Thursday, July 23, 2015

Saratoga Highlights 2014 (Top Ten: #'s 6 - 10, & a Human!)

In the last 2 posts we looked at Highlight #'s:
1, V.E. Day, winning the Travers
2, Itsmyluckyday, winning the Woodward

3, Moreno, winning the Whitney
4, Wise Dan, winning the Bernard Baruch
5, Palace, winning the Forego

On to #'s 6 to 10--and that Human.

Highlight # 6
The Big Beast, winning the King's Bishop

Yes, very big, and his previous win at Saratoga a month earlier was beastly. So trainer Tony Dutrow decided to promote his 3 year old potential star from that 6 furlong allowance race to this Grade 1 at an eighth of a mile longer. He did not disappoint.
(click any photo to enlarge)
The Beast Gaining
Adam Coglianese

The Beast's Neck
at the Finish
Lauren King c/o AC
Kept relaxed behind front running Fast Anna and Wildcat Red, the Big Beast got his cue from Javiar Castellano into the stretch. By the final pole, it was clear that The Big Beast had the momentum. At the finish, he had pulled a lengthening neck ahead, leaving all the others behind, including odds-favorite Coup de Grace and Noble Moon.

Highlight # 7
Wicked Strong, winning the Jim Dandy

Wicked Strong
Chased by Tonalist
Bob Mayberger
Six weeks earlier, he finished 4th in the mile and a half Belmont Stakes. Now, at Saratoga, in the Jim Dandy at 3 furlongs shorter, Wicked Strong faced Belmont winner Tonalist once again, as well as Commanding Curve (2nd in the Derby), Kid Cruz (1st in the Dwyer), and several other talented 3 year olds.

Wicked Strong
Pulling Away
Adam Coglianese

Unlike in the Belmont where he paced several lengths behind, this time Wicked Strong was kept close to the front runner by rider Rajiv Maragh. Equipped with blinkers for the first time, he took the lead from Legend at the turn and headed home. Tonalist, moving into 2nd, gave chase. But the Jimmy Jerkens trainee never gave way and was a powerful 2 and 1/2 lengths ahead at the wire.

Highlight # 8
Stopchargingmaria, winning the Alabama

Being Chased
Chelsea Durand c/o AC
She was 2nd best as a 2 year old the year before at Saratoga in the Grade 1 Spinaway. But she began the 2014 meet with a 5 length romp in the Coaching Club Oaks. She returned 4 weeks later for the Spa's premier race for 3 year old fillies run at a long 1 and 1/4 miles.

1st at the Finish
Lauren King c/o AC

Off as the even-odds favorite, the Todd Pletcher trained Stopchargingmaria was kept close to pacesetting Size by rider Johnny V. By the stretch she had taken the lead and the front runner was moving backward. But several others were giving chase, including a steadily closing Joint Return, followed by Miss Besilu and Fortune Pearl. At the finish line, she had held on by half a length, and Owner Mike Repole was back in the winner's circle with his wife Maria for who the filly was named.

Highlight # 9
Close Hatches, winning the Personal Ensign
Close Hatches
Wiring the Field
Adam Coglianese

It was a field full of winners. Stakes winners: Antipathy (Shuvee), Majestic River (Molly Pitcher), Fiftyshadesofhay (Ruffian), Belle Gallantey (Delaware Handicap), Princess of Sylmar (Kentucky Oaks, Alabama, etc.)--and Close Hatches. Let's just say the 4 year old filly was on her way to 4 in a row, including 3 Grade 1's.

Close Hatches
Finishing the Romp
Lauren King c/o AC
Despite the talented challengers, the fact is that none of them could challenge her at all on this day. Out in front at the start of the 1 and 1/8 mile Grade 1 for 3 and up fillies and mares, the Bill Mott trained Wonder Woman under Jockey Joel Rosario just destroyed the rest of them in a performance to behold. She stayed in front through the distance, and reached the finish line 5 lengths before anyone else.

Highlight # 10
Condo Commando, winning the Spinaway
Condo Commando
Loving the Splash
Chelsea Durand c/o AC

The Rudy Rodriguez trained filly won her 1st race--a 5 and 1/2 furlong sprint for 2 year olds a month earlier at Saratoga--by 12 lengths! Now, in the 2nd race of her career, the Grade 1 for juvenile fillies over 7/8ths of a mile, she made it look even easier.

A 'Splash-tastic'
13 Length Win!
Adam Coglianese
After a rough start out of the gate, jockey Joe Bravo took Condo Commando to the lead and well...For most of the 1 minute and 24 seconds and change, she put on a veritable solo performance. The talented Angela Renee, By the Moon, Darling Sky, and others, simply tried to finish in the same zip code.

As Tom Durkin roared in his very last call of his career at Saratoga, "Splash-tastic!"

