08/28/2002 11:00PM

Saratoga 2002: Let's go to the videotape


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It's hard to believe nearly six weeks have gone by. But there is only a holiday weekend of racing left to go, and it is time to look back at some memorable moments from a Saratoga meet that was steamy early and wet late.

July 24 - The standing-room only crowd at Siro's for the opening-day seminar receives the following advice from yours truly regarding the third race, a 5 1/2-furlong dash for 2-year-old maidens: "What you want to look for is a horse breaking toward the outside who's taking some tote action, and who's likely to show some early speed."

A few minutes to post, Le Notre, who is breaking from post 10 at a "live" 5-1 off some sharp works, seems to fit the bill. He has to settle for second though, after dead-on-the-board Silver Squire breaks from the rail, lags far behind early, and circles the field to win going away at 30-1.

So it's going to be that kind of meet, eh?

Two races later, the 3-year-old filly Wonder Again, fresh from a maiden win downstate, makes everyone's list of horses to watch when she flies home to catch $4 million filly Showlady.

July 25 - Trebizond ($70.50) wins the first steeplechase race of the meet as the longest shot on the board. As was the case for the first 'chase of the 2001 meet, the trifecta payoff exceeds $5,000.

Foreshadowing things to come, Edgar Prado on Whywhywhy overtakes Jerry Bailey on favored Wildcat Heir to win the Sanford.

July 26 - James Bond annually wins a 2-year-old New York-bred maiden race with a James F. Edwards homebred. This year's model is Dixie Country ($7) by daylight.

Del Mar Show wins the Bernard Baruch Handicap for trainer Bill Mott and Bailey. It is Del Mar Show's fifth graded stakes win on five different turf courses.

July 27 - Bailey wins two stakes on Bobby Frankel-trained horses by the combined margin of about an inch, as Tates Creek out-bobs Voodoo Dancer in the Diana Handicap and You noses Carson Hollow in the Test. Bailey has put up many memorable rides in a Hall of Fame career, but none packed more thrills and chills per furlong than the Test, in which You got off slow, rushed up, shuffled back, was sent between horses, and ultimately shoulder to shoulder with Carson Hollow the length of the stretch.

July 29 - Rude Coyote wires a six-horse $50,000 claiming sprint at 11-1. Only after she crosses the wire do most handicappers, this one included, go back through her recent company lines to see the name of multiple stakes winner Mandy's Gold.

Aug. 2 - Mandy's Gold, conqueror of Rude Coyote et al., wins the Honorable Miss Handicap gate to wire. Red-boarders are still wondering how a filly winning her fourth straight stakes race pays $12.60 in a field of six.

Aug. 3 - Left Bank, who had just set Belmont's seven-furlong track record by winning the Tom Fool Handicap, stretches out to

1 1/8 miles and knocks off Street Cry and Lido Palace, equaling Tri Jet's record of 1:47 set 28 years earlier to the day. Soon afterward, Left Bank colics and undergoes emergency surgery.

Aug. 4 - Each of the six races on the main track is won by horses on the early lead, none more emphatically than Medaglia d'Oro, who rides the golden rail to a Jim Dandy win by the length of the stretch, with a Beyer Speed Figure of 120.

Aug. 7 - By phone from Long Island, my father-in-law tips me off to Tom Bush-trained firster Infinite Justice, who romps by seven at 11-1. I have him keyed in all the gizmos with the namesake of Walter's daughter, Go Rockin' Robin, who can only manage fourth at 4-5. Aargh!

Aug. 10 - Pay Day sets a new all-time earnings record, and does it in storybook fashion with a photo-finish win aboard With Anticipation, who successfully defends his Sword Dancer Handicap title by out-kicking perfect-trip Denon. Wise guys believe this to be the first stakes photo that a Frankel-trained horse has lost in at least three years.

Aug. 14 - It is 93 degrees in the shade as the fourth week begins. The weatherman on the local news tells us we are on pace for the second-hottest Saratoga summer since they began keeping records in 1872.

Zavata seems unfazed in the Saratoga Special, as he rolls to his third straight open-lengths victory.

Aug. 17 - Idle for 105 days since winning the Kentucky Oaks, Farda Amiga digs in for Pat Day and catches Allamerican Bertie in the final strides of the Alabama, which is run on a sealed, drying-out surface.

Aug. 18 - Wonder Again again, this time at $11 in the Lake Placid Handicap, and under a hand ride, no less. If she keeps developing at this pace, she will be the best 3-year-old grass filly in America sooner, not later.

Aug. 19 - Opening-day debut winner Silver Squire returns in an allowance race, and blows by Down Play in the blink of an eye three-sixteenths from home. But he lugs in slightly and brushes that rival before quickly driving clear. The incident has no bearing on the outcome, but the stewards adhere strictly to the letter of the law and disqualify Silver Squire.

Aug. 23 - Imperial Gesture, last seen being slammed at the start of the Kentucky Oaks, wins this allowance tune-up versus older mares as if she'll give Take Charge Lady and Bella Bellucci a fight in the Sept. 7 Gazelle at Belmont.

For the fourth time in the last five racing days, Prado wins four races on the card, and he has opened up a clear lead in the jockey standings on Bailey.

Aug. 24 - "Chance of a late-day shower," according to every weather forecast, but it somehow develops into a cold, all-day rain that results in 39 program scratches on Travers Day.

Even so, Medaglia d'Oro and Bailey turn back all comers early, middle, and late, and finally repel a determined bid from Repent and Prado to prove the Jim Dandy was no fluke. Repent's effort in the slop off a 140-day layoff and only four published workouts for trainer Ken McPeek, even in defeat, is right out of the Charlie Whittingham Handbook, and it is already the stuff of Saratoga legend.

Bonus coverage

Even though the results aren't officially in, here's what may or may not happen the last three days.

Aug. 31 - Bailey captures his 11th graded stakes of the meet aboard odds-on Zavata, but afterward everyone is talking about how well Sky Mesa ran considering it was just his second career start.

Sept. 1 - Orientate, 4-for-4 in dirt sprint stakes this year, and returning Eclipse champion Squirtle Squirt rocket nose to nose through an opening half-mile in 44 seconds flat, and set things up for . . .

Sept. 2 - Ibn Al Haitham, a maiden graduate by a pole when switched to the turf Aug. 7 by his new trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, wins the closing-day Saranac on a course labeled "soft."