Welcome to “The Weekend Accolades,” a weekly series in which we’ll look back on the previous week of racing and hand out a few informal awards to horses, trainers, jockeys, etc. that achieved notable feats in racing. Enjoy!
Performance of the Week: American Pharoah in the Haskell
Come now, you saw this one coming, didn’t you? :) American Pharoah was simply breathtaking in the Haskell Invitational, casually tracking fast fractions of :23.22, :46.14, and 1:09.60 before seizing command and opening up a five-length lead under absolutely no urging at all from jockey Victor Espinoza. Honestly, Espinoza never moved, and American Pharoah was completely in control at the finish to win by 2 1/4 lengths in the sharp time of 1:47.95. Had he been urged at all in the homestretch, there’s little doubt that he could have won by much, much more, and the fact that he still received a strong 109 Beyer speed figure suggests that if he stays healthy, it may be impossible to beat him.
I’ve already recapped her debut win in a dedicated article and in Diamonds in the Rough, but it’s worth saying again that her performance was about as impressive as you could hope for. Using the rough rule-of-thumb that a horse loses one length of ground on a turn for each path that they are removed from the rail, it’s safe to say that Rachel’s Valentina gave up four or five lengths on the turn, yet still won convincingly in her first start. Wow! If I had to place a bet on one filly to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) this October, Rachel’s Valentina would be my clear-cut choice.
It was another great weekend for Todd Pletcher, who won an amazing five stakes races–four of them graded!–over the course of Saturday and Sunday. His streak started when his talented colt Rock Fall won the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga, then continued as Red Rifle won the Bowling Green Stakes (gr. III) and Madefromlucky scored a convincing win in the West Virginia Derby (gr. II). The following day, he won the Lady’s Secret Stakes at Monmouth with Got Lucky, and wrapped up the weekend with a victory in the Shuvee Handicap (gr. III) with Stopchargingmaria. And of course, as mentioned above, he also sent out Rachel’s Valentina to break her maiden — what a weekend!
Exciting Finish of the Week: The Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap
Rock Fall entered the six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I) with a reputation as one of the best sprinters in the country, and he did nothing to dispel that reputation as he battled to a gritty victory over last year’s King’s Bishop (gr. I) winner The Big Beast. Approaching the eighth pole, the two colts had virtually nothing between them, and while The Big Beast was able to grab a narrow advantage as the wire approached, Rock Fall fought back gamely to triumph by a nose in a thrilling finish.