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Blame and Garrett Gomez after the Whitney Handicap
Vanderbilt & Honorable Miss Handicaps from Sunday
The highlight race at Saratoga Race Course this weekend is the $750,000 Whitney Handicap (G1). A field of 6 older horses contested this 1 1/8 mile main track feature, under sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 70ís before 36,658 fans. Quality Road was sent off as the 1-2 favorite, off a three race winning streak consisting of the Halís Hope (G3), the Donn Handicap (G1), and the Metropolitan Handicap (G1). In to challenge him included 7-2 second choice Blame, winner of the William Donald Schaefer (G3) and the Stephen Foster (G1), and 7-1 third choice Musket Man, second in the Metropolitan after finishing third in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G2).
Blame rallies on the outside of Musket Man and Quality Road in the stretch
At the start, Quality Road broke inward and brushed with Blame and then was sent to the lead around the clubhouse turn by jockey John Velazquez. Rajiv Maragh and Musket Man pressed Quality Road to his outside as the pair set easy fractions of 24.41, 48.06, and 1:11.92. Entering the stretch, Quality Road pulled away from Musket Man, opening up a 1 1/2 length advantage in mid-stretch through a mile in 1:36.67. However, Blame, who settled in fourth 3 lengths off the pace saving ground early, came out for run, closing with a rush to pass Quality Road in the final strides, prevailing by a head in 1:48.88 over the fast track. It was another 1 3/4 lengths back to Musket Man third.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 2 Blame Gomez 8.80 3.00 2.20 3 Quality Road Velazquez 2.40 2.10 6 Musket Man Maragh 2.50 Winning Time: 1:48.88 $2 Exacta 2-3 18.20 $2 Trifecta 2-3-6 37.80
Left: Blame in the winner's circle. His trainer Al Stall Jr. said, "I'm thrilled to death for everyone involved. The fact we were within 4 or 5 lengths from the 3/8 pole to the wire - he's pretty tough. He's got a great turn of foot. If he's within striking distance of a horse, he usually gets there. That's what I've learned about him in the last 6 months or so. The first half in 48 was a little nerve-wracking, but it kept us close. If (Quality Road) goes in 46 and going just as easily, we're 15 lengths out of it."
Right: Marylou Whitney (pink hat) presents the trophy for the Whitney Handicap. Asked where he would go next, Stall added, "There will be one race between this and the Breeders' Cup Classic. It might be the Woodward, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, or the Hawthorne Gold Cup. The breeders want to do the New York stuff, which I do too."
Left: Blame heads out for the post parade. His jockey Garrett Gomez said, "We were super confident. He's been trained magnificently for this race and every other race I've ridden him in. He's a magnificent older horse and I can't wait until we go farther. I never hit him. I actually moved up at about the 3/8 pole and I felt pretty confident then. I was just biding my time until we turned for home. I just didn't want to sit too long because he's got a long consistent run and just keeps coming. I just wanted to make sure that when we turned for home I did have him in a good place. He kept staying on and in that last 1/8 mile, when I finally got right to (Quality Road), I said 'I got him'."
Right: Blame in the paddock before the race.
Left: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Quality Road heads out for the post parade. His jockey John Velazquez said, "I tried to put him into the bridle, but he was just going through the motions, which is strange for him. I was hoping there'd be nobody there, so I got to drifting. I was trying to make it more difficult for the horse on the outside." Trainer Todd Pletcher added, "We had a comfortable trip, set reasonable fractions, and just got run down at the wire. (Blame) ran a big race."
Right: Third place finisher Musket Man returns after the race. His jockey Rajiv Maragh said, "The pace was slower than anticipated, so I put my horse closer to the pace because I wanted to be in a winning position turning for home. I thought I was in the right spot if I was going to win the race, and my horse tried hard all the way today, he just couldn't get there." Trainer Derek Ryan added, "This was a tough finish. It looked like Quality Road and Haynesfield would go out there, and we would be sitting third. For some reason, I don't know why, the other speed didn't go. We were only 2 lengths behind at the end. He's an honest horse and tries hard every time."
Left: Fourth place finisher Haynesfield broke through the gate and unseated rider Ramon Dominguez before the start. He was cleared to run by the vet and reloaded fine the second time.
Right: The horses break from the gate for the Whitney Handicap.
