As Friday approaches you can sense a growing buzz around all parts of Saratoga Race Course. Everyone knows what’s coming. 40 days of simply the best Thoroughbred horse racing this nation has to offer.
From the “I’ve had this trip planned for months” casual fan to the hardened “been in Saratoga since May” work rider…everyone has that little flutter in their chest for what’s to come. The stakes schedule is full of races that can make a horses pedigree near priceless, but there always seems to be one thing that people can’t help themselves from acting neurotic over. And that something is 2-year-old racing.
You don’t have to go very far on the Oklahoma backstretch before hearing about “that grey freak in Pletcher’s barn” or “the rocket ship Asmussen brought up” or even “this trainer never wins first out but the clockers have been hiding this horses bullet works”. All these tips come complete with lofty comparisons to some of racing’s legends. At first, a hot tip can seem exciting and exclusive. A younger version of myself was often giddy with thoughts of the fortune I would be making off this great inside information!
But alas, there’s a reason trainers ship from far and wide to run here this summer. Many times you’ll be tipped on horses running in the same race. I’ve been in town only two days and I’ve already got three different fillies in the 6th race on opening day that are a lock.
Over the years I developed the line of thinking that the racetrack is just full of gossip. There can’t possibly be this many superstar 2-year-olds here!
But one summer while working as a hotwalker/groom for John Kimmel I came to realize how wrong I was. Our barn fell in love with a stunning colt by Sky Mesa named Bad Hombre. He worked like a machine. Heck, he even walked like a machine. There were a few mornings I think he decided it would be more fun for him to walk me instead of the other way around. Surely we couldn’t lose first out.
Race day came and after a slow start our “sure thing” finished 4th getting nailed late for 3rd by a Phipps horse who seemed to come from out of the clouds finishing faster than anyone. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe we all just overestimated Bad Hombre. Maybe he was just a morning glory.
Well about 10 months later a peak back at the results of that maiden race proved more than just a little eye opening.
The Todd Pletcher trained Violence won the race. He was the early favorite in Las Vegas for the Derby after an undefeated 2-year-old year season capped off with a win in the Cash Call Futurity.
2nd place was D Wayne Lukas trained Titletown Five, who would go on to break his maiden next out by nine lengths and eventually competed in the next year’s Preakness Stakes.
And 3rd….well that fast finishing blur in the legendary Phipps colors was none other than the next year’s Kentucky Derby winner…Orb.
It just goes to show…that even though you should take that hot tip with a grain of salt… you could also see some of racing’s future stars on any given day in a maiden race at Saratoga.