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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Travers Recap

- It’s interesting to read the pre-race comments I posted the other day by Jerry Bailey and John Velasquez regarding their strategy for the Travers with their respective mounts Roman Ruler and Flower Alley. Bailey said “I'm not convinced Bellamy Road is dead fit, so I'm not going to compromise my chances and go after him too early.....But I respect him enough that I don't want to let him get away." Velasquez said: “If [Bellamy Road] is in front by five, I'm just going to leave him alone, and when Jerry comes to me, we'll both use our horse at the same time instead of me trying to get after him."

Well, things didn’t quite go that way. Roman Ruler was never able to get close enough to not let Bellamy Road get away, and Velasquez didn’t quite leave Bellamy Road alone. Not for long anyway.

"To me the real key decision in the race was around the three-quarter pole, when Johnny decided to turn up the pressure on Bellamy Road," Pletcher said. "When they threw up :47 2/5 (for the opening half), I said, 'Perfect.' At that point, I'm watching Bellamy Road and I'm watching Johnny's hands. I could see Johnny was sitting very confidently. I never really felt very anxious during the course of the race." [NY Daily News]
Velasquez explained, "I didn't want to be head-to-head with him early.... I wanted to go easy. But I saw he was the horse to beat, and so I thought, 'Let's go get him.” When they came to the top of the stretch, Flower Alley responded.
"Then I asked him and he took off.....And I still had a lot left. When I got to the quarter pole, I started looking around because I didn't want to get surprised. I had a lot of horse, but I wanted to make sure that I kept attention to my horse to see if the competition was coming." [NY Times]

Nah, there was none, other than a game Bellamy Road. "He kept fighting, fighting, fighting," [jockey Javier] Castellano said. "When that other horse passed him, he waited for a second and then he came right back. He was tired but he kept on running." [Albany Times-Union]
"I thought Bellamy Road was really something," Zito said. "He hasn't run in four months. I salute Flower Alley, but I also salute Bellamy Road. Four months coming off the bench, and he gives us this. What a future he's got." [NY Times]
That future is expected to include the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct 1, and the BC Classic on the 9th. Flower Alley should be in those races too. He’s obviously a nice, improving colt, but he didn’t do anything in the Travers to make me think he’s much more than that. After Bellamy Road went 1:10.92 to three quarters with a third quarter of :23.49, he tired as one might imagine a horse coming off that kind of layoff would, taking :25.46 to get to the mile mark. Flower Alley took the money with a driving last quarter of :26.38. These are not the kind of closing numbers that are going to have the older horses quaking in fear. It’s hoped that Bellamy Road will show marked improvement, and if all goes well, the BC Classic will be the optimal third race in the cycle. Flower Alley has worked hard to get his two Saratoga stakes wins, and I don’t know how much, if any ability to move forward he has. Hopefully, we’ll get to find out.

I don’t think this will go down in the annals of great renewals of the Travers. Despite the slow fractions at the end, the field was well strung out at the end, and none of the plodding closers was able to gain any ground. Some will blame that on the track being speed favoring, but the result is more than consistent with each of the also-rans' past histories of failure. Andromeda’s Hero in fact went backwards in the stretch after being closer to the pace with blinkers on. (His 2 yo full brother Superfly, also trained by Zito, ran 2nd in the 6th.)

- Roman Ruler was the slight favorite. It seemed that he was the choice of all the party-boy frat types at the track. A severely drunken group wearing “Run for the Tables” shirts, meaning they’d likely been downing Buds long before most of us dragged ourselves out of bed, started a “Roman Ruler” singsong chant near the paddock, prompting a member of the horse’s entourage to motion them to chill. Well, I guess that was one hard stare I saw during the day. Baffert conceded that the distance seemed beyond his scope. Dick Powell at Brisnet observed that he showed up today with fiberglass patches underneath his front heels. This is usually a sign of running down on his ankles and not what we were looking for.

- Flower Alley completed a $62.50 Pick Four, and I kept to my plan as detailed here the other day, and nailed it cold. Well, almost cold. I imagined how upset I would be if Don’t Get Mad beat me, so I threw a buck on the combo with him, as well as with Chekhov and Andromeda’s Hero, two others I would have been pissed to lose to if the race fell apart. I guess the price was OK...imagine what it would have been had Henny Hughes won the Hopeful. When they came on the track for that one, I figured I was going down with First Samurai. Henny Hughes looked like an absolutely magnificent athlete, his muscles glistening in the sun, while First Samurai looked a bit hot, with that white washy stuff running down his hind legs. But once Bailey but First Samurai on the lead at the top of the stretch, I felt I was home free, and that Henny would never catch him. The Darley boys who spent $4.2 million on the latter must be disappointed, but he certainly didn’t disgrace himself and will be heard from again I’m sure. First Samurai lugged in through the stretch as he did in his previous race here, showing he still has more to learn.
"He still has a lot of green about him," [owner Bruce] Lunsford said. "Jerry said he still has a little of that kind of bull about him. He hasn't quite gotten it together yet, but he'll get there. If anybody can fix this mystery, it's Frankie. Because I'm hoping he's going to be a super horse." [Louisville Courier-Journal]
His time of 1:23.25 was only around 7 tenths slower of that of Lost in the Fog.

Leroidesanimaux was awesome in winning the Fourstardave in track record time with Velasquez replacing regular rider Jon Court. Tom Durkin was not fooled for a second by the posting of a 26 second first quarter, commenting that it seemed “hard to believe.” In fact, he zipped along to a 47.31 half, 1:10.77 three quarters, and held off his pursuers with closing splits of :23.07 and 6.08. This is one magnificent turf horse, and another superstar for Bobby Frankel.

Lost in the Fog probably didn’t satisfy the skeptics by beating a hopelessly overmatched field in the King’s Bishop, getting to 6 furlongs in 1:09.09, and being kept busy to the wire in a final furlong of :13.47. There was a claim of foul against the winner by Calvin Borel, for an incident he didn’t cause coming out of the gate. Can you imagine all the Pick Fours out the window if he had been taken down, ha! I think Russell Baze would have had to punch out one of the other horses for him to be disqualified in this situation.
"Actually, my colt was hit on both sides coming out of the gate," ... Baze, said. "I knew (the objection) wasn't going to change. When I phoned the stewards, they said, 'Forget it and hang up.' "
"Had he not been bumped, he might have done even better than that," Baze said. [Albany Times-Union]
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