Saratoga Race Report: Hefty Deposit

Saratoga Race Report: Hefty Deposit
Photo: AP/NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Left Bank, right, holds off Street Cry and Lido Palace to win the Whitney.
Published in the Aug. 10 issue of The Blood-Horse
By the time Left Bank reached the top of the stretch of the Whitney Handicap (gr. I), trainer Todd Pletcher realized he had been wrong and then so very right about Saint Verre. Instead of the hurdle Pletcher feared might ruin Left Bank's chances in the 75th running of the Whitney on Aug. 3, Saint Verre's presence was a major reason why Left Bank was on his way to the most important victory of his career.

Normally a model of reserve, Pletcher was on his feet yelling as Left Bank showed he could stretch his formidable speed over nine furlongs against top competition. Not only did Left Bank and jockey John Velazquez reach the wire 1 1/4 lengths in front of Street Cry and Lido Palace, they matched the track record of 1:47 for the distance, set by Tri Jet in 1974.

"In my opinion and I think most people would agree, this was the strongest race that has been run in this country this year," Pletcher said. "All the right players were here. The pace scenario was really in a closer's favor. It's extra gratifying that it all panned out right for us."

The $750,000 Whitney brought together most of the major players in the handicap division for a showdown at the Spa in steamy upstate New York.

Street Cry, Godolphin Racing's 4-year-old colt, was the leader of the group after resounding victories in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) and Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I). Lido Palace, the 2001 Whitney and Woodward (gr. I) winner, had begun his summer-fall season with a second in the Suburban Handicap (gr. II). Macho Uno finished third in the Suburban after his win in the Massachusetts Handicap (gr. II) on June 1. Unshaded, making a second comeback from a tendon injury, had run second in the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (gr. III).

Left Bank was being asked to stretch out a quarter-mile after winning the seven-

furlong Tom Fool Handicap (gr. II) on July 4 at Belmont Park in the track-record time of 1:20. The son of French Deputy had not competed at the Whitney distance since winning the Discovery Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct on Oct. 25, 2000.

When Saint Verre's name was dropped into the entry box for the Whitney by Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, the complexion of the race was altered. No longer, it seemed, did the connections of Street Cry and Lido Palace have to worry about Left Bank cruising out to an uncontested lead and committing a little larceny at Saratoga Race Course, like E Dubai had done in the Suburban Handicap on July 6 at Belmont Park.

"Probably what concerned me more than anything was the rain yesterday, because I don't really think he likes a wet track," Pletcher said.

"Who enters, you can't control that. How the surface comes up, you can't control that. More than anything, you just want everything to be right so that the horse can show what he can do."

Pletcher and Velazquez successfully conspired to take advantage of the situation that had developed in the nine-furlong Whitney. Rather than allow Michael Tabor's multiple stakes-winning middle distance star to challenge the front-running Saint Verre, they chose a simple stalk-and-pounce approach.

"From the gate, the strategy was let him run away from there; see what Saint Verre is going to do," Pletcher said. "We either want to be in front of him or behind him. We don't want to be head-and-head."

While Saint Verre barreled along under jockey Jean-Luc Samyn through opening fractions of :23 and :45.94, Velazquez and Left Bank sat two to three lengths back to the outside in second, an uncontested position, and essentially ignored the leader.

Another half-dozen lengths behind Left Bank, another race was taking place between jockey Jerry Bailey on Street Cry and Jorge Chavez on Lido Palace.

On the second turn, Velazquez moved Left Bank up to engage Saint Verre, who had covered six furlongs in 1:09.36.

"Pretty much, I let him do his own thing in the first part of the race," Velazquez said. "I didn't want to discourage him the way he wants to do things. You don't want to take too much of a hold of him and you don't want to change him either. So I waited until he was ready and he pulled me when he was ready."

Saint Verre offered no resistance and Left Bank opened a 2 1/2-length lead at the top of the stretch. From his clubhouse box, Pletcher watched as Velazquez and Left Bank executed his plan.

"At the quarter pole, I felt really good," Pletcher said. "At the eighth pole, I came up out of my seat.

"When you see horses like Street Cry and Lido Palace kind of looming up at the three-eighths pole, it looked like they had a lot of energy left, so you just kind of worry about that last sixteenth, especially when he was prompting those fractions."

By the time Street Cry and Lido Palace arrived in contention in the stretch, Left Bank was gone.

Bailey and Chavez engaged in a tactical sparring match for the first three-quarters of a mile. Starting from the outside on the even-money favorite in the field of six, Bailey quickly took Street Cry toward the rail, forcing Lido Palace to be shuffled back along the inside.

As they were moving up the backstretch, Chavez took Lido Palace outside of Street Cry, a half-length in front. Bailey responded on the turn by moving through the seam before he could be trapped behind tiring horses.

"I cut back inside, which I thought was the best thing to do," Bailey said. "Then my horse got running, took a good run at the winner, but God, I've just got to tip my hat to Left Bank because he kicked on."

Street Cry finished a nose in front of Lido Palace. The top three may meet again in the fall at Belmont Park as they prepare for the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I). Left Bank and Lido Palace are headed to the Woodward on Sept. 7. Street Cry is being pointed toward the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) on Sept. 28.

Pletcher described Left Bank's Whitney performance as his most satisfying as a trainer.

"I was concerned about the distance against this quality of horses. This was the best group of horses put together all year," Pletcher said. "Actually, it's great that Saint Verre was there. No one has got an excuse. The race set up for everybody and I think the best horse won."

No Doubter

With a 13 3/4-length victory, Medaglia d'Oro left absolutely no doubts about who was the top horse in the $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II).

Taking advantage of the conditions, Bailey hustled Edmund A. Gann's Belmont Stakes (gr. I) runner-up out of the gate right to the lead along the rail. Medaglia d'Oro shrugged off some pace pressure on the backstretch through fractions of :23.60 and :46.70, then accelerated through the stretch to win as he pleased. His winning time for the nine furlongs was 1:47.82.

The race was marred by an accident at the three-sixteenths pole that unseated Iron Deputy's jockey Richard Migliore and led to the disqualification to last of second-place finisher Quest.

As Medaglia d'Oro spurted away in upper stretch, four horses--Gold Dollar, Essence of Dubai, Iron Deputy, and Quest--were running together in what was developing into a struggle for second place. Under jockey Javier Castellano, Quest lugged in, squeezing Iron Deputy, who was taken up sharply by Migliore in traffic.

Migliore came off the colt and landed hard on the track. He never lost consciousness. Complaining of pain in his right arm, which was badly damaged in a 1999 spill, and his ribs, he was taken by ambulance to Saratoga Hospital. An examination showed he did not fracture any bones. Iron Deputy was not injured.

Continued...

(Chart, Equibase)

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