09/26/2013 4:05PM

Jay Hovdey: A day for gridirons and Grade 1's


College football fans can’t all be at South Bend, Columbus, or Tuscaloosa on Saturday, just as racing fans can’t zip between Belmont Park and Santa Anita for the best single afternoon of sport this year. As a result, the airwaves will be abuzz, as millions settle into Barcaloungers and neighborhood bars for a day of heady indulgence in their favorite early autumn pastimes. Here’s how it should go …

The Bryant University Bulldogs – the Fightin’ Bulldogs – will be down from Smithfield, R.I., to renew their rivalry with the Wagner College Seahawks at Wagner College Stadium on Staten Island. Chances are the game, on ESPN3, won’t be in the books by the time the Beldame Invitational is run at 3:09 p.m. Eastern, noonish out West, but it should not take much longer than the length of a fourth quarter commercial break for Royal Delta to put the young upstart Princess of Sylmar in her place. The last time a truly outstanding 3-year-old filly met a world-class older filly or mare in the Beldame was in 2011, when Royal Delta got her clocked cleaned by Havre de Grace, who won by 8 1/4 lengths.

After the Beldame runners are home and dry it will be kickoff time for LSU at Georgia (bigger Bulldogs!) and Oklahoma at Notre Dame. LSU-Georgia should be fun, but OU vs. ND is kind of a foregone conclusion, the Sooners being 1-9 against the Irish, also Fightin’.

For the torn racing fan it should be easy to break away during the first quarter of either contest to watch the one-mile Kelso Handicap at 3:41 Eastern, especially since Donn Handicap winner Graydar comes back from ankle surgery in there, and fan favorite Jackson Bend, the little devil, is fresh from a good effort in the Forego. They should need about 94 seconds or so to get the job done. The race gets its name from the five-time Horse of the Year who won the 1961 Met Mile at Aqueduct under 130 pounds. Graydar carries 120.

By now Oklahoma will be demoralized by Notre Dame, so Sooners fans can find distraction in a cracking version of the Vosburgh Stakes at 4:13 Eastern. Defending champ The Lumber Guy will take on the winners of the Forego (Strapping Groom), the Alfred Vanderbilt (Justin Phillip), the Smile (Bahamian Squall), and the Woody Stephens (Forty Tales). For added zest, Martin Pedroza will be in town to ride Private Zone for his pal Rene Douglas. Fresh from his 14th championship at the Fairplex Park bullring, Pedroza should feel right at home, since practically half of the six-furlong Vosburgh is run around that big, fat Belmont turn.

How tough is it to market a sport with athletes named Kissable, White Rose, Mystical Star, and Laughing? They’ll meet in the Flower Bowl Invitational at 4:45 Eastern for, gulp, $600,000. Laughing hasn’t lost in three races this year, but she hasn’t won by much either. The unpronounceable English mare Qushchi gives Graham Motion and Edgar Prado a big chance at the prize.

Notre Dame is now playing their third-stringers trying to keep from running it up on OU, but don’t expect Ken and Sarah Ramsey to have pity on their rivals in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at 5:17 Eastern over 1 1/2 miles, also for 600 large. The Ramseys are doubling up with their Sword Dancer winner Big Blue Kitten and their Million winner (on a DQ) Real Solution, and for good measure tossing in Joes Blazing Aaron to make sure Little Mike doesn’t get away with a slow pace.

The Belmont half of the banquet wraps up at 5:40 Eastern with the Jockey Club Gold Cup. There are small children who don’t remember any horse but Flat Out ever winning the Gold Cup, as he tries for his third straight. Half a century ago, Kelso won five.

The last horse to seek a three-peat (trademark Pat Riley) was Skip Away, who got giant-killed by the Allen Jerkens runner Wagon Limit in 1998, and before that it was Creme Fraiche, who was last behind Waquoit in a sloppy four-horse regatta in 1988. Two-time Gold Cup winners Curlin, Slew o’ Gold, Shuvee, Nashua, and Mad Hatter did not attempt to win a third, while Dark Secret couldn’t, since he suffered a fatal foreleg injury winning his second straight Gold Cup in 1934.

Yawn and stretch, but don’t stray. At 6 p.m. Eastern, 3 o’clock out West, the Santa Anita show commences with 2-year-old fillies in the Chandelier Stakes (the race formerly known as the Oak Leaf) and a rematch of the Del Mar Debutante one-two finishers She’s a Tiger and Fascinating.

Ole Miss at Alabama starts at half-past on ESPN (the network formerly known as the home of horse racing), and at 3:34 Pacific the 1 1/4-mile Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita pits the three best turf mares in California – Marketing Mix, Tiz Flirtatious, and Lady of Shamrock – against Matchmaker winner Starstruck.

