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Saratoga & the Shore

It’s opening week at Saratoga and things get going with some celerity – the 2-year-olds step out in the Sanford on Thursday, and this Saturday the featured race is the Jim Dandy. But much of the focus at Saratoga so far this week has been on the workouts – Rachel Alexandra turned in her final work (right) for the Haskell yesterday on Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track. By all accounts, she loves Saratoga – so here’s hoping for a win on Sunday in Jersey and a return to New York for the Travers.

Of course, she will have some competition in the Haskell – while Summer Bird may have the credential of a Triple Crown win, the shorter distance and the speed-favoring track at Monmouth Park will not do him any favors. The truth is we really don’t know how talented he is yet – is he a one-hit wonder like so many recent Belmont winners, or is he the real deal, like his sire, Birdstone? Apparently there was plenty of interest in purchasing Summer Bird before his Belmont victory – even IEAH wanted a piece of the action before they got busier with their lawsuits.

There had been talk of Quality Road heading to the Haskell, but he is now aiming for the Amsterdam at Saratoga instead as his Travers prep. Perhaps the horse with the best chance of eyeballing Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell is Munnings – he’s got the speed, but the distance is a real question for him. Atomic Rain and Papa Clem both need to earn their way back to the top tier of their division – but on paper, neither one has the class to beat the filly.

We’ll have more on the Haskell later in the week, but let’s not forget the other ‘big’ horse running at the weekend (even if, in fact, he’s quite wee) – Mine That Bird will make history regardless of the outcome of his race as he’s the first winner of a Triple Crown race to run in West Virginia. It’s impossible not to see this as ducking Rachel Alexandra, but his connections had little to gain by taking her on in the Haskell – the track doesn’t fit his running style to begin with, so he may as well collect a win (and a big check) somewhere else, with a view toward facing off against bigger fish later in the season.

And let’s not overlook the 2-year-olds mentioned above – will Bulls and Bears join Afleet Alex, Affirmed and Secretariat as a Sanford winner? Or perhaps the oddly-named Nacho Friend? We will know later in the week. I highly recommend a perusal of Colin’s Ghost today for some perspective on what opening day at Saratoga was like in 1919 – the year a 2-year-old named Man o’ War finished second in the Sanford.

Check back later in the week – and I hope to see you at Monmouth Park on Sunday!

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