Saturday recap: The Excelsior

On Saturday, the hockey and the horse racing gods collaborated to allow fans like me to indulge both of our passions without too much conflict. The Rangers-Bruins game started at 1:00, and barring overtime, would be finished well before the scheduled 4:13 start of the stakes races at Aqueduct.

I thus took advantage of the relative quiet early on Saturday to sit in the press box, work on several projects, and watch the Rangers’ game—though perhaps I’d have been better off far from a television, as the 1 – 0 loss to the Bruins left the Blueshirts just two points to the good in the eighth playoff spot, and the game was not, shall we say, a display of expert hockey execution.

So, onward, or perhaps I should say “upward,” to the Excelsior, a quintessential New York race. First run in 1903, it’s named for our state motto (“Excelsior” means “upward, ever upward”), so it is entirely appropriate that the race was won by New York-bred Giant Moon, who has raced only once outside of the Empire State and whose four wins have all come in New York.

Beginning his career by dominating state-bred company at two and in his first start at three, Giant Moon faltered in the Gotham and the Wood and was taken off the Derby trail a year ago, returning to run and finish eighth in the Preakness. Foot issues then forced the colt off the racetrack for nine months. He returned in February in a state-bred stakes race, finishing a respectable second, and he won the state-restricted Mr. G.J.G. in March.

Following the colt’s gutsy half-length win over Cool Coal Man in a thrilling stretch run in the Excelsior, trainer Rick Schosberg was asked about the time he took with Giant Moon, to get him back to the races. “It’s not just me,” Schosberg said. “It’s the guys and girls at the farm. Ray Galluscio does a phenomenal job on his feet. The crew at the barn is outstanding, as is the one at the farm.

“We needed to be patient and let him heal up. His feet now look the way they did when God put them on; after the Preakness, there was a little rotation, which is scary in a Thoroughbred. The rest of his body is now working in sync because his feet are OK.

“We took a shot; he figured to move forward. We’ve got a Grade III and a horse with a great pedigree [Giant’s Causeway – Moonlightandbeauty by Capote]. We’ll keep him in the handicap division. This is so gratifying; I’m so happy for [owner] Mr. Fried.

“We’ll take him one step a time, looking at races like the Suburban or the Whitney. He deserves a shot.”

Having gotten more than enough information from Schosberg’s expansive and affectionate comments, we turned away, back down to the paddock to check out the contenders in the Wood. But Schosberg wasn’t done; our backs turned to him, we heard one final comment:

“I’d rather have this than a Rangers’ win.”

Good thing, Rick.

Fortunately, this gentleman, in the paddock to support Lime Rickey’s connections, was too far away to hear him. Bonjour, M. Gilbert, #7, right wing extraordinaire on the GAG line, Rangers’ record-holder for both career goals (406) and career points (1021). Unlike Schosberg, who at least had a graded stakes victory on the day, Gilbert had to go home with both a Rangers’ loss and a last-place finish for the horse he supported.

Back later with recaps of the other races…

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