Exactly what happened to Olympiad last time out in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes could be one of those great racetrack mysteries. Maybe it was humidity, which trainer Bill Mott pins it on. Maybe it was some wetness that accounted for a heavy track. But that really doesn’t matter anymore.
Though he finished a puzzling fourth, a little more than nine lengths behind in the Whitney for his first loss in six 2022 starts, Olympiad emphatically put that Aug. 6 blemish behind him as he bounced back with an impressive two-length victory in the $1 million, Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Sept. 3 before a crowd of 32,063 on the final Saturday of the meet at Saratoga Race Course.
“It was good to see him come back. The other day was almost too bad to be true, considering the form he had been in during his previous five races,” Mott said. “I liked the way he looked after we put the saddle on today. He was on his toes. He was a little quiet the other day when it was so hot. He kinda had his head down and was a little too quiet. I think everyone was moving a little slow that day but today he looked like he had a little extra energy and a little extra bounce in his step.”
If heat is indeed a nemesis for the son of Speightstown, that likely will not be a problem next time out when Olympiad runs in the Nov. 5 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland. Though the Jockey Club Gold Cup was a Breeders’ Cup Challenge stakes with a free “Win and You’re In” spot in the Classic, Olympiad had previously won the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes to cover his Breeders’ Cup fees.
Instead, what the Jockey Club Gold Cup gave the connections was proof that Olympiad can handle the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Classic.
“He answered the mile and a quarter question today,” said Everett Dobson of Cheyenne Stable after Olympiad’s first try at the distance. “We love that the Breeders’ Cup is in Kentucky at Keeneland. We have a lot of friends there and we are very excited about going.”
After Olympiad won for the eighth time in 11 starts Saturday and claimed his first Grade 1 win, the money and the stakes will be dramatically higher next time. By virtue of his victory, Olympiad joined the list of top contenders for the $6 million Classic, and should he prove best at the World Championships, it could crown him as Horse of the Year – even with the Whitney loss.
“The Breeders’ Cup kind of dictates everything,” Mott said. “There are some good horses in the division and I’m glad that we’re up there with them.”
Though CHC and WinStar Farm’s Americanrevolution, who beat Olympiad last year in the Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets and was the 2.35-1 second choice Saturday, took up the chase, he was unable to put a dent in Olympiad’s lead as the 4-year-old bred by Emory A. Hamilton was timed in 2:02.11 for the mile and a quarter under Junior Alvarado.
“Junior gave him a great ride. Everything worked out great,” Dobson said about the 1.70-1 favorite who paid $5.40 to win.
The New York-bred Americanrevolution, one of four starters trained by Todd Pletcher, was 1 3/4 lengths ahead of First Captain, a son of Curlin trained by Shug McGaughey.
Pletcher’s other three starters were fourth (Untreated), fifth (Keepmeinmind) and sixth (Dynamic One).
Virginia Joy Upsets Heavy Favorite War Like Goddess in Flower Bowl
The ghosts of days gone by at the Spa just gave a little nudge to let everyone know that this grand old horse park is still the Graveyard of Favorites. The suggestion was this: if you’re a big favorite in a big race at Saratoga Race Couurse, all bets are off.
Welcome to the 45th running of the $600,000, Grade 2 Flower Bowl Stakes, where the horse expected to win did not. George Krikorian’s War Like Goddess, who had put together a marvelous resume with eight wins in 10 starts, would not find the winner’s circle on the late afternoon of Sept. 3. She was sent off at the lopsided odds of 1-5, which is a sure sign of doom if you go by the history of this place.
Sure enough, War Like Goddess had to settle for second in the 1 3/8-mile race on the Inner turf course. This was not an upset that shook the rafters like when Secretariat or American Pharoah got beat, but it raised eyebrows just the same.
The winner of the Flower Bowl – which was downgraded from a Grade 1 last year – was Virginia Joy, a 5-year-old mare trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.
The strategy was simple for this one. Go to the lead, slow it down, and take your chances. It worked to perfection.
“It was a comfortable lead,” said Ortiz, the meet’s leading rider, who won four races on the afternoon. “That was the plan. Make the lead and make it as slow as I can. It worked out good.”
It was too good. Brown, sitting up in his box seat, must have been doing cartwheels inside as he watched Virginia Joy and Ortiz carve out fractions of :26.47, :53.29, and 1:19.59.
“There wasn’t any speed in the race,” Brown said. “She had already won a nice race earlier in the season going wire-to-wire, so I told Irad, ‘Why don’t you just put her on the lead? Unless somebody goes crazy, just put her out there and just see how far she’ll go.'”
The victory was also worth a Breeders’ Cup Challenge berth to the $2 million Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Keeneland Nov. 5.
War Like Goddess, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and ridden by Joel Rosario, had been able to overcome slow pace scenarios in her last two races to win, but could not do it in the Flower Bowl.
The final time was 2:19.51, well off the course record of 2:11.46. Virginia Joy, the second choice at 4.90-1, paid $11.80.
War Like Goddess finished 1 1/4 lengths in front of Coastana, who was followed home by Temple City Terror, Flanigan’s Cove, and Marvelous Maude.– Tim Wilkin