My Travers weekend started like this.
Friday morning, out on the Oklahoma to meet an early interview, and I got blessed with one of Saratoga’s perfect mornings.
For the first time since 2000, I wasn’t at Saratoga to see the sun rise on Travers morning; I missed the day’s first race, the annual sprint for a picnic table, but by the time I arrived mid-morning, I saw no signs that an impending hurricane was dampening the spirits of those in attendance. The backyard was full, enthusiasm high. Official attendance was 43,050, down just a bit from last year.
Sparkling maiden wins early in the card whet appetites for the later stakes races. John Kimmel’s Fire On Ice won his first start by 10 ¾ lengths, defeating the Repole-owned, Pletcher-trained favorite, Our Entourage; three races later, Kiaran McLaughlin’s Miss Netta won by nearly three and paid $17.00.
Todd Pletcher got his first win of the day when Hilda’s Passion crushed a field of accomplished fillies in the Ballerina, winning by 9 ¼ and leading at every step; unfortunately, she came out of the race injured and is done for the year.
A race later, it looked as though Pletcher would get back to the winner’s circle and Uncle Mo would make the comeback of the year to win the Grade 1 King’s Bishop off a nearly 5-month layoff; Caleb’s Posse ruined that party when he surged to the wire to beat the impressive-in-defeat Uncle Mo by a nose.
(One not-so-disappointing note: 15 minutes before the race, Papa Backstretch called and asked me to bet $10 to win on Dominus for him. He called back eight minutes later. “Did you make that bet?” I did. “Can you cancel it?” I can. “Can you bet me $10 to win on Caleb’s Posse?” You betcha, Dad.)
Within hours owner Mike Repole was talking retirement for Uncle Mo…or maybe he wasn’t. Pletcher offered more cautious words, and on Sunday morning at his barn was talking about a possible start in the Breeders’ Cup for the one-time Derby favorite.
The Pletcher show continued in the Travers, when that other Repole horse, Stay Thirsty (remember that guy?) held off Rattlesnake Bridge to win the 143rd Travers Stakes. (For the record, Papa Backstretch had Rattlesnake Bridge. But even he couldn’t run down a Pletcher-Repole trainee two races in a row.)
By 7 pm Saturday night, the paddock statue wore Repole colors…
and it’s a good thing that that paint is waterproof, because by the wee hours of Sunday, the rain had come. Irene arrived, pelting Saratoga. While less severe than expected, the storm nonetheless wrought some scary damage at the Old Spa:
But by Monday morning, perfection reigned at Saratoga. Cool, crisp, clear…and clearly a credit to those who had worked to get the track ready for racing…
…though the work wasn’t quite done…
The dogs were up on the dirt, and one enterprising exercise rider eschewed riding boots for more practical footwear.
I should be writing this from Brooklyn, but despite some creative attempts at navigation and night-long website monitoring Sunday into Monday, I couldn’t find a way to get there from here. My regular routes – Thruway, Taconic, Saw Mill, Hutch – were all closed at one point or another, and so I sat at the Spa for one more day.
I hope that those in Irene’s path didn’t suffer too much damage; I am grateful that the worst effect on me was some travel stress, much mitigated by the incredibly understanding folks at the school where I work.
Six racing days left. Wherever you are, enjoy them while you can.
As always, click on photos to enlarge them. If you’d like to re-post any, please just ask…I like to know where they’re going!