SARATOGA SPRINGS — Fillies don’t win the Kentucky Derby much.
It has happened only four times, and none since Winning Colors did it in 1981. But if history is turned on its head in 2019, y’all should remember the afternoon that Wesley Ward took the blinders off Stillwater Cove at the Spa.
Ward does not run a lot of horses at Saratoga. He prefers Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., and Ascot in Berkshire, England. Every once in a while, he will bring something special to the Spa … which is what happened Wednesday.
Running against three horses with much shorter odds, Stillwater Cove raced for the third time in her career — the first with blinkers off because Ward decided to take a chance on letting this equine princess have the benefit of some peripheral vision.
Her backers were rewarded with a $22.40 payoff, and Ward had another chapter to add to a very interesting thoroughbred racing history.
Once a jockey, he had a growth spurt and grew too tall and too heavy to ride after winning the Eclipse award as the top apprentice jockey of 1984. He turned to training, and his specialty is turning 2-year-olds into winners.
Ward rattled off 10 consecutive victories with 2-year-olds at Keeneland’s spring meet, and Stillwater Cove was one of them on April 8. Despite being known as a turf trainer, he yearns to put a horse into the Kentucky Derby on dirt.
Ward then shipped Stillwater Cove overseas to Royal Ascot, where Ward has won 10 times, and watched her finish a disappointing 13th. But the trip back to America — along with the removal of the blinders, did the trick on a humid day at the Spa.
Ward also had the second-place finisher, Chelsea Cloisters, who is a barnmate of the winner.
“She flew on the plane here about three days ago, so she was in Keeneland until three days ago, and she’s done just about everything right,” Ward said. “Hopefully the owners will have some luck with her in the Breeders’ Cup this fall. We’re probably going to be pointed at Keeneland … but maybe a prep at Belmont as well. … We’ll see how it kind of works out.”
What is not working out at Saratoga Springs is any kind of sports gambling infrastructure, a result of the New York state legislature failing to accomplish anything of significance before adjourning until January. (New York gamblers can get around the lack of physical infrastructure by signing up online, where a 100 percent bonus up to $1,000 is available using the signup code BBALL1000.)
A special legislative session can still be called, but right now the Empire State is getting clobbered by the Garden State when it comes to adapting to the new normal on the U.S. Sports gambling landscape.
The demographic at the track was about what one would expect in a declining gambling industry, although there is no reason why racing cannot be resuscitated as part of America’s foray into legalized gambling.
Already, million of dollars are wagered on simulcasting at sports books in casinos around the world.
But there is no substitute for walking to the paddock, looking at the horse up close, seeing if he looks like he is in the mood for a run or the mood for a walk, and going from there.
Both Stillwater Cove and Chelsea Cloisters were jumpy and playful as they were saddled up and mounted by jockeys Irad Ortiz (the leading money-winner at this summer’s Saratoga meet) and John Velasquez, who currently sits seventh.
Trainer Chad Brown , who has earned double the money ($2.2 million) than second-place trainer Todd Pletcher has accumulated ($1.1 million), had the filly Drynachan finish fifth, 7 1/2 lengths back.
Ward’s third horse in the race, Shang Shang Shang, was a scratch and retains a 2-0 lifetime record.
Attention at Saratoga will soon turn to the Travers Stakes, the highlight of the meet that runs through Labor Day weekend.
The draw is next Tuesday, with Good Magic listed on BetDSI.com as the favorite at +160.
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