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Saratoga or Del Mar...or Both

July 15, 2011 · By Terry Finley · Share
We’ve been in upstate New York at Saratoga for the past two weeks now, gearing up for the season that opens July 22. This meet offers us a chance to move to a fresh location and enjoy being truly immersed in the racing culture. For the next two months, our offices will be on the backside and frontside at Saratoga Race Course, in the sales grounds and in the paddock - and, of course, in the winner’s circle. We’re also committed to maintaining a strong presence on the West Coast, so our team in Southern California is gearing up for the season at Del Mar, which opens July 20.
Del Mar and Saratoga are widely regarded as the two premiere meets in the country, and they’re definitely the toughest. Every year you know that people on both coasts have been “sitting” on horses for the last 45-60 days, waiting to run them here or there. It’s inevitable that the first week or 10 days at both tracks will result in some of the stiffest day-to-day competition you’ll see all year.

The meets have their differences, of course. At Del Mar, you pretty much have the same group of horses competing from the South Cal circuit, but everybody has been pointing toward those races with their best runners in mind. At Saratoga, you have horses shipping in from everywhere, including Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and downstate. When you get that mix it’s really as good a quality of racing as there is; it’s racing the way you’d like it to be year-round.

When I first came to Saratoga in 1978, I worked as a groom for Steve DiMauro. He was a pretty big hitter; he’d taken the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer in 1975 when he had runners like Dearly Precious (pictured at right) and Wajima, the Champion 2-year-old filly and Champion 3-year-old colt of the season. I loved horses and had worked for two years on a Thoroughbred farm in New Jersey, and by the  third year I really wanted to work on the racetrack, so I went to Belmont Park for the first part of the summer and Saratoga for the second half. There were about 50 horses and I was the “swing groom,’ filling in for whichever guys had the day off.  

That was the year of Affirmed and Alydar and their infamous meeting in the Travers Stakes. Alydar won the Whitney (watch here) by 10 lengths and Affirmed took the Jim Dandy (watch here) in a time that was four fifths off the track record. Eleven days after the Jim Dandy, they dueled for the final time in the Travers (watch here), and in one of the few regrettable incidences of my racing life, I was asleep in my dorm room. I always watched the races right past the half-mile pole, and that was exactly where Affirmed ducked in on Alydar. The move resulted in a disqualification, and even though I didn’t see it, I definitely heard about what happened the next day.

Comparatively, my first visit to Del Mar didn’t come until a short while ago. We’ve only had horses out there consistently for about eight years, but our presence continues to grow and the stakes program is one we definitely set our sights on. Obviously the business in California has been buffeted for various reasons, but it’s resilient and last year’s opening day at Del Mar drew a record crowd. That’s because racing there and at Saratoga is vibrant and exciting, and people can get excited about the quality, about the chance to see champions and history in the making. People always ask, “Which track is better?” and that will get you differing opinions on different sides, but I’ve pretty much settled my outlook to be that if you have competitive runners in both places, you should count your blessings.

I have high hopes for both tracks this season. At Del Mar the ship-in bonus they’ve enacted this season has garnered some interest which should result in bigger fields. At Saratoga, as they’ve done before, they’re offering similar rewards based upon field size for off-the-turf races. The television coverage offered by NBC on Versus should take the exposure of racing there to a whole new level as well.

We have a 2-year-old filly trained by Todd Pletcher - Flashy In Pink (see left) - pointing for a race on the 25th at Saratoga, and a 2-year-old with Craig Dollase - Lady Fairbanks - who is running on opening day at Del Mar.  I’ll have updates on them and how they’re training next week. We also have King Congie entered this Saturday in the Grade 2 Virginia Derby, so don’t miss his return to the turf.

As always, if you’re seriously interested in investing as a West Point partner and you’d like to join us for a day at the races, don’t hesitate to contact Casey Irving ([email protected])  on the East Coast or Nancy Ury ([email protected])  on the West Coast.  I’ll be in both places throughout the season and look forward to keeping you updated on our stable’s progress.

See You At The Races!


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