SARATOGA SPRINGS — Live by the 1-5 shot, die by the 1-5 shot.
Trainer Wesley Ward’s excellent weekend at Saratoga Race Course started on Friday, when his turf sprint star Golden Pal won the Grade III Troy by a head, having been bet down from 1-2 on the morning line to 1-5.
Matareya, riding a four-race winning streak by a combined 22 1/4 lengths, went off at identical odds in the Grade I Test for 3-year-old fillies on Saturday.
But she finished third, and it was Ward’s 17-1 long shot, Chi Town Lady, who pulled off the huge upset while ridden by the red-hot Joel Rosario.
Based on past performance, Ward knew Chi Town Lady, who was running seven furlongs on the dirt in the Test almost a year after winning the Bolton Landing at Saratoga at 5 1-2 furlongs on a yielding turf, would not hold much appeal to the betting public.
That’s OK, she had been training lights out, he said, and just getting a piece of a race like the Test would’ve been a victory of sorts.
“I told the owners we were probably going to be running a 30-1 shot, but I wanted to take one shot from way back and do what she’s been asking me to do, which is make a big charge and a big grind,” Ward said. “We were hoping for a second or third — a graded placing — to see if the race fell apart, and here we are in the winner’s circle.”
Matareya had been on a tear, winning the Grade III Beaumont at Keeneland, the Grade II Eight Belles at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day May 6 and the Grade I Acorn on Belmont Stakes Day June 11, when a much-anticipated duel between her and Echo Zulu didn’t happen because Echo Zulu was scratched at the gate.
With Echo Zulu taking a break from the races, the 3-year-old filly sprint division was Matareya’s to lose, and winning the Test would’ve further solidified her status.
Instead, a filly who finished almost 16 lengths behind Matareya in the Beaumont and was coming into the Test off a second in an optional claiming race in May won by 1 1/2 lengths.
Hot Peppers and jockey Luis Saez led most of the way and tried to fight off Matareya to the outside as they approached the wire.
That contact led to a steward’s inquiry after the finish, but didn’t affect Chi Town Lady, who had charged on the outside to win.
“It looked like they came out a little bit, and I ran into them a little bit, but it looked like they were coming more from the inside,” Rosario said. “My horse was kind of on the wrong lead at that point, and I was correcting her trying to keep her straight. She did great.”
“There was [concern] for me because I saw it happen and I thought I was coming down,” Ward said. “They didn’t throw the inquiry sign up at first, so I thought maybe we would skate through it, and sure enough it came up. I was a little worried until I actually saw the replay. I knew the stewards were going to rule in our favor, and they did.”
Trainer Brad Cox said Matareya didn’t look comfortable on the track, which had taken some rain about an hour before.
Jockey Flavien Prat confirmed that his filly didn’t handle the surface well, while still nearly gutting out second place.
“My first thought was I didn’t think she was handling her travelling up the backside that well, and Flavien thought the same, she wasn’t really taking him up there,” Cox said. “I thought he did a good thing at the three-eighths pole dropping her down to the inside. It’s probably a sign of her just not getting a hold of the track. No excuse, really. Third-best today. I think she’s a very good filly. Obviously she showed up and maybe didn’t get a favorable surface for her, and she still ran a good race.”
“[The rain] changed the track, and she never felt comfortable or happy on it,” Prat said. “She broke well, and after that she spit the bit right away and I never got myself into a nice rhythm and she was just struggling.”
SARATOGA DERBY INVITATIONAL
Classic Causeway tried to pull off a repeat performance.
Nations Pride wasn’t having it this time.
Trained by Charles Appleby and ridden by William Buick, Nations Pride settled behind Creative Causeway’s pace-setting trip and got the jump on the late closers to win the $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational.
That turned the tables on Creative Causeway’s victory in the first leg of the New York Racing Association’s high-purse three-part series on the turf for 3-year-olds, the Belmont Derby Invitational at Belmont Park on July 9.
Nations Pride just missed that day, finishing three-quarters of a length behind the Julien Leparoux-ridden Creative Causeway, who was switched from dirt to turf for the first time.
“On the back of Belmont, they were a touch unlucky,” Appleby said. “He was a bit slow from the gate there and had that wider trip around. It was a little bit messy, but that was by the by.
