With five Grade 1's races and a Grade 2 at Belmont Park along with five Grade 1's at Santa Anita, this past Saturday, Sept 28 was deemed Super Saturday. There were great performances on the track along with some surprising results in what was a major prep for the Breeders' Cup five weeks away.
Belmont started the day off with the 3-year-old Princess Of Sylmar beating the mare Royal Delta in the Beldame. 'Sylmar, like most top class female runners, is very consistent and she may be even better as a 4-year-old. Royal Delta will probably still be a top contender in the BC Distaff as she did not run badly; she just got plain outrun.
Then we watched three consecutive races won in gate-to-wire fashion by Graydar in the Kelso, Private Zone in the Vosburgh and Laughing in the Flower Bowl. Graydar and Laughing both set soft fractions and we would be surprised if they were allowed this kind of lead on Breeders' Cup Day. Private Zone was game in his previous win at Del Mar after losing the lead in the stretch entering this race and he did the same thing in the Vosburgh. This guy seems to be in top form and he has learned how to win after a string of close finishes.
Little Mike hadn't won since last year's BC Turf, but Mike Smith rode him the way Ramon Dominguez did in that race by sitting off the pace, taking the lead entering the stretch and holding on for a narrow win. This horse has baffled us and other handicappers as you never know what Little Mike you will see on race day. He can lead all the way in brilliant fashion or throw out the anchor or win like he did in this year's Joe Hirsch.
Ron The Greek is another who can pop up with a big race now and then and he did just that in the Jockey Club Gold Cup winning by over six lengths at 21/1. This was a quality field and he has won at 10 furlongs at Santa Anita in the past. Can he string two alike?
Over at Santa Anita, Secret Compass was able to catch She's A Tiger in the final strides of the Chandelier. 'Tiger was on a fast pace and may have moved a touch too early when she opened up entering the far turn. She may be able to turn the tables next time out.
In the Rodeo Drive, Vionnet tried to pull off a "Laughing" as she set the pace, but she was unable to hold off Tiz Flirtatious and Marketing Mix. 'Flirtatious proved her visually impressive win at Del Mar last time out was not a fluke as she held off 'Mix by a head. This was a good rebound by 'Mix who did not fire her best shot last time out at Arlington.
In a race that was full of Maidens, Bond Holder grabbed his first win in the Frontrunner by rallying from near the back of the pack. He won by over two lengths, but we have to question the competition of this "Grade 1" affair.
When Beholder was allowed to set the pace entering the first turn, I said to myself "This race is over". She proved me right as she led all the way in the Zenyatta. This was not a strong field either, but this filly is always tough to run down when able to establish a Lone "F" trip.
The fans were correct in the Awesome Again as Mucho Macho Man ran away from the field as the 8/5 favorite. He ran big in last year's BC Classic and it seems this 5-year-old loves this main track.
Most alarming from this day is the on-track attendance at both tracks. Both are in the area of two of the biggest cities in this country, but Belmont drew only 10,549 while Santa Anita drew 12,216.
Outside of Belmont Stakes Day, a crowd of 10,000 is rarely reached at Belmont Park so this was really no surprise. Still, you have to wonder what racing officials think and maybe new NYRA President Christopher Kay can find a way to bring people back on track.
Santa Anita drew 5,349 less than last year on this day and that is with $15 million of new renovations over the summer. It seems they should have spent some of that money on marketing.
Until race tracks figure out a way to bring more people on track, attendance will continue to suffer. Admission and parking charges, high takeout rates, low-quality customer service and food have been complaints for as far as I can remember. This Super Saturday should be renamed Alarming Saturday after this year's low attendance and it should serve as a warning of things to come if no major changes are made in the future.