Monday was the last day of the first week of racing. Despite rare sunny weather with low humidity, the track was a ghost town. NYRA reported attendance of only 10,695. In the absence of attention, two jockeys -- Mike Luzzi and Channing Hill –- excelled.
Luzzi booted home two of the first four winners on the 10-race card. His first winner was a delight for the dedicated because of the stretch call he got from Tom Durkin. A 4-year-old gelding named Arrrrr broke his maiden in the second race beneath Luzzi, and Durkin, sounding just like a pirate with a parrot on his shoulder, gave Arrrrr a rousing, repetitive roll of the Rs,.
Luzzi’s second winner gave Durkin little reason to mug into the microphone, and so the announcer didn’t. Cagey Girl, a daughter of Crowd Pleaser, was a crowd pleaser indeed, paying $47.60 to win. She beat home a large field of New York-foaled optional claimers and non-winners other than two races over 1 1/16 miles of yielding turf.
Victorious longshots were in evidence nearly every race, including the finale – a turf route which was switched to dirt that enabled Royal Skip, with Jose Espinoza aboard, to win at 13-1.
The aforementioned Hill was responsible for two upsets. In the sixth race, he brought Unflagging, a 4-year-old first-timer, in at $62.50. Hill also piloted Over Forli, a Chilean-bred that paid $41.20, to a Lillian Russell Stakes triumph 60 minutes later.
Nevertheless, form came around for the feature. In the $150,000 Amsterdam (gr. II), Kodiak Kowboy, the second choice, beat Desert Key, the favorite, in a thrilling stretch duel. Ridden by Gabriel Saez and trained by Larry Jones, Kodiak Kowboy had a history of success on his side. He took the Saratoga Special (gr. II) as a 2-year-old when trained by Steve Asmussen.
Even though the first week’s racing was spectacular, true Saratoga-lovers believe that Saratoga doesn’t really kick in until August. But this Wednesday, July 30, horseman Cot Campbell will jump the gun by launching the social season. Campbell’s Dogwood Stables will honor Vinnie Garibaldi, an 81-year-old Ocala farmhand, with the Dogwood Dominion Award, presented annually to an “unsung hero, at a Reading Room luncheon.
Later that same day, Marylou Whitney’s favorite charity – the Saratoga Hospital – hosts its customary benefit at The Lodge, an August-only spot that sits right across the street from Sheikh Mohammed’s. Marylou has certainly been busy. She’s a trouper. Her spectacular gala will have an Asian theme this summer. It’ll force fancy people out of the bars this Friday evening.
Before any of these good times commence, there’ll be a marathon blah-blah-blah about synthetic racetracks at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion on the dark day. The first panel chimes in at 9 am. The last one leaves the stage eight bells later. Z-z-z-z-z-z.