Champagne d'Oro takes the lead in the stretch
Pica Slew battled for the lead with Champagne d'Oro down the backstretch through fast early fractions of 22.41 and 44.50. Entering the stretch, Pica Slew tired badly allowing Champagne d'Oro to inherit the lead. Bonnie Blue Flag, who was 4th early just 2 lengths behind the pace duel, put in a late rally but was no match for Champagne d'Oro who drew off to a 4 1/2 length victory in 1:22.71. It was just 1/2 a length back to 6-1 Belle of the Hall third, while favorite Pica Slew finished 8th.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 3 Champagne d'Oro Mena 12.40 6.40 4.30 4 Bonnie Blue Flag Velazquez 6.00 4.00 7 Belle of the Hall Dominguez 5.00 Winning Time: 1:22.71 $2 Exacta 3-4 74.00 $2 Trifecta 3-4-7 462.50 $2 Superfecta 3-4-7-6 2,212.00 (dead heat for 4th) $2 Superfecta 3-4-7-8 1,323.00
Left: Champagne d'Oro in the winner's circle. Her trainer Eric Guillot said, "She doesn't rate, but she can get headed and finish. If she doesn't get grabbed, she's fine. She has a real sensitive mouth and doesn't like to be grabbed. I think she's going to be a really good filly as a 4-year-old if she stays sound - a really good filly at a mile to 1 1/16. I want to keep her at 7/8 and stretch her out after the Breeders' Cup. We're going to follow the same route as Maryfield, whom we bought for our broodmare band. With the way she won easily, she could come back (in the Ballerina)."
Right: Champagne d'Oro in the post parade.
Left: Champagne d'Oro heads back to the barn after the race. Her jockey Miguel Mena said, "In her last race, I got her into a little trouble before the 1/4 pole, and she wound up second, beaten 1 1/2 lengths. I am very happy the connections gave me the chance to ride her back. Today, I had a great trip. She broke sharply, was right there on the lead with (Pica Slew), switched leads around the turn and came through in the end. Today, there were no problems, and she got the money."
Right: Champagne d'Oro gets ready to return to the barn after the race.
Left: Second place finisher Bonnie Blue Flag in the paddock before the race. Her jockey John Velazquez said, "I was in perfect position and I saw the winner, which I knew was the horse to beat. When I pulled my horse out at the 1/4 pole she gave me a little bit, but the winner just drew away. It really was a good effort, but the winner was just much the best today."
Right: Third place finisher Belle of the Hall in the post parade. Her trainer Tom Albertrani said, "She got squeezed pretty good at the start. She lost a few lengths at the break. She was able to recover, find some daylight, and finish strong. We were pleased to see her get up there and get a piece of it. It's encouraging to see her get to that level. Still, it was a tough break."
Eighth place finisher and beaten favorite Pica Slew in the post parade. Her jockey Manoel Cruz said, "I was very confident in this horse. She didn't finish for me." Her trainer Mike Hushion said, "I think there was too much pace for her going seven-eighths. I'll certainly keep her sprinting. I think that still part of the plan. I'll have to talk to the owners and see where she goes from here."
Kicking off the stakes action on Saturday was the $70,000 Hattie Moseley Stakes, a 1 mile inner turf event for 3-year-old fillies which have never won a graded stakes on the turf. 8-1 Barracks Road went to the lead and set an uncontested pace of 23.56, 46.91, and 1:10.83 over the firm course, while 1 1/2 lengths in front of 34-1 Diosa Indian in second. Entering the stretch, Barracks Road opened up a 2 length lead, but her fast pace set the race up for closers, as 11-1 Sea Road and 9-5 favorite Snow Top Mountain came on late and the three fillies hit the line together. Sea Road (center) finished a neck in front of Snow Top Mountain, who nosed out Barracks Road in third, in a time of 1:35.17.
The 11-1 shot raced in 5th 5 lengths off the pace early under jockey Cornelio Velasquez, then came out for the drive and closed well to hold off the favorite to win. The Stanley Hough trainee improved her record to 4 wins, 1 second, and 0 thirds in 7 starts, earning $132,020 for owners and breeders Alex Rankin, Richard Lenihan, and Patricia Lenihan.
Second place finisher and beaten favorite Snow Top Mountain returns after the race. The 8-5 favorite raced in 8th 12 lengths off the pace under jockey Garrett Gomez, closed with a rush down the center of the course but just missed. The Thomas Proctor trainee improved her record to 2 wins and 4 seconds in 6 starts, earning $126,017 for owner-breeder Barbara Hunter.
In the seventh race, trainer Bill Mott reached milestone win number 4000 with Mystic (right) in a 1 1/8 mile allowance race on the turf. He is best known as the trainer of two-time Horse of the Year Cigar, as well as champions Paradise Creek, Escena, Ajina, and this year's Belmont winner Drosselmeyer. Mott said, "4000 is a big number and I guess, to some extent, it's an elite club and I'm happy to do it. It's nice to have it today, it's a nice, sunny day in Saratoga and I'm glad it happened here. This is a very special place to have it happen. I'll always remember it. It's not me that got 4000 winners, it's the entire crew -- past assistants and grooms and hotwalkers and riders and such a multitude of owners. I commend my assistants past and present for the good job that they've done."
On to the Vanderbilt & Honorable Miss Handicaps from Sunday
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