I wrote gushingly last week about the many attributes of Del Mar and Saratoga, but this week I’m here to tell you about a whole different kind of sublime racing that you might want to experience for yourself.
The White Pine and Elko county fairs will pick up next month where they left off before last year’s COVID-19-related cancellations, with the former running from Aug. 20 to 22 at the fairgrounds in Ely and the latter racing over two weekends Aug. 27 and 28 and Sept. 3 to 6 in Elko.
Horse racing was once more common in Nevada — including a short-lived racetrack in Las Vegas — but these two meets are the last vestiges of the Silver State’s equine heritage.
I have not experienced the Elko County Fair (I hope to rectify that soon), but my visit to Ely’s races in 2018 was enjoyable. The setting was bucolic, the fans were enthusiastic and the participants were the kind of homespun horsemen that always have been the bedrock of the sport. The corn dogs and beer weren’t half bad, either.
Both meets, which present a mix of quarter horse and thoroughbred races, also are important to their communities.
“It’s the single biggest draw” of the year for Ely in terms of tourism, said Marietta Henry, chairwoman of the White Pine Racing, of the fair, which attracts visitors from other fair-racing states such as Idaho, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and South Dakota.
She said an army of about 100 volunteers helps keep the racing operation going, doing everything from manning the parimutuel windows to grooming the track and loading horses into the starting gate, all under the supervision of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Giovanni Puccinelli, vice chairman of the Elko County Fair Board and chairman of parimutuel operations, said the fair is “really big for the community” and that putting fannies in the stands is imperative to keep the racing operation in the black.
“We’re a small little track, not a big thing, so if we don’t have a full house, we’re not making money,” he said.
The good news is that neither operation expects to be unduly affected by Gov. Steve Sisolak’s mandate this week to again require face masks in indoor public spaces because nearly all of their facilities are outdoors.
So if you’ve never attended a live horse race in Nevada, I encourage you to make some time to do so and experience what Puccinelli describes as “just basically family fun.”
Dandy and dandier
Top-notch racing at Saratoga continues this weekend with Saturday’s $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (Grade 2) attracting a talented six-horse field headlined by Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality. The Spa also has the $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (Grade 1) for 3-year-olds, headlined by fan favorite Whitmore, and the $250,000 Bowling Green on Saturday’s card. The $200,000 Amsterdam Stakes (Grade 2) gets top billing Sunday.
Del Mar has action with Breeders’ Cup implications, with the $300,000 Bing Crosby Stakes (Grade 1) on Saturday and the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (Grade 1) on Sunday. C Z Rocket, runner-up to Whitmore in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November, is the 5-2 favorite in the former, and the Hirsch has attracted the classy shipper Shedaresthedevil for trainer Brad Cox.
Ellis Starr’s Bing Crosby Stakes analysis
Vertical Threat is a perfect three-for-three in sprints. Each of those wins came at the 6 furlong distance of the Bing Crosby. One of those wins came at Del Mar last summer when, in only the second start of his career, Vertical Threat won the Smiling Tiger Stakes. That effort earned him a career-best 107 Equibase Speed Figure off a 102 figure one month earlier. After a failed attempt at a longer distance in the Pat Day Mile last September, Vertical Threat rested two months and shipped to Ohio for a dominant performance with a field high 118 figure winning the Steel Valley Sprint Stakes in a field of 12. In this year’s Bing Crosby there is likely to be a contested early pace battle between Quick Tempo and Brickyard Ride, who have only won when leading from the start. Considering Vertical Threat closed from off the pace to win last June then again in July in the Smiling Tiger, the colt could get first run on the tiring leaders and hold off any horses farther back in the early stages. Additionally, he’s very likely to be stronger as a 4-year-old so having put in some superb workouts for his comeback, Vertical Threat has a fine chance to keep his perfect record at the distance intact to win.
C Z Rocket has won 11 of 26 career races including four of eight at this distance. He also won the only time he ever raced at Del Mar. That win came last year when taking the Pat O’Brien Stakes at 7 furlongs in August with a 110 figure. C Z Rocket is even faster at this 6 furlong trip, as he earned a 117 figure last September when victorious in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. Not disgraced one bit when second behind Whitmore in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last fall, C Z Rocket won his first two starts of 2021, first with a 111 figure in the Hot Springs Stakes then a 114 in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap. Stretching out to a mile and running over a sloppy track, C Z Rocket was second in the Steve Sexton Mile in May and on the cut back to his best distance has every right to rebound to a winning effort.
Dr. Schivel, like Vertical Threat, has only run five times. He improved markedly last summer at Del Mar when easily winning to break his maiden in his third career start (with a 108 figure) before victory in the Del Mar Futurity as the betting favorite. Taking his time to get back to the races, Dr. Schivel returned in June as if he had never been away as he relaxed in fourth in the early stages before getting up by a neck right on the wire. That effort earned him a new career best 109 figure from which he should improve in his second start off the layoff, and as a previous grade 1 stakes winner, Dr. Schivel could certainly run well enough to win.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures: Brickyard Ride (115); Collusion Illusion (111); Eight Rings (104); Law Abidin Citizen (108); Quick Tempo (107); and Shooters Shoot (101).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.