched two more big-priced winners on this card, Truer Than True (2nd, $26.60) and Super Nationals (6th, $24.20).

Monday, August 8

Another embarrassing vet scratch at the gate for a Nick Zito-trained horse, and on the same day he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Dwango (7th) was odds-on moments before the "Hall of Fame Inductee Nick Zito" purse when Javier Castellano felt he was very stiff in his left-hind stifle and failed to warm up out of it. Shaniko ($3) inherited the role of heavy favorite in a field of four, and cruised by 11 lengths to give Todd Pletcher his meet-leading 13th win.

T.D. Vance (8th, $35) took the Hall of Fame Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the turf, pressing first-turf High Limit, spurting clear in midstretch, and holding off fast-closing Silver Whistle. Reel Legend showed nothing as the choice.

Paradise's Boss (1st, $10.60) put on a flawless exhibition of jumping to win the A.P. Smithwick Memorial. Serazzo and Hirapour had useful preps for the upcoming Turf Writers Cup.

Jerry Bailey took off his mounts after being hit in the face by his mount, Performing Diva, during the post parade of the fourth race.

Wednesday, August 10

Saratoga has always been a shipper's playground, and today was no exception, as horses with a last-race running line from outside the New York circuit peppered the first stakeless card of the meet. Among the winning "strangers" were Archer (2nd, $3.20) from Churchill Downs, Snitch (3rd, $10.60) from Monmouth, Willshefire (4th, $5.50) from Arlington Park, Americani (5th, $19.60) from Calder, and Tropical Snow (9th, $33.20), who had previously raced in South Africa and Dubai.

Archer quickly opened a clear lead and rolled to a lengthy score vs. $75,000 2-year-olds - Bailey's first mount back since Performing Diva clocked him prior to Monday's fourth race. Bailey escaped serious injury, returning with a black eye, four stitches, and two Band Aids across his nose.

Divisions of a five-furlong dash for New York-bred 2-year-old fillies went to the Arlington shipper, Willshefire, in 59.00 seconds, and first-time starter Mama Theresa (6th, $6.30) in 59.42.

Taygete (8th, $10.80) was the longest price in an optional claiming route with four betting interests. She stalked pacesetter Private Gift from the break, inched closer when straightened into the stretch, and finally got by in the final yards.

Thursday, August 11

By the third week of the meet, at least a dozen turf races have usually been rained off to the main track. This has been one of the hottest and driest summers on record in the capital region, however, and only one race has come off the grass thus far. The turf courses are very firm, bordering on hard, and early speed is carrying very well. Three turf races at three different distances were won in front-running fashion on this card:

Love to Tango (2nd, $9.20) got loose on a two-length lead through an easy opening half-mile in 49.26 seconds, and had just enough left to hold off stalker Lethimthinkhesboss in a $40,000 claimer at 1 1/8 miles on the inner course.

Dina (3rd, $9.50) switched to turf after finishing up the track in a sloppy debut at Belmont, and outgamed 8-5 choice Yes Please, who chased throughout the 1 1/16-mile maiden route. Dina was the second Jimmy Jerkens-trained second-time starter to win off a stretch-out in the past few days, along with World Series.

Path of Thunder (6th, $7.80) showed some initiative taking the lead under a heads-up ride from John Velazquez, and stole the first division of the one-mile De La Rose Stakes through ridiculously slow splits of 25.78, 51.03, 1:14.20, and 1:36.83. The much faster heat was won from off the pace by Cloakof Vagueness (8th, $10.80) in a brisk 1:34.71.

Friday, August 12

Edgar Prado wrested the lead in the standings from Velazquez, 22-19, after riding winners for four different trainers - Red Handed Robin (1st, $4.20) for Richard Dutrow Jr.; Win McCool (2nd, $7) for Bobby Barbara; Fleet Honey (4th, $25.80) for Dale Romans; and Elisa's Dream (9th, $3.50) for Bobby Frankel.

Red Handed Robin, who won for $40,000 at Monmouth in May, needed most of the stretch run to get by Uboughtwhat; the winner was fortunate that the last sixteenth of a mile was run in a molasses-like 7.43 seconds.

Win McCool was bet to 3-5 first time out at Belmont last month, and raced greenly in the mud. A half-sister to Graeme Hall and Harmony Lodge - both graded stakes winners at Saratoga - Win McCool prevailed over Rainbow Pond despite drifting out.

Fleet Honey will add to Romans's ROI totals with first-time starters, which were already profitable going in. She edged away from 8-5 firster Rolex Princess and second choice Dixie Avenger to take a $50,000 maiden sprint.

The California shipper Elisa's Dream looked much the best on paper first time against New York-breds, and won comfortably despite racing wide on both turns of a maiden turf route.

In the $65,000 Waya, an overnight stakes at 12 furlongs around three turns, the European import Latice (8th, $4) overtook A Lulu Ofa Menifee a sixteenth out, and won more decisively than the margin indicates.

