Saratoga Notebook: A Star is Born; Horses to Watch

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

"Hi. My name is Dick and I am addicted to touting Ramon Dominguez as the next great rider."

This is a line I have used on a Capital OTB TV show in the past year and now it's starting to pay some dividends here at Saratoga. I believe that if and when Dominguez moves his tack from the Mid-Atlantic racing scene to New York, he will have the same impact on the rider colony as Edgar Prado did a few years ago. This guy is that good and I can finish my 12-step program.

When you watch Dominguez enough, you realize quickly how well his horses finish in the stretch. Whether it's on a favorite or a horse ignored in the betting pools, he has a knack for getting his horses to drop their heads and stride forward efficiently. The secret seems to be in his seat.

Many tall riders have a disadvantage with their long legs. They have to have their stirrups long and tend to sit farther back on the horse. Despite being rather tall, Dominguez has compensated for this with an unusual seat on the horse. He sits very far forward above the horse's withers and has his elbows pointed out instead of being tucked in. It looks awkward and I can watch any race at Delaware Park on the head-on screen and pick Dominguez out of the pack.

What looks unusual and possibly clumsy has been very effective and has enabled him to make every mount look like A.P. Indy through the stretch.

Dominguez has been riding here mostly on Thursdays and Fridays - dark days for Delaware Park - and a few stakes mounts. He's been riding for America's leading owner, Michael Gill, and already has five wins from limited opportunities this meet.

In Saturday's Sword Dancer Invitational (G1), Dominguez rode BETTER TALK NOW (Talkin Man) for Graham Motion. Winless in four starts this year and sent off at 8-1, Better Talk Now was the fourth choice in a field of six and gave the impression that every time he ran a good race it was followed by a poor effort. In his last start, The five-year-old finished second in the Bowling Green H. (G2) behind Kicken Kris (Kris S.), who came back on Sunday to win the Arlington Million (G1) via disqualification. The question in the Sword Dancer was which Better Talk Now was going to show up.

As expected, John Velazquez put BALTO STAR (Glitterman) on the lead. The winner of slightly over $2 million, Balto Star has done well in turf marathons when he is able to lope along on an easy lead and it figured that he would get things his own way against his five rivals. The turf course was listed as yielding, but conditions were really unknown since it had not been used since Wednesday.

The ground seemed to be okay with few divots being kicked up and Balto Star went about his business while about a length and a half in front during the early stages. He covered six furlongs in 1:15.08 and a mile in 1:40.23. Javier Castellano kept REQUEST FOR PAROLE (Judge T C) in a perfect stalking trip on the outside and began to turn up the heat near the top of the stretch. Velazquez had a snug hold of Balto Star and looked like he might be tough to catch. Castellano went into an all-out drive nearing the eighth pole, but down the middle of the track came Better Talk Now with all the momentum.

Dominguez had snuggled him into last place while saving ground and just galloping along at the back of the pack. He swung him to the outside turning for home and he went by the field to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths. Request for Parole held well for second and Balto Star weakened to be third.

The final time was 2:28.49 with a last quarter of :23.87. Better Talk Now's last quarter had to approach 23 seconds flat. If Dominguez does move his tack to New York and has the success that I predict, the Sword Dancer will be viewed as a coming-out party for the talented rider.

In the interest of full disclosure, I picked fourth-place finisher ROCHESTER (Green Dancer) to win and Better Talk Now for third. No one refuses to follow his own advice more than I.

There was a big buzz around the track on Saturday with the debut of SCIPION (A.P. Indy), a three-quarter brother to juvenile champion Vindication (Seattle Slew). Bought back as a yearling by his breeder, Virginia Kraft Payson, for $1.9 million, Scipion had been breezing well for trainer Patrick Biancone and was bet down to 4-5 favoritism. Like most expensive yearling purchases, Scipion is above average in size and looked the part.