Highlight Un-Numerable
Tom Durkin's
Last Day
Adam Coglianese
Tom Durkin, Winning at Saratoga for 25 Years

As legendary as Saratoga Race Course itself.
Tom Durkin, NYRA announcer since 1990, retired from the booth on August 31 last year, ending his storied career with another storied call in the Spinaway Stakes. (See above.)

Tom Durkin
Adam Coglianese
If the winner of that race was "splash-tastic," then Durkin has been "Fan-tastic" for all his fans who have loved his being so "Call-tastic" for so brilliantly calling some 80,000+ races over the years.

Yes, race fans--and the millions more not-so-fans who nevertheless tuned in to the classic races each year--will sorely miss that "mellifluous baritone voice and his vivid imagination" (as the New York Times' Joe Drape put it). But for those of us who visit Saratoga during the coming meet (and for some of us that's almost daily), there will be The Tom Durkin Replay Center at the race course where some of Durkin's classic calls can be heard while watching videos of the races.
Bob Mayberger
Tom Durkin
The Voice
Bob Mayberger

It has really been a treat--no, a feast!--to listen to Tom Durkin all these years. Even if I had heard The Voice just once, calling Rachel Alexandra's victory in the 2009 Woodward, that would have been enough for a lifetime.

Wishing you all the best of the best Mr. Durkin--which is exactly what you gave us.

So that's Saratoga Highlights 2014.
Ready for the meet? Opening Day tomorrow, Friday July 24.
Hoped this helped get you psyched for a great 40 days worth of the best.

Thanks again to Bob Mayberger and Adam Coglianese (as well as Lauren King and Chelsea Durand) for all those great photos they provided.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Saratoga Highlights 2014 (Top Ten: #'s 2 - 5)

In the last post we looked at Highlight #1, V.E. Day, winning the Travers.
Let move on.

Highlight # 2
Itsmyluckyday, winning the Woodward

The Woodward, year after year one of America's premiere races--and my favorite--for 3 year olds and up, has a storied history. Some of the greatest races won by some of the greatest champions. Havre de Grace and Rachel Alexandra and Curlin and Lawyer Ron. And before them, there was Ghostzapper, Mineshaft, Lemon Drop Kid, Cigar, and Holy Bull among others.(See e.g., previous posts on the Woodward in 2011, in 2012, and in 2013.)

Last year's Woodward was a rematch between 4 year olds Moreno and Itsmyluckyday. Moreno had scored a few weeks earlier in the Whitney (see Highlight #3 below), but this time Itsmyluckyday was triumphant after a gruelling stretch run.
(click to enlarge any photo)
Itsmyluckyday(center) pressing Moreno
Bob Mayberger
Under rider Paco Lopez, Itsmyluckyday pressed Moreno throughout the race, and was tailed himself variously by Long River, Romanish, and Prayer for Relief. Then, just when it seemed the front runner might pull away, Itsmyluckyday came from 4 lengths behind, drew even, and ultimately won the duel by half a length.
Itsmyluckyday by Half a Length at the Line
Adam Coglianese
It was a huge victory for trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr. who had not won at Saratoga in eight years, and for his prize colt who had just recently returned after a year out with a pelvic fracture.

Highlight # 3
Moreno, winning the Whitney

As a 3 year old, he led the field in the 2013 Travers until he was nipped at the finish by a hard charging (and eventual 3 Year Old Champ) Will Take Charge. (See Will Take Charge, Winning the Travers.) But he returned to the Spa in 2014 to defeat all comers in the even richer Whitney Stakes. (Last year, the purse for the Whitney was a million and a half.; the Travers was a million in 2013.)
Moreno Running His Race Up Front
Adam Coglianese
With Junior Alvarado aboard, Moreno proved to be the best of a talent packed field that again included Will Take Charge, as well as Palace Malice, Prayer for Relief, Last Gunfighter, Romansh, Departing and Golden Ticket.
Moreno Fends off Itsmyluckyday
Bob Mayberger
In accord with trainer Eric Guillot's plans, Moreno was allowed to run his race--up front and fast--and this time, at a furlong shorter than the Travers, he was able to fend off a different hard charging challenger, Itsmyluckyday, by more than a length. (As we discussed above in Highlight #2, the Moreno-Itsmyluckyday rivalry continued in the Woodward.)

Highlight # 4
Wise Dan, winning the Bernard Baruch

On the last weekend of the meet, the 7 year old Champ, two time Horse of the Year Wise Dan, returned to Saratoga again triumphant. In his previous visits, he won the Fourstardave in 2 consecutive years. But this time, it was just a few short months since undergoing colic surgery.
Wise Dan Takes the Lead
Bob Mayberger
Trainer Charlie LoPresti, owner Morton Fink, and rider Johnny Velazquez were all understandably emotional at the extraordinary courage and resiliency of their noble athlete. The fans were too.
Wise Dan Challenged by Optimizer
Bob Mayberger
Apprehension filled the crowd when Wise Dan reared in the gate and nearly unseated Johnny V. But they roared with delight when the champ took the lead from Five Iron and Sayaad in the stretch. And the decibels rose even higher when Optimizer put their favorite to the test.
The Champ Would Not Be Denied
Adam Coglianese
Wise Dan  would just not give. He held on to win by a nose. And he did so in just a few short seconds shy of the turf course record for the mile and 1/16 set in 1991.

