Graduation was Thursday night; Commentator and Naughty New Yorker were running; Ernie was playing; and it was the 2009 kick-off of twilight racing—who needed more reasons to head out to Belmont on Friday afternoon?
The racing highlight of the day came early, in the five-horse Kashatreya Stakes, placed third on the card. Commentor was making his second start of the year and 2009 New York début; Stud Muffin, winner of last fall’s Empire Classic, hit the track for the second time this year after finishing second to Wishful Tomcat in a state-bred stakes race last month; and after a year away from the track, Naughty New Yorker was back.
Commentator was the clear favorite and class of the race, but fans and connections could be forgiven for wondering whether his fourth-place finish in the Charles Town Classic was the beginning of the end of this great gelding’s career, or a bad effort off a layoff and over an unfamiliar track.
Moderate initial fractions (24.75, 48.94) kept the competition, particularly Stud Muffin, close to Commentator on the lead, but at the head of the stretch, the two-time Whitney winner had a three-length advantage that he stretched to seven by the finish line, coming home in 23 seconds, to the satisfaction of trainer Nick Zito.
It’s a dead track, and he flew home, which is really cool. I kept saying, “Come on, let him run, John [Velazquez], let him run,” and he did. He went 23 the last quarter. I mean, he was flying. That’s fast, ain’t it?
This is some horse. To come home that fast, I don’t care what anybody says, it’s gratifying. He’s some horse, no matter how you look at it.
The goal for Commentator is a third Whitney victory in Saratoga later this summer, with a possible start before then.
Not longer after the race, the skies opened up, pelting Belmont with huge raindrops and I swear a few hailstones. The shower was short-lived, however, and gave way to a gorgeous afternoon, favoring the folks who had parked in the backyard with picnics, children, and coolers.
With the main racing objective of the day met, I headed to the back to take advantage of twilight racing’s benefits, most notably guitarist/singer Ernie Munick gigging in his customary spot in the Festival Tent; Adam Wiener of Hello Race Fans was on hand and sat in for a couple of songs. Picking up a Heineken, I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded of the twilight drink specials, getting change back from a $5.
Hunch bettors were deprived of the opportunity to bet on Dreary Day in the sixth (he was scratched), and I was reminded of some of what troubles me about racing when I watched the gate crew try to load a recalcitrant horse into the gate. He was liberally letting fly with both feet, making it impossible for the crew to get behind him; when he refused to budge and kept kicking, the gate crew whipped his haunches. Effective, yes; safe for the crew, yes; still troubling.
As was the man in the backyard yelling repeatedly and loudly at the television as the horses ran down the stretch, the gate, “Hit him! Hit him! Hit the f*(&ing horse, Dominguez!”
And then I was reminded of what can be so fun about racing, when I hit my first-ever triple. Regular readers know that I don’t spend much time handicapping and that I’m an inveterate $2 (or even $1) bettor. Perusing the card for the eighth race, I noted that betting an exacta (my usual) in a five-horse field with a heavy favorite didn’t seem likely to yield much of a profit, so I went off my own personal betting grid and ventured into Trifecta Land, using some tried and true Backstretch handicapping strategies.
I used the Allen Jerkens horse; I used the longest-price in a short field horse (on whom I also bet $2 to win); and I used the favorite. Minutes later, I watched in wonderment as the longshot finished first, followed by the favorite and the Jerkens horse, yielding a total payout for me of $76.45, good enough for at least another $4 Heineken. This trifecta stuff might be fun…
Twilight racing, with a 3:00 post time, live music, and drink specials, continues through July 24th, with the exception of July 3rd, when post time is the usual 1:00.
Thanks to Trackmaster Plus Pro for providing past performance information, and to Nick Aquilino for the photo of Commentator crossing the finish line.