The field for the John Morrissey scratched down to just four horses, and yet Saratoga Snacks and jockey Joel Rosario still managed to find traffic trouble in the stretch.
Of course, the bigger problem was that they were running against winning machine Saginaw, and he did his thing again, winning the John Morrissey for the second year in a row at Saratoga Race Course by 1 3⁄4 lengths over Mine Over Matter.
The bay gelding has won 21 of 40 lifetime starts, is 5-for-5 this year and 15-for-18 going back to March of last year.
“There is nothing left to say,” trainer David Jacobson said. “He’s an incredible horse. Anyone who doubted him before, there’s no such thing with Saginaw anymore.”
“He’s been doing great at Aqueduct and Belmont, too. What can I tell you? He’s something else,” said Junior Alvarado, who has ridden Saginaw in his last seven starts. “He puts in that little extra. You have the feeling it’s almost over, but he wants to give that little extra. He pushes to the end to get there.”
Saratoga Snacks, owned by soon-to-be-inducted National Football League Hall of Famer Bill Parcells, failed to finish first or second for the first time in nine career starts.
He came around the turn for the 6 1⁄2-furlong John Morrissey on the inside and was bumped by front-runner B Shanny and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., forcing Rosario to check temporarily.
He regained momentum coming off the turn and appeared to have a seam between B Shanny, who by then was dueling with Saginaw, and the rail, but Saratoga Snacks hesitated again.
Rosario maneuvered him outside, but encountered Saginaw drifting out on the lead and had to settle for third in the final jump.
“I had room to go through; first he [Ortiz] closed it, then he opened it up,” Rosario said. “I had a chance to go through, but it was kind of like my horse didn’t want to go there. After I had a position on the inside I said, ‘OK, I’ll keep him going from here,’ but he just stayed there.
“I thought he was going to go through there, but when [B Shanny] moved in, he kind of didn’t want to be there. He had one pace, and maybe if we were on the outside it would have been a little bit different. Sometimes, it’s hard to win every race.”
“I saw [Saratoga Snacks] was stuck on the inside,” Alvarado said. “At this point, I’m next to him, but I’m just keeping my horse together because I knew [Saginaw] was going to finish. I guess things didn’t work out very good for them, but you can’t take anything away from my horse. He ran a hell of a race. He’s a great horse.”
“He just has the biggest heart,” Jacobson said. “He’s out there to compete, to win, and he just loves to run. He especially loves Saratoga. Now I just have to decide which race I like better, the one he won last year or this one.”
Saginaw won the John Morrissey on the front end by five lengths last year.
HOT STUFF, INDEED
Mr. Hot Stuff, 15th in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, finally made the leap to Grade I winner status.
He did so by taking the jump route, winning the A.P. Smitherwick steeplechase stakes by 2 1⁄2 lengths over Italian Wedding.
Ridden by Paddy Young and trained by Jack Fisher, Mr. Hot Stuff is a full brother to 2008 Travers winner Colonel John.
He raced on the flat track for the first 19 starts of his career, finishing third in the Sham and Santa Anita Derby and also eighth in the Belmont Stakes in 2009.
He was converted to a steeplechaser in 2011, and has won four of eight starts over the hurdles.
“He’s taken to the jumps because he doesn’t have to work that hard. Seriously,” Fisher said. “It’s not as tough. He’s not going down there in 23 [seconds for a quarter-mile]. It’s just a nice easy gallop for him. Sometimes, doing this, if it’s easy enough, they’ll try again. He’s a beautiful horse.”
Young kept Mr. Hot Stuff pos-itioned a length or two behind front-runner Brave Prospect until the leader tired over the eighth of nine fences and Mr. Hot Stuff took over.
He got over the final fence well and had plenty in the tank to hold off Italian Wedding, who was a neck ahead of entrymate Divine Fortune.
“It was the first time I sat on the horse, so everything was good,” Young said. “I’ve watched him plenty of times. He beat me a lot of times. He’s a very nice horse to get on.”
The A.P. Smithwick was Mr. Hot Stuff’s second race against open steeplechase company. He was fourth in the Grade III David L. (Zeke) Ferguson Memorial at Colonial Downs in June.
“He’s still a big baby, really, in relative terms to steeplechasing,” Young said. “I’d like to think he can keep improving and get bigger and stronger and better. With steeplechasers, it’s got to do with confidence. They’ve got to believe in themselves. Flat horses are the same, but these horses have to believe that if something goes wrong in a race, they can get back up and do it. He was the utmost professional today.”
“He has the talent, and he used it today,” Fisher said.
FUNNY CIDE ARRIVES
Funny Cide traveled from the Old Friends farm in Georgetown, Ky., to the organization’s Cabin Creek Frankel Division in Greenfield on Thursday and will be there for a week.
Old Friends at Cabin Creek is holding a Lunch with Funny Cide, featuring owner Jack Knowlton, jockey Jose Santos, trainer Barcley Tagg and assistant Robin Smullen on Tuesday. A $20 donation to Old Friends is requested.
AROUND THE TRACK
Colonie’s Mike Shevy won his first race in 14 starts this year when his trainee One More Chief won the fourth race. . . .
It didn’t take long for the second dead heat of the meet.
Thirteen days after Bahnah and Brazen Persuasion tied to win the Schuylerville on opening day, Torment and Gamblin Fever dead-heated in the seventh race. . . .
At 3-1 on the morning line, Sounds of the City is the slight favorite in today’s feature, the $100,000 Caress turf sprint stakes for fillies and mares.
She has started in four straight stakes, finishing in the money in three of them.