SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- As this is written the evening before Sunday's Haskell at Monmouth, you might be hearing some of the things I'm hearing, like: "Graveyard of favorites," or, "3-year-old picture is mud," or, "Bill Mott's birthday."
Okay, let's tackle them. Saratoga is not the graveyard of favorites. It just isn't. But it has upsets like any other track, like Good Samaritan's upset of Saturday's Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes.
Yes, Saturday was trainer Bill Mott's birthday, and it seems like he's won at least one race at Saratoga on his birthday for the last four decades or so. It seems like it, anyway.
And yes, Mott is the one who sent out Good Samaritan in the Jim Dandy in what was that colt's first attempt ever on dirt after six starts on turf to soundly beat both the Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and the Preakness winner Cloud Computing.
And that is why folks are saying, while perhaps holding out for some hope for the Haskell, that the 3-year-old picture is mud.
But is it, really?
I'm not sure anyone thought this crop of 3-year-olds was a particularly strong one at any point this year, but Good Samaritan is certainly a most intriguing new face on the dirt side of things. He was arguably best when an awful-trip, fast-closing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last fall, and he was brutalized by incredibly slow paces when second in the Pennine Ridge, and fourth in the Belmont Derby in his last two starts.
So, Good Samaritan tried dirt Saturday, because his connections have always wanted to try it with him, and because maybe on dirt, he would finally get the sort of honest pace up front that he was crying out for and wasn't getting on turf.
The pace Good Samaritan got in the Jim Dandy was honest enough, and he stormed from way out of it to collar the field in upper stretch and draw off from them as though they were frozen in time in upper stretch.
There might be an inclination to note that Good Samaritan ran away from the Derby winner and Preakness winners as a means to underscore the quality of his performance, but I can't do that. That is because Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing had easy trips running one-two early on a Jim Dandy pace that was not all that fast, and they not only came up empty in the stretch, they were split in a three-way photo for third, fourth, and fifth and last, by Pavel.
Now, in light of his profile, Pavel ran a giant race in the Jim Dandy after getting bumped into the first turn and having to bid three wide outside of Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing. But let's also keep in mind that Pavel ran in the Jim Dandy off of only a career debut maiden sprint win at Santa Anita. That Pavel came within a head of beating both the Derby and Preakness winners off that one start speaks volumes, both about his potential, and also about the way Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing performed.
Instead, I'd rather note that Good Samaritan ran lights out on a surface that was brand new to him. Who is to say he won't get even better off this? Who is to say Good Samaritan, in perhaps an even more crowded Travers field with a hotter pace, won't score again, and go on and do interesting things in the fall?
Maybe the mud some thought Good Samaritan threw on the 3-year-old male division Saturday will actually soon become clarity.
* The Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap was the fourth main track sprint on the Saratoga card and El Deal's overwhelming front-running score made it 4-for-4 for inside speed in those races.
Under normal circumstances, inside speed going 4-for4 might be enough to proclaim a track bias. But this situation Saturday was a little different, and not as cut-and-dried.
El Deal was the first inside speed winner on Saratoga dirt Saturday who was NOT an odds-on winner, but he was a close third choice in a race that, after the scratch of A. P. Indian, was bet like a three horse race. In other words, the first three inside speed winners were widely expected to win as evidenced by how heavily they were bet, though none were heavily bet solely because they projected to be inside speed, and El Deal wasn't exactly a shock, either.
After all, El Deal has turned into something of a freak since moving into Jorge Navarro's barn earlier this year. He is now 3-for-3 for Navarro, for whom he previously romped in an overnight race at Charles Town and the listed Decathlon at Monmouth, earning the first triple-digit Beyer Figures of his career.
This is a tough call for horseplayers. Do four extremely logical winners who just happen to have similar speed running styles conspire to make for a track bias? Or, did the obvious credentials of these winners somewhat mask a track bias at work?
* As an aside, people might wonder why this particular track bias discussion is even being presented after Good Samaritan came from way out of it in the Jim Dandy. As a believer in track bias, but not necessarily one here on Saturday, I do think that biases which exist in one-turn races do not have to exist in two-turn races such as the Jim Dandy.
* There are some very good one-turn 3-year-old males out there this year, such as American Anthem, a wow winner of the Woody Stephens; Takaful, and Mr. Crow, who ran holes in the wind when separate winners here last weekend; and Practical Joke (yes, I know Practical Joke was slated to run in the Haskell; I still feel he is decidedly better as a one-turn horse until he shows otherwise).
Well, add Coal Front to that list. Coal Front extended his perfect record to three with an impressive win in Saratoga's Amsterdam that, despite the possibility of a track bias, was better than his 1 1/2-length win margin would suggest.
For one, Coal Front withstood serious and quality pace pressure from Mo Cash, drew clear in upper stretch, and, despite his early exertions, contained a late rally from runner up Excitations that was never a real threat to succeed. And then, on a track that seemed decidedly dead in the previous two dirt races, Coal Front put up solid fractions and a final time for the 6 1/2 furlongs of 1:16.05 that was strong for the conditions.
* At this point, if you're not concerned about the state of the North American male turf division, then you might never be.
Ascend, who ran big winning the Manhattan last time even if he was 27-1, had a golden opportunity in Saratoga's Bowling Green to solidify a position near the top of the male turf division. Instead, even if he might have moved too soon, he came up shockingly flat, as implausible longshot Hunter O'Riley, whose previous claims to fame were third place finishes in two ungraded stakes races, decided it was his turn to upset the apple cart.
But it wasn't just Hunter O'Riley winning the Bowling Green that was so astonishing, it was how he did it. He rallied from last into a slow pace no horse had a right to rally into from last and win. And that Hunter O'Riley did exactly that only underscores how soft this group is.