July 30, 2013
Given different circumstances we might be celebrating big-time at Oaklawn these days. Instead three different races, which would have made for a big weekend here in Hot Springs, were turned into mere runner-up efforts and we were victims of the usual suspects in New York, named Pletcher and McGaughey.
Todd Pletcher and “Shug” McGaughey were seen as young guys in these parts many years ago. My how circumstances have changed. Both are living Hall of Fame careers and primarily those are away from Hot Springs and Oaklawn Park. But, this weekend they improved on their records at the direct expense of horses which have made some of their reputations at Oaklawn.
Likely the most important was Saturday’s Jim Dandy at Saratoga where Rebel winner Will Take Charge uncorked his good stretch run to finish a fast-closing second to the favored Palace Malice. From the Pletcher barn, Palace Malice was 6-5 to win off his Belmont score and might be favored for the Travers off his local win. He has a pretty good stablemate named Verrazano, who won the Haskell impressively on Sunday, and that one could be the favorite. Pletcher runs them both and will run both, even though he normally doesn’t like to run two horses for the same purse if he can avoid it. The Travers is important enough to the records of the horses and to the owners, that he’ll have both in there.
But, Wayne Lukas has been both of them lose, so he’s not intimidated by them as he sends Will Take Charge into battle. Will Take Charge has been considerably more inconsistent that his dam, Take Charge Lady, who lost to Azeri in arguably the finest race ever contested at Oaklawn, the 2003 Apple Blossom Handicap. But Will Take Charge employed a startling stretch run to capture the Rebel from stablemate Oxbow, who eventually won the Preakness. Will Take Charge was really running strong late in the Jim Dandy and should be a late factor in the Travers, especially if the Pletcher entry can be challenged early. There’s always a question as to who will show up for that race and what running styles to they employ. But with a break, Lukas may get a chance to beat his former student, Pletcher, and others in the Travers.
Did you ever notice how our stars differ in appearance and style than the rockers who get most of the press attention these days. Suits, ties and articulation are so evident in the primary players in racing, but don’t seem to be required in many other forms of entertainment.
The second big loss of the weekend for Oaklawn-raced horses came in Sunday’s featured Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga. In this one it was a late charge by another of Pletcher’s runners, Forty Tales, which allowed her to corral leading Oaklawn trainer and jockey, Steve Asmussen and Ricardo Santana, aboard Mico Margarita, to get the win. Mico Margarita had better than 3 ½ lengths on Forty Tales as they passed the furlong marker, but jockey Joel Rosario, who is enjoying a career year, had the Pletcher charge rolling and she zoomed by in the closing strides. It’s not like Asmussen hasn’t won big races and at Saratoga before this. But for Santana, it would have been a first. That will have to wait for another day.
The other painful loss suffered by the Oaklawn-raced contingent at Saratoga was in the ninth race on Sunday’s card, just before the Amsterdam Stakes. Trainers Ron Moquett and Randy Morse, regulars at Oaklawn, sent out Tiz Adonis and Kid Sidney in a non-winners other than allowance race. Tiz Adonis and Kid Sidney may have hurt one another by being in the way, but it was Rosario and the McGaughey-trained Norumbega who stormed to the win. With all the contact that ensued in the race, it was a bit surprising there wasn’t even an inquiry. Certainly the chart of the race leaves enough room for suggesting an inquiry could have been entertained. In my belief Kid Sidney got the worst of the running and had to settle for third, beaten a length-and-a-quarter and a nose for all the money.
Both of the Oaklawn horses finished in front of Pletcher’s favored Midnight Taboo, but that was little solace for their eager owners and trainers.
Another disappointing loss for the week actually came in Thursday’s featured Quick Call Stakes, when trainer Randy Morse saddled No Distinction as the second choice in the six furlongs event. It was his first time on turf, but none in the field had special distinction as a turf specialist No Distinction had the lead in the upper stretch, but surrendered it to the Al Stall, Jr.,-trained Central Banker in the stretch and had to settle for second. The Stall runner had won on the Saratoga turf last summer, but not in spectacular time. There were no Pletcher or McGaughey trainees in the field, however the winner was handled by Rosario, who has been a real thorn in the sides of many this year.
Clearly this was a tougher week than many for Oaklawn-raced horses, but life is much tougher in the big leagues and week’s like this come around more often. It has been a great time for Pletcher and McGaughey, guys who cut their eye teeth in Hot Springs, but there are few of us around to remember those days. It was equally tough to watch Oaklawn owner, Charles Cella’s Arborville, win and be disqualified in the Friday feature at Ellis Park. Arborville is not the star of the barn as long as Oaklawn Handicap winner Cyber Secret is still around, but this youngster has developed into a nice, useful turf runner for Cella, who has already owned one Eclipse Award winning turf horse in Northern Spur.
There are many better days ahead for the Oaklawn corps out racing now. It’s time to turn the page and watch for the next onslaught of races. The adage in racing is that when you run second, you haven’t lost that condition for future races. If that’s the case, we have some big days ahead. Hope always exists in the sport of thoroughbred racing.