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Sep 06, 2007

Through The Binoculars


From a personal standpoint, it was very disappointing to see Maimonides stop
so badly in the Hopeful Stakes on closing day Monday at Saratoga.

After all, the Bob Baffert-trained colt was (and still may be) a real feel-good story. Named for a prominent Jewish philosopher from pre-middle ages, he was visited last week at the Spa by an Albany rabbi and his Hebrew class. The touching photo of one of the kids petting the colt made page one of the New York Times.

Moreover, I'm still waiting for someone to notice that Maimonides Hospital, the venue where this writer was born, is one of the most biggest and best hospitals in Brooklyn.

In the Hopeful, Maimonides ripped off a half-mile in :45 under steady pressure from Ready's Image, the 4-5 favorite from The Toddster.

Ready's Image looked home free after making the lead in the upper stretch, but a colt named Majestic Warrior, flying George Steinbrenner's blue Kinsman Farm silks, blew by
him leaving the 16th pole, and rolled home by two-plus lengths in 1:23 for the seven

All this after breaking poorly from the dreaded one-hole.

Hank and Jessica Steinbrenner, two of George's children, along with farm manager Jim Scott flew up from Ocala for the race, while The Boss, who is battling some health issues of late, watched on TV from his office at 1 Steinbrenner Drive, Tampa.

You will recall that two years back, The Boss had a 3-year-old named Bellamy Road, who won the Wood Memorial by a pole, and finished a strong second in the Travers. Injuries aborted Bellamy Road's career, but such is life on the racetrack that a mere two years later comes Majestic Warrior.

"There's no question in my mind," Scott was saying this morning by phone from Ocala,
"that Majestic Warrior is better than Bellamy Road. He's been a special horse for us from the start. He showed right away he has enormous ability, and none of us were surprised
that he won the Hopeful as easily as he did."

Majestic Warrior made up 10 lengths to win the Hopeful, trainer Mott's first-ever Grade 1 win with a 2-year-old, but look for him to be closer in races to come.

"He blew the start in the Hopeful," Scott said, "and he found himself way back. But when the distances start stretching out, you'll see him race much closer to the pace. He has speed, which he inherits from his dam, Dream Supreme."
Dream Supreme, also owned by Boss George, won back-to-back Grade Ones -- the Test and Ballerina -- at Saratoga, and is developing into a top broodmare. She'll be bred back to A.P. Indy, the sport's hottest stallion, next spring.

"As you might imagine," Scott said, "George is very excited about Majestic Warrior.
His kids bred him, and named him, and the whole family is looking forward to the first Saturday in May."

Scott suggests that Majestic Warrior's next race will be the Champagne, after which a decision will be made on the Breeders' Cup Juvenile three weeks later.

In the meantime, George Steinbrenner owns the best 2-year-old on the planet...and knowing George as well as I do, his beloved Yankees soon will be playing second fiddle in his eyes.

After all, George will be no different than his good friend, the late John Galbreath.

Back in the Fall of 1971, Galbreath's Pittsburgh Pirates won a seven-game World Series
against the powerful Baltimore Orioles. Asked by a TV bunny if "this is your biggest thrill in sports", Galbreath looked into the camera, and said: "Nope. Winning the Kentucky Derby (with Chateaugay) is."

I've known The Boss since the '80s when we were friendly rivals in celebrity harness
races up and down the east coast. I beat him a couple of times, once at The Meadowlands, but he buried me one summer Saturday night at the Saratoga harness track.  I can still hear the cheers ringing down from the packed stands for him, and, near tears, blowing kisses to the crowd.

Truth be told, there was a reason why George beat me that night:

He had the faster horse. 

As for the Hopeful, I've seen every running of the stake since the '60s, and, other than Secretariat in '72, this was the most impressive Hopeful victory I've seen.

Now please don't accuse me of saying that Majestic Warrior is Secretariat.

But, on this one day - Hopeful Day - he was every bit as good.

For George's sake, he should be the next Secretariat.

Other than Majestic Warrior, the single biggest story of the Spa's final weekend was
of course Lawyer Ron's brilliant victory Saturday in the Woodward.

Who knew?

I mean 18 months ago I knew I was looking at a special horse at Oaklawn Park. After all, Lawyer Ron breezed through the same races (the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby) that Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex did the prior two years.

But after Lawyer Ron left Arkansas in mid-April, things started unraveling. Until it reached a point that he was an afterthought in the Breeders' Cup Classic last Fall.

Now, in the wake of blowout victories in the Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga,
Lawyer Ron is the top older horse in training, and an '08  Breeders' Cup Classic score
over Street Sense et al will clinch Horse of the Year.

But first trainer Pletcher may run Lawyer Ron against Curlin in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.

Wouldn't that be a matchup from Hog Heaven! ...the last two winners of the Arkansas Derby going eyeball to eyeball.

But for every Lawyer Ron and Curlin, there are hundreds of four-legged prospects that never make it.

One example is a 3-year-old named Luvtoluvyoubaby.

Last year at this time, Luvtoluvyoubaby was tearing down John Servis' barn at Philadelphia Park. Yes...that John Servis.

The next Smarty Jones?

Luvtoluvyoubaby didn't make the races at 2, thanks to some minor issues. But Servis shipped him to Oaklawn Park, hoping to follow the Smarty Jones path to the Triple Crown three years earlier.

But, for whatever reason, nothing went right for Luvtoluvyoubaby at Oaklawn. And, following the meet, he was shipped back to Philly Park - still a maiden.

Yesterday, Luvtoluvyoubaby broke his maiden...going four and a half furlongs at

Hey, you never know.

Maybe this time next year, we will be raving about Luvtoluvyoubaby's blowout
victories in the Whitney and Woodward.

Looking back, Lawyer Ron and Street Sense clearly were the equine stars of the Saratoga meet. Bill Mott has to share the training kudos with Linda Rice who won with six straight starters, and Carl Nafzger, who won the Jim Dandy and Travers with Street Sense,
and the Alabama with Lady Joanne.

Calvin Borel indeed was the jock of the meet, and his ride in the Alabama was the ride
of the meet. For that matter, the Alabama clearly was the race of the meet.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the meet was that the bubble refuses to burst at Saratoga.

Despite economy issues, high gas prices, and the uncertainty about NYRA's
future, attendance and handle records were set across the board - with or without the bogus numbers on giveaway days.

With Hal Handel stepping up to take over the reins, it's a given that NYRA will keep the franchise.

So, that said,  we wish them luck.

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