Sadly, the Saratoga meet seems to come and go all too fast every year. All the hope and excitement that exists early in the meet, is replaced by the looming thought that if Labor Day is coming up, could Aqueducts inner track season be far behind? Yet beyond those depressing thoughts lies the hope of fall meets, the Breeders' Cup, and of course the two-year-olds. Yes, nothing brings nostalgia out like the untapped hope and promise of our early years, or in the case of horses early months.
So in light of that it is no accident that the final weekend at the Spa, equine youth is put on display, with a series of stake races and many two-year-old maiden special weights. Generally this is the time of year two-year-olds really begin filling out from gangly two year olds: who break from the gate and run as fast as they can for as long as they can, to bigger more robust thoroughbreds, who are stretching out in distance and are showing signs of professionalism like rating off the lead.
This past Saturdays card had three MSW's all at 7 furlongs on the dirt, or in this case the mud. It also featured perhaps the most impressive performance all year from first time starter Honor Code. In a race reminiscent of Ghostzapper's 12 length come from behind victory in the 2003 Vosburgh, or Midnight Lutes powerful tour de force in the 2007 Breeders Cup Sprint; Honor Code pulled all the tricks out of the 'legend' bag to get the racing worlds attention. That is because Honor Code, initially did not take to the muddy surface and found himself 22 lengths back from the leaders. Perhaps being so far back that he did't feel mud getting kicked at him, but after J.R. Velazquez gave him a crack or two of the whip, Honor Code began firing off ridiculous fractions, his last 1/8th of a mile he ran in an otherworldly :11.7secs. To give you an idea of how fast that was, later that day the Forego Stakes was run ( 7 furlong Grade 1 sprint for older horses), the winner Strapping Groom, ran his final 1/8th mile in :13 secs. Two year olds are not supposed to run anywhere near the best older horses.
For the record that colt is trained by 'Shug' McGaughy (of Derby, Orb fame), and bred by the great sire AP Indy out of the dam Serena's Cat, who is right out of all world sire Storm Cat. Honor Code earned an 89 Beyer Speed figure for the race and the final time was 1:23.48
Not to be out done however were the two Grade 1's for the juvenile division. Sunday's feature was the G1 Spinaway for 2-yr-old fillies. Sweet Reason; a daughter out of Street Sense, was very impressive in victory. In fact, her race was so smooth and fluid, it almost seemed unspectacular, in relation to how good it really was. Mets fans who remember Carlos Beltran's smooth gold glove approach to center field will understand. Anyway, after breaking slowly from the gate, Sweet Reason began her move midway down the backstretch, and coasted past her eight rivals, taking the overland five wide route. The loss of ground did not slow her winning move down as she won easily, striding out to a four length win. The victory got her a second win in as many races and earned her a 98 Beyer Speed figure which is a 16 point jump from her MSW. The only question for this filly is can she repeat the effort on a dry fast surface as both her races have been on the slop.
Perhaps giving the best account of what he could do on any surface was Strong Mandate who is trained by the legendary D Wayne Lukas. On Aug. 17th, Strong Mandate broke his maiden on a very dry fast track going 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16. and 1/5th. Running on the mud in the Hopeful Stakes would not hinder his ability, he looked like he was bred for the slop, as he skipped off to nearly a 10 length victory, stopping the clock at 1:23 and 2/5th. The win gave Lukas his 7th win in the Hopeful Stakes which happened to come on his 78th birthday. On the other end of the age spectrum, was 20 year Strong Mandate jockey, Irad Ortiz, who earned his first G1 win with the victory. As far as backers, if you have been showing your support for this horse at the windows, then you have been reward with 16-1 and 7-1 returns. Strong Mandate should continue his improvement with added distance, as he is out of two time Classic' winner TizNow, and has Deputy Minister on the dam side.