PHOTO CREDIT: Benny Southstreet
At first, it seemed just like any other day in the Saratoga backyard in 2004. It was a fun summer up here, as they all are. This was before the Little House on the East Side, back when I was writing a regular handicapping piece for The Saratoga Special.
One day out back I saw an unfamiliar face. I soon learned that it belonged to a man you know and love — Benny Southstreet. It would be a long time before I knew any of his backstory. I had no inkling about the stolen baseball gear (we’ll get to that one eventually), the childhood spent at Aqua Caliente (ditto), or the whole witness protection thing. He was just a guy sitting by himself at the next picnic table.
“Picnic table?” a young one might ask (and I am proud that there are young ones that read this blog). “Why weren’t you at the paddock bar?”
Back in 2004, kids, there was no paddock bar. That would not come into existence until 2009, and before it, we had to make due with other options. I always enjoyed the grandstand seats and the nice view of the turn they provided (though in that era you were likely to get a lot of second-hand smoke in tight quarters down there). Other days we sat in the backyard, saving money by bringing in sandwiches (usually Roma’s) and canned beer — this was right around when the first good canned beers were happening — think Dale’s Pale Ale and Porkslap. Often we went with Heineken, which wasn’t great but was better in cans without the green bottle skunkiness.
I digress. There was this guy, around my age, sitting at the picnic table next to us alone. No one sits alone at a picnic table in Saratoga. And back then we were among the younger people around back there, so this led to conversation. It was Benny’s first trip to town. He was here for a bachelor party, staying in one of the mansions on Union Avenue. After a night of wild festivities, the rest of his crew was sleeping in, and Benny had been dispatched to fetch the table.
I later heard from the bachelor-to-be that during the party the previous night, Benny had left right after dinner, went to his room, hooked up a portable VCR, and was watching literal tape of the horses who’d be running the next day (Tape is right by the way. In 2004, streaming video replays existed but were difficult to access). Kitty, the nom de stage of one of the entertainers that evening, apparently thought he was cute. Benny was more interested in trying to suss out if the rail at Belmont was dead or not. Now that’s dedication. And to think you don’t want to pay for his stuff.
We talked horses and Benny had a good day. The rail WAS dead at Belmont that day and three horses who ran on it came back to outrun their odds. My gang and his gang got along well, hit a bunch of stuff in the verticals and had a great day out there. We agreed to all meet up to grill back at our house followed by a night out on Caroline Street. But a curious thing happened — Benny never showed.
There was a carryover the next day at Ellis so we thought he might be studying for that but later we learned the truth. Apparently, his lack of interest in Kitty had been the perfect move. Not only had his diligent trip work paid dividends for all of us, but he had somehow managed to look up from the screen long enough to get her number. As the races ended, he had pulled the old Irish goodbye on us, taken his winnings, and whisked her off to Chez Sophie for the evening. The next morning he took her on a hike up Buck Mountain, which was really just a pre-text for him to photograph the snakes of the Adirondacks. He got a great shot of a timber rattlesnake but I think that was the end of Benny and Kitty.
I wouldn’t see Benny again until the following year’s Preakness, but he vowed to spend an entire summer in Saratoga in the near future. After a couple of missteps, that finally happened in 2007, and that’s when things would really start to get interesting.
On to the notes!
Ain’t None Lucky
Race Note: Was 8-1 ML. Actually took OK money given there was a 2-5* in the race. Every horse with the exception of the favorite was an overlay. The winner of this race looked like Landaluce and the jock was patting her after they passed the wire. He was giving her all kinds of praise back to the winner’s circle…might be a real good one.
Trip Note: To her knees from the gate. To make matters worse the outer flow that was moving towards the rail caused her to shuffle. This was a very bad start. Back to next to last. Recovered well enough considering and saving ground through the turn. Harder ask midway in turn and eased out a bit for the drive. All out ask now. Ran OK down the lane. Not disgraced at all considering the trouble and what was in front of her.
Double Down Dare
Race Note: Was 10-1 ML. 4-5* for Jason Servis (that finished 4th) was on hold at rail entering the far turn and jumped something causing a mild shuffle. Also ran green through turn and until late in the stretch also.
