Saratoga Notebook: Heading into the Holiday Weekend

by Dick Powell
(Editor's Note: Content for this weekly handicapping notebook is provided by Brisnet).

Racing at Saratoga is based upon a long and glorious history and two new chapters were added last week by owner/breeders who are already part of its lore.

Friday saw the running of the Personal Ensign H. (G1), named after Ogden Phipps' undefeated champion mare who retired with 13 wins, including a victory over males in the 1988 Whitney H. (G1). Run at 1 1/4 miles, the Personal Ensign brought back 2002 Horse of the Year AZERI (Jade Hunter), who earlier in the meet defeated Sightseek (Distant View) in the Go For Wand H. (G1) going nine furlongs.

Bobby Frankel decided to pass the Personal Ensign with Sightseek and Azeri had only four rivals to beat to earn her third Grade 1 win of the year. But what seemed like an easier spot was actually a lot tougher. The extra furlong and the presence of one-dimensional speedball ROAR EMOTION (Roar) made things more difficult for the heavy favorite.

Right out of the gate, Jerry Bailey sent Roar Emotion to the front and instead of letting her go, Pat Day took up the chase with Azeri. They sped through the first half mile in :46.26, with Roar Emotion holding a 1 1/2-length lead over Azeri and a huge gap back to an unhurried STORM FLAG FLYING (Storm Cat) in third.

Day turned up the pressure heading into the far turn and drew even with Bailey's mount as they covered the first six furlongs in an amazing 1:09.78. At this point I felt like Nancy Kerrigan after being hit in the leg, saying why, why, why? What was Day thinking?

Azeri took over around the far turn and opened up a clear lead at the top of the stretch, but here came Storm Flag Flying with John Velazquez and the race was on. Azeri battled gallantly down on the inside but was no match for the momentum of Storm Flag Flying, who got home by a length and a quarter. The final quarter mile was run in :27.69 seconds, with the final time being 2:03.63. Considering the early pace, it was amazing Azeri had anything left at all at the finish.

Storm Flag Flying, owned and bred by Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, son of Ogden Phipps, was the champion juvenile filly of two years ago. The Personal Ensign was her first Grade 1 success since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Arlington and she seems to be back at the top of her game after running evenly in her last two starts. By Storm Cat, the regally bred dark bay is out of My Flag (Easy Goer), herself the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in 1995 and the daughter of Personal Ensign.

However, it is unlikely that Storm Flag Flying will get another pace scenario similar to Friday. She still needs to prove that she can effectively compete at the top echelon of her division.

The Whitney name is very important to Saratoga and the Whitney H. is the biggest race every year for older horses during the meet. Mary Lou Whitney, widow of Cornelius Vanderbilt "Sonny" Whitney, has revived the Whitney Stable in the past few years with homebreds that trace back to successful Whitney female bloodlines.

The Whitney-owned Dear Birdie (Storm Bird) produced Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner and last year's champion three-year-old filly Bird Town (Cape Town), and she's the dam of BIRDSTONE (Grindstone), winner of last year's Champagne S. (G1) and this year's Belmont S. (G1), where he denied Smarty Jones the Triple Crown.

The historic and familiar silks of eton blue with brown hoop and blue sleeves, seen in the Travers winner's circle in 1954 with Fisherman and again in 1960 on Tompion, were absent from the Thoroughbred racing scene for many years. However, they're back now, reappearing in the winner's circle of major races for Mrs. Whitney and husband John Hendrickson.

Off for 84 days, Birdstone trained at Saratoga on the Oklahoma Training Track since the Belmont and went into this year's Travers without the benefit of a prep race. Trainer Nick Zito felt that his rather small colt would be hurt by a recent prep since he runs so hard and takes a long time to recover from his races. Zito, who had never won the Travers but had a near miss with Albert the Great in 2000, took the risk of training him up to the race. But he hedged his Travers chances by entering THE CLIFF'S EDGE (Gulch), runner-up in the Jim Dandy (G2) earlier this meet, and SIR SHACKLETON (Miswaki), recent winner of the West Virginia Derby (G3).

When starter Bob Duncan sent the field of seven on their way, under foreboding dark clouds and the beginning of a severe thunderstorm, it was no surprise to see LION HEART (Tale of the Cat) gun to the front with Joe Bravo. Taking up chase was Jim Dandy (G2) winner PURGE (Unbridled's Song) and John Velazquez. Despite a very fast track throughout the day, the first half was run in a pokey :49.15.

Edgar Prado dropped Birdstone to the inside on the first turn and saved ground until nearing the far turn when he swung three-wide to go up after the leaders. The third quarter was run in a quick :23.67 and Prado had Birdstone taking dead aim on the front two while clear on the outside. Velazquez was not going to let Birdstone cruise by, and Purge began to apply serious pressure on Lion Heart around the far turn.

Lion Heart began to wilt nearing the top of the stretch despite the slow early pace. It was disclosed the next day that he came out of the race with a fractured right front coffin bone and has been retired. Purge took a short lead at the top of the stretch, but Birdstone was grinding along with Prado getting closer with every stride. Once Birdstone took the lead nearing the eighth pole, The Cliff's Edge appeared on the scene on the far outside and looked like he was going to win.

