SARATOGA DAILY NOTEBOOK
SATURDAY, AUGUST 27, 2005
by Dick Powell
There's an old horse racing saying that goes, "horses don't set track records - tracks set track records." The logic being is that a track that is optimized for blazing-fast running times will yield blazing-fast running times. After today's 136th running of the Travers S. (G1), the old saying might be changed to, "horses don't determine the outcome of races - tracks determine the outcome of races."
If you liked a horse with a come-from-behind running style in today's "Mid-Summer Derby," you had no shot. Nada, zilch, fuhgaddaboutit! Speed was king today at Saratoga and despite sunny, dry weather, there was so much moisture put down on the track by the track super that it looked wet-fast. Roman Ruler (Fusaichi Pegasus), Andromeda's Hero (Fusaichi Pegasus), Chekhov (Pulpit), Don't Get Mad (Stephen Got Even) and Reverberate (Thunder Gulch) were all up against a severe bias that left them spinning their wheels trying to make up ground.
As expected, Javier Castellano sent Bellamy Road (Concerto) to the front. The winner of the Wood Memorial (G1) was coming off an 112-day layoff and looked hot going to the post on a spectacular day before a disappointing crowd of 42,841. He resisted Castellano's efforts to settle down going by the stands the first time but once he got away from some of the crowd noise on the clubhouse turn he succumbed to his rider's efforts.
Johnny Velazquez got FLOWER ALLEY (Distorted Humor) away from the gate in good order and kept him off the rail going into the first turn in an effort to get him to relax. Velazquez was willing to lose some ground instead of saving ground on the rail and run the risk that someone would come up next to him and pin him down. Jerry Bailey had Roman Ruler back in third and, while the flighty son of the equally flighty Fusaichi Pegasus behaved himself before the race, he showed up today with fiberglass patches underneath his front heels. This is usually a sign of running down on his ankles and not what we were looking for.
Castellano opened up a clear lead down the backstretch and with the wind at his back, Bellamy Road ran the first half mile in :47.43. Velazquez was content to stalk and with no one putting any pressure on him he was able to time his move when he wanted instead of having to respond to a move from behind him. Roman Ruler was running along in the same spot but it looked like Bailey was urging him to maintain his position instead of doing it on his own like he did last out in the Haskell Invitational (G1).
As they headed into the far turn, Bellamy Road was still about three lengths in front and Velazquez began to get closer with Flower Alley. Bailey was now begging Roman Ruler for a response but he was giving it grudgingly and inching closer. At the top of the stretch, Bellamy Road's lead was a half-length and Velazquez was all over Flower Alley. Bellamy Road was as courageous as could be but the long layoff and energy he used early took its toll and Flower Alley seized command with 100 yards to go.
At the wire, it was Flower Alley in front by a widening 2 1/2 lengths over Bellamy Road. Roman Ruler never left his third-place running position and was 2 3/4 lengths farther back in third. Don't Get Mad looked like a threat on the far turn but flattened out and was only able to pass Andromeda's Hero for fourth. Reverberate and Chekhov ran sixth and seventh for much of the race and maintained those positions at the wire.
For trainer Todd Pletcher and Velazquez, it was their first Travers victory after dominating the Jim Dandy (G2) for the past three runnings. After the race, an elated Pletcher (I know, it's hard to tell) told a national TV audience, "It unfolded the way we thought it would and the way we hoped it would. It seemed clear cut on paper: Bellamy Road would be on the lead, we would be second and Roman Ruler would be stalking us. The key, I thought, was that Johnny made the right decisions all the way around. At the three-eighths pole pole, he put on a little pressure and that was the difference in my opinion. This was a home run. The Jim Dandy was the kind of performance that propelled Flower Alley to the next level. Who knows, maybe he can step it up in the Breeders' Cup?"
Velazquez's decision to keep Bellamy Road honest was risky, especially after he used similar tactics that got Spun Sugar (Awesome Again) beat by Sweet Symphony (A.P. Indy) in the Alabama (G1).
"This is great," Velazquez said. "It is very special to me. From the start, I wasn't going to let Bellamy Road go. I got after him at the three-eighths pole and then I asked him and he took off and I still had a lot left. He was very good today. It's really special because it is for Todd and the Melnyks."
For Bellamy Road, the defeat was bitter only because of how hard he tried.
"Bellamy Road ran his heart out," said recent Hall of Fame inductee, Nick Zito. "I've said it before, he's a terrific horse. We were right there with the winner, but he was a little better than us. We'll try to beat him next time. What can I say? I've very proud of my horses. Bellamy Road hasn't run in four months. He came here and fought all the way. I think the horse will be OK. This was great stuff. He hasn't run in four months - like I said, I'm very proud of him."
