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“He just wasn’t following the race…doing things I’ve never done with him before. And that’s because Laoban was threatening to do what he did yesterday–win a graded stakes for three-year-olds–going back to last winter in Queens. To boot, he was training brilliantly.

Saratoga Diary XXXIX: No Graveyard Blues for Songbird

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., July 24, 2016–

Dear Diary,

The talented runnerup, getting into a similar jackpot that encumbered his Belmont rally, wound up saving all that ground to no avail. But as people in my set know, we insist on sharing bad news immediately. “It’s a big concern. But if May foal Mohaymen has indeed peaked, it could be a long remainder of 2016 for the three-year-old and his connections.

McLaughlin was troubled by Mohaymen’s lack of effort. Lest I remind you Diary that it’s been a pretty good week for loons from Queens.

Moreno rolled into Saratoga two years ago as a non-winner once removed, coming off a huge maiden score on the Belmont Stakes undercard. And, with the help of a pronounced inside speed bias, he nearly did just that, nearly stealing the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes over Aqueduct’s winter track.

You might not care about the rantings from some loon from Queens. Appearing a tad short and dullish, Destin should be all set for the August 27 Travers.

Maybe I should have had Broadway John chronicle what opening week of Saratoga 148 looked like and felt like. He wasn’t the same horse.”

The only thing that failed him pre-race was not looking as if he filled out his light-framed body. Per usual, good news and bad, mostly bad, but the best thing to report is the racing this first weekend of the cherished Saratoga season.

Despite a stumbling beginning that virtually eliminated race favorite Mohaymen from any chance of winning, especially given Saturday’s dynamic, it is now abundantly clear that he has not stepped it up since taking two brilliant Florida Derby preps this winter.

The saving grace is, as always, the horses and the competition, four-legged and two, with storylines ever where you turn. That was about the same time Ortiz was gaining confidence: “I was really confident by the half-mile pole,” Ortiz later said. But his effort was still good enough to get him to the line a neck in front of Destin. Here’s the notable and notorious events of the week:

Upsets from Coast to Coast, More In the Offing?

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, JULY 31, 2016–.

Junior Alvarado, riding extremely well at Saratoga, and whose remarks about Mohaymen have always appeared to be forthright, made no excuses:

The Jim Dandy was supposed to be Mohaymen’s reemergence–his Travers, so to speak: He was fresh and was pointed to a target by an outfit that’s been sizzling hot at this Spa stand.

Showing his class, Laoban responded with a final five furlongs in 59.32 seconds, stunning his rivals with nine very solid furlongs in 1:48.39, winning the local Travers prep by 1-1/4 lengths over Governor Malibu.

Dear Diary, The differences between trainer Eric Guillot’s 2014 Whitney winner, Moreno, and yesterday’s Jim Dandy hero, Laoban, are subtle ones.

“It looked like he was out of horse at the half-mile pole,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. We thought he had a legitimate excuse yesterday, even if the man on his back disagreed. We’ll scope him and look him over.”

The latter, for a brief twinkling at the furlong pole, looked like he would run past Laoban, but not in those late splits. The other difference was a bit more dramatic.

Truthfully, the first three finishers all ran well, efforts that should see them advance nicely toward the Derby of Midsummer, including that of Laoban.

“I didn’t think [the stumble] mattered at all,” said Alvarado.

Over a surface that was far less cuppy Saturday than it has been all meet long, and with the rail a little less dead, Laoban, with the assist of speed ace Jose Ortiz and a lackadaisical bunch trailing him, he sauntered through splits of 24.56 and 49.07–forty-nine!–and rolled from there, beating a pair of near Belmont Stakes dead-heaters and a once divisional leader in the process.

It’s situations like these in which horsemen hope to find a little something to put a finger on and correct