Historic and popular Saratoga Race Course kicks off its 2022 meeting this week. Opening day is Thursday (July 14).
When Thoroughbred racing was first conducted at Saratoga on Aug. 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln was president and the Civil War was raging.
In William H.P. Robertson’s book “The History of Racing in America,” he wrote: “The smoke from the battle of Gettysburg scarcely had evaporated when America’s oldest existing race track began operations. Precisely one month after Pickett’s charge against Cemetery Ridge, horse hooves began pounding against the turf at Saratoga, senior citizen and grande dame among American racing centers.”
According to the media guide posted on the nyra.com website, the first Saratoga meet consisted of just four days. It was staged by gambler, casino owner, ex-boxing champion and future congressman John “Old Smoke” Morrissey.
Emboldened by the success of that first four-day meet, Morrissey enlisted his friends John R. Hunter, Leonard Jerome and William Travers to form the Saratoga Association.
The second Saratoga meet in 1864 expanded to six days. The first Travers Stakes was run that year, 11 years before the first Kentucky Derby.
A colt by the name of Kentucky won the inaugural Travers Stakes, a race named after one of his owners, the aforementioned William Travers.
Thanks to the likes of Man o’ War, Gallant Fox, Secretariat and American Pharoah having been upset in stakes races contested there through the years, Saratoga has a reputation for being “the graveyard of favorites.”
The first Travers was far from an upset. The Travers was one of Kentucky’s 21 victories from 23 lifetime starts. A son of the great sire Lexington, Kentucky put together a 20-race winning streak during one stretch of his career.
Many racing fans are looking ahead to this year’s 153rd running of the Grade I, $1.25 million Travers at 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 27. It tantalizingly has the potential to attract an excellent field. With this in mind, I decided to come up with an early Travers Top 10, which can be seen below:
1. Charge It (pictured above)
2. Jack Christopher
3. Early Voting
7. Home Brew
8. Tawny Port
9. We the People
10. Creative Minister
In my opinion, the best performance by a 3-year-old so far in 2022 is Charge It’s dazzling 23-length victory in the Grade III Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Charge It recorded a 111 Beyer Speed Figure in the Dwyer. It’s the best Beyer of the year to date among 3-year-olds.
Below are the Beyer Speed Figures higher than 100 by a 3-year-old in 2022 through July 12:
BSF Horse (Race, Track, Date)
111 Charge It (Dwyer, Belmont Park, July 2)
107 Jack Christopher (Woody Stephens, Belmont, June 11)
105 Early Voting (Preakness, Pimlico, May 21)
104 Conagher (alw/opt claimer, Churchill Downs, June 3)
103 We the People (Peter Pan, Belmont Park, May 14)
103 Taiba (maiden race, Santa Anita, March 5)
103 Messier (Robert B. Lewis, Santa Anita, Feb. 6)
102 Taiba (Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, April 9)
102 Epicenter (Preakness, Pimlico, May 21)
102 Epicenter (Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, March 26)
101 Rich Strike (Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, May 7)
Looking ahead, the next likely next start for the 3-year-olds on my Travers Top 10 is listed below:
Horse (Race and Date)
Charge It (Travers on Aug 27)
Jack Christopher (Haskell on July 23)
Early Voting (Haskell on July 23 or Jim Dandy on July 30)
Epicenter (Jim Dandy on July 30)
Taiba (Haskell on July 23)
Zandon (Jim Dandy on July 30)
Home Brew (Haskell on July 23)
Tawny Port (unknown)
We the People (unknown)
Creative Minister (Curlin on July 29)
KENTUCKY DERBY A PRODUCTIVE RACE
Charge It is one of four starters in this year’s Kentucky Derby to win their next race. And all four of these victories have been in graded stakes races.
