Perhaps in acknowledgement of all of those freezing winter weekends spent at the Big A, the racing gods smiled on me on Saturday morning. For the first time in a week, I felt well enough to think that I could actually manage a few hours outside of the apartment, and mid-afternoon, I ventured to Aqueduct, to bask in a little pre-spring sunshine and graded stakes racing.
That sunshine didn’t last nearly long enough, but there was a glow at the Big A nonetheless. A crowd of 5,000 turned out for yesterday’s races (and weather, no doubt), and there were faces that hadn’t been seen since Belmont—or maybe since Saratoga. Reunions of sorts were taking place all over; the paddock and winner’s circle were crowded with press and well-wishers; for the first time in a long time, it was a Big Day at Aqueduct.
And the two stakes races lived up to their billing. Just listen to John Imbriale’s voice in the stretch run of the Grade III Toboggan: As horses came together to challenge for the lead, and as King Leatherbury’s Ah Day came rolling up far on the outside, Imbriale conveyed the excitement of the moment–the excitement of a horse rallying from far last to win, the excitement of a horse making his first start since last August, and only third in nineteen months, the excitement of a horse going out for an underappreciated trainer who’s won more than 6,000 races. The feel-good horse won the race, and though the winner’s circle was mighty empty, NYRA could have filled it with racing fans who were thrilled to see Ah Day win in his comeback race.
The anticipation for the Gotham was evident in the crowd: in the bettors; in the families; in the fans. This was Big. This was a Derby Prep. A Real Derby Prep, with Real Derby Contenders. Would the local horses make good? How would the invaders fare? Could a longshot spring an upset?
The answers were sort of, great, and no.
I Want Revenge, under celebuJockey(s) Joe Talamo, turned in a dominating, memorable performance, winning the Gotham by 8 ½ lengths, staying with the leader as Mr. Fantasy set the fractions, and exploding in the stretch when Talamo told him to go. Talamo was greeted with cries of “Our Derby jockey!” from I Want Revenge’s delighted connections when he returned to the winner’s circle. “I had so much horse,” he said. “He made my job easier. At the quarter pole he just took off. I was smiling once he inherited the lead.”
I Want Revenge’s connections were confident that their colt had found his surface —the one over which the Kentucky Derby will be run. “He didn’t take to the Pro-Ride,” Talamo said. “He took to dirt today.” Imperial Council made a late run to just get second over Mr. Fantasy, keeping his Derby hopes alive “This is a really talented horse that is going to appreciate more distance,” said jockey Rajiv Maragh. “He’s the best three-year-old I’ve ridden in New York. He galloped out tremendous.” Mr. Fantasy, the hometown favorite, finished third; joking after the race, Kiaran McLaughlin said, “They’ve got good races out on the West Coast. Why didn’t (I Want Revenge) stay out there? The best horse won today. We were second-best, even thought we didn’t get second.“ Video of the race is here.
I Want Revenge still stay in New York and train up to the Wood Memorial; Talamo will be back to ride him. (Uh-oh. Given that Jockeys began filming its second season yesterday at Santa Anita—does this mean that the show will want to follow Talamo here? Perish the thought.)
I must confess to feeling to just one wee bit of regret today. Awesome, impressive as I Want Revenge was—and I just may be perfectly willing to jump on his bandwagon—isn’t there something just, well, wrong about a California horse winning the Gotham? What on earth would Batman think?