Highlight # 5
Palace, winning the Forego

On that same amazing Woodward Day of Labor Day weekend, fans were treated to another triumphant return, This time it was New York bred 5 year old Palace, who had won the Vanderbilt a month earlier in the meet. This $20,000 claim by trainer Linda Rice has turned out to be one of the most brilliant adoptions in recent horseracing history. With the Forego, Palace had earned over a million and a quarter since he was claimed.
Takes the Lead
Bob Mayberger

Though he had already proven he was a top quality sprinter in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt, there was some doubt how he would handle the extra 1/8 of a mile in the 7 furlong Forego. At the top of the stretch, he passed Weekend Hideaway and Zee Bros for the lead. But Big Business, Vijack, and Capo Bastone were making their move from the rear.
 Palace by 3 and 1/2
at the Finish
Adam Coglianese
Palace apparently didn't mind the extra distance one bit. The closers couldn't catch him. Not even close. With Cornelio Velasquez at the reigns, he extended his half length lead at the top of the stretch to 3 and 1/2 at the finish line.

In the next post, Highlights 6 - 10, and a human!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Saratoga Highlights 2014 (Top Ten: #1)

The summer wind
came blowin' in
from across the sea
--Sinatra (Johnny Mercer, Henry Mayer, Hans Bradtke), SUMMER WIND
(link: Summer Wind)

Yes, the summer wind has finally arrived. Warm with the chance of pop up thunderstorms. And Saratoga's 40 days starts this week.
To get mentally, emotionally, and psychologically ready for the best races, horses, jockeys, fans.... (you know the rest), here's New York Court Watcher's annual look at highlights from the year before.
(click any photo to enlarge)
They're off in the 2014 Travers
Adam Coglianese
So with the help of some spectacular photography care of Bob Mayberger and Adam Coglianese--veritable feasts for the heart and soul--here are my humble selections for last year's Top Ten. (#1 was hinted above.)

Highlight # 1
V.E. Day, winning the Travers

It was a full field of highly talented 3 year olds: Bayern (1st in the Haskell), Commanding Curve (2nd in the Kentucky Derby), Kid Cruz (1st in the Dwyer), Mr. Speaker (1st in the Belmont Derby), Tonalist (1st in the Belmont Stakes), Wicked Strong (1st in the Jim Dandy), and a few other previous winners--including V.E. Day, who had won his third in a row 4 weeks earlier at Saratoga in a come from behind stretch run in the Curlin Stakes.

V.E. Day made it 4 in a row with the Travers.
(click to enlarge any photo)
Another Stretch Run for V.E. Day
Bob Mayberger
early on, it was Bayern in front with Tonalist and Wicked Strong in tow. V.E. Day was near the back of the pack in 6th or 7th. At the turn, Bayern fizzled out, Wicked Strong moved into first with Tonalist on his tail.
But just as it looked like Jim Dandy winner Wicked Strong was going to take it, Javier Castellano pulled V.E. Day to the outside and he picked up momentum. By the final pole, V.E. Day had passed Tonalist, he was still gaining, and everyone knew it would be close.
V.E. Day Surging
Adam Coglianese
Then, right at the finish line, V.E. Day got his nose in front of Wicked Strong for a thrilling end to the Midsummer's Derby.

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens might have felt a bit bad for his stand out Wicked Strong. But not too bad since V.E. Day, the 19-1 longshot winner, was also part of his barn. 
19-1 V.E. Day Noses Out
Stablemate Wicked Strong
Bob Mayberger
In the next post, we'll move on to the next several highlights.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Saratoga Highlights, the 2014 Meet

Saratoga Highlights--Summer 2014 

Now in Preparation!!!
[actuallyTop Ten #1 now posted!]

A Few Days Away From This Year's Meet.
A perfect time to look back at the best of last year to help get psyched--yes I know, we're already psyched!

2014 MEET
And Bob Mayberger and Adam Coglianese have already provided their magnificent photos!!!

In the meantime, it's always a good time to review years past. So...

Click here to review the 2013 Highlights

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Supremely Liberal? (Part 2--A Year for Democrats)

We already saw that this was a good year at the Court for liberals. (See Part 1.) On issues with clear liberal versus conservative divides--e.g., law & order versus rights of the accused, worker rights versus business, social change versus traditional values, etc.--the Court sided with the ideologically liberal position most of the time. Indeed, in those cases where such issues divided the Justices themselves, the liberal side won 77% of the time, or more than three times as frequently as did the conservative side.