The four next-out winners from this year’s Kentucky Derby are listed below:
Horse (Race, Date)
Mo Donegal (Grade I Belmont Stakes, June 11)
Cyberknife (Grade III Matt Winn Stakes, June 12)
Tawny Port (Grade III Ohio Derby, June 25)
Charge It (Grade III Dwyer Stakes, July 2)
Classic Causeway did not win his next start after ending up 11th in the Kentucky Derby (a race in which he uncharacteristically had a sluggish start). In his next appearance under silks following the Run for the Roses, Classic Causeway finished third to Tawny Port and White Abarrio in the Ohio Derby.
But Classic Causeway did win a biggie last Saturday. With Julien Leparoux in the saddle, Classic Causeway led all the way in the Grade I, $1 million Belmont Derby. Competing on the turf for the first time, Classic Causeway prevailed by three-quarters of a length at odds of 23-1.
Last Jan. 21, I bet $100 on Classic Causeway in the Kentucky Derby future book in Las Vegas. He was 50-1. If he had won the Kentucky Derby, I would have made $5,000.
My future book wager on Classic Causeway looked pretty darn good when he went on to win the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes and Grade II Tampa Bay Derby. But then he finished 11th in both the Grade I Florida Derby and Grade I Kentucky Derby.
In the Belmont Derby, Classic Causeway led all the way. Leparoux probably does not get the credit he deserves for being an excellent rider when setting the pace. In this particular instance, it was not as if Classic Causeway and Leparoux got away with slow fractions. But they did set a moderate pace. The fractions were :23.55, :48.02, 1:12.33 and 1:36.27.
As Classic Causeway was approaching the finish and it became evident he was going to win, I couldn’t help thinking that I sure wish this is what had happened in the Kentucky Derby.
Brian Lynch trained Classic Causeway through the Kentucky Derby. Owners Kentucky West Racing and Clarke Cooper then made a switch to Kenny McPeek.
After Classic Causeway competed in the Ohio Derby, McPeek and the owners had dinner that evening. A discussion took place in terms of what the colt’s next race should be. Dirt races like the Grade I Haskell Stakes on July 23, Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes on July 30 and Grade III West Virginia Derby on Aug. 5 were broached as possibilities.
McPeek then said finding a grass race as soon as possible would be what he’d do if he owned the colt. That’s how the Belmont Derby came into play despite the fact it would mean that Classic Causeway would be racing again just two weeks after the Ohio Derby.
“I always thought the pace of turf races would suit him because he gets a chance to relax and breathe a little bit,” McPeek said in Sunday’s Belmont Park notes.
McPeek went on to say that, to him, Classic Causeway’s Belmont Derby “wasn’t a big surprise because he was doing so well and we took a couple test drives with him over the turf at the Saratoga training track and was confident he would like it.”
Two additional reasons McPeek was eager to try Classic Causeway on the turf is the colt is by the terrific grass sire Giant’s Causeway, plus Classic Causeway has what McPeek describes as a big, flat turf foot.
Remarkably, as a result of Classic Causeway capturing the Belmont Derby, the late Giant’s Causeway has managed to sire a Grade I winner in his final crop, which consisted of just three foals (all winners).
It’s also rather remarkable that Classic Causeway now has earned $1,106,100 without having recorded a Beyer Speed Figure higher than a 90. And that career-best 90 was achieved all the way back when he won a seven-furlong maiden special weight race by 6 1/2 lengths in his career debut at the 2021 Saratoga meet.
BAFFERT WINS YET ANOTHER LOS AL DERBY
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s dominance in the Los Alamitos Derby is ridiculous.
High Connection last Saturday provided Baffert with his sixth straight Los Al Derby victory.
Baffert has won seven of the nine editions of the race when it has been contested at Los Alamitos. He previously won it five times when it was the Swaps Stakes and run at Hollywood Park.
Baffert’s 12 winners of this race are listed below, with the Beyer Speed Figure in parentheses:
2022 High Connection (89)
2021 Classier (89)
2020 Uncle Chuck (94)
2019 Game Winner (96)
2018 Once On Whiskey (86)
2017 West Coast (100)
2015 Gimme Da Lute (102)
2012 Blueskiesnrainbows (103)*
2009 Misremembered (101)*
2003 During (96)*
2001 Congaree (106)*
2000 Captain Steve (111)*
*Run at Hollywood Park as the Swaps Stakes
Last Saturday, High Connection and Slow Down Andy vied for the lead until High Connection edged clear in deep stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Slow Down Andy was the even-money favorite. High Connection was the second choice at 8-5.
