NYRA stacked the top half of Monday's card with two overnight stakes and a maiden special weights sprint for promising 2-year-olds. This is the way racetracks play it in Europe. They don't wait until the end to give fans something to cheer about. Still, in this case, the move-up in the schedule of quality was done to accommodate the early post time of the yearling sales.
The gavel at Fasig-Tipton fell shortly after 6 p.m., as Hip No. 1 went unsold, Hip No. 2 was withdrawn and Hip No. 3 - a bay colt by Smart Strike - was sold for $300,000. Buyers from Europe and the Middle East, by the way, were here and there on the new grounds and active It was a packed crowd, a humid night and, as usual, a magical experience.
Sheikh Mohammed, the world's greatest Thoroughbred customer, took a place outside of the pavilion to do his bidding. He wore a white long-sleeved tee-shirt with a pocket on which the word "Godolphin" was embroidered. He sported light denim jeans and black and grey high-tech sneakers. A gold chain circled his neck. He wore glasses, but no ball cap.
Inside, Marylou Whitney assumed a new place in the second last row instead of her customary upfront seat. With faithful beau John Hendrickson in a dark suit, white shirt and tie beside her, Whitney wore a white and pastel gauzy print dress. The Queen of Saratoga had her hair back and up in a bun and looked beautiful. Like the Sheikh, nonetheless, her presence was concealed from the masses.
Progeny of Bernardini, the 2006 Travers winner, were the rage. Seven walked the selling stage, five were purchased and these five averaged $550,000. The sales topper was by Medaglia d'Oro. It was a lovely filly from Cat Dancer that John Ferguson, bloodstock agent for Godolphin, got for $1.5 million. No horse quite as expensive as these triumphed on the racetrack earlier.
Perhaps the most accomplished horse to run, for example, was utterly disappointing. After the third race, called the Albert the Great Stakes, trainer Nick Zito told jockey Alan Garcia in no uncertain terms that Da' Tara couldn't have won from the back of the pack as he rode him. The 2008 Belmont Stakes conqueror of Big Brown lunged in the air at the start, rushed up four -wide on the turn, was taken to the rear on the backstretch and then eased on the homestretch. On the other hand, stablemate Cool Coal Man caught the break right, stayed close to the pace and rallied effortlessly.
Things went less easily for Queen of Hearts in the fifth, the Signature Stallions Stakes. Zaskar led by as much as eight lengths in the 1 1/2 mile turf race but wasn't done by any means at a mile and a half minus a nostril.