Saturday, August 13

Overnight rain rendered the track good to start the day. It was upgraded to fast by the fourth race, but still retained moisture, and appeared to quicken as the day progressed.

Pomeroy (7th, $9.40) is a very fast colt on his best day, and so far his two very best days have been at Saratoga. He came within a tick of the seven-furlong track record winning the King's Bishop last year, and looked just as formidable setting a blazing pace and drawing off to win the six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt by four lengths. Pomeroy was pressed by I'm the Tiger through blazing fractions of 21.66 and 43.85, and simply ran his rivals off their feet to score in 1:08.69, the fastest six furlongs of the meet by more than a full second.

King's Drama (8th, $6.70) looked like the controlling speed of the 12-furlong Sword Dancer Invitational, but instead alternated for the lead with Relaxed Gesture throughout, and prevailed after a prolonged stretch battle. Relaxed Gesture clearly bested the rest. Meteor Storm came wide off the third and final turn, but his brief rally fizzled by midstretch.

Divisions of a 2-year-old maiden sprint at six furlongs were won by stalkers Congo King (3rd, $16) in 1:12.70 and Winning Minister (5th, $7.60) in 1:11.51.

Sunday, August 14

Favorites won six more races, and are slightly less than 40 percent for the meet at 63 for 160 after 17 days.

Dave (9th, $18.20) had a very good week for John Hertler, winning a second-level turf allowance on Wednesday and coming back on three days' rest to overtake pacesetter Provincetown in the West Point Handicap for New York-breds.

"It is obvious that he was still sharp off that win four days ago," said winning rider Jose Santos. "He has become a much better horse coming from off the pace. We were in good position along the inside, and once we got through we opened up and that was it."

Provincetown set enervating fractions of 46.07 and 1:09.92, and held off favored Certifiably Crazy to save the place in the 1 1/8-mile race.

Smokey Glacken (8th, $4.20) survived a race-long pace duel with Schedule, and then survived a stewards' inquiry after leaning in and putting Schedule in tight quarters along the rail through the stretch. Smokey Glacken has now won at the Spa each of the last three years, and he pushed trainer Jimmy Jerkens into a three-way tie for second at the meet with eight wins, along with Richard Dutrow Jr. and Steve Asmussen.

Monday, August 15

Graveyard of Favorites? How about Graveyard of Value?

Favorites won five of the nine races on this card, which marked the conclusion of week No. 3. At the halfway point of the 2005 Spa meet, post-time favorites are batting .402, with a record of 68 for 169.

Between what's available through Daily Racing Form, the drf.com web site, and free daily seminars at nearby Siro's restaurant, John Q. Punter is armed with a wealth of information and expert opinions, and the result is an army of well-informed bettors with an uncanny knack for finding the right horse.

Indeed, the crowd pegged the 1 5/8-mile John's Call Stakes right on the money. Rousing Victory (8th, $7.10), coming out of a useful prep behind the unbeaten Shakespeare on opening day, stalked the pace and drew off as the lukewarm choice, and was followed under the line by second choice Stage Call and third choice Muqbil.

Edgar Prado rode favorites Vision of Beauty (7th, $4.20) and Love My Gal (9th, $5.70), the latter coming through a convenient opening on the hedge turning for home. Prado now leads two-time defending champ John Velazquez, 24-21.

After winning 11 races opening week, Todd Pletcher has saddled just three winners the last two weeks, but still has a 14-9 lead over Steve Asmussen in the trainer standings.

Wednesday, August 17

Thrills, chills 'n' spills in the second half of the all-steeplechase early double, where a field of nine went out and only two finished the course. Good Night Shirt (2nd, $19.20) inherited a long lead when several rivals fell at the final fence, and Thermostat was the only other runner able to make it safely under the wire.

It's getting harder and harder to understand how anyone can have a solid wagering opinion on these jump races.

Curly Kayo (3rd, $5.60) was aggressively sent to the lead by Cornelio Velasquez, and had enough left to hold Out of Rock at bay. It was the second winning Calder shipper from owner Joel Sainer and trainer Carlos Martin at the meet, along with older full brother Kohut.

Sabre Baby (4th, $6.70) got the lead with Prado, waltzed through fractions of 25.38, 50.56, and 1:14.82, and outsprinted Matzoh Toga to steal a $50,000 turf route.

Fabled (5th, $29.40) had just one horse beaten after three-eighths of a mile, but rallied wide and overtook odds-on Formal Appeal despite lugging in greenly through midstretch; same owner-trainer combo (Tracy Farmer and Nick Zito) unveiled Commentator at 9-2 here last summer.

Divisions of the 1 1/8-mile Yaddo Handicap on turf went to On the Bus (7th, $5.80) in 1:48.19 and Kate Winslet (9th, $14.80) in a slower 1:49.10.