High Connection, a Kentucky-bred Connect colt, was racing at Los Alamitos for the first time after finishing second in Santa Anita’s Grade III Affirmed Stakes on June 11. Slow Down Andy had not competed since winning the Grade III Sunland Derby in New Mexico on March 27. In his only previous start at Los Al, Slow Down Andy won the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity when defeating the Baffert-trained Messier last Dec. 11.
Below is how High Connection’s final time in this year’s Los Alamitos Derby stacks up against the other times the race has been run at Los Alamitos:
1:47.01 Shared Belief (2014)
1:47.09 Gimme Da Lute (2015)
1:47.65 Uncle Chuck (2020)
1:48.30 Game Winner (2019)
1:48.48 Accelerate (2016)
1:48.65 West Coast (2017)
1:48.98 High Connection (2022)
1:49.15 Classier (2021)
On the list above, Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer trained Shared Belief. John Sadler conditioned Accelerate. Baffert trained all the others.
UNGRADED RACE FORMERLY A GRADE I
It’s sad to see what has become of the race formerly known as the Swaps Stakes, which was a Grade I event from 1975 through 1988 and from 1999 through 2001.
In 2013 after it was announced that there would be no more racing at Hollywood Park following its autumn meeting, BloodHorse magazine asked me to compile a list of the track’s all-time Top 10 races in chronological order. The 1977 running of the Grade I Swaps Stakes was on the list.
“This probably is the most famous race ever run at Hollywood Park,” I wrote. “And its fame stems not from who won it but rather who lost it.”
Seattle Slew arrived at Hollywood Park for the Swaps with an aura of invincibility after having become the sport’s first undefeated Triple Crown winner for owners Karen and Mickey Taylor and Sally and Jim Hill. Billy Turner trained the Kentucky-bred Bold Reasoning colt.
“A crowd of 68,115 came out to Hollywood Park to see Slew run in the Swaps,” I noted in my Hollywood Park Top 10 story. “What the throng witnessed ‘was a race that may go down in history beside the defeat of Man o’ War by Upset and the day Dark Star took the measure of Native Dancer,’ Robert Hebert wrote for BloodHorse.”
Seattle Slew finished a well-beaten fourth as a 2-5 favorite. J.O. Tobin won by eight lengths while completing 1 1/4 miles in 1:58 3/5. Slew finished an astonishing 16 lengths behind J.O. Tobin.
Truly one of the greatest Thoroughbreds in American racing history, Swaps ranks No. 12 on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century, behind No. 1 Man o’ War, who is followed in order by Secretariat, Citation, Kelso, Spectacular Bid, Native Dancer, Dr. Fager, Seattle Slew, Count Fleet, Affirmed and Ruffian.
Swaps’ victory in the 1955 Californian also made my list of Hollywood Park’s Top 10 races.
“One could easily have chosen a number of Swaps’ races for the list,” I wrote. “But this race gets the call because it showcased 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps, who was competing against older horses for the first time, and Determine, who had captured the Run for the Roses in 1954.”
Swaps won the 1955 Californian by 1 1/4 lengths. Determine finished second.
Even though Swaps was not all out, he completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:40 2/5 to break the world record. The California-bred colt would go on to break many more world records. Swaps remains the only 3-year-old to have ever won the Californian, which has been run at Santa Anita since the closure of Hollywood Park.
An unfortunate consequence of the Swaps Stakes becoming the Los Alamitos Derby is there no longer is a stakes race named in honor of the 1956 Horse of the Year.
