Six television cameras, lined up in a row like the cannons at Fort Ticonderoga, were pointed at NYRA's communications director John Lee as he began an 11:00 am press gathering in the Saratoga winner's circle. Lee was sublime as the emcee, bringing up one politician after another with gracious aplomb, until finally it got down to the racing news.
Then Charlie Hayward reminded everyone of the effect NYRA expects from having Curlin in the Woodward Stakes on Saturday. Everything Hayward had to say, assistant trainer Scott Blasi expanded upon. It was one of those moments reminiscent of when racehorses could turn a crowd on.
As required of a star who can impact the box office, the 2007 Horse of the Year served as a convenient excuse for NYRA officials to remind people that there's one more week of Saratoga racing. Wednesday is military day, Thursday there's something else, Friday brings twilight post times, and on and on. To end things, Sunday's the last giveaway and Monday the grandstand is free.
The presenters' set featured a lectern and microphone, a sample of the Curlin banners that will hang on Broadway this week, and an easel that displayed the commemorative poster by the Daily Racing Form's cartoonist Peb that are to be given away to the first 20,000 patrons on Saturday. A new Woodward Stakes logo that Gavin Landry's boys in the back room whipped up was also on display.
Before the final week of racing can begin, however, the fifth week had to end, and Monday's card, while not flush with quality, was acceptable. Take the second race, a maiden special weights affair for 2-year-old colts. Darley Stable's Regal Ransom, a dark bay son of Distorted Humor, won. Alan Garcia, back from Del Mar, was the rider.
Art Gropper advised readers of the Daily Racing Form that the even-money favorite might not win. The inside post, which is where Regal Ransom started, doesn't produce many winners in seven furlong dashes, he wrote. Gropper was dead wrong, of course. More than 25 percent of the 50-odd seven furlong sprints at the meet have been taken by horses that broke on the rail.
Post position also played no negative role in the third race. The California-based filly Goodday, leaving the gate furthest out, won the 6-furlong $80,000 Vichy Stakes. Once on the lead, Goodday drifted out in the homestretch, thus causing the stewards to scan film. A true bargain for her owners, the Good and Ready miss cost them only $22,000.
One more 2-year-old race produced yet another horse starting in what handicappers might call a bad spot. Pioneerof the Nile, trained by Bill Mott, won at second asking from the far outside post. Kent Desormeaux guided the Zayat Stables' son of Empire Maker to victory. Once the fear that the colt would be pushed wide on the first turn of the 1 1/16 mile turf race was abandoned, you could see it coming.