One of the worst things a jockey at Saratoga can do to win a race these days is to use the rail in the final furlongs. There is a hard, smooth glide path just off the rail that seems to be more user-friendly to stretch-running horses en route to the winning post.
But, Sunday, jockey Mike Luzzi defied convention and tried it anyway. The horse that he hustled to a nostril victory, Spun Sugar, got the better of Balletto by running on the inside.
Ball cap giveaway day brought out 43,846 racing fans to the Spa course, but those who stayed to watch the horses run didn't witness much that was awe inspiring until the feature race – the $250,000 Go For Wand Handicap (gr. I), for fillies and mares, 3-years-old and up.
Otherwise, the card was a blasé mélange of slow starts, last-minute scratches and persistent New York-breds – that is, with the exception of a maiden race won by a $2 million baby named Kauai Calls. This filly by Fusaichi Pegasus
beat a filly by Thunder Gulch
by a lot, but not by enough to illustrate the $1,975,000 difference in their price tags.
Nevertheless, if there's one thing the fans here have learned about value, it's that you get your money's worth by betting on Todd Pletcher in the stakes race. He's won four in five days now.
Spun Sugar, a 4-year-old daughter of Awesome Again
owned by Stronach Stables, was the least fancied of three runners that Pletcher sent out for the six-horse Go For Wand, and Luzzi was the least expected of the three jockeys that he hoisted aboard his horses to be hoisted down from the saddle in the winner's circle.
Pletcher's Pool Land, who finished third, was ridden by Garrett Gomez, and Oonagh Maccool, the pre-race favorite, by John Velasquez.
Velazquez is one win back of Gomez in the jockey standings at Saratoga, but only because he has first call on Pletcher's horses. There was concern that the retirements of Jerry Bailey, Pat Day and Gary Stevens would bring about slim pickins' in the jockey colony, but to the contrary. Imagine being a trainer and having to choose from this bunch.
Luzzi, Gomez and Velazquez are joined in competition with Julien Leparoux, J.J. Castellano, Cornelio Velasquez, Shaun Bridgmohan, Kent Desormeaux, Eibar Coa, Rafael Bejarano, Fernando Jara, Mike Smith, Richie Migliore, Jose Santos and Edgar Prado on an everyday basis.
It's a good bet that each knows where to put a horse.