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Sep 02, 2011



Saratoga Springs, located at it is in a valley, was fortunate to escape thewrath of Irene, but much of the surrounding areas were slammed by the weekend storm, cutting sharply into the number of folks who have been able to make the final week of the Spa racing scene.

They won't be missing much on weekdays since claiming races dominate the action, but Saturday is an exception.

Three Grade Ones will be run back to back: the Woodward, the Forego, and the Personal Ensign, which was postponed from last Sunday's washout.

The names of the races honor the memory of racing legends -- the Woodward family that campaigned scores of champions under the revered Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, up to and including Nashua; the magnificent stretch-runner Forego, who personally created millions of new racing fans, and Personal Ensign, who remains the lone unbeaten thoroughbred in modern racing, thanks to her incredible career-ending Breeders' Cup victory over Winning Colors.

As it should, the Woodward -- of the Saturday races --- should pry the most eyes away from the opening of college football...if only for the presence of Havre de Grace.

She is no worse than third in a dozen career starts for trainers Tony Dutrow and now Larry Jones, and 3-1-0 from four starts this year, the lone loss a nose heartbreaker to California superstar Blind Luck in the Delaware Handicap, the Race of the Year to date.

Despite that loss, Havre de Grace remains a leading contender for Horse of the Year, and no doubt will receive that honor if she beats the boys in the Woodward and Breeders' Cup Classic, sandwiching presumed wins in the Beldame or Spinster

Because of that Delaware loss, Havre de Grace is playing a bit of catch-up for year-end honors. If trainer Hollendorfer had brought Blind Luck to the Personal Ensign, "we would have gone there," says Porter, the owner of HDG, "...but since she's not coming, we decided to take the more dramatic approach."

That, of course, means hooking the boys in the Woodward as Rachel Alexandra did so successfully two years back when she became the first female winner of the Woodward.

That wire-to-wire win indeed clinched Horse of the Year honors for the 3-year-old Rachel, but she was never the same after that.

Personally, from what I've seen of Havre de Grace in person and on TV, I believe that the 4-year-old daughter of the late HOY Saint Liam is in Rachel's class, if not superior, and I believe she'll prove it on Saturday.

Trainer Jones has stated publicly that Havre de Grace is the best horse he's ever trained, and since his resume includes the likes of Hard Spun, Proud Spell and the immortal Eight Belles, that's quite a moutful from the Cowboy.

"My mare is coming to the Woodward in great shape," he says. "The only thing I worry about is that she'll be the favorite, and you know what they call Saratoga."

Indeed, Havre de Grace will be the favorite (she opened 8-5) under regular rider Dominguez against Ice Box, Mission Impazible, Giant Oak, Rule, Convocation, Flat Out and Mambo Meister. None of them are stars, but most are quality colts.

Johnny V and Castellano, head-to-head for the riding crown going into the last week, will ride uncoupled Pletcher stablemates Mission Impazible and Rule, respectively. Johnny V probably will win the title because JC is giving up final day Monday to ride at Philly Park.

Meantime, Jones, who rarely fears any man's horse, admits concerns about Mambo Meister, a 6-year-old gelding from the connections of trainer Gleaves, a long-ago Woody Stephens disciple, and jockey Jara, who won a Belmont Stakes for Nick Zito.

MM is fresh from an 11-length victory in Calder's Primal Stakes at 1 1/16 miles in which he earned a 110 number, the third best of the year beyond a mile.

Fact is that his 1:45 was the fastest at the distance at Calder in three years.

The NYRA folks didn't do Mambo Meister any favors in the draw -- post eight, two spots outside Havre de Grace.

Horses from post eight and beyond have won only three times at nine furlongs at the Saratoga meeting.

"Eight furlongs works for my mare," adds Jones. "That's her best distance."

One more note on Jones:

Back in 2009, Jones won major stakes minutes apart on a Saturday at Saratoga and Monmouth Park -- with Proud Spell in the Alabama, and Honest Man in the Iselin.

On this Saturday, LJ will try another doable Spa-Shore twin-killing...with Havre de Grace in the Woodward, and Payton D'Oro in the Molly Pitcher.

As in '09, Jones and his cowboy hat will spend the day at the Spa.

As for Pletcher, he as usual will be active on several fronts Saturday.

Last Saturday, the Toddster won the Travers with Stay Thirsty (sorry about Coil); the Ballerina with Hilda's Passion, and was second with Uncle Mo in the King's Bishop (thank you Caleb's Posse at $13.80), and Forest Music in the Victory Ride (thank you Hot Summer at $17.60).

Hopefully these are the kind of winners you will find again this weekend on the John Piesen Hot Line, both here online and toll-free (888 612 2283).

This Saturday, Pletcher will have (in addition to Rule and Mission Impazable in the Woodward (a race he won with Lawyer Ron on a handoff from Bob Holthus); the uncoupled entry of Sydney's Candy and Aikenite in the Forego, and Super Espreso in the Personal Ensign.

That old line: "Bet against Pletcher, and they take you out on a stretcher" sure worked last Saturday. Who knows? Maybe it will again this Saturday.

Last year, Sidney's Candy merely won five graded stakes for John Sadler and Jenny Craig, including the Santa Anita Derby, on all track surfaces known to man and beast.

El Sid was then sold to WinStar Farm, and sent to (who else?) Pletcher, who has been raving about his new acquisition to the media.

Again, Johnny V and Castellano ride the uncoupled entry -- Sidney and Aikenite, respectively.

If the Forego were a handicap, Sidney would be conceding chunks of weight. But it is not a handicap...and all tote the same 124 pounds.

Stu Elliott will make one of his rare New York appearances to ride Golddigger's Boy for trainer Preciado.

The field of nine going seven furlongs is completed by the revitalized Jackson Bend, Jersey Town, Hamazing Desting, Escrow Kid, Regal Ransom and Rule By Night.

Look for a slam-bam finish to this one.

The Personal Ensign, at a mile and a quarter for fillies and mares, drew the same six-pack it attracted for last Sunday, although the field was re-drawn on Wednesday.

In this case, the Pletcher horse (Super Espresso) gets the riding services of Dominguez, who hopes to land a Saturday Grade One triple with Regal Ransom and Havre de Grace, while JV and JC ride others. Johnny will pilot the late-running Protesting for the Shugster, and Javie lands on likely favorite Ask the Moon for the Calder-based Marty

You don't need a long memory to recall that Wolfson won this race two years back with JP Hot Line best bet Icon Project by 13 lengths.

Although Ask the Moon has yet to go 10 furlongs, Wolfson (he'll be the most casually-dressed fellow in the paddock), is confident ATM will make the trip.

One to watch here is Patchattack, a 5-year-old who is making her dirt debut after 23 starts on dirt and plastic..

Two starts back, Patchattack, trained by Englishman Gerald Butler, won the Arlington Matron by six lengths.

Maragh, a killer this summer in stakes, has the call.

Thanks for tuning in, good luck this busy sports weekend, and make sure to check in with me here online for my best bet selections in the final days of Saratoga.

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