Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Dubai Sky in the paddock before the first race at #Saratoga on Saturday. Was really looking forward to seeing what Twirling Candy's little brother would do in his debut.The Sanford field entering the stretch. Mr. Z is caught in traffic ...Be Bullish heading back to the barn after finishing second in the fifth at #Saratoga on Saturday. Such a fan of this game 9YO gelding, who's on the verge of reaching $1 million in earnings.Waiting for the bell.Macho's barn. #BC13Beholder. #BC13 #breederscup #DistaffWise Dan finds the Santa Anita grass to his liking. #BC13 #americasbestracing

Dettori’s Spa Day

Frankie Dettori’s luggage didn’t make it to Saratoga on Friday, but he eventually did, getting to the track in time to leg up on Tiz Sardonic Joe in race seven after missing his first two rides on the card. In borrowed tack (his pants were lent by Rajiv Maragh, his crop by Julien Leparoux), Dettori rode Tiz Sardonic Joe to second (for purse money only after the horse lost a shoe in the post parade), finishing half a length behind Joes Blazing Aaron, the horse’s older half-brother out of the mare Distorted Blaze. If the Joe Bro exacta didn’t pay off for fans, Aventure Love did in race eight, giving Dettori his first ever career win at Saratoga. He followed up with his second win in race 10 aboard Jet Majesty, both for Wesley Ward, the only trainer to double on opening day. “Hopefully my tack will arrive tomorrow,” Dettori said after the eighth, “otherwise I got to take this lucky one back with me.”

Summer Begins

Saratoga opens today! Hooray! Don’t forget your mortality as you’re joining Tom Durkin in his final, traditional opening call, “And they’re off at Saratoga!” Because, “The Spa may be timeless, but we aren’t.” (I kid, Joe. That’s so true.)

John Pricci keeps up the cheer and mourns the lost: “I have no idea what opening day will be like this time; I am haunted by history.”

Today’s Schuylerville Stakes drew five 2-year-old fillies, which has Bill Finley pondering how to fix the broken juvenile racing calendar. “One solution is to simply give up,” he writes. “Do away with the earlier stakes, save money and replace with them with a couple of allowance races.” Maybe, but it sure seems like if there’s anything trainers want to do less than start 2-year-olds in early season stakes, it’s start them in allowance races, ever. (See: 1, 2.)

International superstar jockey Frankie Dettori makes his Saratoga debut this weekend, but he’ll miss his first couple of rides today due to travel troubles, tweets David Grening. He’ll have about 12 chances for a flying dismount in the winner’s circle before the end of Sunday’s card.

Last Word (This Year)

NYRA’s Martin Panza on why he’s not having conversations about changing the Triple Crown schedule by moving the Belmont Stakes into July:

“Right now if you look at the Triple Crown, a month or three weeks before the Derby is when the preps end and there’s really not another big 3 year-old race until a month after the Belmont.

“I’m not sure the rest of the tracks in America would be willing to give us a 4-month break with no big 3-year-old races and that’s what you would be asking for. I just don’t see how that could happen.

“It’s a much more complex situation than just those three races …

“And anything I do at Belmont, I’m also very conscious of not wanting to affect Saratoga. I’m trying to complement Saratoga, not hurt Saratoga.”

Fantastic Fugue

The Prince of Wales’s Stakes ended in a new course record time of 2:01.90 and a reversal of the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf finish when The Fugue kicked clear to win by two lengths over Magician. “She’s proved what she can do to everybody,” said rider William Buick of the 5-year-old mare. “When she gets an uncomplicated run, she’s lethal.” She certainly was: Watch the replay.

Heavily favored Arc winner Trêve finished third. Jockey Frankie Dettori said the filly didn’t feel right from the start: “I was never in a comfort zone.” Trainer Criquette Head-Maarek, observing that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, called the beat “a French defeat,” and said, “Maybe we’ll find something wrong. We have lost the battle, not the war.”

7/11/14 Update: She broke a record, finished sixth next time out, and now The Fugue has been retired due to injury. “I’ll never forget her,” says Buick.

The Calendar

Bob Ehalt on tinkering with the Triple Crown schedule:

Moving the Belmont Stakes to July will not help NYRA. If anything it will turn June into a dead spot on the NYRA calendar and force it to conduct its biggest race of the year during a period of time most people in the New York-area associate with beaches and vacations.

Yes. Also — and this is something I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere — how would running the Belmont Stakes and its traditional undercard races on the first weekend in July affect Saratoga stakes, especially the Travers? Move the Belmont, and the glamour division loses its annual 11-week freshening.

– – – – – 

I’m going to keep this short, because otherwise I’ll get all gushy and emotional — today marks the 10th anniversary of Railbird. I couldn’t have imagined the adventures and friendships that would emerge from that first impulse a decade ago to start blogging about horse racing, and I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone who’s visited or followed this site since, or to everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting or working with because of it. Thank you.

Dans La Famille

Ryan Goldberg profiles the remarkable Criquette Head-Maarek:

… as far back as the age of 5, Head-Maarek said, she told her father she wanted to be a trainer. “One day he said to me, ‘You marry a trainer, but you won’t be a trainer because there are no women trainers,”’ she recalled.

But in 1978, after four years as her father’s assistant, Head-Maarek was granted a training license by the French racing authorities, the first for a woman. Her father gave her 35 of his own horses, and success quickly followed. Owners such as Prince Khalid bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the late emir of Dubai, sent her horses. She remains the only woman to train an Arc winner.

(This part of her story reminds me a bit of trainer Linda Rice:

A proud “my father’s daughter,” she’s the youngest of trainer Clyde Rice’s four children and the only girl. She began helping at her dad’s stable in grammar school. She walked horses, then exercised them. At 17, as they drove back from a Keeneland horse sale, a major accident blocked their route for hours.

That’s when Rice revealed her career path. She turned to her dad and confessed, “I want to be a trainer, just like you.”

Clyde Rice measured his response before speaking it. He told her, “That career would be a lot easier if you were one of my sons.”

Rice won the Easy Goer Stakes with Kid Cruz, eighth in the Preakness Stakes and a former $50K claimer, on Belmont Stakes day.)

More Head-Maarek in the Guardian: “We’ll take my Rolls-Royce …


Dick Powell:

No matter what the reason for California Chrome coming up empty when it counted, I am convinced that had the Belmont been run a week earlier, two weeks after the Preakness instead of three, he would have won since he was full of energy then. I felt the same way with Funny Cide and Smarty Jones who also looked great the week before but came up short on the big day.

Running the Belmont two weeks after the Preakness would definitely not be traditional: One of the most striking things in Natalie Voss’ report on the race schedules of the 11 Triple Crown winners is that the Belmont is consistently three to four weeks after the Preakness. Citation won a race between the two, but his Triple Crown season stretched 42 days. Assault, the only horse to win the Triple Crown in 28 days, had three weeks between the two races.

Related: Matt Hegarty writes about the proposal to increase the time between Triple Crown races to four weeks. “Plainly stated,” he asks, “is it worth it for the racing industry to risk the significance of the one event that the entire sporting world rallies around when there is no evidence that the public is clamoring for change?” Of course not! What makes me hopeful that this scheme will fizzle for another year is that NYRA just set a record, handling more than $150 million on their new mega-Belmont Stakes day.

← Before After →