Quint Kessenich coined the phrase back in 2002 when we would send the all-American-lacrosse-goalie-turned-cub-reporter loose on Saratoga.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” we asked.
“Root for obscurity,” Kessenich said, as he ran out the door, waving folded-up paper and a pen (he refused to use a tape recorder).
Yes, root for obscurity, yearn for chaos, cheer for the underdog, wish for the story. That’s how The Special rolls.
Nothing against the behemoths, but we’re looking for the horses and horsemen who hitchhiked here, not the ones who were anointed with free passes at birth.
Nothing wrong with the chosen ones, but we’re looking for the ones we don’t know. I remember a little guy winning a race and running in the office the next day, “You guys cover the rest of the races. Nobody covers the rest of the races.”
“Root for obscurity, brother, root for obscurity,” we told him.
With that in mind, this is what we’re rooting for on Travers Day.
First Race. This is a no-brainer. Jamie Mejia. The silks are listed as white, red Saratoga emblem and cap. That’s obscurity. The stable is 0-for-the-meet, but they’re still swinging every day. Belle Tapissiere is 20-1 after a fade-to-ninth debut just three days ago. Yes, three days ago. Imagine the questions we can ask, the story that we can unearth. Come on, Belle Tapisserie, one time. Actually, we just turned the page and now have a tie. Escarapela makes his debut for, you guessed it, Jaime Mejia. The longshot duo take on $1 million yearling Good Magic for e Five Racing and Chad Brown, a $675,000 Tiznow colt for Lane’s End and Shug McGaughey and a $430,000 son of War Front for Eclipse and Todd Pletcher. Sorry, we’ve told those stories, come on Jaime Mejia, miracle me.
Second Race. Easy. Memories Of Peter for Jimmy Ryerson. Cool horse. Good guy. Ryerson needs a lift after losing some nice horses and being blanked at the meet.
Third Race. Easy. Sidewinder for Dominick Schettino. See reason for the second.
Fourth Race. Oh, hell once a year you’ve got to talk to Blue. Leon Blusiewicz drops Spartiatis from the Vanderbilt to an optional claimer. Kessenich spent as much time with Blue as he did in the office the first year, we could probably borrow his notes if Blue wins this one.
Fifth Race. The stories get more scarce as the races get better, this one is deep with Shug, Mott, Jerkens, Kiaran, Chad Brown, Casse . . . we’ll root for Poshsky. He made his debut for a $20,000 maiden claiming tag in 2013, climbed the ladder to win the Grade 3 Berkley Handicap in 2015, only to go back down the ladder and get claimed four times this year. Dave Cannizzo trains him, he’s always good for a story.
Sixth Race. The Personal Ensign. We’ll admit, it’s hard to root against the once-beaten Songbird, story or no story. If she stumbles, the story of the year would be Flora Dora who chased her in vain twice last summer and rides a 10-race losing streak for Coffepot Stable and Marialice Coffey. No doubt, we’ll weave her barnyard flowers into the story.
Seventh Race. The Ballerina. Anybody know Happy Alter? Now, there’s a story. How about Rodrigo Ubillo and Highway Star? The big horse in a small stable, the New York-bred has a Grade 3 win and a Grade 2 win this year. A Grade 1, now that’s a story.
Eighth Race. The H. Allen Jerkens King’s Bishop. As Rusty Arnold put it, “It’s brutal.” Practical Joke, Takaful, Coal Front and American Anthem lead the brutality in a 7-furlong war. I guess the story is what did Danny Gargan do from 1997 when he was 0-for-5 as a trainer to 2013 when he returned with a 13-for-105 record that has grown from there. If Phi Beta Express shocks this one, we’ll ask that question.
Ninth Race. The Forego. The Chad Summers HRRN-to-G1 story has been told, so we’ll be yelling for Ross, an Irish-bred, German-based 5-year-old and Very Very Stella for Jose Noda-Fernandez or Jose Fernandez-Noda. Guess that’s our first question.
10th Race. The Sword Dancer. The story is to see how many words we can get from Ryan Moore when Idaho wins the $1 million stakes. Not exactly obscurity, but a challenge nonetheless.
11th Race. The Travers. There isn’t a lot of obscurity in the Travers. Right or wrong, we haven’t told Nick Zito’s story for a while, why not, come on Giuseppe The Great.
12th Race. The Ballston Spa. When Hunter O’Riley upset the Bowling Green, we started screaming for Jimmy Toner as the field hit the quarter pole. We’ll be on Time And Motion even quicker as she tries to oust a three-prong Chad Brown arsenal.
13th Race. Back to major obscurity with a $40,000 maiden claimer on the turf in the fading Travers light. Sheldon Russell makes the trip for 20-1 Praise The Moon, Wingman tries to give Phil Serpe another win at the meet and, whoa, look who’s back, Jaime Mejia with another 30-1 shot. Come on, Summer Causeway. Come on, obscurity.