Racecourse regulars have been waiting for that breakout day–the one that you think about for weeks and months, even years, afterwards; a stellar day in which the weather, the crowd, the racing and the thrills come together in an exuberant display of the elements.
Saturday was that day.
Questing, a Godolphin filly, won the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) in memorable style. She flashed to the front and set fractions that nobody expected her to maintain. Through the stretch, she looked like an arrow.
Horse owner Ed Motter of Lancaster, PA, who watched her move through the stretch from the rail, said, “She had her head down, the jockey was flat on her back and together they formed a perfectly straight line. All the jockey did was hang on.”
The rider was Irad Ortiz, Jr. Ortiz fell off a horse the day before and was lifted up off the turf by some men and placed in an ambulance. He thought he had broken or badly sprained his ankle, but an MRI proved that only his psyche was damaged.
Three of the meet’s leading jockeys, Ramon Dominguez, Julien Leparoux and Jose Lezcano went on a working vacation to Chicago. Nothing changed for Dominguez’s routine. He rode Little Mike to victory in the 30th Arlington Million (gr. I). There was much enthusiasm at Saratoga for the Million as dozens of horseplayers stood in front of TV monitors watching the simulcast of it and the other big races from Arlington Park.
The Alabama’s been run 102 more times than the Million. Perhaps that’s why its 132nd anniversary included more than spectacle. Tom Durkin added to the action with his especially energetic call. The captivated crowd let up with a whoop when the field took its first steps like it does for the Travers (gr. I).
It was either the memory of bygone Alabamas or that so many stars from this year’s 3-year-old filly division participated in this noteworthy renewal that kept people for 11 races. A white cap mistakenly said, “Well, there’s only one more weekend for racing.” As a matter of fact, there are two.
The Phipps Stable’s Point of Entry, trained by Shug McGaughey and ridden by John R. Velazquez, two Hall of Fame members, won the 1 ½ mile Gr. I Sword Dancer.
Apprentice Wilmer Garcia proved that he could win on horses that have a chance at winning as well as those that the public believe don’t. He did a nifty job of keeping the front-running gelding Nelson Avenue out in front in the fifth.
Saratoga Springs socialite Michele Riggi wore a hat that appeared to cost more than several of the horses that ran in other races while presenting the National Museum of Dance trophy to the winner of the fourth.
Vic Zast is the author of The History and Art of 25 Travers. He has attended the races at Saratoga for 47 straight summers.