Trip Note: Away best and hard ask for speed. Clear entering far turn. Stalker engaged midway in turn. Nudging became all out shove to maintain lead by the midway point of the turn. Switched leads well and fought hard through the lane while being stuck left handed. Good enough effort but had big advantage entering the far turn.
Race Note: Was 9-2 ML
Trip Note: Away average and a bit clumsy on head on view. In between spot entering far turn. Rider hard ask to ease outward & move around top ones. No quicken while 3-4W through turn. Flat lane and rider conceded defeat with token whipping.
Race Note: Jeremiah had two in here. This one and another that finished second. Pletcher wins at 3-5*.
Trip Note: Away best. Hard ridden for speed. Slightly outrun early in turn by outside movers – Pletcher and his stablemate. At rail through turn and running OK. Nudging. Now an all out shove late in turn and whipping. Eased to 3 path at top of the stretch. Switched leads fine. Driven hard to hold 3rd spot as top two had run away from her but unable. Eh.
Race Note: Was 5-2 ML. Received good enough action as Pletcher had a 2-5* entry. Pletcher entry runs 1-2.
Trip Note: Away OK. Clean. Hard ridden early. Was a pretty good pinball entering the far turn but because she was perfectly in between it didn’t destroy her. Nudged through turn and at rail now. Pretty hard asking late in turn and switched out to 4 path to go around. Even lane and a touch green.
Race Note: Was entered the day before but opted for this spot. Was 5-2 ML. Maker wins with wire to wire winner. Maker been hot at every track of late.
Trip Note: Away last but just ½ length slow. Took off for lead. Hooked up with eventual winner from the bell. Hooked 4-5 clear by midway in turn. Switched leads well and simply tired in the lane. Token ride the last 100 yards. Was easily second best.
Race Note: Was 30-1 ML. First race against her own sex. Field shows as 7 on paper. It finished with 5.
Trip Note: Away fine. Clean. Good speed early. Was contesting for the lead when the outside contester and 3-1 2nd choice bolted & took a stalker with her. This one inherited the lead on a slow pace. Coughed up lead with no resistance at top of stretch. Yuck. Not with Monopoly money.
Race Note: Was 7-2 ML and bet solidly. Won’t find many state brad maiden races that were faster than this one.
Trip Note: Away well. Clean. Ask and good speed. Earned a stalking position through the turn while chasing the rail horse who was quicker and the eventual wire to wire winner. Token ride the last 1/8 as this one had her heart broken and gave in. While she was well beaten, she showed good early speed and the top two here were visually impressive.
Race Note: Was 10-1 ML. FTS for Clemente goes wire to wire while 4-5* for Jeremiah Englehart is up the track. Show finisher was impressive and shouldn’t be a maiden for long.
Trip Note: Away a hair slow – maybe ½ length. Mild shuffle back to last but also didn’t have any speed. On hold at the back of the pack and at rail. 4-5 lengths from nearest foe. No real ask until late in the turn. Was easing out for a slingshot into the stretch and eased to about the 6 path but no quicken. Rider reversed course and took this one in behind for the stretch drive which was flat. Eh.
Race Note: ML meaningless as this race came off turf. Winner was 1-1* from Mark Casse barn.
Trip Note: Away best and clean. Hard ridden for speed. Outrun for lead but a joint second at the rail in turn. Saving ground. Ridden to earn a clear second. Success but winner getting away. Was tired in the lane and token ride from the 1/8 pole.
Race Note: Was 5-1 ML. Bet well. Pletcher horse bet hard to 6-5* and runs third.
Trip Note: Away a touch slow. Maybe 1 length. Took off for lead. Stuck 3 wide through the turn and contesting lead. Hard ask late in turn to put away other speed. Perfect tripper that was behind this 3 prong duel eased around these 3 and won easy but this one ran very well after a touch slow early, being stuck 3 wide and being the best of the speed.
Race Note: ML meaningless as this race came off turf. Winner was 1-1* from Mark Casse barn.
Trip Note: Away well enough. In between early. Not the best spot through the turn and pretty wide at the midway point of the turn. Pretty decent kick into the stretch. Didn’t switch leads until midway in stretch and tired late while in between. Could have easily run third and in my opinion was 3rd best.