Saratoga Diary: Half-time Report

Will the next 18 days be as rocky as the past 17 days?

Saratoga's first three weeks were marked by muggy hot weather followed by splendid cool days and nights, a card cancellation, upsets, an onslaught of New York-bred races, declining attendance, numerous mishaps at the starting gate, and soap opera politics.

Thank goodness, there were the horses. Consider these.

Early in the meet, Bernardini, the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner, emerged as a potential superstar. His easy Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) score prepared him perfectly for a head-to-head match with Bluegrass Cat in the upcoming Travers.

Trainer Tom Albertrani noted more than once that the son of A.P. Indy is exceptional. Some observers, however, consider him invincible.

In winning the Whitney Handicap (gr. I), Invasor, the Argentine import that was Horse of the Year in Uruguay, made the post-race appearance of Marylou Whitney serve as a sentimental afterthought. He, too, will return in the second half, in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) on closing weekend.

This time around, Invasor will have a Flower Alley in full bloom and the persistent Sun King --whom he beat by a nose in the Whitney-- to beat again, with Funny Cide, the hopeless, but locally popular, throw-in.

Alfred G. Vanderbilt Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) victor War Front laid claim to being the sport's toughest sprinter. His credentials as "Lord of the Swift" will be put to the test again, perhaps in the Forego Handicap (gr. I) at seven furlongs.

And, speaking of sprints, the fans witnessed one at the end of a steeplechase. Was there a classier showing all meet than the one made by Hirapour?

This 10-year-old jumper stayed back in the pack until the final fence in the A.P. Smithwick Steeplechase (gr. I). Then he leaped home a winner with the bounce of a frog and the verve of a youngster.

On Monday, a 6-year-old son of Silver Deputy who was recently claimed for $50,000 set a new Mellon Turf Course record for 5 ½ furlongs.

Second in Command, trained by Richard Dutrow for Michael Dubb, raced four wide in the stretch to win the $71,500 Troy Stakes in 1:01.11.

Weigelia, the 4-5 favorite, was third, beaten 2 ¾ lengths. The race, like the first half of Saratoga, went to the swift, not the steady.

Vic Zast has been going to the races in Saratoga for 45 straight years. He is a horse owner, breeder and former racetrack executive, as well as a regular contributor to The Blood-Horse publications and others.

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