By Mike Farrell
Neither rain, nor pandemic, nor gloom of a chilly night could derail the $20 million Saudi Cup.
It did rain in the desert, and Saturday evening was unseasonably cool, but the racing action was first class, even if COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented participants like John Velazquez and Umberto Rispoli from making the arduous trip.
At the end of the evening, Mishriff was the deserving victor of the $10 million winner’s share of the world’s richest purse.
Charlatan turned in a terrific performance to get second in only his fifth career start. His upside is limitless in a handicap division crying out for star power. He is now front and center among the U.S. based older dirt horses.
Knicks Go didn’t fare as well in his journey to the desert. Everything was stacked against him.
Charlatan took the race right to Knicks Go. No easy leads this time. There was competition every step of the way, and it took a toll.
Let’s not be too hard on Knicks Go. This was his fourth demanding race since early October. Perhaps equally important, Knicks Go is a brilliant miler. He was asked to carry that speed an extra furlong in the last two races, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) and the Saudi Cup.
Assuming he bounces out of the race in good order, Knicks Go should rebound with a freshening, and a return to his preferred distance.
While the rich card in Saudi Arabia grabbed the headlines, far from the big stage a potential star was emerging at Laurel Park as Street Lute extended her winning streak to five, all in stakes, at “The Track by the Tracks.”
The 3-year-old filly trained by veteran horseman John Robb has been a dominant factor at both 6 and 7 furlongs. After the victory Saturday in the $100,000 Wide Country Stakes, Street Lute is ready to take her mark of 7-1-0 in eight starts up the ladder into graded stakes company.
She effortlessly cruised to the lead on the turn and needed only mild encouragement from Xavier Perez to complete the latest score.
Street Lute doesn’t have flashy connections or a blue-ribbon pedigree (by Street Magician out of the mare Alottalute) but she is all racehorse. She could be an interesting value play against the big girls down the road.
Certain stakes races should be anchored to special places. The Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) is one of those events.
It has traditionally been the main event of the Belmont Park fall meet, and an important prep in recent years for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
The New York Racing Association has decided to move the JCGC to closing weekend at Saratoga.
Call me a fuddy-duddy if you want (it won’t be the first time I’ve heard that adjective) but the JCGC belongs at Belmont.
The rationale for the move is that it’s current position — about a month out from the Breeders’ Cup — is too close to the season-ending championships, which are set for Nov. 5-6.
The simpler solution: schedule it earlier in the Belmont fall meet.
But no … tinker they must at NYRA.
So, the JCGC and the Flower Bowl (G1) for turf fillies and mares are uprooted from Belmont and dropped onto the tail end of the Saratoga season. Both races are now scheduled for Sept. 4.
The shuffle then continues as NYRA clears space on the Saratoga stakes calendar by returning the Woodward (G1) back to Belmont for the first time since 2005.
It’s enough to make your head spin.
Rather than build on traditions, many racetracks treat stakes races like chess pieces to be constantly moved about the racing calendar.
The 2020 season was one of constant change due to the pandemic. The Triple Crown unfolded out of the traditional order and other stakes were shifted to accommodate the unusual circumstances.
It would be nice to see the old familiar races back in their old familiar places. Perhaps elsewhere, but not at NYRA.
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.