Unlike Vindication, Scipion showed no real gate speed to speak of and was unable to keep up with the early pace, dropping far back down the backstretch in the seven-furlong maiden special weight. SO SWANKY (Fly So Free) went to the front and opened up a length lead over BARDSTOWN (Menifee) and ROYAL SULTAN (Out of Place).

Pablo Fragoso had Royal Sultan moving on the far turn and ground his way to the front in the stretch. Scipion began to show signs of life when Castellano moved him to the outside on the far turn, but the colt was still dead last with a long way to go.

Just when it looked like Royal Sultan was going to win it, Scipion found his best stride and came from last to first inside the eighth pole to win going away by three parts of a length. His final time of 1:24.72 was strong especially since it was on a drying-out good track and the early pace was rather modest.

Before you start booking your future bets on Scipion, consider this. He is a long-striding colt that would seem to be at a disadvantage against big fields. Based on his debut, it looked like it would take him a furlong to get untracked if he ever ran into traffic. He is nothing like Vindication, who could be placed anywhere in a race. Maybe with maturity Scipion will show some versatility. He could be perfect in the one-turn, Grade 1 stakes at Belmont this fall, the Futurity (G1) and Champagne (G1), but looks like a bet against in two-turn company.

Todd Pletcher and Velazquez are winning with such record-breaking regularity that it has almost become routine. Pletcher won five races, including a track-record-equaling victory with SPEIGHTSTOWN (Gone West) in the Amsterdam (G2), and now has 19 wins at the halfway mark. Bobby Frankel and Mark Shuman are tied for second with seven, and Bill Mott owns six.

In the jockey's race, Velazquez won 12 races last week and now totals 32 for the meet, well on pace to break last year's mark. Jerry Bailey and Edgar Prado are way back tied for second with 18, and Javier Castellano and Richard Migliore are tied for fourth with 13 each.


Wednesday (8/11)
3RD -- BUILDERS OPTION (Lear Fan) rallied nicely in his career debut for David Donk, who rarely wins first time out. The juvenile was bumped here in his two-turn debut on the first turn and recovered nicely to get third behind a front-end winner.

9TH -- SAVE MY PLACE (Out of Place) made her second career start but got away to another poor start. She rallied nicely while down on the inside and merits another chance.

Thursday (8/12)
4TH -- TUESDAY PRAYER (Holy Bull) looked like a winner in the deep stretch when she had a clear lead despite being very wide for much of the trip.

Friday (8/13)

4TH -- SWITHER (Anees) held well while dueling for the lead from post 1 and should be much better as the races stretch out in distance.

9TH -- LATE CARSON (Carson City) lost all chance when he broke in the air at the start and was not persevered with by Velazquez. Throw the race out next time he runs.

Saturday (8/14)
2ND -- AL JOHNSTAN (Dixie Union) showed nothing in his career debut but rallied nicely here for third despite stumbling at the start and going five wide on the turn.

5TH -- AWESOME VENTURE (Awesome Again ) was an even fourth in his career debut going seven furlongs and should be much tougher next time out.

7TH - MIKE'S CLASSIC (Seeking the Gold) showed good speed while dueling for the lead through a fast middle quarter and should benefit from a race over the track.

Sunday (8/15)

3RD -- RANEEM (Gone West) had a rough trip in his first start off a long layoff and should improve next time out against $35K claimers.

5TH -- EVERY OTHER MEMORY (Fusaichi Pegasus) looked like a 3YO colt in the paddock and ran to her looks with a strong stretch run. Rusty Arnold runners usually improve with a race under their belt.

8TH -- WILDCARD CAT (Forest Wildcat) broke through the starting gate before the race then was checked severely at the start. Draw a line through the race next time out.

Monday (8/16)
2ND -- SPANISH MISSION (Coronado's Quest) was stuck down on the inside after breaking slowly but held well to be third in his career debut going short.

4TH -- STORM WARNING (Storm Cat) raced greenly down the backstretch when throwing his head around as the dirt hit his face. He ducked in turning for home when hit by the whip, but once he settled into stride finished with a rush to get up for second in a very impressive debut.