Thursday, August 18

Even when favorites lose, the chalk players win! That was the case when French Horn (1st), the stronger half of the Flying Zee Stable/Phil Serpe entry, forced the pace and came up short in the stretch, while mate Victory Circle ($3.80) circled four wide from the rear to edge perfect-trip runner-up Pincay. Prep School was in traffic through the lane.

The $7.40 early double was completed by Cash Flow (2nd, $3.50), the 10th winner from just 19 starts at the meet for Asmussen, and his sixth 2-year-old winner.

Key Deputy (3rd) was a key scratch off the program, because it took a lot of the early speed out of the mix. Spooky Mulder set the pace on a short lead through a slow first quarter in 23.16 seconds, but couldn't quite hold off Delaware Park shipper Always Noble ($14.80), who slipped through on the rail. The field of four finished in inverse parimutuel order, as even-money Thunder Touch raced four wide and spun his wheels.

Beholden (4th, $3.90), a $700,000 juvenile filly by Cat Thief who ran to several bullet works, won her debut for Eoin Harty as much the best. The Pletcher-trained Big Hitter chased and stopped to a walk as the second choice. After going 11 for 25 opening week, Pletcher has gone 3 for 29 since.

Friday, August 19

A tale of two riders: Prado won with Tiger Heart (6th, $5.50) for Richard Dutrow Jr. and with Naissance Royale (8th, $11.20) for Christophe Clement, and extended his meet lead to 29-21 over Velazquez, who took an 0-for-7 collar. Velazquez saw his winless streak reach 30 races since surviving a stewards' inquiry aboard Smokey Glacken in last Sunday's eighth race.

Tiger Heart chased Exciting Metro to the stretch, caught that rival, and outfinished Potrisunrise in an optional claimer with third-level allowance conditions; Tiger Heart's second straight big effort since a layoff and arrival in New York.

Naissance Royale received a perfect trip stalking on the inside, as Ready's Gal was pressed by My Typhoon through fast fractions in the Lake Placid for 3-year-old fillies. My Typhoon held gamely after disposing of Ready's Gal, but Naissance Royale, a first-time Lasix import from Europe, prevailed after a long struggle.

Freshened Churchill Downs shipper Very Very (7th, $15.20) trailed for the opening half-mile, put in a quick three-wide move rallying on the far turn, and drew off with ease to expose a field of local filly-and-mare turf claimers. No one claimed the winner.

Saturday, August 20

Memo to self: When it comes to talent versus experience, go with the talent. Handicappers who did were rewarded with a price they may never see again on Sweet Symphony (10th, $9.60), who ranged up on the outside at the quarter pole and made mashed potatoes out of her opposition in the prestigious Alabama Stakes. Starting for the first time in a stakes after rolling through her maiden debut and two allowance conditions, Sweet Symphony and Jerry Bailey held their ground when bumping with R Lady Joy as the latter tried to force her way off the inside turning for home, and powered past favored Spun Sugar to win by a rapidly expanding margin.

Overnight rain rendered the track sloppy at the start of the day, before being upgraded to muddy for race 4. The track was sealed for the first eight dirt races, but harrowed and "good" for the Alabama, while still containing significant moisture.

Funfair (9th, $10.60), an impressive winner of his U.S. debut at Delaware Park, hugged the rail on both turns beneath Velazquez, and found room inside pacesetter Provincetown through the lane to snap Velazquez's winless streak at 34 races. Diamond Green was bet to even money first time over from Europe, rallied three wide into the lane, and was outkicked.

Sunday, August 21

Another round of 3 a.m. thunderstorms rendered the track good to wet-fast (harrowed throughout the day), and forced all four scheduled turf races to the dirt. Inside speed appeared to hold the upper hand, particularly through the first half of the card.

Suave (9th, $8), whose last race as a 3-year-old was a close fourth behind Saint Liam in the Clark Handicap last fall, returned to win a third-level allowance/optional claimer at Arlington last month, and jumped up to win the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap on the front end. Despite stumbling at the start, Suave recovered to get the early lead, put away Tap Day and 3-5 favorite Offlee Wild into the upper stretch, and outfinished Royal Assault as the second winner on the card for Velazquez, who moved within eight wins of Prado for the meet lead. Like many horses on the program, Offlee Wild appeared to struggle with the drying-out footing.

Sir Greeley (7th, $4.70) was outfinished in two turf routes early at the meet, and when his one-mile turf race was transformed into a seven-furlong dirt sprint, he responded with a huge effort to win by nearly 10 lengths. It was the ninth winner at the meet for Jimmy Jerkens.

Travers nominee A.P. Arrow (8th, $5.60) opted for an entry-level allowance route instead, and needed the length of the stretch to run down a drifting-out Spanish Mission. Second choice Aristocrat labored over the surface in his first start against winners.

Monday, August 22

The final