SWAPS STAKES DOWNGRADED IN 1989
The Swaps Stakes was lowered to Grade II status in 1989. The official Daily Racing Form chart for that renewal of the Swaps was my responsibility. I called Sunday Silence in front by four lengths with a furlong left to run, with Prized second. It appeared that 1-5 favorite Sunday Silence and jockey Pat Valenzuela were on their way to victory. But then Prized charged past Sunday Silence in the final furlong. Prized, ridden by Eddie Delahoussaye, won by three-quarters of a length.
You can view the 1989 Swaps on YouTube (Don Alexander has the call, after which Daily Racing Form’s Mark Ratzky provided analysis to ESPN’s Chris Lincoln): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_ecEi_ikqA
Knocking the Swaps down to Grade II in 1989 seemed to be a questionable move on the part of the American Graded Stakes Committee, especially considering what the 1989 winner and runner-up went on to do. They each subsequently won a $1 million race and then Breeders’ Cup event that year. (When adjusting for inflation, a $1 million race in 1989 would be roughly equivalent to a $2.4 million race today.)
After the Swaps, Prized took the Grade I, $1 million Molson Million on the dirt at Woodbine, then won the Grade I, $2 million BC Turf in his grass debut.
After Sunday Silence’s loss in the Swaps, he won the Grade I, $1 million Super Derby (which, like the Los Alamitos Derby, has nowhere near the significance it once did) and the Grade I, $3 BC Classic in a dramatic showdown with arch-rival Easy Goer. Sunday Silence was voted 1989 Eclipse Awards as champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year.
When the Swaps was moved and became the Los Alamitos Derby after Hollywood Park ceased racing following its 2013 autumn meeting, the race had a Grade II ranking for three straight years from 2014 through 2016.
In 2017, the Los Alamitos Derby was downgraded to Grade III, which it continued as through 2021. As mentioned earlier, this is the first year it was not graded.
It’s pretty hard to believe this race now is not even graded after having been won by the likes of Precisonist, Best Pal, Thunder Gulch, Free House, Cat Thief, Captain Steve, Congaree, Rock Hard Ten, Shared Belief, Accelerate, West Coast and Game Winner.
Does that list of winners look like it belongs to an ungraded race?
IMPRESSIVE 2-YEAR-OLDS AT EMERALD DOWNS
The racing career of Runnin Out of Days was launched in grand style at Emerald Downs near Seattle last Sunday. The Washington-bred Abraaj gelding sprinted to the early lead, drew off in the lane and won the King County Express Stakes by 10 1/4 lengths.
Trained by Blaine Wright, Runnin Out of Days completed 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.32 as the 2-1 second choice in the field of eight.
“We knew he was one of our better 2-year-olds and he showed it,” Wright said in a Daily Racing Form story written by Randy Goulding. “We’re pretty excited about him. Not sure what was behind him, though.”
Running Out of Days was credited with a 62 Beyer Speed Figure. While at first glance that seems to be a low figure, it’s actually a decent Beyer for a 2-year-old at this time of year.
Also at Emerald last Sunday, Miss Dynamic remained undefeated in two career starts when she won the Angie C. Stakes in front-running fashion by 5 1/2 lengths. Sent away as the 6-5 second choice in the field of six, Miss Dynamic’s final time for 5 1/2 furlongs was 1:03.89.
Rigoberto Velasquez trains Miss Dynamic, a Washington-bred Dynamic Impact filly. According to Goulding, it was the first stakes win for the trainer.
Miss Dynamic received a 53 Beyer Speed Figure for her victory last Sunday.
LOUISIANA DOWNS’ RAMSTAD RETIRES
Daily Racing Form’s Mary Rampellini reported that longtime racing official Russ Ramstad is retiring. He has been the interim racing secretary at Louisiana Downs, but Matt Crawford will take over that position effective July 18.
Ramstad has worked for Louisiana Downs for 44 years. For many of those years, he was the assistant racing secretary, a role he also had at Oaklawn Park.
I first met Ramstad in 1980 at Louisiana Downs. At that time I was a Daily Racing Form columnist. He was working as a placing judge.
Ramstad and I hit it off right away. That wasn’t surprising since we both were racing enthusiasts and born in Washington, he in Seattle, me in Spokane.
