Week of August 8, 2011
By Kevin Martin, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
Last weekend, the 3-year-old division was in the spotlight, this weekend the older division on both coasts had guaranteed spots up for grabs in the Whitney Handicap and Clement Hirsch Stakes. After everyone seemed to agree that just about all entries had a chance in this yearâ€™s Whitney, the result turned out formful with the top two betting choices finishing first and second. The Hirsch brought the opposite result with the heavy favorite finishing third and the longest shot on the board hitting the wire first.
In the first of the weekendâ€™s two Win and Youâ€™re in Breeders Cup qualifiers, Tizway earned his entry into the Breeders Cup Classic with an impressive win in the Grade I Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. Tizway beat the best of this yearâ€™s older male division and put himself in contention for Horse of the Year. Tizwayâ€™s 2011 resume also includes a win in the Met Mile and he is likely to race next in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park in the fall. Flat Out, the impressive winner of the Suburban at Belmont in his last race, finished second. Both Tizway and Flat Out had much to prove in the Whitney and both showed that they could be major players in the fall championship races.
On the other side of the country, it was the older female division with a spot in the Breeders Cup Ladies Classic at stake in the Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar. In a race dominated by the legendary Zenyatta for the last three years, this yearâ€™s edition featured an intriguing three-year-old contender in Zazu and the multiple Grade I stakes winner Switch. But, it was the 5-year-old mare, Ultra Blend, who notched her first Grade 1 victory by a neck over Zazu in a wildly entertaining finishing. The 3 to 5 favorite Switch finished third. Ultra Blend paid $23.60 to win at the longest odds among the six runners and earned a trip to Churchill Downs for this yearâ€™s Breeders Cup.
In other stakes action this weekend, Turbulent Descent, arguably the best female sprinter in the country got back to her winning ways with an impressive win in the Test Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga. After finishing second as the heavy favorite in the Grade I Acorn in her last race, she made it look easy in winning the Test by three lengths over the place finisher Pomeroyâ€™s Pistol. It was the first time the California-based trainer Mike Puype entered a horse at Saratoga. He indicated after the race that his sprinter might rest until the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Sprint which would be her first race against older horses. The Test was Turbulent Descentâ€™s sixth win from eight career starts and was the third Grade I win of her brief career. She is perfect at the seven furlong distance.
On Sunday, a double-header of graded sprint stakes closed out a big weekend at Saratoga. The 6-year-old mare Tar Heel Mom won the Grade 2 Honorable Miss for older female sprinters. In the Grade 1 Vanderbilt for older males, the heavily favored Trappe Shot, among the leaders in the sprint division, couldnâ€™t catch longshot Sean Avery who led every step of the six furlong contest. It was the first Grade 1 win for veteran trainer Allen Iwinski and the sixth win in ten career starts for Sean Avery.
And finally, Bob Baffert did it again with one of his 3-year-olds. After winning the one million dollar Haskell Invitational with Coil at Monmouth Park last Sunday, Baffertâ€™s Prayer for Relief won the $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park in Chester, West Virginia. It was the second straight year that he swept the Haskell/West Virginia Derby double (Lookin at Lucky/Concord Point in 2010). Prayer for Relief might join Coil to compete in the Travers Stakes in a few weeks at Saratoga.
Next weekend brings the biggest day in Chicago racing with the Arlington Million along with slew of other major turf races at Arlington Park. Itâ€™s Hall of Fame a in Saratoga next weekend and the big track in New York will have the Grade 1 Sword Dancer on the slate for Saturday.
NBC Sports scheduled coverage of Saratoga:
Sat Aug 13: Sword Dancer – Versus
Sat Aug 20: Alabama – NBC
Sat Aug 27: Travers – NBC
Sat Sept 3: Woodward – Versus
Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker
See you at the track!