Peter Fornatale at Saratoga

Peter Fornatale reviews closing weekend at the Spa in which the top-class two-year-olds were in the spotlight.

  • Tuesday 03 September
  • Blog
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There are certain things you have to do on your first visit to Saratoga. If the weather is nice, which it has been for the last two days, I recommend arriving to the track early and on foot. One of the most charming aspects of this place is the fact that we have a major sporting venue – the oldest continuously operating one in the United States in fact – nestled in the middle of a beautifully preserved Victorian town. Take advantage of this and walk.

Upon arrival at the Clubhouse Gate, it is mandatory that you take a picture by the fountain. You can get a perfect shot containing yourself, the statues surrounding the fountain painted in the silks of last year’s Grade 1 winners, some red and white (Saratoga’s signature colors) from the paddock bar tent, maybe even a roof or two.

You should probably watch the first race from the apron, especially if it’s a two-turn race. You’ll get the visceral thrill of seeing the horses run by you twice, and can even feel them thunder by through the ground. The viewing isn’t bad at all – there are big screens in the infield where you can watch the backstretch and the turns.

If you have a friend in the media – and if you’re reading this you do because you know me – see if he or she can take you up to the roof to watch a race, probably a turf race. The panorama will impress you. You can see the whole backyard. Even without binoculars you’ll see horses’ moves in a very different way. And it’s great to see the expanse of green in the background.

After you back a winner, and you probably will, because Saratoga beginner’s luck is almost as real as regular beginner’s luck, head for a drink standing at the paddock bar. I recommend the near end as you walk in, over to the right. It’s a free pour bar – the only one at Saratoga – and even if you’re a wine snob, the Chandon Rose won’t kill you. From the spot I described you can look over your shoulder as the horses as they walk out. Even if you don’t know what you’re looking at, you can always bet on the one with the longest tail.

Make sure you carve out some time – at least a race or two – to walk around the backyard for some Grade 1 people watching. It’s a different world out there. A mix of young people, families, and people have been coming for literally decades, sitting in the same spots.

And while you are there, make sure to guzzle some water out of the Big Red Spring. The Big Red Spring is one of the many actual springs you’ll find around Saratoga and legend has it that once you drink from it, you will definitely return to Saratoga. Plus, the water is healthy, medicinal even, and delicious.

OK, that last word is a lie. The water has a high sulfur content and spit-takes are not uncommon after a first sip. Some say it’s an acquired taste but I will give the last word to my friend and mentor Harvey Pack: “Just because it’s good for you doesn’t mean you have to like it.”

Closing weekend at Saratoga means Grade 1 racing for two-year-olds, races that typically have Grade 1 implications, so let’s take a look back at those, as well as a few of the other maidens we saw compete last weekend.

BASIN won like a good thing in the Hopeful, and based on his physical appearance, he should be better as the races get longer. He got a meaningful form boost on Saturday when THREE TECHNIQUE won impressively as well in the maiden ranks. The latter could continue to improve as well and both are ones to watch going forward.

In the paddock before the Hopeful GOZILLA looked best to my eyes, and he was the selection of jockey Ricardo Santana in the race, leading to his being a heavy favorite. He ran well for the first part of the race and I wonder if he just has distance limitations. SHOPLIFTED, the third Asmussen runner, actually passed him late. Shoplifted was having some issues with the sloppy track it looked like to me. He can probably be upgraded a bit moving forward as well.

Earlier on the card, GOUVERNEUR MORRIS looked like the goods for Todd Pletcher, reminiscent of a few years back when this barn sent out a parade of great-looking, heavily-bet juvenelies that would roll as easy as they pleased. This was just 5.5 furlongs and he’s got the look and the pedigree to stretch out.

Sunday’s feature was the G1 Adirondack andPERFECT ALIBI won it with aplomb, coming back after being headed in the stretch. My selection FRANK’S ROCKETTE was a perfect trip loser, and while that’s usually a bad thing, I still might give her preference going forward. I think she’s still got a ton of upside and the market will prefer the former I would think.

ALANDRA impressed in a maiden win earlier on the card. She is trained by Shug McGaughey, who rarely wins first out but that didn’t stop her. The ones who do win at first asking often have promising futures (see Code of Honor). She showed uncommon speed for a two-year-old from this barn and should keep getting better. It’s crazy early but a big price for the Kentucky Oaks might be an appealing wager already.

On the turf side of things, SPARKLING SKY’s nice win gave us more evidence that CRYSTALLE is really, really good. Sparkling Sky was third behind Crystalle first out, though Crystalle was DQ’s for interference. Crystalle came back to win the P.G. Johnson last week and has looked like a major player for the U.S. come Juvenile Fillies Turf time.

Peter Fornatale at Saratoga
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