Monday, August 27, 2012

A Spectacular Saratoga Saturday

Saturday was a day full of rarities at Saratoga. From Zagora becoming the first French-bred to win the Ballston Spa Stakes (GII), to Contested winning the Test Stakes (GI) from off the lead, to Willy Beamin winning the King’s Bishop Stakes (GI) off three days’ rest, and to Alpha and Golden Ticket crossing the wire in a dead heat for the victory in the Travers’ Stakes (GI), the Saratoga card on August 25 was one to remember.

Zagora’s Record-Breaking Ballston Spa

Becoming the first French-bred to take the Ballston Spa wasn’t the only record Zagora set in her Ballston Spa victory. The Chad Brown trainee also set a new course record, posting a final time of 1:39.07 for the mile and one-sixteenth turf event, eclipsing the previous record of 1:39.92 set by Leroidesanimaux in 2005. The Ballston Spa was her fourth graded stakes victory this season.

Contested’s Aced Test

Contested returned to her brilliant winning ways when she swept to a two-length lead in the Test. Following a poor start, she did not go straight to the lead, but found herself in front at the end of the race, completing the seven furlongs in a brisk 1:22.47. Sprint races are where she belongs and she is certainly among the best in the division, though she will have to face very tough rivals such as Winding Way and Groupie Doll later this season in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI).

Willy Beamin’s Inspiring King’s Bishop

Racing off just three days’ rest is unheard of in modern-day American racing. Winning off merely three days’ rest is even rarer. But Willy Beamin did just that. Following an easy romp in the Albany Stakes on Wednesday, the gelding was sent off at 11-1 in the King’s Bishop, in which he closed to finish a half-length ahead of Fort Loudon for the victory. I am in absolute admiration of this fine Thoroughbred!

A Historical Travers

The Travers – also known as the Midsummer Derby – was inaugurated in 1864 and is thus the oldest major Thoroughbred race still contested in the United States. Though magical history hung over the race, so did the dark cloud of the losses of many of our sophomore superstars. With I’ll Have Another, Union Rags, Bodemeister, and, possibly Hansen, retired – and with Paynter on the sidelines – the Travers lacked superstardom. But what the historical race lacked in star power, it made up for in excitement. The finish of the ten-furlong race could not have been more thrilling, resulting in a dead heat between the favorite, Alpha (a horse I can’t help but compare to Stay Thirsty), and longshot Golden Ticket. Dead heats are rare in and of themselves, but this was the first one in the extensive history of the Travers.

Many believe the result of this race made the three-year-old division even more unclear. To me, however, it made it clearer that I’ll Have Another still holds the lead for Eclipse Award Champion Three-Year-Old Male. Rather, the larger question was how the traditional Travers canoe would be painted. The answer to that question: two separate canoes, one for each victor.

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