Welcome to this edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track. Each week in this spot we present the most meaningful story of the past seven days, detailing a story that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next week’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.
This past weekend was certainly one of the best of the year for a racing fan. Not just because of a few excellent races, but rather it was the entire scene that made it so special.
Yes, there were sad moments, but what happened each afternoon at the famed New York and California racetracks explains why there’s so much passion for the sport.
There are many things contained in a beautiful mosaic, but you have to start with the racing.
At Saratoga, there were two Grade 1 stakes and each one was memorable in a different way.
It started with the Diana on Saturday which provided the stage for a classic thriller. Ultra Brat, at 15-1, seemed home free with a sixteenth of a mile left, but the favored Sistercharlie was not to be denied and got up in the final stride to win by a nose.
Though Sistercharlie is trained by Chad Brown, America’s leading turf trainer and an absolutely superb conditioner of dirt horses too, the slim margin between victory and defeat bodes well for the filly and mare turf division generating some exciting races on the road to the Breeders’ Cup.
The following day, in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, the race was over at the eighth pole. In yet another brilliant performance, Monomoy Girl turned a showdown with Midnight Bisou into a decisive victory as she led throughout and then pulled away late to stake her claim to the 3-year-old filly championship.
Aside from a perfect 2018 record, with five wins, topped by the last four in Grade 1 stakes, Monomoy Girl has been victorious in eight of her nine career starts. Two of those wins even came on the turf. Her lone loss came in her final start at 2, when she finished second in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in November.
It may be a tad premature now, but how long will it be before the comparisons with Songbird begin to multiply?
That’s how good she looked in the CCA Oaks.
Saratoga is also a haven for 2-year-old racing and good luck continues to shine on Jack Wolf and his Starlight Racing partnership. Not only did they buy a share of Justify earlier this year and become part owners of a Triple Crown champion some four months later, they started the 2019 Triple Crown quest on the right foot with a neck victory by Sombeyay in the Sanford Stakes.
In the Schuylerville Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, Catherinethegreat looked the part, winning by 4 ¼ lengths for trainer Mark Casse and owner John C. Oxley.
Casse and Oxley could have swept the 2-year-old stakes at the Spa, except that their Strike Silver finished on the wrong end of the tight photo finish in the Sanford.
Oh, and in case you forgot that Saratoga is the Graveyard of Favorites (or Champions, take your pick), the $200,000 Caress Stakes went to Ruby Notion at 27-1 ($56.50) on Monday.
At Del Mar, there were two graded turf stakes and both resulted in exciting three-horse photo finishes. In the Grade 2 San Clemente, War Heroine prevailed by a neck over Ollie’s Candy who had a neck on Ms Bad Behavior. In the Grade 2 Eddie Read, it was Catapult by a neck over Sharp Samurai who was a head in front of Prime Attack.
In the Grade 2 San Diego, there were a slew of scratches but Catalina Cruiser looked awfully tough as he cruised to a 6 ¾-length win over Dr. Dorr.
Oh, and stealing a page from the Saratoga playbook, in race four on Sunday there was a 74-1 shot, Kentan Road, who paid $150 to win, and the Pick 6 Jackpot paid $240,346 on Friday and $119,107 on Sunday.
Beyond the races, there was the electricity of crowded grandstands, a buzz of excitement in all ends of the facilities, and hat contests, fish tacos, giveaways, music, and the debut of the new “The Stretch” at Saratoga which has all of the expected amenities of a digital era such as iPads and a relaxed dress code, too.
And, finally, in the eighth race at Saratoga on Monday, the winner was Indigo Yankee, a 3-year-old owned by Marylou Whitney. The Grand Dame of Saratoga was not on hand at the Spa on a muggy, rainy day, but seeing her Eton blue and brown silks in the winner’s circle was yet another reminder that summer racing, and all of the joy and mirth it brings, is off and running at Saratoga and Del Mar.
The Also-Eligible List
Here are some of the other noteworthy stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: