Thursdays are the days the steeplechase horses compete. On this Thursday, only three races on the card were worth watching, and the first race – 2 1/16 miles over nine fences, with many quondam flat runners – was a fun one.
The Price of Love, a 5-year-old gelding trained by Jonathon Sheppard, executed a clever inside stretch move at the urging of Danielle Hodsdon, took the lead from Bee Charmer, and carried on. A chestnut gelded son of Thunder Gulch named Be Certain finished second. It was an all-out final run among four willing horses. The race bore no resemblance to the long, tedious marathons the sport sometimes offers.
It appeared several of the horse owners who paraded Saratoga’s paddock could have put up the $70,000 stake. In particular, the four gentlemen wearing Panama hats seemed well-heeled. In addition, there were fewer men than usual in the customary “half-dressed” outfits. This would be button-down shirts, club ties and blazers from the waist up as if they were going to church, and khaki slacks, no socks and boat shoes from the waist down as if on a camping trip.
None such discord was evident in the run-up to the second race. At the same time, little sense of belonging was postured. Eight 2-year-old maiden colts raced 5 ½ furlongs, and the three that the bettors favored, not the people who owned them, captured all the attention.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Valiancy broke a wee bit slowly, but he hit mach one quickly. With a little more seasoning than Keep’em Movin Dan, the second-time starter, a son of Tale of the Cat, progressed through blistering fractions tirelessly and reached the wire on the lead. Edgar Prado, aboard Fast Draw, did a decent job to get third. But his mount wasn’t good enough to do better.
The eighth race, an optional $75,000 claiming/first-level allowance, offered a whopping purse of $100,000. NYRA added $32,000 to the $68,000 stipulated - $8000 per horse above the minimum of six required for the bonus to kick in.
Skeptics didn’t know what to think when NYRA announced it would boost purses substantially for route races with big fields. But the owners of this field of fillies and mares did. As Spring Illusion and Pious Ashley looked to be the exacta, up jumped Borrowing Base out of nowhere to post a $24.80 mutuel. The 8-3-2 paid $1479.00 – Wowza! The bettors are going to love this.
Bill Mott, who led all trainers in victories last summer, continued to be winless. Mott’s streak this meet stands at 14. Wednesday, jockey Rajiv Maragh from Jamaica, only 22 years-old, rode three winners. On Thursday, Cornelio Velasquez matched him.