TrackNotes: A (Good) Day At The Races

Somehow, all seemed right with the planet Saturday.

The cats didn't flinch an inch as yells of "Go, Jose, GO" bounced off the walls. Maggie keeps getting younger after what seems all these years. Acacia proved that beauty seems all, but she still needs to know the work tab. And but for those knees, Gary would still be riding. Even today, don't eff with him.

You already knew, but these horses have a way.

It started with delicious discussion as Hall of Fame and retired jockey Gary Stevens really did get into it with New York Racing Association analyst Andy Serling about the track bias being unfavorable to those who chose the one or two paths on the rail.

Serling was strong on the death valley that was the rail Friday and Saturday. Stevens basically said "NAH!" as if he was saying with the right horse under him . . . no matter. These aren't perfect quotes.

"Gary, I can show you. The rail is dead and it was yesterday too."

Stevens then pulled out the "Do I amuse you?" card and said, "And you're in the Hall of Fame?" That is a good quote. "I've been watching these races all day . . . "

Serling snapped back "I'll go through the whole card with you and you'll see." Stevens, because he's Gary Stevens (never forget he played George "The Iceman" Wolff in Seabiscuit) had the last word.

But he was wrong. It happened in two or three races afterward and when Tacitus took to the rail because he had nowhere else to go, he started swimming in quicksand like Little Joe in a corner of The Ponderosa. But Stevens spit out the word "rail" with ghost pepper venom the rest of the day and, yes, it was highly entertaining.

Jerry Bailey, HOF'er over at NBC rode too, but Stevens, he'd still be going if not for those drat knees. Gary is really bringin' it. At Fox yesterday, Greg Wolf and trainer Tom Amoss, they got a good lineup there.

In the interest of chronology, supergirl Enable won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes - that's one race- at Royal Ascot as we cleared the cobwebs, in a race which might make you think horses are better than people. She just seemed she wouldn't have it any other way. Number 8, pink cap and aqua/yellow silks, please marvel. Bad wide trip. But.

She beat big boy Crystal Ocean, a great horse in any land, and proved herself an all-time wonder. But the way they were talking Saturday, she seems unlikely for the Breeders' Cup this year, after she won the Turf last year in visiting-America fashion. Not one word is hyperbole in the race recaps. This is why we love the game. Enable did the running and people are left to explain it.

They were right when they said global jock Frankie Dettori is now seeing the end of the day as Enable looks like she's destined for only one more, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp - which she's already won twice - in October. Some due respect to America's Kentucky Derby, peel the hype, and the Arc is as an important race as there is.

Back stateside, sunny blue at Saratoga, we had the Jim Dandy Stakes (Grade II, nine furlongs, $500,000), named after a 50-1 from 1930 who must have paid the wiseguys big to be so memorialized. It's a fine race in and of itself, and also the big prep for the Travers Stakes.

We knew it was a good day when Imperial Hint, last seen in the Dubai Golden Shaheen, crushed splits of :21-3, :44-1 and :55-4 in smashing the track record in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Stakes (Grade I, six furlongs, $350,000). The race was over on the top of the turn, and then 'Hint found a new gear between the eighth and sixteenth poles and poured it on, also beating the great and highly touted Mitole, who didn't run much yesterday.

The Dandy was touted as a two-horse race between Tacitus and War of Will.

Tacitus, son of remarkable sire Tapit (Pulpit) out of Close Hatches (First Defence), is one of those horses whose talent is undeniable. But.

He came in the 8-5 fave, based on that talent, but for the win, I tossed him. The panelists' disappointment rose in the pre-race as they extolled the gray's "bad luck." They came to the consensus, rightly, that the horse had better start winning some damn races. He finished a very nice fourth in the Kentucky Derby and got caught in the Belmont Stakes by Sir Winston in a late run of a race he had every right and way to win.

In the Jim Dandy, once again, he stumbled badly out of the gate, going down to his left front knee. The talking heads lamented his plight, but there he was at the end, placing, even though Jose Ortiz took him to the Michael Landon rail. Tacitus created his own rotten luck and bad trip.

War of Will, your lackluster, beat-nobody Preakness winner, was in fine shape coming into the stretch, but Tax, guided by the Ortiz brother Irad, had it just the way he wanted, took control and fought off the not-enough-fight Tacitus.

As a race, the Jim Dandy was just fine. But you do question the pantheon and all that. Wishful thinking, the TV guys opined that wait, if he gets what he wants, Tacitus will crush the Breeders' Cup Classic. He'll take money for sure, but will horseplayers allow him to piledrive their hopes again? I'm thinking not me.

* It was a fun day of racing. Saratoga will do that to you.

* The Fox Sports crew was great. Four-time baseball All-Star Paul LoDuca, although he tends to like them all, talks like a horseplayer. Greg Wolf lets the game do the talking. Stevens is on a refreshing edge.

* Maggie Wolfendale, daughter of trainer Howard Wolfendale, has been the paddock and winner's circle reporter for NYRA at Aqueduct and Belmont for as long as I've been watching. She's 33 years old. Saturday, she got on a horse for the feature races to interview the winning riders on the walkout.

"Whew. I just rode seven furlongs to get here for this talk with Jose. I'm not in shape!"

* Acacia Courtney, a bona fide beauty queen, knows her racing stuff. She described the scenario with Channel Cat's trainer, prim and aloofy Todd Pletcher, before the long Bowling Green (Grade II, 11 furlongs, $250,000). After the race, Pletcher said, "As you described before the race, Luis (Saez) earned the lead and took it from there." These are interviews you listen to.

* I don't always watch much Cubs, but when I do, I prefer less pain.

* I would say this has been a disappointing season, but then the horses always do their voodoo to you.

But last week, the humans failed again, at Monmouth Park. In a heat wave, several tracks, including Saratoga, closed on Saturday. Monmouth? It was Haskell Invitational day (won by Kentucky Derby taken-down Maximum Security, who cut off another horse in last week's race) and hell god eff, Monmouth was going to run!

They started later and ran two races in the heat and then announced the rest of the card was delayed. They killed the non-stakes races and rescheduled the stakes races to start at 5 p.m. Central. The Haskell would be run at 7:05 Central, which they ran - I'm trying to avoid profanity here - seven minutes late.

During and after, the lawyer who runs Monmouth, who oozes sleaze with a combover that denies the truth he believes he can buy or litigate, said Plan B was in play all along. Except, he didn't announce it Friday.

Ripping a page right out of EffingMLB, he didn't say a word and got the butts into the seats for the concessions and such. Only then did they announce, "Racing resumes in about five hours."

Up top, Eddie Olczyk said, "Pull the plug. Find another day."

Heat? No problemo? Monmouth cancelled Sunday. They saw that several Eastern tracks closed Saturday and they were not dammit going to be denied their day, and now a day without other tracks! Do guys like that lawyer choose to be dirt?

I need to stop.

* Wonderfully, as the horses passed the sixteenth pole in the Jim Dandy, an outrider big horse pony on the sideline (1:46 in the BloodHorse video) at the apron bounced with glee off of his front feet. Pure joy. He then planted his fronts back on the ground and emphatically dipped his whole head up and down, as if in salute. Marilyn, these horses slay me.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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