I wrote about Ramstad in one of my 1980 columns that appeared in the Chicago edition of the DRF on Sept. 9.
“The first day I was ever at the races was the day Grey Papa set the world record for 6 1/2 furlongs at Longacres,” Ramstad said. “That was on Labor Day in 1972. I was 16 at the time. I’ll never forget it.
“Grey Papa had speed in the purest sense. The day he broke the world record, I was standing along the rail near the finish line. My brother and I split a $2 place ticket on him.”
I looked it up. For the record, Grey Papa paid $4.00 to win, $3.20 to place and $2.80 to show. That means the Ramstad brothers each made a 60-cent profit.
“I was fascinated by the game,” Ramstad told me. “I didn’t get much of a chance to go to the races in 1973 because I was still in high school. But in 1974, I really started getting involved. All I did was eat, sleep and drink racing. I saved all of my Racing Forms. I had stacks of them. I’d also clip out all of the charts from the newspapers. I really got serious.”
A fan favorite at Longacres in the 1970s was Red Eye Express. He won eight stakes races at the picturesque track south of Seattle.
“He was my favorite horse,” Ramstad said. “When he first started winning stakes, he rarely was the betting favorite. I always enjoyed rooting for him.”
When Ramstad turned 21, he decided to become more than just a racing fan.
“At the time, I was floundering in school at the University of Washington,” he said. “I felt that the only positive thing I was doing was going to the races. My folks wanted me to decide what I was going to do with my life.
“In the spring of 1976, I was following the races at Portland Meadows when I saw an article in the Racing Form about the racetrack management program at the University of Arizona. I had kept that article in the back of my mind, thinking that I might go down there and get involved in the program.
“That fall, I made the decision to go to the University of Arizona for a semester or two to see if I liked it. I applied and they accepted me.”
How did Ramstad find his way to Louisiana Downs?
“Pat Pope also came out of the University of Arizona program,” Ramstad said. “He went from being an intern at Louisiana Downs to assistant racing secretary in just one year. Louisiana Downs then contacted Gary Amundson, the director of the program, and they told him that they were interested in having another person do an internship. Gary asked me if I wanted to do it.
“It was a golden opportunity. I’d always thought about doing my internship at a track in the Pacific Northwest, but I couldn’t turn down the offer to go to Louisiana Downs. What’s that they say? Opportunity knocks but once? I would have been a fool not to answer.”
That 1979 internship turned out to be the start of Ramstad working for Louisiana Downs for 44 years.
NEXT WEEK: TOP 100 OF 21ST CENTURY SO FAR
For Xpressbet.com next week, I will reveal my first-ever list of the “Top 100 Racehorses of the 21st Century So Far” to have won in North America (active horses excluded).
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
The Top 10 on the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 345 Flightline (25)
2. 308 Life Is Good (5)
3. 276 Olympiad (5)
4. 227 Country Grammer (1)
5. 222 Jackie’s Warrior
6. 103 Clairiere
7. 99 Regal Glory
8. 71 Hot Rod Charlie
9. 60 Letruska
10. 59 Jack Christopher
LONGINES BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC RANKINGS
Horseracingnation’s Ron Flatter posted a story Monday listing BC Classic odds from the Costa Rica-based betting site Bovada.
Flightline was listed as the 5-2 favorite, down from 3-1 the previous week.
Life Is Good is next at 6-1. He was lowered from 8-1.
There were 24 horses listed in Flatter’s story. The two longest shots at 50-1 each are Dr Post and We the People.
Express Train is No. 9 in the latest Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings. It’s kind of hard to take the Bovada odds in Flatter’s story too seriously when Grade I Santa Anita Handicap winner Express Train is not one of the 24 horses on the list.
Below are this week’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 269 Flightline (22)
2. 217 Olympiad (4)
3. 210 Life Is Good (2)
4. 180 Country Grammer
5. 126 Hot Rod Charlie
6. 94 Epicenter
7. 76 Early Voting
8. 65 Jack Christopher
9. 48 Express Train
10. 44 Americanrevolution