Let's face it, when he's on his game, Left Bank may very well be the best horse in the country, at least up to a mile. After all, who in the world was going to beat him in the July 4 Tom Fool Handicap (gr. II), in which he demolished a top-class field by 6 1/4 lengths while sizzling the seven furlongs in a track-record 1:20.17? And he barely broke a sweat doing it. This was the same horse who left jaws dropping in last fall's Cigar Mile (gr. I) when he crushed his opponents with a 1:33.35 mile over a track that wasn't all that fast. And the same horse who blazed seven furlongs in 1:20.73 in the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I), defeating eventual Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Squirtle Squirt. Not to mention his six furlongs in 1:08.53 in a Saratoga allowance race last summer, which he won by 7 3/4 lengths. And that's only a few of his monster efforts. What do you expect from a horse who has Dr. Fager and Graustark in his female family? Now that is one power-packed combination. Left Bank, owned by Michael Tabor and trained by Todd Pletcher, won his 2002 debut, the six-furlong Bold Ruler Handicap (gr. III) in 1:09.30, but wasn't ready to jump right to a mile 16 days later in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), finishing fifth behind Swept Overboard. In the Tom Fool, Left Bank, blew by Godolphin's Express Tour nearing the quarter pole, opened up a clear lead at the eighth pole in 1:07.99, then continued to draw away, defeating the old warrior Affirmed Success under a strong hand ride from John Velazquez. Pletcher said, because the son of French Deputy is so good right now, he's seriously considering stretching him out in the Whitney. In his only previous effort at 1 1/8 miles, he won Aqueduct's Discovery Handicap (gr. III) in a near-track-record 1:47.30. Hanging On
Edward P. Evans' even-money favorite Gygistar extended his winning streak to four as he just lasted to win the July 7 Dwyer Stakes (gr. II) by a dwindling half-length. After putting away second choice Yankee Gentleman, the son of Prospector's Music drew off to a six-length lead at the eighth pole. But he began to tire badly, while stuck on his left lead, as the Nick Zito-trained Nothing Flat came flying from last in the six-horse field. Winner of the Francis LaBelle Memorial Stakes at Delaware Park, Nothing Flat was making up ground with every stride, but his bid fell just short. Unlike the previous day's races, closers seemed to do quite well on this day. Gygistar, coming off an impressive score in the seven-furlong Riva Ridge Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II), took charge right from the start under none other than John Velazquez and was in command through moderate fractions of :23.72 and :47.06. Yankee Gentleman, the beaten 6-5 favorite in the Riva Ridge, broke awkwardly and had to be used to close the gap on Gygistar nearing the far turn. He tested the favorite, but was through by the quarter pole. That's when Gygistar drew off and appeared on his way to a romp. But Edgar Prado had Nothing Flat in high gear. Nothing Flat was late changing leads himself, but switched over approaching the eighth pole. Velazquez went to several right-hand whips on Gygistar, who just barely hung on for the victory. He closed the final sixteenth in a slow :06.83 to complete the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.59. It was five lengths back to American Style, also trained by Zito. "The race didn't unfold the way we anticipated," said Gygistar's trainer Mark Hennig. "I thought he'd have a horse to follow. He really didn't know what to do when he was out there by himself. Once he saw the other horse coming at the end, he drew back away from him after the wire. I would have liked to see it unfold different and I guess around two turns it does. We've got plenty of time to think about his future. We could always try two turns or drop him back to the (seven-furlong) King's Bishop (gr. I).
No Sleepy Hollow
Just ignore that New York-bred designation next to Carson Hollow's name from now on. It obviously means nothing, just as it's meant nothing to Private Emblem, who was good enough to win the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) this year, but not good enough to win the Mike Lee Stakes for New York-breds. Carson Hollow, owned by Hemlock Hills Farm, Gabrielle Farm, Justine Zimmerman, and Sandy Goldfarb, took advantage of the Belmont speedway on July 6, outpsrinting a competitive field in the Prioress Stakes (gr. I) and never looking back. At the wire, the daughter of Carson City was two lengths clear of Spring Meadow, who had two and a quarter lengths on Proper Gamble. Trained by Richard Dutrow, Carson Hollow zipped the six furlongs in 1:08.79, paying $10.60. She was ridden by, who else, John Velazquez. She is now undefeated in four starts--a victory in the state-bred Bouwerie Stakes, an 18 3/4-length maiden score against New York-breds, and an allowance win in open company. Notes
Arthur Hancock III's Owsley came with a late charge from last to edge 2-1 favorite Volga by a neck in the $250,000 New York Handicap (gr. IIT) on July 4. The daughter of Harlan, trained by Randy Schulhofer and ridden by Edgar Prado, covered the 1 1/4 miles on the inner turf course in 1:59.81, paying $10.20. California invader Janet finished third after making a premature move to get the lead on the far turn...Amherst Stable and Spruce Pond Stable's Volponi, a brilliant horse on his best day, drew off to an impressive 2 1/4-length victory under Shaun Bridgmohan in the $111,200 Poker Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the main turf course July 5. The son of Cryptoclearance, trained by Phil Johnson, blazed the mile in 1:32.24. Sent off at 9-1, he defeated the Allen Jerkens-trained 18-1 shot Saint Verre, as 1-2 favorite Shibboleth, from the Bobby Frankel barn, tired to finish fifth. Last year, Volponi captured the grade II Pegasus Handicap at the Meadowlands in 1:46.55 for the nine furlongs. By Steve Haskin (Chart, Equibase)