But what if we sharpen the focus to those cases that presented the deepest partisan divides between Republicans and Democrats? Cases involving such highly partisan-charged issues as immigration, the death penalty, gay rights, racial disparities, voting rights, social welfare programs, etc.? Those cases involving issues where politicians of the 2 major parties--as well as the party faithful--disagree most fervently?

Let's look at the Court's record this past year in terms of those issues. Yes, the Court's record on ideologically-charged cases was markedly liberal. But what was it on just those cases involving the especially partisan-charged issues?

Take a look:
(click to enlarge)
Note that the Court not only sided with the "Democratic" positions most of the time, but did so 67% of the time, or in more than twice as many cases as it didn't. Note also that the Court's 4 liberals (Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) voted in support of the Democratic position in every case. Stated otherwise, none of the 4 ever voted on the "Republican" side of a partisan-charged issue.

As for the Court's more conservative members, Justice Alito never voted on the Democratic side of an issue in these cases, and Justices Scalia and Thomas virtually never did. Chief Justice Roberts did so 20% of the time, or in one fifth of the partisan-charged cases. Perhaps most notably, swing-vote Justice Kennedy supported the Democratic position more than half of the time (53%) this past term.

Consequently, with the 4 liberals voting on the Democratic side of the issue in every partisan-charged case, only one more vote was needed to make a "Democratic" majority, With Kennedy voting on that side more than half the time, and Roberts doing so in 20% of the cases, it's evident how the Democratic side had the Court's majority as frequently as it did.

To underscore just how significant the Court's record on these partisan-charged cases was this past year, let's look at a comparison with the year before. And let's focus on the major shifts:
(click to enlarge)
67% versus 40%!  Quite a contrast. A shift from the previous term in which less than half the decisions (40%) favored the Democratic position, to this term in which two thirds (67%) of them did.

Consider also the shift in Justice Kennedy's voting in these partisan-charged cases: from less than a third Democratic (30%) to more than a half (53%). And Chief Justice Roberts' voting: from 10 to 20%.

Yes, in cases this past term raising issues involving racially disparate redistricting, racially disparate housing policy, imprisonment of an immigrant, deportation of an immigrant, the rights of a death penalty defendant, displaying the Confederate flag, Obamacare subsidies, and same-sex marriage--in all of these and more, the Supreme Court (i.e., a majority of the Justices) supported the position favored strongly by Democratic politicians and voters.

Of course, that also means that the Court (i.e., again, the majority) in these cases rejected the position strongly favored by Republicans. Let's simply invert the graphs above to display the pro-Republican numbers. Take a look at the "Republican" decisional record of the Court and the Justices' corresponding voting for this past year:
(click to enlarge)
Again, the 4 liberal Justices never voted for the "Republican" position in these highly partisan-charged cases. On the other hand, Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito either always did or Chief Justice Roberts wasn't nearly as one-sided as any of the aforementioned 7 Justices were. And Justice Kennedy, although he is a Republican, supported that side of the issue less than half the time. The result: the Court decided "Republican" in only one third of the cases.

Now, contrasting with the previous year:
(click to enlarge)
Justice Kennedy's voting for the Republican position in these partisan-charged cases dropped substantially, from more than two thirds the previous year (70%) to less than half this past term (47%). Chief Justice Roberts' support for those same positions dropped somewhat, from 90 to 80%. In large measure because of the change in Kennedy's record, and to a lesser extent that of Roberts, the Court's overall support for the Republican side of the issues this year (33%) was about half of what it was the year before (60%). 

Soooo, a liberal shift in the Court's ideological record? Unquestionably, and significantly. Indeed, even on the most highly partisan-charged issues, the Court's record shifted in support of the "Democratic" positions. And this, even though a majority of the Justices are registered Republicans appointed by Republican Presidents.

Is this shift permanent? At least an omen of a directional change? Just a fleeting phenomenon? An aberration? Maybe just the result of the particular collection of cases the Court decided this year?

Well, the answers can't be found in just one year's worth of decisions and votes. But what can be said is this. Whatever the particular variety of cases might have been this past year, the voting records of 7 of the Justices remained basically unchanged. The 4 liberals virtually always voted one way in the ideologically-charged and partisan charged cases, and 3 of the conservatives (Scalia, Thomas, and Alito) virtually always voted the other way.

Additionally, Justice Kennedy remained the swing vote. But this year he swung liberal and "Democratic" significantly more than in past years. And Chief Justice Roberts, both in his votes and his tone, has evinced a softer conservative leaning than that of the Court's 3 most conservative members.

Keep a close eye on Kennedy and Roberts--and, of course, on any possible retirements and replacements. There's always lots to follow with the Court. And we shall see.