Thursday, 23 August 2018 11:56

Weezie at the Flagpole: Eskimo Kisses & Sunny Days!

By Louisa Foye | Winner's Circle
Weezie at the Flagpole: Eskimo Kisses & Sunny Days!

IN A SUMMER FRAUGHT WITH WEATHER ANXIETY, it was literally a breath of fresh air to see the sun come out and to feel a cool breeze just in time for the fillies to parade in front of the huge crowd for the 138th running of the iconic Grade 1 Alabama for 3-year-olds. 

An improbable winner would emerge in Eskimo Kisses, sent off at 9-1, when she snuck up on the rail, coming from last to first, to dominate the field with a 6-1/2 length victory.

The table was set by a generous Talk Veuve

To Me, who went out to a quick :22.52 quarter and :46.79 half, handing Kisses a free pass to dessert, as the big chesnut closer relished the perfect scenario she was given by the streaking pacesetter and gobbled it up like manna from heaven.

Spotting Veuve 15-1/2 lengths early on, Kisses would give dirt-splattered jockey Jose Ortiz his second straight Alabama, after last year’s victory aboard Bill Mott’s Elate.

Following trainer Kenny McPeek’s instructions to a tee, Jose sat back patiently, saving ground on the inside, and let Kisses do all the talking when she was ready. And she made it look easy, turning back Steve Asmussen’s 6-5 favorite Midnight Bisou, and Hall of Famer, Mike Smith, with the aplomb of a seasoned vet!

For Brooklyn-bred owner Harold Lerner, it seemed almost as easy as his entry into the horseracing business, when he and wife Helen, at odds of 175 million-to-one, hit the mother lode for $258 million in the Mega Millions Jackpot in Rutherford, New Jersey in 2005!

After waiting a couple of days, Helen decided to make their life-changing announcement at her alma mater, Seton Hall, and from there on gave Harold, a lifelong horseplayer from a long line of the same, her blessing to go for the gusto as a horse owner in the game he was so passionate about!

Calling Saratoga “the temple,” Harold equated his Grade 1 victory at the Spa to winning the Super Bowl, as the feeling you get having your picture taken in the Winner’s Circle here is indescribable! 

Kenny McPeek has often been classified as a “router specialist,” following his victory in the 2002 Belmont with Sarava, and his exciting dead heat win in the 2012 Travers with longshot Golden Ticket, and it appears that with Eskimo Kisses, a daughter of To Honor and Serve, he has found a filly who was bred to succeed at the classic 1-1/4 mile distance, too. 

The powerfully built Kisses, who paid $20 on a $2-win ticket, obviously had no problem with the heavier going on the track that had been soaked the night before in torrential downpours, as she recorded a 100 Beyer. 

Midnight Bisou, on the other hand, did not like the surface at the Spa one bit, per Mike Smith. She didn’t like it for the CCAO, either, even when it was dry, so this just shows you that her preference is for the hard as a rock “superhighway” she’s accustomed to in Cali, as opposed to ours. She did win the Mother Goose, however, over the deep surface at Big Sandy.

After Kisses kicked clear of Midnight Bisou, the battle was on between Bisou and her stablemate in the Asmussen barn, She’s A Julie, and Ricardo Santana, Jr. pushed Julie gamely ahead of the favorite, Bisou, to take second place.

Considering the success McPeek has had in the Grade 1 Spinster Stakes, following back-to-back victories with Take Charge Lady and Edgar Prado in 2002 and 2003, it appears that he’ll next point Kisses toward this race at his home track Keeneland.

In another race for 3-year-old fillies, the Grade 2 Lake Placid, which immediately preceded the Alabama, e Five Racing and Chad Brown’s multiple graded stakes winner and Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf champion, Rushing Fall, returned to the Winner’s Circle after a 15-week layoff.

Going a mile and an 1/8 over the Mellon turf course, with the rail set at 27’, Rushing Fall and her Hall of Fame jockey Javi Castellano, were able to overtake the frontrunner, Go Noni Go, ridden by Luis Saez, from the outside on the far turn, and pulled away in the stretch, outkicking runner up Capla Temptress for the 2-3/4 lengths victory. Lake George winner Daddy is a Legend, with Manny Franco up, was third.

This was a back-to-back victory in the Lake Placid for Javi, as he won last year with Elizabeth Moseley’s homebred Proctor’s Ledge, who also pulled off the rare double, as she won the companion race, the Lake George, earlier in the meet in 2017.

Rushing Fall became a millionaire with this victory, and chances are we will see her next in either the Grade 2 Sands Point at Belmont in four weeks on September 15th, or in 8 weeks on October 13th in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland.

