Cup of Coffee: Saturday

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“What did you think of Saturday?”

It was a simple question, asked Sunday morning, after a long Saturday and longer Saturday night.

Like a lawnmower starting on one pull, I said what I thought of Travers Saturday. It lasted awhile. 

“Are you going to write any of that?”

I hesitated. 

“I should,” I said. 

“Yeah, you should.” 

– Some jockeys ride to be the first one to the finish line. Other jockeys ride to beat the other horses. There is a big difference. Neither one is right, neither one is wrong. Sometimes the former works, other times the latter. 

Mike Smith rode Arrogate to be the first to the finish line, while horses slotted in behind him like envelopes at the Post Office. Arrogate helped, lowering down and running free. Perhaps, we have the breakout performance of the year for 3-year-olds.

As my father, an old horse trainer, always said, “Hindsight’s 20/20.” Looking at the Travers field again, we knew how good (average) the field was, we had seen their best, the only horse we didn’t know about was Arrogate. Sometimes you have to go with what you don’t know.

After the races, I drove my golf cart home, past the mile pole, inside the cars lined up to make a left or right on Nelson Avenue. I passed Keith Desormeaux, trainer of the beaten favorite Exaggerator. Desormeaux had a long walk back to his barn in the far corner of the main track, I slowed and turned, “Need a ride?” Desormeaux looked up, shook his head, “Nah, I need to walk this one off.” 

We all know that feeling. 

– There were too many stakes. There I wrote it.

Following the theme in today’s racing world and stacking big races on big days, Saratoga hosted seven graded stakes Saturday. It was a blockbuster.

Everyone understands the need to sell the simulcast signal, generate massive on- and off-track handle numbers and generate revenue, but seven stakes on a Saturday in Saratoga isn’t what fans love about Saratoga. Flintshire, A. P. Indian, Cavorting and others are lost in the shuffle of the day. 

Saratoga has always offered a festival of racing every day, the fans come out to see top-tier racing, they want to see stars every day. That’s why we started The Special, that’s why we made it a daily, every day was special. Amusement parks don’t save all the good roller coasters for Saturdays.

Sunday’s feature was the Smart N Fancy. What if it were the Sword Dancer or the Ballston Spa or the King’s Bishop? Remember Songbird in the CCA Oaks on a Sunday? That was her day, one of the best days of the year. Having one less stakes Saturday wouldn’t have diminished the card as much as a major race would have bolstered Sunday’s card. During the season, the Alydar and the Smart N Fancy have led two Sunday cards. Friday has featured the Tale Of The Cat, Skidmore and Evan Shipman. 

This not a knock on the racing office, or the horses that run in those races but backing off the gas pedal on Saturday would apply a little more horsepower to Sunday

– And now the elephant in the room – Flintshire. 

For three days, the Sword Dancer has raged as the topic of conversation – whether it’s walking out of the paddock or standing in the morning with trainers and fans or in town with owners, trainers, fans, wives and a vet Monday night, the race has dominated conversation for all the wrong reasons. 

The Grade 1 stakes should have been regaled as another electric performance by the best turf horse in the world. There are only a few horses who awe everybody, American Pharoah did it in the Triple Crown, certainly Zenyatta did it in her 20-race career and Flintshire did it in last year’s Sword Dancer and this year’s Manhattan and Bowling Green. 

But, then it got ugly.

Riding a three-race win streak and edging close to $9 million in earnings, it was decided that Flintshire needed help. Chad Brown and Juddmonte Farm entered Inordinate as a pacemaker for their closer. That’s cool, no problem, the tactic of using a rabbit has been employed ever since horses started racing. 

Running uncoupled with Flintshire – meaning people bet this horse on his merits – Inordinate broke poorly, then was rushed up past the field and to the lead in a 1 1/2-mile race, then…oh, you saw it, I saw it, everybody in the world saw it. Flintshire looked like an ambulance trying to get down the Belt Parkway. Siren blaring, lights flashing, everybody trying to figure out how to get out of the way, switching lanes, running into each other, causing bottlenecks to make room for the ambulance. 

On the turn, Flintshire found space on the rail where there was none. At the top of the stretch, Inordinate left the inside, cleared a lane for Flintshire and bumped into Roman Approval. Flintshire might have gotten through against another horse too, because he’s that good, but it was laughable. As Flintshire shot through, Tom Law, Brandon Valvo and I – and more than a few others – stopped watching the greatest turf horse in the world and looked at each other, disdainful, a bitter taste when it should have been sweet.

Roman Approval’s trainer Mike Maker spoke for a lot of people when he lodged an objection. His horse finished one spot, worth $5,000, behind Inordinate. 

Everyone in this sport defends it and tells the public the races aren’t fixed, the horses are loved and cared for, a race provides clarity, the rules are enforced and the best horse wins – which makes everything right.

The best horse won the Sword Dancer. But the race was so wrong.