“We came in today confident that if we could just get him to break a bit quicker and William could get him up in behind the pace that we felt he was the right horse in the race and could go on and get the job done. It was a great ride by William.”
“I expected them to go faster, but I also had in the back of my head that the horse that made the run in the Belmont race would want to be doing the same again today,” Buick said. Once I saw that I knew Julien wasn’t going to go too fast and I was happy where I was.
“To be in that jocks’ room today with all the superstars was fantastic and great to be part of it. I’ve never been to Saratoga before. This is my first ride. I’ve watched plenty of races here and last year we couldn’t travel here, so when Charlie asked me to come and ride these horses, it was great to get that call.”
Add War Like Goddess to the list of female horses who have run or perhaps will run against males in a big stakes race in 2022.
Despite a dawdling pace up front, she and jockey Joel Rosario patiently waited for the moment to put away the field in the Grade II Glens Falls and did so with authority, winning by a length and a quarter to push War Like Goddess’ career record at Saratoga to 3-for-3 and 8-0-1 from 10 lifetime starts.
So far, War Like Goddess has followed the same race progression she did last year leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, although she was supposed to have run in the New York on Belmont Stakes weekend and missed it with a minor physical problem that she clearly has left behind, based on her Glens Falls.
The next one, though, could deviate from 2021, if trainer Bill Mott sends her to the Grade I Sword Dancer against males on Travers Day Aug. 27 instead of a return engagement to the Flower Bowl on Sept. 3.
“Mile and a half, and it’s a Grade I,” Mott said. “She’s a Grade I winner already, but unfortunately the Flower Bowl has been a Grade I for as long as I’ve been in New York, I believe, and they downgraded it, which is a very big disappointment. There’s been some really top fillies in the race, and why they downgraded it, I can’t tell you. I’m not on that committee.”
The Flower Bowl, first run in 1978, was downgraded from I to II by the American Graded Stakes Committee during the offseason.
In the mile-and-a-half Glens Falls, War Like Goddess tracked a slow pace by Key Biscayne that clocked in at 51.53 for the first half-mile and 1:17.51 for three-quarters.
Sent off at betting odds of 2-5, War Like Goddess took over at the three-sixteenths pole and was confidently hand-ridden by Rosario the rest of the way.
“Obviously, a faster pace is going to make her look better in the end, but she was still good enough to close into that pace,” Mott said. “You always worry if they’re going fast enough up front to give her enough pace, and you don’t want him to wrestle with her, either, to keep her back off the pace.
“But he did a good job. Joel has good hands, and the filly responded well to him, and when he asked her to go on for him, she was there for him.”
Perhaps the betting public will look more kindly on Dynadrive next time.
And when they do, it likely will be in the Grade III Bernard Baruch later in the meet.
Ridden by Eric Cancel, Dynadrive battled up the rail to edge Sifting Sands by a head in the Lure at a mile and a sixteenth on the turf.
In two starts since Tom Morley took over his training, both with Cancel in the saddle, Dynadrive has been sent off at odds of 45-1 and, on Saturday, 23-1. He’s 2-for-2 in those races.
“We were hoping for a good race last time, but we didn’t know if he was going to be a 25-claimer after that race or what would happen,” co-owner Jay Provenzano said. “He shocked the world, paid almost $100 [at Belmont Park on July 1]. Today, we know it was no fluke.”
“He shipped up here five or six days ago. He’s done everything right since then,” Morley said. “That’s not always the case, but today he was a much better horse in the paddock.
“He was very tough when I saddled him at Belmont, he pulled a shoe. I said to Eric at Belmont, ‘It can only get better from here,’ and it did, because he won. But today, we learned a lot for the first time. He had no issues before the race.”
The only issue Dynadrive had in the race was finding a hole inside and getting to the wire before Sifting Sands and jockey Manny Franco did.
“There wasn’t too much room at the beginning, then it opened up a little and I went for it,” Cancel said.. He [Franco] tried to make it a little tight on me, but my horse is brave and once I got him the spot, he was really comfortable and he just kept on going.”
“He [Dynadrive] got to the inside and caught me by surprise a little bit,” Franco said.