The rarity of the race was about as interesting as the diversity of the field it attracted.
The eighth race at Saratoga Race Course on Monday was an allowance optional claimer running two miles over the dirt. It was the first two-mile dirt race at Saratoga since 2009.
“I probably could count on one hand the number of times [I’ve raced two miles],” winning jockey Ramon Dominguez said. “I don’t really remember the last time I raced two miles.”
This from a man with more than 20,000 career starts.
He was aboard Ea, who had won at 11⁄8 miles here seven days previously in a claiming race, beating Sumo by a nose in that one. Sumo came back quick for this marathon, too, and set the early pace under jockey Joel Rosario.
In addition to these two older geldings — Ea is 8 and Sumo 6 — there was Ea’s entrymate Springcourt, a 4-year-old making his 13th start and looking for his second win; Sensor, a 3-year-old Street Sense colt making his fourth career start; Tap Attack, a 4-year-old Tapit colt winless in his previous 15 starts this year; and Red Letter Day, a 9-year-old hurdler for Hall of Famer Janet Elliot who was used to the distance, but by no means the surface.
Sumo led them all through a 24.69 first quarter-mile and a 48.73 half, with Sensor and Ea not far behind.
“We went by the wire the first time and I took a peak at the board and saw the 24 and change, and I wasn’t too happy about that,” Dominguez said. “I figured that had to be a pretty quick fraction for a two-mile.”
They covered a mile in 1:14.28, a mile and a quarter in 2:08.43. Then Sumo had had enough, dropping back to last before Rosario eased him in the stretch. Ea was quick to pass along the inside, and Sensor followed along.
“I was doing everything I could to slow my horse down, and I was pretty happy with his progression through the backstretch the second time around,” said Dominguez, who won his fourth race of the day aboard Ea. “We got to a half-mile and he wanted to open up, and I didn’t really discourage him.”
Ea won by 61⁄4 lengths in 3:29.75, and Sensor was 11⁄2 lengths ahead of third-place Springcourt.
Sensor was just 21⁄4 lengths back at the quarter-pole, but a misstep near the sixteenth pole ended hopes of a rally.
“I thought he’d handle it [the distance] just fine,” trainer Tom Albertrani said. “I thought the first quarter, we were up there just a little too quick, maybe. He had no excuse. He ran well off the two-month layoff going two miles.
“I was main-track-only the other day. I thought this race was coming up, actually, a little bit weak, competition-wise. We’ve got the pedigree to go long, so I was just taking a chance.”
It was more than another 24 lengths back to Tap Attack, Red Letter Day and Sumo.
Elliot said she entered Red Letter Day thinking he might handle the distance better than his opponents, but the dirt obviously didn’t suit him.
“I think it was a bit of a surprise for him,” she said. “He wasn’t quite sure what was going on, obviously. But he is pretty one-paced, and I think he sort of lost interest back there a bit.”
Applying the logic used by Dominguez after the race, from the back end of the field, those two miles must have seemed a bit longer, if not for the horses, then at least for the jockeys.
“It can be exciting if you’re on the right horse, like I was today,” he said. “If you’re not, I suppose it can be a long way.”