Commentary

Off and running at Saratoga

Trainer Todd Pletcher is showing a strong hand for this Saratoga meet

Updated: July 31, 2013, 12:21 PM ET
By Paul Moran | Special to ESPN.com

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- What we've seen so far at Saratoga.

An embarrassment of riches

Some promising young horses have shown up at the starting gate, none more so than Corfu, who was not exactly a secret. When betting opened for the second race of July 25, Corfu was 1-9. He was 1-2 when the latch was sprung, took pressure at every stride and held off a colt named Pure Sensation. This one worked a quarter-mile at a 2-year-old sale in a shade over 20 seconds, inspiring the Coolmore gang to write a check for $675,000. He's by Malibu Moon from a Forest Wildcat mare named Fashion Cat, who is a half-sister to Peace Rules. Corfu is trained by (who else?) Todd Pletcher and so will likely reappear in the fast lane late in the meeting.

Even the oldest of Saratoga hands don't recall a trainer sending out two first-time starters on the same day who are overwhelming favorites but on the afternoon he unveiled Corfu, Pletcher also took the wraps off Our Amazing Rose on behalf of Mike Repole, who bought the filly by Yes It's True after she worked a furlong in a shade over nine seconds at the same sale. She opened at 1-5, closed at 2-5 and made the price look square, winning as she pleased. Stay tuned. This one will have much to say and will probably have the opportunity before leaving town.

"I suppose the Spinaway would be a good possibility," Pletcher said when asked what Our Amazing Rose would appear next. There is a strong possibility that she will be part of an entry, since Pletcher also trains Stopchargingmaria, a maiden winner here on opening day in Repole's colors. She was purchased from the same sale in Ocala, Fla. It is impossible to be more loaded with fast 2-year-olds than Pletcher.

Throw in Verrazano, who suggested strongly in the Haskell that he may just be the year's best 3-year-old after all, and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, now bound for the Travers after winning the Jim Dandy, and you've got the makings of a really good summer.

Palace Malice, incidentally, is the first since Conquistador Cielo, in 1982, to win the Belmont and Jim Dandy. Should he win the Travers. He would be the first to sweep the three races since Arts and Letters, in 1969.

Sheppard: 47 and counting

One of the most remarkable streaks at the Spa is also one of the least heralded. A steeplechaser named Martini Brother won the meeting's first jump race, giving trainer Jonathan Sheppard at least one win here at every meeting since 1969.

Mott: 60 and he's counting, too …

Bill Mott kept the tradition of winning at least one race here on his birthday. On Monday -- his 60th -- it took most of the day before the last of five Mott-trained entries, Revenue, got the job done, winning the ninth on a 10-race card -- the seventh straight year, and 15th of the past 19, that Mott has saddled a winner on his birthday.

The cocktail is king

The strength of happy hour was illustrated in a decision by the New York Racing Association, under pressure from the local restaurant and bar owners, to drop plans for a twilight card on July 26. Though popular, the late post time has in recent years resulted in declines in receipts throughout the city, particularly entertainment beverage discounts continued after the last race. With more than 80 such establishments in and around the city, cocktail-hour competition is quite keen and more from the racetrack operator, which captures the crown until about 6 p.m., was unwelcome.

Next in succession …

First, it was Manny Ycaza, then Angel Cordero, who was followed by Jerry Bailey. Now, John Velazquez is the King of Saratoga jockeys. He rode his 694th winner here on Saturday to become the all-time leading rider at the Spa. Since Velazquez is not close to finished at age 41, his eventual total may never be surpassed. Cordero rode here when the meeting was just 24 days, Bailey was a beneficiary of early expansion, but at 40 days, this meeting is as long as anyone expects it to be. Velazquez could add a couple of hundred winners to the total before he's finished.

Oh, my …

Announcer Tom Durkin, no shrinking sartorial violet, established a new personal standard on July 26, when he showed up in bubble gum-pink trousers, cream-colored blazer, a lime-green shirt and tie, white belt and yellow Gucci loafers. Somehow, Durkin avoided being pulled over by police while riding to the track on his yellow Vespa scooter, which matched the shoes.

Many are reevaluating their positions on the seersucker and bow ties.

• Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award among several other industry honors. He also has been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby.
• You can email him at pmoran1686@aol.com

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