Big race days and big races are supposed to be memorable. We want them to stand out somehow, to give us something to savor, to become, in the words of ESPN, instant classics, to create stories.
And boy, did Travers Day 2008 deliver.
Let’s start with the weather. It’s become tiresome to talk about the weather up here, but who could awaken and not be grateful for the day that we knew lay ahead? No rain in the forecast; low humidity; moderate temperatures. Compare it to the moist oven in which we sat at the Spa last year, or the 2002 cold downpour; what a gift yesterday was.
And then the day began.
Race 1: Uruguayan-bred Aquino wins by four and half. Alan Garcia rides, Kiaran McLaughlin trains. The horse pays $6.00. Ho-hum, no big deal. Ha. Little did we know…
Race 2: Garrett Gomez makes his return to Saratoga a victorious one, bringing home Phipps/McGaughey’s Gone Astray.
Race 3: The prices are creeping up…after a $6.00 pay-out in the first and an $11.20 payout in the second, John Velazquez wins on the Jimmy Jerkens first-time starter Storm Play at $26.40. Jerkens beats his father in this one.
Race 4: Bombs away! Missinglisalewis, under Alan Garcia, pays $62.00. A certain 11-year-old nephew, given a few bucks to play with by his father, asks Dad to bet the 14. Dad gets shut out…oops.
The order of finish looks like this: 30/1 over 23/1 over 8/1 over 23/1. Payouts:
$1,293 exacta; $19,482 trifecta; $89,625 superfecta. Congratulations, folks.
Race 5: A nice win by Rogue Victory, but even in my quest for a seamless theme through the day, I can’t find a reason that I’ll remember this race. Congrats to the winners (Prado/Weaver/Maybry Farm), and let’s move on.
Race 6: Big Stick collects his fourth win in nine starts for Kiaran McLaughlin, Alan Garcia up. That’s two for this team, three for Garcia.
Race 7: Slambino indeed. Maybe we witness the coining of a new word; surely, “bomb” is inadequate to describe this $179.00 winner–maybe a horse who comes in at over $150 should henceforth be known as a Slambino? Channing Hill, not having the best of summers, rides the biggest payout at the meet so far.
Order of finish: 88/1 over 20/1 over 37/1 over 4/1. That comes to a $2,565 exacta; a $105,914 triple; and a $1,523,188 superfecta.
Brother Backstretch launched into an informed and sensible explanation of a $1.5 million dollar “payout” from a pool without nearly that much money in it; Steve Crist similarly does so here.
Race 8: Let the stakes begin! We start with the Victory Ride, in which heavy favorite Indyanne gets run down in the stretch by Porte Bonheur for a $24.60 winner. There was money to be made the Spa yesterday, for sure…
Race 9: Next up is the Bernard Baruch, which last year raised the profile of New York rider Alan Garcia when he brought Shakis up the rail to steal the race for Kiaran McLaughlin. Garcia/Shakis/McLaughlin do it again this year, this time from the outside. This jockey/trainer combination makes it three on the day, and if anyone’s counting, four wins for Alan Garcia.
Race 10: The King’s Bishop. Keep counting, because Garcia gets his fifth win—and second Grade I–on the day aboard Visionaire. Could the colt sprint at this level? Could he win without the slop? Questions definitively and decisively answered in this two and a quarter length victory. One Triple Crown contender finds some redemption at the Spa; this is Visionaire’s second win here this summer.
Race 11: If Visionaire decisively answered questions, Colonel John might as well have said, “Ha! Can’t run on dirt, eh? Can’t go a mile and a quarter?” He couldn’t start bragging right away, though, as many in the crowd were convinced that Mambo in Seattle was the horse who got his nose down at the wire. In fact, it looked pretty clear at the finish; then we saw the slow-motion replay, and we all went, “Hmm…maybe not…” We loved last year’s Travers, with the Grasshopper/Street Sense stretch duel; this year, with twelve horses in the field, eleven of them loping along behind Da’ Tara, we watched them come to the head of the stretch, and many of us in attendance thought we had a chance…at least for a little while.
“Epic” may be too strong a word to describe the race, given the overall disappointing three-year-olds this year, but “memorable,” yes, and a Travers for the ages.
Race 12: The final race on the card is always going to be anti-climactic, but at least Alan Garcia provided some final interest on the day when he took Fra Lippo to a six-length lead in :22.3 and :46; maybe he just felt that winning half of the day’s races wouldn’t be sporting? Fra Lippo predictably faded, and Iron Gate, under Ramon Dominguez, closed, bringing an end to Travers Day 2008.
Twelve hours after I arrived at the track (with a little break in the late morning), the big day was in the books. Heading downtown with a little more money in my pocket than I’d had in the morning, having spent the day in the company of inveterate race fans and horseplayers, old friends and new, I thought that this was one of the most satisfying Travers Days in recent memory, given the combination of good racing and good weather. 2002 and Medaglia D’Oro were simply unpleasant, as was last year; Bernardini gave us a ho-hum romp in 2006; and 2005 without Afleet Alex just felt incomplete. After chastising Saratoga for a month, the racing gods relented a little yesterday.
Onward to the final week, with more sights and sounds from Travers Day in a few days.