At the top of the hour we’ll see if Tamarando and Dance With Fate can come out of the clouds to be one-two in the FrontRunner Stakes on the dirt like they were on Polytrack in the Del Mar Futurity. In fact, the only dirt form in the field belongs to a pair of colts who ran at the Santa Rosa fair, so good luck.

There is a break in the major action after the FrontRunner, during which the viewer can enjoy the kickoff of Brown at Harvard on NBC Sports Network, which is currently the home of horse racing except not today. Then at 5 p.m. Pacific, the start of the Wisconsin-Ohio State tilt coincides with the most compelling matchup of the Santa Anita program in the Zenyatta Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. The West’s Beholder takes on the East’s Joyous Victory, two fast, front-running fillies, with Anna Rose Napravnik on one and Gary Lynn Stevens on the other. Buckle up.

The feast ends at 5:30 Pacific when Mucho Macho Man meets a collection of older California horses who are not named Game On Dude in the Awesome Again Stakes. And if there is room for dessert, fans can switch to Churchill Downs for their featured race under the lights at 9:05 p.m. Eastern, in which defending Breeders’ Cup Classic champ Fort Larned will try to get his groove back in the first running of the $175,000 Homecoming Classic at 1 1/8 miles. Imagine that – never been run and already a classic.

[removed] More than 1 year ago
This comment has been deleted
W.G. More than 1 year ago
A spam bot or someone who's account got HACKED!
W.G. More than 1 year ago
This is a perfect example of why Belmont Park and Santa Anita need lights: Instead of going opposite College Football on NBC, if both had lights, the tracks could work together to produce a fast-paced, four-hour feast of 11 races that could air these races on NBC from 7:00-11:00 PM ET with Belmont and Santa Anita alternating events, ending with the Awesome Again at Santa Anita and Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, both under the lights. Given how live sports are the only thing that produce TV ratings in Saturday prime time, being able to go at night in this case likely gets the sport exposure it badly needs leading up to the Breeders' Cup, also putting such on when "the millennials" (those born after 1980) are more likely to see it before they head to the clubs (and it needs to be remembered many clubs in NYC for instance don't even open until 10:00 PM and don't get into full gear until after Midnight). Hopefully, in the future New York State will realize the importance of allowing lights at thoroughbred tracks
W.G. More than 1 year ago
The last paragraph should have read: "Hopefully, in the future New York State will realize the importance of allowing lights at thoroughbred tracks, even if it's just for a limited number of night programs a year at Belmont Park."
Thomas Mcdonough More than 1 year ago
The figs all favor the Queen, but don't underestimate the Princess.
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
Great day of racing and some other dumb sport!
John Murray More than 1 year ago
Agreed Chad, Seattle, Eric But please get rid of these annoying spam messages like the one below
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
John, Use the little red flag thingy that pops up when you cursor thru a comment. It's there to alert DRF to these sales pimps.
John Murray More than 1 year ago
Will do, thanks Chad
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Off the headline, I thought I was gonna hate this article. I, again was wrong, way wrong.
Eric Rickard More than 1 year ago
Sign of the times. I know i'll be watching and betting somewhere.
seattle More than 1 year ago
NO television coverage for this Super Saturday of G1 races. How sad
MKKelly513 More than 1 year ago
Agree wholeheartedly. NBC Sports has soccer, rather than horse racing. While not as good, we still have TVG & HRTV channels if your cable system carries them. As for me, I will drive the 140+ miles to be at Belmont with a carload of people. It's that good of a card.
W.G. More than 1 year ago
NBC has made a HUGE investment on the Premier League over the next five years as its popularity had grown tremendously. As noted in another comment, if you want these races on TV, you need to be able to go on Saturday NIGHT from 7:00-11:00 PM ET. Live sports are the only things that do well in prime time these days, and if Belmont Park and Santa Anita have LIGHTS, they could alternate the 11 stakes over the four hours in a fast-paced format.
B More than 1 year ago
I emphatically agree. I do at least get TVG coverage, but not HRTV as I now live in Portland, Oregon where TVG is based and they will not allow HRTV to be seen here unless you get the Dish Network and who wants that?! Used to have HRTV and it was amateurish to say the least, but I assume that they have gotten their act together by now & I wish I could get it.
W.G. More than 1 year ago
The problem is that tracks need to be more flexible and need to in many cases install LIGHTS to allow them to race at night if they want exposure on NBC. It likely is worth it for the sport to pay through the nose if necessary and take up Saturday prime time, which NBC likely would on most weeks like because NBC doesn't exactly get great ratings for Saturday prime time anyway. Traditionalists may not like seeing lights at Belmont Park or Santa Anita (and in the case of New York, the laws would need to be changed to all for night thoroughbred racing) but if this sport is going to get exposure, that is what has to be done.