A contrarian might find reasons to be disgruntled about Saturday at Saratoga: Bustin Stones scratched from the Vanderbilt; there was a little too much adolescent behavior in the backyard; yet again, there were periodic deluges that soaked anyone not under cover (and clearly we are not going to be permitted to go more than forty-eight hours without a major rainstorm).
But anyone with a horse racing soul found redemption in two races: the Go for Wand and the Whitney.
Ginger Punch looked majestic in the paddock—what a pro! Beautifully proportioned, Ernie pointed out that she lacks the muscular intimidation of Rags to Riches but looks simply perfectly built, assembled for the dual purpose of looking fabulous and running like the champion that she is.
And run like a champ she did; as Ernie, Railbird, and I watched the race, one or the other of us would say every few seconds, “She’s got no room!” “Where’s she gonna go?” “She’s bottled up!” Mike Welsch reports in the Daily Race Form that Frankel says that Bejarano “panicked”; from our view, he looked cool and patient as he waited, moved, waited again, knowing that the room would come and that when it did, he’d have more than enough horse left to win the race.
As Ginger Punch pulled away, I felt awed as I seldom do when I watch a race; race fans complain about the mediocrity of horses in big races, but anyone at Saratoga yesterday had to acknowledge this mare’s greatness. I wanted to applaud as she pulled away in the stretch, and I think I did. I’ve never been a huge Ginger Punch fan, but her performance yesterday was a tour de force.
I have, however, been a fan of Nick Zito’s for as long as I’ve followed racing, and thus, while I bet a bunch of exactas on the Whitney, all I really wanted was for Commentator to win. Zito used to train the Whitney horses; he loves New York stakes races; and all week, he talked about how much he wanted his horse to take this race at age 7 and enter the echelon of older horses winning Grade I’s.
Solar Flare looked impressive in the paddock; though a little antsy, he looked strong and fit, and I thought he might be sitting on a big race. Quite wrong about that, I was.
Commentator looked great, too, but to be honest, next to Solar Flare, he looked small, a little dull, and old. I was not feeling sanguine as I watched them in the paddock, and as Railbird reported yesterday paddock-side, Ernie, excellent eavesdropper that he is, heard Zito’s instructions to John Velazquez: “You gotta come out.” Zito looked pretty relaxed, as did Johnny V; along with Commentator, they were three Saratoga pros taking on one of our greatest races.
If Ginger Punch’s rivals appeared determined to make winning the race as difficult as possible for her, Commentator’s did exactly the opposite, appearing to want to hand the gelding the race. Velazquez and Commentator did indeed come out and were permitted to get away with running the first quarter in 24.16; though the pace picked up after that, Commentator raced uncontested on the lead, with no other horse seriously challenging him. For the second race in a row, a Spa veteran and one of the horses whose connections have let him stick around proved his mettle, to the delight of many in the crowd, including this fan, who was as happy about a race outcome as I can remember being recently. And nope, I didn’t use Student Council in my exactas.
Unlike Ginger Punch, who had to fight through much of the race for striking position and whose victory was seriously in doubt until late in the race, Commentator did it his way, and he made it look easy. I was shocked that not a single jockey challenged his lead until it was much too late, and while I don’t know whether this son of Distorted Humor now joins the ranks of Kelso and Forego, his performance yesterday was the second stunning success of the afternoon.
The rain had begun to come down pretty seriously before the Go for Wand; it rained off and on through the rest of the afternoon (and into the evening—driving home after dinner, I encountered flooding in Saratoga that I’ve never seen before; intersections had turned into lakes), but by the end of the Whitney, the sun was out even though raindrops were coming down, and somewhere, we knew, though we couldn’t see it, there was a rainbow over Saratoga.