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The benchmark that is Saratoga Race Course makes it a byword for "form."
All things being equal, unless a horse hates the Saratoga surface, and some do, races, and the horses in them, run formfully. There are so many good horses, you have to look at all of them.
Saturday, you could have called it very formful, on a high level, or chalky. And just like last night's boxing matches, the featureds delivered, but the undercard may have stolen the show.
In the Lure (1-1/8 miles, turf, four-and-up, $100,000), Noble Indy and Voodoo Song popped out to the lead, leaving Lucullan a good four or five lengths behind in an elongated field. Announcer Larry Collmus caught the move as Lucullan asserted on the turn and prepared to dispose of Noble Indy at the top of the stretch.
Meanwhile, Sacred Life, far back in the early going, spun around in the middle of the turf and the stretch was on. You couldn't have blamed Lucullan and Luis Saez if they didn't even see 'Life, but they must have. The two beautiful long striders, Lucullan a bit longer, dueled, but Lucullan would not be denied, by a nose. I saw them, but at 2-1 and 5-2 respectively, they didn't pay much.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin loved the ride Saez gave Lucullan, who had run just once this year after a 14-month layoff. Saez explained his perfect stalking trip:
"It was beautiful. That was the plan. I knew that (Voodoo Song) and (Noble Indy) had the most speed, so everything went according to plan. It was perfect. At the three-eighths he was pulling me, but I still waited because I knew the horses in front were stopping. I had to save him until the end. When I let him go, he took off."
Then, it got better. Before NBC came on, the kids at Fox, Gary Stevens, Andy Serling, Laffit Pincay III and Maggie Wolfendale, surmised The Test (Grade I, fillies three years old, 7 furlongs, $500,000) might outshine the Whitney Stakes, Saturday's feature. Fox panel member Tom Amoss trains Serengeti Empress, who won the Kentucky Oaks first Friday of May, and while the colleagues laid it on thick, Serengeti' is a legit horse.
Amoss said all day he'd tell Jose Ortiz to send from the one-hole and try to gain the upper hand over Covfefe in the nearby three-hole, with third contender Bellafina between them. 'Empress did just that and it soon became a two-horse race with Covfefe and Joel Rosario.
Turning into the stretch. Serengeti' and Covfefe, clean as morning mist, pulled away from the other, dirt-encrusted runners and exchanged haymakers the rest of the way. Serengeti' gave every ounce, but Covfefe found that mysterious momentum that makes it look like she's running downhill, and she prevailed by a half length. Again, not much of a payoff at $26 for a dollar on the exacta.
It was chalk up top as Bob Baffert's McKinzie won the Whitney Stakes by nearly two in perhaps the most powerful way fans have wanted to see from him.
The day was a tribute to Marylou Whitney, the "Queen of Saratoga" who married into the family that built Saratoga. When the old man died, they closed the stable, so she started her own operation. After her Birdstone beat the undefeated Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont, Whitney apologized to the entire world for thwarting a Triple Crown to the beloved Smarty'. "I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry that Smarty Jones couldn't win. We kept saying it'll be exciting."
They say she did a lot for charity, famously for backstretch workers, but, cynically, I've never seen the numbers or specific benefits. I'm sure she did something, but take a camera back there and show me. Or is there nothing to show?
McKinzie is named for the late Los Alamitos Race Course executive Brad McKenzie, who passed away two years ago.
"I'm just glad that this horse is as good as he is, because we named him at Brad's funeral," Baffert said. He was choked up tearful speechless in the post-race TV interview.
For McKinzie's performance, it was fine. But I got suckered into Vino Rosso again and that goddamned overnight Grade IX stakes bum horse is not going to get another penny of mine, even if it's an effing walkover. He gallantly brought up the rear in third, a wuss move he's perfected, like Harold Ramis's "If we ever see combat, I'll be right behind you guys every step of the way." I eyed place horse Yoshida, who ran quite nicely, but he's no McKinzie.
Note: I misstated Jack the Cat's jockey's name. It's KENDRICK Carmouche. The bad news is that after he dropped off the television screen, they're pinging Carmouche's smartphone for coordinates. I'm wondering if this happened.
It was no Ali-Frazier, but in a bizarre way, the heavyweight fight between favored Polish emigre Adam Kownacki, fighting out of Brooklyn, and perennial challenger Chris Arreola, the Mexican who Kownacki called an "Aztec warrior," was interesting, almost like a flyweight mosquito fight as the two exchanged punches for 12 full rounds.
Kownacki earned the big decision 117-111, 117-111 and 118-110, but the story of the fight is that they set an all-time record in 34 years of CompuBox stats with 2,172 punches thrown and 667 landed between them.
Wagering on boxing is difficult. The odds flash had Arreola at +1200 and Kownacki at -900. How do you bet on that as if it isn't figured out? I'm not saying fixed, just probable.
Deontay Wilder, a leading heavyweight contender, was on the microphone for Fox Sports, getting better as he went along. He nobly admitted he was butchering Kownacki's name, which is pronounced with Polish consonants and vowels you can't even see.
And it sure was good to see Lennox Lewis ringside again. Lewis is the last UNDISPUTED heavyweight champion of the world.
It ended in the eighth with a truly inadvertent head butt to the eye, but veteran light heavyweight Jean Pascal was winning anyway as the underdog against Marcus Browne. The doctor stopped the fight as Browne's sight was compromised, and all three judges ruled 75-74 for Pascal. Browne was getting overconfident and sloppy when Pascal dropped him to the canvas three times in the seventh.
Pascal gets an "interim" 175-pound title in boxing's wacky ranking system, which means the 36-year-old Haitian-Canadian gets on the ladder to who knows where.
I've never placed a successful boxing wager.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail and ringside. He welcomes your comments.