In today's racing world, it will be interesting to see where these horses go next. The Breeders' Cup is nine weeks away and yet, we will probably only see these horses race once. Two races would be the most as the training world continues to want to train instead of race their horses.
Flower Alley's win today was also a victory for "old school" training tactics. Old time horsemen up here will still tell you that a race over the track is critical. Pletcher ran in the Jim Dandy here instead of the Haskell at Monmouth and the dividends came in today.
With Bellamy Road going in the Travers, Lost in the Fog (Lost Soldier) looked like he would have things his own way in the King's Bishop (G1). Despite training in a bar shoe and running over a track that was deeper than most tracks he has competed over, it was no contest as the undefeated sophomore sprint sensation extended his win skein to nine with a dominant 4 3/4-length win over the late-closing Social Probation (Jules).
The King's Bishop was was over at the start when Russell Baze, in his first ride ever at the Spa, gunned Lost in the Fog to the front and no one went with him. His first quarter of :22.09 was easy for him and he turned up the heat with a :22.52 second quarter. The barrel-chested colt leveled off in the stretch and his run through the lane was awe inspiring. The final margin was 4 3/4 lengths but it could have been as wide as Baze wanted.
Trainer Greg Gilchrist said that this was their Kentucky Derby and he was brilliant. Speed-favoring track or not, Lost in the Fog was great and Gilchrist indicated after the race that they will spend the $90,000 and supplement him to the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) after a prep in Southern California.
If you were able to watch the ESPN coverage of the Saratoga races, you got to see an insulting, idiotic interview with Lost in the Fog's owner Harry Aleo before the race. The talking head from the all-sports network asked Aleo how much his colt is worth, why he doesn't sell him and how does him running in the King's Bishop today compare to his soldier's experience in the "Battle of the Bulge." I thought the 86-year-old Aleo was going to strangle the guy. Luckily for the interviewer, Aleo wasn't channeling George S. Patton or it could have gotten ugly. It was the stupidest series of questions ever heard since some dopey reporter asked the doctor that performed the liver transplant operation on Mickey Mantle how the donor was doing. Aleo seemed hard of hearing, and thank goodness for the reporter, who would have been slapped silly back in the day. Go Harry!
Isn't it great that ESPN is doing more horse racing?
The Hopeful (G1) looked like a two-horse race between Henny Hughes (Hennessy) and FIRST SAMURAI (Giant's Causeway). And it was. Newly-acquired Too Much Bling (Rubiano) gunned to the front for Bob Baffert and Javier Castellano. First Samurai and Bailey took up chase and Henny Hughes was farther back in third with Gary Stevens.
Too Much Bling gunned through the first half in :44.81 and was justifying his private purchase by Stonerside Stable around the far turn. Bailey began to turn up the pressure and Henny Hughes was being used hard by Stevens to make up any ground.
Just like in his allowance win here last out, First Samurai poured it on in the stretch and drew off to an easy 4 1/4-length win with Henny Hughes back in second. It was another length back to Too Much Bling, who held on gamely as the early pacesetter.
It was Bailey's sixth Hopeful win and Brothers' first. After the race, an impressed Bailey said that we might not have seen the best of First Samurai.
"He shook loose at the top of the stretch, but that was the second time he lugged in," the jockey said. "But he's young, and we hope it's just a learning process. He has shown he has a lot of room for improvement, especially if he cuts out the two-year-old stuff."
Henny Hughes had been undefeated in three starts before today and he picked a bad time to be a couple of lengths behind down the backstretch. He tried hard but you have to suspect that his sprint pedigree will catch up to him as the races get longer. It would be interesting to see if Darley Stable will try the Lost in the Fog route and keep him sprinting.
Horses to Watch
5TH - WOOD BE WILLING (Pulpit) was victimized by a dawdling pace as the top two speed horses went gate to wire. With his pedigree he'll get better with distance.
6TH - POLITICAL FORCE (Unbridled's Song) should have been scratched at the gate after melting down and then had a nightmare trip.
5TH - Jimmy Toner sends out first-time starter SARAH SUPREME (Golden Missile) in a two-turn turf event for juvenile fillies. Her dam has produced stakes horses in Ireland, her workouts are terrific and Edgar Prado rides.
9TH - Forest Music (Unbridled's Song) had things her own way last out but six furlongs seems to be her best distance. BANK AUDIT (Wild Rush) was an even third last out against the favorite and should handle the stretch out to seven furlongs from a better post with Ramon Dominguez.
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