Saturday was one of those days when I wondered why I was going to the track. Had a lot of work to do—writing, cleaning, prepping, planning—and it was hard to thing that a day at Belmont would be the best use of my time.
But at 7:40-something on Saturday morning, I was on the Long Island Railroad en route to Floral Park (the Backstretch mobile was most unceremoniously backed into by a mammoth pick-up track in the Saratoga parking lot this summer, and she is still recovering)—the day promised to be too beautiful to stay in a Brooklyn apartment, and really, wouldn’t I be better off writing watching horses run in person than on television?
Well, there’s no doubt that I’d have accomplished more at home than at the track, but an inexplicably festive mood reigned at beautiful Belmont Park.
It was a gorgeous afternoon, and everyone from fans to reporters to barn assistants to photographers to racing executives seemed determined to make the most of a precious late summer afternoon. A series of two-year-old races with nicely bred entrants brought throngs to the paddock, as did the Grade I Garden City.
Race 1 kicked out with a nice bit of mayhem: The perhaps aptly named Yes I’m Clever decided that he’d really rather not go to the gate for the first race; he chucked his rider, Cornelio Velasquez, and made his merry way out of the chute and onto the training track. The Bruce Brown trainee missed the gap that would have led straight back to his barn, eluded an outrider, swung a u-turn, and then turned for home. According to reports from Belmont this morning, Brown indicated that the horse was fine. “He went home,” said the trainer.
In honor of the San Gennaro festival, currently taking place in New York’s Little Italy, I bet the Here Comes Vinny/La Festa E Domani/Holy Patron trifecta, but only Here Comes Vinny did his part, and admirably. Jockey Alan Garcia tried to bring him up the rail in the stretch, only to be rebuffed by front-running Gerard Love Beer; when the latter moved off the rail, Here Comes Vinny came again, getting the win by half a length.
Four maiden special weights livened the card, with plenty of heavy hitting trainers and sires represented: Tom Proctor’s son of Kitten’s Joy, Banned, won the third race; Steve Asmussen’s Justin Phillip (First Samurai) took the fifth; David Donk’s Hessonite, a daughter of Freud, won the sixth, a maiden race for New York-breds; and Brother in Arms, by Yes It’s True and trained by Kelly Breen, won the seventh.
The eighth race was a New York-bred allowance; it was enlivened by Tom Durkin’s call of “Black Minotaur”; having not studied the race closely, I was sure that he was calling “Pat Benatar” for much of the race, tickled that she’d have a horse named for her. The ever-reliable Valerie Grash of Foolish Pleasure and Fillies First immediately cited the pedigree that would produce such a horse: Paddy O’Prado – Benatar. Of course.
The feature was won by H. Graham Motion’s Check the Label; encountering traffic trouble on the turn, she came flying at the end to win by three-quarters of a length. She’s now won four in a row, and may appear next at Keeneland.
I lost almost every bet I made (and the only one I won I only bet because someone else told me to, so that hardly counts), and while I did plow through the most important task of my day (an article that will appear soon in The Blood-Horse), what I got out of Saturday was fun: time spent outside in good weather; good conversation with good friends; and some entertaining racing. Hard to believe that no more than 5,506 thought that it might be a great way to spend a Saturday.
As always, click on any photo to enlarge it.