SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Even after 146 years, Saratoga still can produce something unique. Wednesday's early daily double was a first for the Spa and almost certainly for anywhere, with Irish jockey Ross Geraghty winning a 21/16-mile steeplechase before Panama native Luis Grandison called a 5-furlong dash in Spanish on Latino-American heritage day.
The first of the meeting's 12 jump races began 35 minutes before the usual 1 p.m. first post, because steeplechases usually attract less than half the handle of a non-stakes flat race. Most Americans are nervous about betting on horses that must stay upright after clearing 52-inch obstacles topped with plastic brush. Yet jumpers generally are quite formful, and this time 2-1 favorite Rudyard K cruised by 5¼ lengths over 5-2 second choice Selection Sunday.
Co-owner Perry Bolton was all smiles after earning $45,000 of a $75,000 purse. "It's my fourth victory at Saratoga,'" he said, "but winning here never diminishes in spirit."
The chalk players had no anxious moments as Geraghty, the two-time defending United States champion, won for the ninth time in his last 13 mounts. It's never 87 degrees and muggy in County Meath, and perspiration poured into his eyes as he gulped water after weighing in. At least Rudyard K never made him sweat.
"He was always traveling very well, and did you see how he jumped the last fence?'" the Maryland resident told Bolton and trainer Todd Wyatt.
Sean Clancy embodies a unique double: 1998 U.S. champion steeplechase jockey and Eclipse Award-winning writer. He publishes the Saratoga Special, which chronicles the 40-day meet. "Running for an allowance purse this big is a great opportunity for the steeplechase people," Clancy said. "It's not exorbitant, because hunt meetings have races worth that much, but it's very good.''
Grandison, 57, enjoyed performing in Spanish for the live audience as well as for simulcasting outlets throughout North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. When Grandison debuted April 3 at Aqueduct, the New York Racing Association became the first United States track operator to offer year-round race descriptions in Spanish.
"Many people in my country and the other Spanish-speaking countries follow racing from the United States very closely, but before this they could only hear the calls in English," Grandison said. "Now they can hear them in their own language.'"
Daring Dancer wins stakes: Favored Daring Dancer ($8.30) and jockey Alan Garcia got up in the final stride to beat A Little Bit Sassy by a head in the Grade II, $200,000 Lake George Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the turf. Graham Motion trains the winner, who ran 11/16 miles in 1:40.92 on a firm inner course.