Many Happy Returns

Say what you will about the horses competing at Saratoga this summer. The quality will improve Saturday when two $600,000 graded stakes are run─the grade I Diana Stakes for fillies and mares on the turf and the grade II Jim Dandy, a prep for the Travers Stakes (gr. I).

In the meantime, what’s missing in horsepower is available in betting opportunities. A man with a rabbit’s foot and a hat pin and program can line his pockets by wagering on overlays. The winner of the seventh race Wednesday, Redemption Road, for example, was a horse that at 3-1 won as the favorite and paid an $8.50 mutuel. 

Conditions are suited for gambling. There’s no dominant jockey such as Jerry Bailey or Angel Cordero, Jr., unless you count the 25 hours in which Ramon Dominguez couldn’t be beat. Todd Pletcher’s horses haven’t delivered in the fashion of past years. Public handicappers are cold as the Arctic Ocean. The tote board has caused a bull market. NYRA released stats that revealed handle was up double digits.

Ruler on Ice laid an egg in the eighth. Maggie Wolfendale, who remarks to the public on the way horses look in the paddock, said the 2011 Belmont Stakes winner appeared less composed than she remembered him. Ruler on Ice had nothing left for the stretch and finished last in a field led by Cease.

Reminiscent of last July when Stonestreet Stables and trainer Steve Asmussen unveiled My Miss Aurelia, a lightning-quick 2-year-old named Teen Pauline broke the track record in the fifth race. A dark brown filly by Tapit, she raced five furlongs in :56.63. The 3-2 favorite Lucky Friend, under John R. Velazquez, ran fourth. It was J.R.’s first mount after being out several weeks. The fans treated him as if he was missing a decade.

But, if the season has had a phenomenon, it’s a restaurant. The new Boca Bistro and Bar is the runaway hit of the dining out scene. The snazzy spot on Broadway serves tapas and Spanish cuisine, including peach-flavored sangria, with so mucho gusto that it has no comparison.

If you went to SPAC following a meal there, you hit the late, late Daily Double. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra became the first visiting symphony to grace the stage where the Philadelphia Orchestra has performed each summer since 1966. Violinist Michael Ludwig, the son of a former Philadelphia Orchestra musician, returned to the scene where he watched his dad play as a child and played himself, and he drew a standing ovation. Wearing a white dinner jacket with rhinestone trim, maestro JoAnn Falletta conducted the BPO like Bill Hartack rode horses.

Vic Zast is the author of The History and Art of 25 Travers. He has attended the races at Saratoga for 47 straight seasons.

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