But as soon as they drew even, Birdstone began to draw off and won by 2 1/2 lengths. The Cliff's Edge held the place, 3 1/2 lengths better than EDDINGTON (Unbridled) in third.

When Birdstone won the Belmont over Smarty Jones, Zito, Prado and Whitney were apologetic about denying fans the opportunity to see a Triple Crown winner and their victory celebration was muted. This time, despite pouring rain that was so heavy that it forced the cancellation of the last race on the card, the Birdstone clan was able to celebrate in an appropriate manner.

The Whitney silks were back in the winner's circle of the Travers for the first time in 44 years and Nick Zito, who is a lock to enter the Hall of Fame next year, finally won his first Travers with the little horse that could.

Saratoga sees its share of well-bred horses every year, but Sunday's 6TH race on the turf for juvenile fillies saw one its best ever when Bill Mott unveiled MY TYPHOON (Giant's Causeway). Unlike many Spa highly-touted firsters, this filly had more of a buzz after the race than before.

Out of Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) winner Urban Sea (Miswaki), My Typhoon is a half-sister to the tremendous Galileo, who won the Espom (Eng-G1) and Irish Derbies (Ire-G1) as well as beating older horses in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond S. (Eng-G1) as well as multiple Group 1 winner Black Sam Bellamy.

Her sire, Giant's Causeway, is off to a terrific start at stud with his first crop to race, and My Typhoon's debut was eagerly anticipated. She was purchased by Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Plantation for 1.8 million pounds as a weanling at Tattersalls December and was sent off as the 6-5 favorite.

With Jerry Bailey aboard, My Typhoon relished the turf that had been softened up by Saturday's rain and went right to the front. She galloped strongly around both turns professionally and made it to the top of the stretch a half-length in front. When the pack of juvenile fillies began to close in, Bailey let it out a notch and her response was immediate, drawing off to a 5 1/4-length score as a much-the-best winner.

Where she goes is anyone's guess since the calendar is not chock full of opportunities for two-year-old turf fillies, but her sire almost won the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) in his lone attempt on the main track, so a dirt start against stakes rivals might be in the plan.

Going into Monday's card, I was ready to report on the Todd Pletcher/Velazquez combination beginning to cool off. Saturday's riding star was Prado, with five winners, and Pletcher's runners went 0-for-10. No one could keep up with the record pace they were setting and it looked like they would return to the land of mere mortals.


On Monday, Pletcher saddled five horses -- all five won and all five were ridden by Velazquez. It was the first time Pletcher won five races on a single card and the second time at Saratoga that Velazquez was able to do it. Velazquez wound up with 13 winners for the week and now has 55. He's only six behind his record of 61 set last year and will take Monday's final program off to ride Pollard's Vision (Carson City) in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2). He should shatter last year's mark even in five days.

Prado won 11 races for the week and now has 35 winners, six ahead of Bailey, who is in third and did not even have a mount in this year's Travers.

Pletcher wound up with eight wins for the week and now has 31 for the meet. He needs five to break last year's record and has a gimmee in Wednesday's 6TH race with PROUD ACCOLADE (Yes It's True), one of the more impressive maiden winners of the meet. Frankel is second with 10, and Mott owns nine heading into the final week.


Wednesday (8/25)

4TH -- SPRING STROLL (Skywalker) had a very rough trip going three turns in only her second turf start and should be much fitter back on Belmont's wide turf courses.

6TH -- WILLFULNESS (Williamstown) had a rough start and was not able to menace the easy, front-end winner. He should handle this allowance level back at Belmont.

Thursday (8/26)

2ND -- BRAZILIAN (Stravinsky) pressed a very fast pace while four wide in her career debut and should be much tighter next time out for Pletcher.

7TH -- EVERYBOTTIWINS (Marquetry) was a good second behind a runaway winner in fast time when making her first start off the claim by Rick Dutrow.

Friday (8/27)

2ND -- THE END IS CLEAR (Precise End) couldn't overcome the outside post in her career debut but showed enough running talent to do well next out.

7TH -- CREATIVE DANCE (Artax) broke poorly and was then forced to rally six wide in his first start against winners at long odds.

Saturday (8/28)

6TH -- INDUCEMENT (Danzig) pressed the pace three wide over a firm turf course and was only beaten two necks by horses who saved ground.

8TH - HERMOINE'S MAGIC (Forest Wildcat) held well after chasing a very fast pace and showed gameness despite being in front.

10TH -- WEIGELIA (Safely's Mark) took all the worst of it pressing the pace on the outside and was badly carried out by a tiring Medallist (Touch Gold) turning for home.

Sunday (8/29)

6TH -- K.D.'S SHADY LADY (Maria's Mon) was no match for a monster winner, but she did well to be second in her career debut from post 10.

9TH -- MY TRUSTY CAT (Tale of the Cat) had a nightmare trip and still almost won the Ballerina H. (G1). She would've been placed first if the stewards had done their job properly following an inquiry and objection.

Monday (8/30)

2ND -- MANIPULATOR (Unbridled) lost all chance when he broke poorly from post 1 in his career debut but showed some energy in the stretch.