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Yes, racing fans, it's that time of year.
The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are here, with Del Mar, site of this year's Breeders' Cup, opening Wednesday and Saratoga ringing the bell Friday.
Shipwrecked nines across America will be treading water for more than 90 days, waiting for a rescue boat, the S.S. Rebuilding Plan, that will never come. The Cubs still seem to be searching for identity, but therapy takes time. Can the White Sox get caffeinated with some wins over Crane Kenney's North Side Gang? The Bears will soon straddle the bow, bleating for relevance, while we look over their shoulders and watch the iceberg closing in on them. Dog Days, indeed.
In this last number of weeks, four big things happened on four different ovals. Two of them should have and two of them shouldn't have.
Our darling Songbird segued the entire game out of a Triple Crown season to forget and into the boutique meets with wins in the Ogden Phipps on the Belmont Stakes undercard and in the Delaware Handicap on July 15. Both are Grade Is. Those are the two outcomes we expected.
In Saturday's Diana (Grade I, $500,000, fillies and mares three and up, nine furlongs turf) Lady Eli overcame adversity yet again to score the victory by a head.
I thought Irad Ortiz Jr. and Lady Eli should have been disqualified. But as with The Jordan Rules, DQs in races like this, with this horse, just about never happen.
'Eli, spooked by her stablemate Antonoe breaking through the front of the gate, opened her own doors but was restrained by the gate attendant. Antonoe made like the race had started but stopped after 40 yards.
Battling with Quidura in the final eighth, Ortiz and Lady Eli noticeably drifted left to the inside. Ortiz even stuck out his left elbow. Quidura drifted with her, half a length in front of Antonoe, who was trying to shoot through on the rail. Javier Castellano had to pull up Antonoe to avoid disaster and lost all hope of winning, although I don't think he ever would have won. He had the rail but wasn't quick enough to squeeze through. Dems da breaks.
My first thought was DQ. New York Racing Association talking heads, trainer Tom Amoss and former big leaguer Paul Lo Duca immediately cried out "they won't be taking her down in this one!" As if there was no way she deserved it.
Well, that's right. Race stewards are extremely loathe to disqualify horses these days, especially one as prominent as Lady Eli. I get the melodrama. After the 2015 Belmont Oaks, she stepped on a nail walking back to the barn and developed laminitis, an extremely serious and life-threatening hoof condition. Secretariat died from it. Secretariat was also DQ'd at Saratoga when he was two. 'Eli later developed a tendon problem and had to recover from that. The sob sisters love her story.
But Ortiz and the horse drifted left in an extremely subtle manner and although there was little if any untoward contact, Quidura's path was certainly compromised. Lady Eli should have been placed third. Although I can see an argument for second.
We'll have questions and more questions medical and otherwise in the coming days, but the acknowledged greatest horse in the world got beat, badly, Saturday in the San Diego Handicap (Grade II, three-year-olds and up, 1-1/16 mile, $300,000) at Del Mar.
We don't know why, but we do know Arrogate failed to fire, big time, as Accelerate, the son of Lookin At Lucky, appeared to be going forward in his nearly nine-length victory while Arrogate looked like he was going backward.
It seems almost true. After keeping Arrogate in the clear, and last, on the backstretch, Jockey Mike Smith said he had to crack open his grab bag of tricks.
"So I dropped him inside again and cut the corner, then wheeled him outside once more, and tried to get something from him. But he was just flat. He wasn't trying. So I just wrapped up on him and got him home safe. We've got to go back and start over again. Get it back right."
Arrogate hung in there on the backstretch, apparently biding his time. We saw what looked like a big powerful move, but he was really just passing an inferior horse. It looked ripe for the taking, but Arrogate just flattened out badly in the stretch, Smith geared him down and his day was over.
Trainer Bob Baffert was even questioning his own training job. "I think he was just flat," the Hall of Fame trainer said. "I knew coming down here can be tough. Maybe I should have (worked) him (down here). Mike said he was just flat and never in the race did he feel he had any horse . . . I think he just laid an egg."
Was it Arrogate's jet-setting lifestyle? After shattering all the Travers Stakes records last summer, the son of Unbridled's Song gutted out a tough win over California Chrome in the Breeders' Cup Classic, romped in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, and prevailed handily in the Dubai World Cup. It wouldn't be the first time a horse made the trip to Meydan and returned without his edge.
With a combination of shock, disappointment and humility, Baffert was nearly at a loss for words in the post-race TV interview. "I don't know if it was Dubai, he was training well. Same thing happened with Silver Charm (who lost the Stephen Foster and San Diego Handicap after his Dubai win). We run the races. How do you think I got all these white hairs?"
The bridge jumpers were out in full force, loading up the Place and Show pools in anticipation of just this outcome.
Accelerate paid $17.60, $32.60 and $22; Donworth a Del Mar record $119.80 for Place and $67.40 for Show; and Cat Burglar $38.20 for Show.
Baffert said he'll have Arrogate ready for the big Pacific Classic August 19.
"We'll just go on with him. As long as he's working well and nothing comes up, we're going in the Pacific Classic (G1). I wanted to give him a race here, thinking it would be a great workout for him, but the Pacific Classic is the main goal."
Let's hope he's not hurt.
The luxury liners steam on next week with Travers prep day at Saratoga, featuring the Jim Dandy, and the Grade I Bing Crosby out west where the surf meets the turf. On Sunday, it's Haskell Invitational Day at the jewel of the Jersey Coast, Monmouth Park.
I'd advise Chris Christie to stay away, lest he be confused with a certain part of a horse's anatomy. I definitely see the resemblance.
Tom Chambers is our railbird. He welcomes your comments.
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