Editors Note: We’re wrapping up the 23rd year of The Special with some moments from the meet. You can find the complete editions from 2023 here.
Story Time: Vallelujah earns stakes start for Davis, owners. By Tom Law. August 9 edition.
Anyone need a pick-me-up?
It’s been a long meet in a lot of ways, with last weekend’s tragedies and outcomes, the grind of sales week, a scrapped steeplechase race, concerns with the turf course casting a fair bit of dread on the scene.
Robbie Davis is the complete opposite. Stabled in a low-roof barn on the harness track with a few other “little guy” trainers, he’s won one race so far this year after just two in 2022. But don’t think for a minute he’s lost perspective or a brighter-than-bright outlook that helped pull him out of more than anyone’s share of dark days.
“We’re having a great time,” Davis said, back at the barn and after training on the main track Tuesday morning. “Life is good, and it just keeps getting better.”
Davis hopes to keep the good vibe rolling Friday when he sends out Vallelujah in the $125,000 Union Avenue Handicap for New York-bred fillies and mares. The 4-year-old daughter of Teuflesberg, campaigned in partnership by a group that formed during the spectator-free 2020 Saratoga meet, produced one of the stories of last year’s meet with a victory in a 7-furlong allowance race.
Jackie Davis, one of Robbie and Marguerite Davis’ six children, rode Vallelujah that day and in all of her starts. She takes the call again Friday from post four in the field of six.
“She’s earned her way into that spot. She’s lost all her New York-bred conditions … she was going through them, had a few seconds and then won last time off a five-month layoff,” Robbie Davis said of Vallelujah. “I expected her to run good but she had other ideas. She just went out and hung it out there. She’d been training really well, and ever since. She’s an a-other-than if she ran in open company and they ran seven-eighths in 1:22 the other day, so I thought, ‘let’s stick to where we’re at, not overthink it.’ The Union Avenue came up.”
Vallelujah is owned by East Ave Racing Stable and breeder Carolyn Karlson’s Sisu Racing Stable. She’s won three of 16 starts and earned $201,548. East Ave Racing came together after gathering in the mornings to watch training from a spot outside the fence near the top of the stretch on the Oklahoma Training Track.
Davis joked that if Vallelujah pulls off another upset in the Union Avenue, where she’d need to top defending champ Bank On Anna, open-company stakes winner Betsy Blue and four-time winner Grannys Connection, the party might spill out into the nearby streets around Saratoga Race Course.
“It was so exciting to win with her last year. They’re a great group, a super group. I’m just thrilled,” Davis said. “At first I was like, ‘I really stuck my foot in my mouth’ saying they should buy a horse. They went and bought this horse for $7,000 and said I should train it. And here I am up against Chad and Todd, and they all have New York-breds now. It isn’t easy. It used to be kind of a fun group for the little guys. You could always get a win or two during the meet. Now, they’re all ringers.
“I met these guys on East Avenue, they were on the outside fence. You might have to close the road over there and have a block party if she wins.”
The wins have come for the Davis family so far at this year’s Saratoga meet.
Dylan Davis leads the way with nine wins and $739,784 in purses, good for 10th in the standings heading into Wednesday’s card. Katie Davis has three winners – one more than her husband Trevor McCarthy – and delivered the couple’s first child in late 2021. Jackie Davis has yet to win from 16 mounts, but has 23 wins and is tied for sixth in the Finger Lakes rider standings through Tuesday.
The Davis family made what’s believed to be history July 29 when Queens Dancer, under Katie Davis, finished a half-length in front of Sandy’s Garden and Jackie Davis in a New York-bred allowance race on the main track.
Robbie Davis won 3,382 races as a jockey and battled back from personal trauma after being involved in a racing accident that killed his friend and fellow rider Mike Venezia in the late 1980s. He’s enjoying watching his children’s success in the saddle, along with now being a grandfather of seven.
“I’m so proud,” Davis said. “I was pretty good on the racetrack as a jock, but it looks like I’m better in the breeding shed. And I only had one mare. … Those girls, they’re doing great.
“Jackie, I can’t give her any advice, I told her to stay off the rail on her here and she came up the rail with her and won. She’s won three on Vallelujah and she’s ridden the filly her whole life. Katie, she’s a dream. I was so happy she’s getting a little opportunity. She can ride really well. Super focused, matured and she pays attention. She really does. And horses run for her.”
None of the success comes as a surprise.
“There used to be a bunch of guys that would come to the house riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes, they’re ripping around and she’s passing them, putting mud on them and we’d all come to a stop and she took her helmet off,” Davis said. “The guys were like, ‘that’s a chick? We would have gave you $100 if you bet me that was a chick. She was chewing me up and spitting me out.’ … We’re very proud of them. They made history the other day, those two girls. They were 1-2, first time in history that sisters went 1-2 at Saratoga in 160 years. And one is a momma.”
Ken Wheeler Jr.’s Kant Hurry Love, who won her stakes debut last time out at Belmont Park for David Duggan, breaks just to the outside of Vallelujah under McCarthy, with Dylan Davis aboard Temperamental to the inside of Vallelujah.
Kant Hurry Love edged Grannys Connection by a nose last time out in the Dancin Renee going 6 furlongs. She goes the same trip Friday, and is 4-for-10 with five placings at the distance.
“She had a nice work into the last race and a nice work coming into this race,” Duggan said. “The pattern of training hasn’t changed. She’s found a good rhythm with her. She’s had enough time to recover after last race.
“I’m obviously concerned about Morley’s horse (Grannys Connection). If Morley’s horse gets loose on the lead. There doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of speed to take them on. We’re going to be tracking him, sitting a little close. You know, it’s not like we won by 5 lengths and we can regress a length, we basically mugged Morley at the wire last time.”
Betsy Blue comes in off a fourth in the Dancin Renee for trainer Linda Rice, who went into Week 5 of the meet tied with Chad Brown in trainer standings with 18 wins. Jose Lezcano rides from post one.
Grannys Connection saw her win streak end at four in the Dancing Renee. She’s won four of six and gets the services of Javier Castellano for the first time in the Union Avenue from post two. Temperamental makes her first start off a $45,000 claim Aug. 3 at Saratoga for trainer Rob Atras. Bank On Anna, a 2 3/4-length winner of last year’s Union Avenue, looks to end a four-race skid since for trainer Phil Serpe.
The Union Avenue goes as the fourth race at 2:52 p.m. and is one of two New York-bred stakes on Friday’s card, which also features the rescheduled and redrawn Grade 2 Hall of Fame Stakes from last week.
A field of eight New York-breds were entered in the $125,000 Evan Shipman Handicap going 1 mile, including 2021 New York-bred Horse of the Year and multiple state-bred champion Americanrevolution. Winner of the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap in late 2021, the 5-year-old son of Constitution was winless in three starts last year but placed in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and Grade 2 Stephen Foster.
Bankit, a son of Central Banker with earnings of $1,406,405, is back to defend his title in the Evan Shipman for trainer Steve Asmussen. The field also includes Haynesfield Stakes winner Dr Ardito, Lobsta, Sundayswithsandy, Barese, Sheriff Bianco and Whittington Park.
The Evan Shipman goes as the ninth race at 5:44 p.m.