For racing fans, it doesn’t get much better than this weekend’s bi-coastal offerings. And yet, I’ll be otherwise engaged attending a family gathering, as my niece Samantha celebrates a landmark—her 18th birthday—on Saturday. It’s truly astonishing how quickly the years pass when you’re not paying attention.
The G1 Travers and G1 King’s Bishop may top the list of 3-year-olds races for most folks, but honestly I’m more excited about the return of Maximus Ruler. Before the tragic Odysseus, there was Maximus Ruler—my Derby “crush” horse since his maiden effort last November. Unfortunately, after a runner-up performance in the G3 Lecomte, he missed the next seven months due to injury. Now, he’s back after posting a series of excellent works in July and August, including a smoking sub-one minute five furlong work on August 17. He’s entered in race 1 at Saratoga on Saturday, a seven-furlong allowance race for 3yo+ that includes last year’s G1 Hopeful runner-up Aspire, Tale of Ekati’s half-brother Ya Gotta Have Soul, and Six Clicks, a three-quarter brother to Queen’s Plate victor Wild Desert.
As for the King’s Bishop, I’ve narrowed it down to four primary candidates: D’Funnybone and Discreetly Mine, as well as Hurricane Ike and Bulldogger. No brainer there, you may say, but I just can’t firmly decide on a winner. D’Funnybone is undefeated in four starts at seven furlongs—and has defeated Discreetly Mine both times they previously met. That said, since their last battle, Discreetly Mine has posted two impressive wins. Bulldogger won an allowance race at Saratoga last out, while Hurricane Ike hasn’t been on the track since his win in the G3 Derby Trial. Advantage: D’Funnybone.
Looking at the past performances for the Travers makes my head hurt. As I see it, there are two questions to ask yourself: (1) Which race—the G2 Jim Dandy or the G1 Haskell—was superior?; and (2) Can the Triple Crown heroes—Super Saver, Ice Box, Fly Down and First Dude—replicate their spring success? If the track stays dry and fast on Saturday, then my answer to question two is a qualified “no”, except for First Dude who (apart from for the Florida Derby) has been astonishingly consistent all year in hitting the board, and Fly Down who is better than his Jim Dandy performance. And, I would love to see Super Saver redeem himself; I just don’t think it will happen. As for question one, despite the Jim Dandy’s home track advantage, I suspect the Haskell was actually better, thus the decision to enter Trappe Shot here instead of the King’s Bishop was a wise one. So, that’s my trifecta box: Fly Down, First Dude and Trappe Shot (with a saver bet on Super Saver).
As for the other graded stakes at Saratoga, I like the speedy Rapport in the G3 Victory Ride, Rightly So in the G1 Ballerina, and—shoot me since I swore I won’t support her again—Maram in the G2 Ballston Spa, with Phola and Dynaslew fleshing out the trifecta.
On the West Coast, 2009 Aussie Horse of the Year (and Foolish Pleasure descendent) Scenic Blast returns to turf in the G2 Del Mar Mile after a strong second-place finish in the G1 Bing Crosby. Skipping the seven-furlong G1 Pat O’Brien in favor of stretching out may look like a risk when Scenic Blast’s greatest successes have been at six furlongs. However, he did finish second behind phenom Weekend Hussler in his only previous start at eight furlongs (or 1600 meters), the 2007 AUS-G1 Caulfield Guineas, and he’s a more mature horse now. Under John Shirreffs’ tutelage, I have no doubt he can defeat this field—as long as Mike Smith doesn’t wait too damn late to make his move.
Speaking of the Pat O’Brien, for a Grade 1 race, it’s looking pretty lame with a hand-full of graded stakes-placed horse mixed with claimers like Leaving New York, New Bay and—in yet another incredibly ridiculous placement by trainer Doug O’Neill—$25k claimer Kanan Dume. If any of the aforementioned win, it only further proves the graded stakes designation in this country is a complete and utter joke. That said, off his Bing Crosby win, 3-year-old Smiling Tiger looks like the winner, although I anxiously await seeing Crown of Thorns return here.
No Zenyatta in the G1 Pacific Classic, leaving a pretty ho-hum group led by the likes of Dakota Phone, Battle of Hastings, Richard’s Kid and The Usual Q.T. Will 7-year-old warhorse Awesome Gem put together back-to-back G1 victories? What about East Coast invader Hold me Back? For my money, I’d like to see Carla Gaines win it with Temple City.
I’m hoping to get home on Sunday in time to see Rachel Alexandra battle Life At Ten in the G1 Personal Ensign, as well as the second-stringers—Malibu Prayer, Queen Martha and Just Jenda—running in the G2 Molly Pitcher. Here's hoping for safe trips all around.