During last Thursday’s 4th Race the racing community collectively stood up and cheered for one of their own, when Tradeable, a 2-year-old NY-bred daughter of Exchange Rate, gave John Hertler his first win since March 13th, 2016, and his first victory at the Spa in 5 years. 

To understand why this particular victory was meaningful to so many people, is to know why John Hertler is such a respected and much-loved fixture on the New York racing scene. And it has nothing to do with the fact that he was the conditioner of 1984 Whitney, Woodward, Marlboro Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup Winner Slew o’ Gold.

The former assistant to Hall of Fame trainer P.G. Johnson, John’s story is one of kindness and decency at its core, but in recent years, it is his amazing will and his hallmark “stick-to-it-tiveness” that have made him an inspirational figure in the face of adversity.

John will never complain or much less discuss his existing physical limitations, as all he wants is to carry on as usual with a smile, and to just show up, which he does every single day. While most of us would have decided to fade into the distance long ago, he has chosen to remain very much present, and is teaching all of us a very valuable lesson as he does.

In the finale on Monday’s card, apprentice jockey Romero Ramsay Maragh, based at Gulfstream and a cousin of Rajiv, brought home a 3-year-old NY-bred son of Overanalyze, Won’t Be Missed, for Jimmy Ferraro, as a 48-1 longshot!

Under a brilliant ride by the young bug boy in his very first mount at Saratoga, Won’t Be Missed paid $98, and gave both his rider and anyone lucky enough to bet on him a real thrill! 

This was the third start of the meet for Won’t Be Missed, who had dropped down to a $25K maiden claimer last time out, when he finished far back in 6th. He returned this time to a $40K tag and took advantage of the 7-pound weight allowance for the bug at 111 pounds. Rajiv, giving up 13 pounds at 124, came in 4th behind his young cousin.

I was so very saddened to hear of the passing of Bailey, the beloved service dog of native Saratogian and friend, John Huppuch, last Thursday. Bailey, a sweet 10-year-old beagle/ basset hound mix, was a fixture around town, and at the racetrack, and had become somewhat of a celebrity since accompanying John to the track every day and was even featured in the NYRA Team Overnighter just days before his passing.

John has been a bartender at the track for 21 years, and Bailey has been his faithful “barback” for almost half that time. In an industry filled with animal lovers, I know that everyone’s heart is breaking for John, and I hope that John will feel our love.

It’s hard to believe that Travers weekend is already upon us, with 28 days down, and just 12 remaining, as Opening Day seems like 5 minutes ago! But what an exciting Travers is unfolding in front of us, along with an entire card filled with exceptional Grade 1 races.

Bob and Kris Edwards of e Five Racing and Chad Brown’s Good Magic, the impressive Haskell winner, was made the morning line favorite at 2-1, and drew a perfect outside #9 post per Chad, which bodes well for his early speed if he breaks well. Jose Ortiz will once again be in the irons.

How incredible it would be for Kris, a 1985 Saratoga High grad, and for hubby Bob, who she met in college at Plattsburgh, if they can hold up the Man O’ War Cup in victory, just as it will be for Mechanicville’s Chad, who has repeatedly stated that this is the race he most covets!

Chad has his best chance yet to do just that, as his other entry, Gronkowski, who drew an ideal inside post per Chad, because of his closing style and need to save ground, was made the second choice at 4-1. Gronk will be ridden by Joel Rosario but has yet to race since his 2nd place finish to Justify in the Belmont.

Wonder Gadot, the Canadian-bred daughter of 2002 Travers winner Medaglia d’Oro, will be ridden by leading jockey Irad Ortiz, and will try to make history by becoming the first filly to win the Midsummer Derby since Lady Rotha in 1915, who did so via disqualification. Six other fillies in the very early runnings of the race won before her.

Gadot, correctly pronounced “Ga-dote” per Israeli-born beauty Gal Gadot, the Wonder Woman actress who the filly was named after, is actually the first filly even entered since 1979, when John Veitch’s Hall of Famer Davona Dale, with Hall of Famer Jorgie Velasquez aboard, finished 4th as the favorite.

Two horses I will certainly have my eyes on are Vino Rosso, Todd Pletcher’s son of Curlin, who will be ridden by Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez, and is listed at 10-1 on the morning line, and Catholic Boy, who is trained by former Pletcher assistant Jonathan Thomas, who will be ridden by another Hall of Famer in Javi Castellano. Javi also holds the Travers record with 5 victories. Catholic Boy is listed at 8-1, along with one of Steve Asmussen’s two entries, Tenfold, the Jim Dandy winner, who will have Ricardo Santana aboard.

With gorgeous weather anticipated, I can’t wait for this great day to arrive, and I hope that everyone is as excited as I am!

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