Saturday featured a tremendous afternoon of racing at Saratoga, with six grade 1 races (including the $1.25 million Travers Stakes) dominating the headlines.
But while the day’s equine exploits have received plenty of press, significant focus has been placed on the way Saratoga’s main track played during the busy afternoon. The vast majority of the dirt races were dominated by outside runners, particularly deep closers, while horses racing along the rail struggled to produce their best form.
Whether you call it a slow rail, a bad rail or a dead rail, the takeaway is the same—the inside wasn’t the place to be Saturday at Saratoga—and all results should be analyzed in this context.
Who were some of the horses most affected by the dead rail? With an eye toward the next round of Breeders’ Cup Challenge races (and the Breeders’ Cup itself), here are five runners who could be poised for sharper efforts over fairer racetracks down the road.
The Ohio Derby (G3) winner never got off the rail in the Travers, as he employed ground-saving tactics from start to finish after his break from post 1. Despite racing over the slowest part of the track, Owendale fought on gamely through the homestretch to finish fifth, beaten just two lengths for the runner-up spot.
Like Owendale, Tacitus (in a surprising pacesetting performance) spent a lot of time along the rail in the Travers. The difference? Tacitus shifted off the rail in the homestretch and found new life over the faster part of the track, where he re-rallied to secure the runner-up spot behind wide-running winner Code of Honor. Had Tacitus raced outside from the start, it’s fair to wonder if he might have turned the tables on Code of Honor.
Wow Cat’s fourth-place finish in the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) might appear uninspiring, but she raced inside throughout and hugged the rail tightly down the lane, which may have cost her third place against the wide-running She’s a Julie. Considering how Wow Cat was compromised by pace dynamics in her previous start, her muddied form could lead to appealing odds in her next race.
The 3-10 favorite in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (G1) broke from the rail and stayed there until the homestretch, where he shifted out and briefly kicked away but ultimately weakened to finish third by two noses. Shancelot clearly regressed off his massive victory in the Amsterdam Stakes (G2) last month, but if not for the dead rail, he might still have prevailed in the Jerkens.
Promises Fulfilled was badly beaten in the Forego Stakes (G1), where he faded after a half-mile to finish last by 14 1/4 lengths. But this talented sprinter wasn’t helped by his rail post position and racing inside from start to finish, so it might be wise to draw a line through his disappointing effort.