On Monday night, as the Memorial Day weekend wound down, as cars snaked their way back into New York and revelers bid a wistful farewell to the holiday, New York racing could be seen tilting back in its rocking chair on its front porch, raising a glass, and taking a long, cool drink of the beverage of its choice.
After weeks of reports and investigations and dismissals and take-overs, New York racing on Monday was all about…racing. Premier racing. Memory-making, heart-stopping racing.
Little turmoil – aside from the kind brought on by an imminent Triple Crown attempt – was evident, and the 10,000+ who came out to celebrate Memorial Day seemed delightfully oblivious to the travails facing Thoroughbred racing in this state.
No matter what flavor of racing you like, you were likely to find it on Monday. If you were looking for prices, you found one when Even Got Quiet won the third race and paid $26.80.
You like stakes races? You got four of them, all graded.
You like tight finishes? You couldn’t have asked for more than the Grade 2 Sands Point, when Better Lucky prevailed by nose over Regalo Mia, who held on by a head for second over Zultanite. The win was trainer Tom Albertrani’s second consecutive one, having taken the sixth with Buffum.
You want fillies and mares? The Grade 1 Ogden Phipps pitted It’s Tricky against Awesome Maria, the latter going off the odds-on favorite. But as the wire loomed, it was Cash for Clunkers on the lead with the other two giving chase. Between them, It’s Tricky and Awesome Maria boast 11 graded stakes wins, and Awesome Maria was defending her win in the race last year, while Cash for Clunkers was making her first start in a graded stakes race. It was It’s Tricky who just got there, winning by three-quarters of a length.
You like runaway, crushing winners? Hello, Contested—in a race that wasn’t, so much. She won her fourth straight race; the four wins have come by a combined 22 lengths. The Baffert speedball never let another filly get within two lengths of her in the Grade 1 Acorn.
You like watching history? You like older horses? Following three straight memorable stakes races, the Met Mile had a lot to live up to in order to earn its top billing…and did it ever deliver. The contestants had won a combined 14 graded stakes races and the hearts of many racing fans, and suitably on Memorial Day, To Honor and Serve was sent off the favorite.
But, apparently, no one told Caleb’s Posse and Shackleford that To Honor and Serve was supposed to win on this day, and as Shackleford sizzled through early fractions on a hot and humid afternoon, Caleb’s Posse waited patiently at the back of the pack, until he didn’t, and once again, agonizingly, that late run just…barely…missed.
“It was the race of the year,” declared Dale Romans afterward, and it’s tough to argue with him.
You like safe racing? No accidents and no horses vanned off on this holiday card. You like good business? Attendance and handle were both up over last year’s Memorial Day card. On this day, at least for a little while, New York racing could breathe a little sigh of relief.
The respite won’t last: nominations from the governor await, and and there are still big problems to investigate and try to solve. But on Monday night, we might have looked at New York racing and forgiven it for relaxing a bit, then raising its hand and saying, “I’ll have another…”