Super Saturday at Belmont Park certainly lived up to its billing with six scintillating races that saw a little of everything. In the end, both youth and experience were served. The only disappointment of the day had to be the announced crowd of just 10,595 at Big Sandy. Yes, it’s a fall Saturday and yes, there are hundreds of things going on, but there are 12 million people down in the metro and with six terrific races to watch, why wasn’t the crowd bigger?
The one constant in horse racing is to expect the unexpected, and if somebody saw Ron the Greek’s eye popping performance coming, then best of luck to you in the future. The 6 year old won the Sunshine Millions at Gulfstream Park right around Valentine’s Day and had done nothing, and I mean nothing, since. In fact, trainer Bill Mott was considering running “The Greek,” in the one mile Kelso on the Jockey Club Gold Cup undercard. Mott had the better horse in the race, two time defending champ Flat Out, so one could not question the decision to split the two up.
There are many Hall of Fame trainers roaming the grounds of America’s racetracks, but if there’s a better “fall,” trainer than Bill Mott, than I haven’t seen one. It’s tough to find Mott at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but once the weather cools, the man who looks like he could be teaching English Literature at nearby Adelphi University seems to heat up. He always has his stable ready for the big fall races, and of course, the Breeder’s Cup races; Super Saturday was no exception.
The race was altered right at the start. The expected frontrunner, Cross Traffic, stumbled leaving the gate and was never a factor. Alpha, who stole the Woodward at Saratoga went to the lead and cut the fractions of 23.99 and 47.28 and 1:10.78. Belmont winner Palace Malice stalked nicely and as they turned for home looked in perfect position to grab the win. There was room on the rail and Ron the Greek, who rated nicely throughout, sat chilly and when it was time, he burst through the opening and won going away by nearly seven lengths. This was the first time that Palace Malice faced older horses and the wily Greek showed that when he’s on his game, he can sure get it done. Perhaps more stunning than his win was his time of 1:59.70 for 1 ¼ miles, which was just off the race record of 1:59.58, set by another wily vet, Evening Attire in 2002. The win automatically qualifies The Greek for an all-expenses inclusion into the Breeder’s Cup Classic, a race he likely wouldn’t be in had he lost on Saturday.
As exciting as the Gold Cup race was, the Beldame stole the show. There were only five females entered, but the top two were the show stealers. The ageless veteran, Royal Delta against the “little baby,” three year old star Princess of Sylmar. The Princess won the Kentucky Oaks as a 36-1 shot back in May and all she’s done since is romp to three Grade I victories. But, most thought she would meet her match going up against the classy Royal Delta, trained by the aforementioned Bill Mott. The pace was quick, with fractions of 23.78, 46.71 and 1:10.53 and in the stretch the two gals were dead even. But, the Todd Pletcher trained Sylmar blew past Royal Delta to win the 1 1/8 race in 1:47.93. The win certainly secured three year old filly of the year for the Princess, and who knows, perhaps more. It appears that she won’t run in the Breeder’s Cup Distaff, but the good news is that her connections are planning to run her again in 2014.
As for Royal Delta, she remains a great one, a great one who sometimes throws in a puzzling performance. Of course, to say that her race was a clunker would be a disrespect to the performance of the winner, but Royal Delta will likely be heading to California to defend her title in the Distaff.
The most puzzling performance of the day had to be Cross Traffic in the Gold Cup. He stumbled at the start, which is tough enough, but even tougher when you’re the horse who wants the lead, but the head scratcher was that he never showed any interest in running at all. I’m sure Pletcher will label the race a toss out and I would expect that Cross Traffic will be seen again before year’s end. A good performance would have likely landed him in the BC Classic, but the Dirt Mile has to be a consideration as well.
Kentucky Derby winner Orb struggled and if you don’t think the colt is tired, then you’re kidding yourself. Clearly, the Derby took a lot out of the son of Malibu Moon, and despite trainer Shug McGaughey’s reassurances that the colt looked great and trained great, the bottom line is that he may be just out of gas. His credentials need not be justified, but I would be very surprised to see Orb anywhere near Santa Anita come Breeder’s Cup time.
The fall season is nowhere close to being done. This Saturday, three more splendid races are on the Belmont card: the Jamaica for three year old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on the turf and two races for two year olds, the Frizette for fillies and the Champagne for fillies and colts, both at a mile. History suggests that a run over the Belmont course as a two year old serves a great purpose in order to have success as a three year old. As many know, Union Rags won the Champagne in 2011, then won the Belmont the following June and of course, Birdstone completed the Champagne-Belmont double in 2003/2004, spoiling Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown run.
Any racing day is a great day, but Super Saturday was……..super.
Check back Friday for a Frizette/Champagne preview.