Maggie Wolfendale, the NYRA broadcast analyst, doesn’t actually see the horses at the same time she describes them.  She prefers a remote area in the paddock to present her observations, one away from distractions.  The other day, in describing a horse, she uttered the awkward remark, “He looks bigger, upwards-wise.”  On Saturday, she could have said about Havre de Grace, “She looks better, downwards-wise.”

Caption: Before each NYRA race, Maggie Wolfendale expands the public's knowledge of the horses' appearance, conformation and fitness.
Photo: Vic Zast

You can throw that “Year of the Girl” slogan that Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta instigated a couple years ago out the window.  The slogan implies female exceptionalism.  For almost a decade now, the male Handicap Division ranks have been depleted of talent by injury and early retirement to the point that the better older fillies and mares are inherently superior to older colts.  The gr. 1 Woodward was a drop-down for Havre de Grace.

Wearing his trademark cowboy hat, trainer Larry Jones guided Havre de Grace out of the saddling enclosure like a master with a pet.  If you were lucky enough to be in the one-third of the stands which can hear Wolfendale’s announcements, you might have heard her say that Jones’s horse was “on the muscle” or “on her toes.”  But Havre de Grace settled down in the post parade, loaded into the gate and went about her business professionally.  “Believe me, we’re considering both,” Jones remarked later, when asked if he’ll run Havre de Grace in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic or Classic.

Caption: Last out of the saddling enclosure, Havre de Grace entered the parade ring under Larry Jones's command.
Photo: Vic Zast

“You can write in your column that there’s no roar like Saratoga,” advised Paul, the spry red-headed white cap in Section J of the clubhouse.  Paul was right; it was loud.  But not as loud as when Rachel Alexandra beat Macho Again in the same Woodward Stakes of 2009.  Dutifully and appropriately, the crowd did applaud when Tom Durkin presented Havre de Grace as the winner over the p.a. system and, again, when she strolled back to the barn, nodding her white-haltered head repeatedly as section after section stood up to acknowledge her.

Saratoga will have racing Sunday and Monday, but Saturday’s card was the best of the season. Several two-year-olds with names that suggest greatness (specifically Da Vinci in the second and Invocation, Julius Caesar and Hierro in the seventh) ran in the maiden events.  In winning the seven furlong seventh race, Darley Stable’s Alpha, the best named of all, stood out.

Ask the Moon won the watered down gr. 1 Personal Ensign Stakes. Remember that the Personal Ensign was to have been run on Hurricane Irene Sunday and that, way back in the time machine, had been viewed to be another confrontation between Havre de Grace and Blind Luck, the filly that’s beat her four times.  Jackson Bend, a little hickory horse that trainer Nick Zito has always been fond of, came to the fore in the gr. 1 Forego.

Rain is expected on the Lord’s Day and Labor Day, keeping the crowds down and dampening spirits.  Sunday’s long-sleeve tee-shirt giveaway will cause the numbers to swell, but it’ll be an illusion.

Vic Zast is the author of “The History and Art of 25 Travers.”  He’s attended the races in Saratoga for 48 straight summers.

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