The Fourth of July weekend these days signifies much more than celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence back in 1776. For families it’s a chance to gather, grill, and ignite explosives. For fans of Major League Baseball, it’s a time to assess a team’s chances of making the playoffs come October. For those of us in the Thoroughbred business, it’s the start of a new season—selling yearlings at Fasig-Tipton in Kentucky and in Saratoga next month, and serious prep for those horses coming to market in September and October.
In the racing realm the “second season” comes in earnest in early July. During the “Stars and Stripes” program July 6 at Belmont Park, Code of Honor took a huge step forward off his second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) with an impressive score over fellow sophomores in the Dwyer Stakes (G3). Meanwhile, at Delaware Park, last year’s champion juvenile filly Jaywalk took the Delaware Oaks (G3) by nine lengths to earn her first win of the season.
Better days appear ahead for both 3-year-olds.
“We were thrilled with the way Jaywalk ran and competed,” said Jonathan Green, son of Leonard Green, whose D. J. Stable co-owns Jaywalk with Chuck Zacney’s Cash is King. “It was one of those races where while she was running as fast as she could, it looked like she was running in slow motion. It’s one thing to win a race like this; it’s why we are all in the game, most importantly to see her feeling good and being dappled out in the paddock…just to know she’s feeling the best she can as an athlete is really important to us.”
Jaywalk had been winless in three starts to begin the year and was demoted from sixth to last in the May 3 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1).
“After the Oaks, we sat down with (trainer) John (Servis) and he said, ‘I’ve been trying to get this filly back to the grade 1 level, and now I need to basically start from scratch with her. I need to get her happy again,’ ” said Green.
“He reduced the number of breezes between races and increased the number of gallops between races. It wasn’t a fitness question for her; it was if she could be a happy athlete again. He noticed she started training happier, and she was more involved with what was going on. She was resting more and eating better. John went back to basics with her.
“Since she came back from Louisville she’s gained 100 pounds. She’s never going to be a big, robust, Zenyatta-type of filly. That’s not her. She’s got enough quickness and athleticism to run her rivals off their feet, which she did yesterday.”
Jaywalk wasn’t the only starter for the Greens July 6. Their 3-year-old colt Surf and Turf, a son of Kitten’s Joy, ran third in the Kent Stakes (G3T).
“We skipped a couple of levels with him; he’s only an ‘a other than’ horse, but we wanted to get him on the turf,” Green said. “It’s tough to get a turf race to go around here, for the 3-year-olds especially. We had had a group of about 20 of us at the races, and we were quietly confident about our chances.”
While it was a big day at Delaware Park, it’s one of many tracks where the racing office is struggling to fill races. A dearth of owners, and of horses due to shrinking foal crops, are playing havoc for tracks trying to fill programs, especially those in locales where there are options.
“Delaware Park has done everything possible to try and improve the racing there and the facility,” Green lamented. “What they are up against is something similar…there are so many racetracks in the area running at the same time. Everyone is starving for horses. Delaware has run into an issue lately with an outbreak of strangles.
“Yesterday was great; they couldn’t have been nicer, from the racing officials, to the director of racing, all the way to the people who were taking care of us in the dining room. Everyone was excited to be there. It was a really good card of racing. But it’s tough to get cards to go. Not that you want to have a racetrack go by the wayside or change historically their meets and dates, but something has to change up here.”