SARATOGA SPRINGS — The best horse on paper was also the best one on the track, and it wasn’t close.
Dropping into New York-bred company after having taken a shot at the Grade I Manhattan on July 4, Cross Border rolled to a 6 1/4-length victory in the $85,000 Lubash at Saratoga Race Course on Wednesday.
With Dante’s Fire scratched, Cross Border faced just three rivals in the Lubash, and he and jockey Jose Ortiz patiently followed Blewitt and The J Y on the outside before taking command inside the sixteenth pole.
Ortiz didn’t even bother to consider a ground-saving trip on the inside, keeping Cross Border clear of any potential traffic issue, even in a short field.
“Pretty easy,” Ortiz said. “He was much the best on paper, he’s been running against way better horses. He only got beat one length in the Manhattan.
“I took him back from the get-go, I knew Blewitt had some speed and the other horse outside of me [The J Y] had some speed, too, so I didn’t want to get in bad position. I wanted to ride him like he was the best horse. Just sit on him.”
The two horses in front didn’t exactly rocket through the first quarter-mile, as Blewitt’s opening split was 25.48 and 48.95 for the half, and still Cross Border was able to get to the lead in cruise control.
“He’s done well in the past stalking, but on paper he looked like the class,” trainer Mike Maker said. “I think his tactical speed helps him, but also being a New York-bred and the conditions he had really helped him last year. Plus, it was a four-horse field here and a drop in class can’t hurt.”
“He’s a very kind horse to ride,” Ortiz said. “He does whatever you want. Last time, we were on the lead, but we were going 50 [seconds for the first half-mile]. His best races are sitting off the pace, anyway, and I was more than happy to be able to sit off it.”
Maker was able to get three starts and three victories out of Cross Border at last year’s Saratoga meet, all in allowance company.
He may look to jump back into open stakes company in the Sword Dancer on Aug. 29 or find another race against New York-breds.
Wednesday’s card marked the first steeplechase of the meet, with Snap Decision overcoming a rocky first hurdle to win the $55,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice with Sean McDermott aboard.
It was the Jack Fisher-trained Snap Decision’s eighth straight steeplechase start and fifth straight victory, including an allowance by a whopping 38 1/2 lengths at Saratoga last season.
One interested observer was Ortiz, who had ridden Snap Decision when he was running on the flat track and trained by Shug McGaughey.
“I like to see him in there doing well,” he said. “I used to get on him, even in the mornings for Shug. He’s a pretty cool horse to be around.
“He wasn’t lucky enough or good enough to win a stakes-level, but I’m happy he’s able to win a stakes as a jumper. It’s very nice to see that. Pretty exciting. Any time he’s running, he has my attention and I’ll be rooting for him.”