Last Saturday, I made what I hope will be several ventures to Saratoga Race Course. It was the first Saturday of the meet, there was some rain in the area, but the humidity was gone. Of course, there were two fine stakes races, the Shuvee Handicap and the Coaching Club American Oaks won by Authenticity and Princess of Sylmar respectively. The Oaks winner had the local tie with Schenectady native Ed Stanco being the owner and breeder of this Pennsylvania filly. The Princess won the Kentucky Oaks as a 38-1 shot back in May, so watch out, she may be rounding into top form for late summer and fall.
The crowd of 19,000 plus seemed to be enjoying themselves, but I must admit, at about 4:15 my attention was diverted. I found myself scrambling for the simulcast area so I could watch the New York Derby from Finger Lakes Race Track in Farmington, NY. The Derby is the second leg of the Big Apple Triple, a series of races for New York breds. The first leg, run in June was the seven furlong Mike Lee Stakes and it was won impressively by Amber Jack who took control and blazed home in 1:21.64. The Derby is 1 1/16 miles and I was wondering if Amber Jack could “get the distance.”
As the race was about to begin, two men sprinted to where I was so they, too could watch the race. I thought I was alone here, a man on an island. I questioned myself and my own sanity, asking, “why would a person drive to Saratoga Race Course to watch a race on a TV from Finger Lakes?” When I saw these two guys doing the same thing, I felt much better.
I actually felt a little nervous as the field of six entered the gate, and when track announcer Tony Callo (one of the best) shouted “there they go,” I was even more nervous because I wanted Amber Jack to win the race so he and his connections could come to Saratoga for the Albany Stakes, the third jewel of the series at 1 1/8 miles.
I shouldn’t have been. On a muddy track, Amber Jack had the one post. He smartly moved to the three track to get out of the slop and sat chilly the whole time. He tracked pacesetter Smooth Bert (my pick) through good fractions of 23.59, 47.36 and 1:12.40, but the race was over with five furlongs left. By mid-stretch, jockey Jose Espinoza had the whip put away, and the son of Indygo Shiver had the field put away. Espinoza pulled a Ron Turcotte by turning back to check on the trailers who were six lengths back. He and his colt came home in 1:44.42, a very good time over a heavy wet track at old Finger Lakes.
I smiled and looked over to my two new friends who both stated with glee that the Triple Crown is alive and well. Like me, they didn’t bet on Amber Jack, but like me, they were happy to see him win and keep the Big Apple Triple quest alive. The great thing about horse racing is that there’s always a story, you just have to be a seeker.
I don’t expect 30,000 people to flock to the Spa on August 21, but I do hope that our local media outlets throw some love on the series and the chance to make some small history. If Amber Jack wins, his connections get a $250,000 bonus, which is great for New York racing. Moreover, he would become the first horse to win the triple since 2008, when Tin Cup Chalice did it. Believe me, this is a fine horse. He has won the the first two legs with ease and he should be a big favorite when he enters the gate for the Albany Stakes on 21 August. Of course, he has to get there healthy, which in this game is never a given. The Triple Crown, no matter where or when is not an easy thing to do.
Speaking of Triple Crowns, the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, the 78th Prince of Wales Stakes is Tuesday, July 30 at Fort Erie Race Track. The first leg, the Queen’s Plate, was won by 16-1 shot Midnight Aria who wired the field. Unfortunately, the gelding will not run in the 1 3/16 mile race.
“He’s not going to run,” said trainer Nick Gonzalez, “he’s kind of worn out. The Queen’s Plate took a lot of him.”
The health of the horse is always of utmost importance, but the news is surprising. Trainer Gonzalez grew up in Niagara Falls, NY and began his training career at Fort Erie, a track that most expected to be closed this year. Having the Plate winner in the field would have been a nice boost for the facility, but in this sport, better to be on the safe side. The track has had lots of problems this year with small fields, and several cards have been cancelled due to the shortage. Nevertheless, the Prince of Wales Stakes will be run this Tuesday and with a purse of $500,000, there shouldn’t be a shortage this particular time.
The role of favorite shifts to Dynamic Sky, third in the Queen’s Plate.