This may be the longest good-bye in the history of Saratoga. I know, I know, it ended three days ago, and I’ve already posted twice about it, but there are so many notes and overheards and photos and images that I kept meaning to write about and didn’t quite get to…so I swear, this is it: one last Saratoga post, and then onward to Belmont.
It took all summer, but I think that I found my two-year-old crush. I liked Cribnote in the Hopeful and bet him, but he sealed the deal with his recovery after blowing the turn. He was so game in the stretch, and without that wide turn, I have to think that the race was his. Onto the watch list he goes…hope he’s worth the wait…
Must weigh in on the disqualification of Mrs. Holden in Monday’s fifth race. Full disclosure: I know her connections and I met the filly before she ever hit the racetrack, having visited her last spring at the Middleburg Training Center, so I had both a personal and financial stake in her winning. That said, I don’t think that my subjectivity clouds my judgment on the stewards’ decision.
Mrs. Holden is not the easiest of fillies; she was a gate scratch a while back because of some bad behavior, and she can tend to act up in the paddock. She inflicted a minor injury on an exercise rider while gate schooling at Saratoga. She can be a little stubborn, and a little cranky. Not much given to human company, she will welcome you to her stall…if there’s something in it for her. A pat on the neck without a treat offered will likely bring nothing more than disdain.
That said, on the track, she’s sometimes indicated that she likes to race, but even when she runs well, she can’t win for losing. In her best race prior to Monday, she finished second to Catty Madeline on July 6th at Belmont, but in that race, too, an inquiry was posted. Ed Fountaine reported in the New York Post:
When is a foul not a foul? In ninth race, Catty Madeline, rallying mid-stretch
under Rajiv Maragh, came out to split horses; in doing so, she body-slammed Spa
Princess, forcing her out into Intoxicatingbeauty. Then, for good measure, Catty
Madeline came out into Spa Princess again before running past Mrs. Holden to win
going away. Stewards posted inquiry; but although this foul was much worse than
one which led to DQ of Proud Spell in last week’s Mother Goose, they let result
So, perhaps denied of her first win, Mrs. Holden went on to run two clunkers at Saratoga, finishing eleventh and eighth.
On Monday, she went to the lead and never looked back, leading by at least a length throughout the race. Jerry Bossert of the Daily News tells the story:
Entering Monday, the final day of the meeting, no horse was disqualified from
first throughout the whole meeting.
Then they ran the fifth race.
Mrs. Holden entered the far turn in front under Jorge Chavez, while John Velazquez,
aboard Leader of the Lite, tried to come up the inside along the hedge.
Clearly, something happened as Leader of the Lite checked, dropping back,
before coming on again to be second behind Mrs. Holden.
The stewards rightfully put up an inquiry sign, but because it happened on the turn, there was no concrete evidence as to whether Mrs. Holden shut off Leader of the Lite or there was simply no hole for Leader of the Lite to go through or if Leader of
the Lite came out into Mrs. Holden.
Despite the lack of evidence, the stewards took Mrs. Holden down, placing her second, moving Leader of the Lite into the winner’s circle.
This was the wrong call.
In the past, the stewards have repeatedly said incidents on the turn are inconclusive because of the lack of a clear replay.
Since there is no clear-cut proof, the order should have remained the same.
Even entering the turn, it appeared Leader of the Lite was a little rank throwing his (sic) head.
This is the type of disqualification that will only generate heat for the stewards.
As we have written before, unless it is an obvious foul, leave the result alone.
Tom Durkin’s call of the race indicated that Leader of the Lite tried “to come through a tight opening on the inside…whoa! Too tight it was…Leader of the Lite absolutely had to check…”, indicating that the fault was John Velazquez’s aboard Leader of the Lite; then, in the stretch, he said, “And Leader of the Lite is back for more, after being shut off on the turn!”, suggesting that Jorge Chavez on Mrs. Holden did indeed get in the other filly’s way.
I dunno…Mrs. Holden won by 2 ¼ lengths, and it seems to me that in the absence of clear indication of a foul, the result should have stood. I’ve yet to read commentary that suggests that Mrs. Holden did indeed impede Leader of the Lite’s progress.
According to Allen Jerkens’ assistant trainer Fernando Abreu, the inconsistency in the stewards’ ruling is frustrating. “In Mrs. Holden’s race at Belmont, the horse who won did a lot more that day than Mrs. Holden did on Monday, and she didn’t get taken down. At Saratoga, a first-time starter, who’s got her head cocked to the right, tries to get through a hole and can’t, and our horse gets taken down.”
I add my voice to those who recommend that the stewards publish explanations of their decisions; even if we don’t agree with them, it would be good for the racing public to be aware of what informs such decisions, especially in a questionable circumstance like this. Here’s hoping that Mrs. Holden can retain her form next time, and that a dubious stewards’ call won’t prevent her from breaking her maiden for the third time.
The magical and memorable Saratoga moments are too numerous to list here, much as I’ve tried over the last six weeks. The Spa season is one of few experiences that not only meets but exceeds my expectations, and over the weekend I did a little farewell tour of the place, saying hello—and goodbye—to friends that I likely will not see for another year, and to those that I’ll see soon, but in the green of Belmont, not the red and white of Saratoga. It’s still good, but it’s not the same.
Among the many terrific experiences of the summer was the opportunity to meet up with a number of other Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance members, including Frank of That’s Amore Stable; Winston (not really) of Gathering the Wind; Dana of Green but Game; John of The Race Is Not to the Swift; Alan of The Bug Boys; John Hennegan of The First Saturday in May; Fran Jurga of Hoof Care and The Jurga Report; Maryjean Wall of Celebrating the Horse. “Meeting up” doesn’t quite describe seeing Jessica Chapel of Railbird and Seth Merrow of Equidaily, whom I saw pretty much daily, and who provided plenty of opportunity to talk about writing and racing, and writing about racing. What a joy it was to spend weeks in a place where it’s not only accepted but expected that nearly every conversation will be about horse racing. On that last weekend, I didn’t meet a single person who said, “Yeah, I’m glad it’s over; I’m ready to go home.”
The end of Saratoga leaves me feeling rather like a frustrated three-year-old. What do you mean, I can’t have more of it now? But I want it…I WANT it…and no matter how much I stamp my feet or hold my breath, nothing will bring it back. I’ll drive past the gates dozens of times between now and next July, and watch as leaves fall in the backyard, and snow covers the clubhouse, and the Oklahoma opens for training next spring. Each trip home will bring me a little closer to the next opening day, which is, after all, only 328 days away.
And so I bid adieu to Saratoga 2008 with the words Humphrey S. Finney, for whom the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion is named:
One of the finest things that ever has happened to mankind is Saratoga…Mornings
at Saratoga are the best that nature has to offer. If there is anything
better than having melon, scrambled eggs and coffee on the clubhouse porch while
watching horses work, I haven’t found it. At Saratoga, the people of racing seem relaxed–even the fans. Sure, they are looking for their winners, but they seem to be having a grand time doing it. Saratoga is something special. I hope it remains forever a part of the great Thoroughbred sport. I think it will, because it means so much to so many people. (Fair Exchange)
Finney, Humphrey S. Fair Exchange: Recollections of a Life With Horses. London: J.A. Allen and Company, 1974.