The backstretch at 6:00 am is the only place and time where a man can find quiet. Those post card images of horses working – the steam coming from their nostrils like the smoke from a locomotive – are still seeable, provided you’re willing to wake up early. By 8:30 am, it seems like a convention’s been called at the Morning Line for coffee and networking. An ear plugs concession would prosper.
Australian Dean S. Smith, a former rider for Tom Skiffington, D. Wayne Lukas and Richard Mandella, who now assists trainer David Kelly down under on the Gold Coast near Brisbane, took his spot at the rail to see the horses come out after the track’s renovation. “I came to Saratoga to brush up on my American training techniques,” he offered. Then the banter began.
Like most Aussies, Smith has an encyclopedia of syllables at his disposal. He talked about the “international horse,” the inferiority of synthetic surfaces in comparison to dirt, sand and grass, and the rosy prospects for Shoot Out, a son of High Chaparral owned by people who live in the Outback. “They say he can win the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup,” Smith said. The Melbourne Cup – an event that stops the nation - is like Siro’s, only there’s a horse race going on.
Horse racing was a small part of the action on Friday. It was Fabulous Fillies Day, featuring nine races for fillies and mares only. In addition, NYRA honored Linda Rice, Saratoga’s first woman to win a trainer’s title, and Suzie O’Cain, whose Find a Cure Stable donates 10 percent of its winnings to help in the fight against breast cancer. The color pink decorated the entrances, the fence posts around the paddock, vests worn by the outriders and saddle cloths. NYRA flew a pink flag in the infield.
Appropriately, one of two horses with jockeys wearing pink silks won the $100,000 Yaddo Stakes; the other finished third. Alan Garcia piloted the Rick Violette-trained Meriwether Jessica to victory by a neck over the favored You Go West Girl. Favorites won four races. Garcia and Javier Castellano each won three.
The quality for the seventh race, a 6-1/2 furlong sprint on the main track that was run in 1:20.06, hit the seasonal rock bottom. The 11 maiden two-year-olds went to the post in their previous 63 starts at the average odds of 39-1. They produced an average Beyer Speed Figure of 25. Eliminating Chad Brown’s statistics from the calculations, the trainers had been four for 62 at Saratoga. Now they’re four for 72.
Kirsten LeBlanc, Michael Shevy, Curtis Payne, Neal Terracciano and Melvin Winney were among the little-known trainers looking to beat Brown; his horse Jacky Juice, at 3-5, won. To confuse unfamiliarity with incompetence will lead bettors to the poorhouse. But the fans like to wager on horses and people they’ve at least heard of. The first five horses finished in order of their odds.
Vic Zast has attended at least one day of racing at Saratoga in each of the last 47 years. He is the author of the award winning book, "The History and Art of 25 Travers."