SARATOGA SPRINGS — Despite the fact that no fans are allowed at Saratoga Race Course, there is still one food stand open on track, for those who are allowed on the grounds.
You can get a hot dog for 8 bucks, a pastrami sandwich for 15 and a lobster roll for 25.
If you’re interested in healthier fare, like tofu, you have to win the Coaching Club American Oaks.
In the first Grade I stakes of the 2020 meet, Paris Lights dueled Crystal Ball for most of the stretch before prevailing by a head on Saturday, her third straight win, while making her stakes debut.
As other stakes winners have been asked by the media so far, trainer Bill Mott responded to a question about how unusual it is to win a big race before an empty grandstand, and he credited a security guard with the perfect analogy:
“One of the guards at the gate explained it to me. We were looking around, it was very quiet and we were talking about how it felt to be here. He said it was like somebody giving you a great big plate of tofu. That’s probably the best way to explain it.
“We’re glad to be here, and glad to have that plate of tofu.”
Ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, who has been in the saddle for all four of Paris Lights’ starts, the bay daughter of Curlin stalked the Bob Baffert-trained Crystal Ball and Javier Castellano in second, and engaged them at the top of the stretch from the outside.
There was some contact — reminiscent of two other recent battles between Mott and Baffert fillies — near the wire, but Paris Lights battled by to win by a slim margin.
“My filly just kept digging,” Gaffalione said. “The other one was a little stubborn to get by, but my filly’s all class.”
“The way it developed, with better horses in the race, she hooked up and battled with one of the best horses,” Castellano said. “I’m not disappointed. I’m happy the way she did it. We just got beat on the [head] bob.”
The duel echoed the battles between the Baffert-trained Abel Tasman and the Mott-trained Elate in the 2017 CCA Oaks and the 2018 Personal Ensign.
Ridden by Mike Smith, Abel Tasman won both, and the Elate camp was particularly angry after the Personal Ensign loss for what they viewed as excessive contact by Abel Tasman that should’ve led to a disqualification. The Saratoga crowd actually booed the wildly popular Smith after that one.
Those two fillies ran for different owners, but on Saturday, Gaffalione and Castellano wore identical silks, the black shirt with the familiar WinStar Farm star in gold and white.
Mott was all smiles this time.
“The odd thing about it is they’re both wearing the same set of colors, for the same stable,” he said. “I said, ‘Wouldn’t that be cute if we got beat by one of the stablemates.’ And possibly set it up for somebody from behind. But it didn’t work out that way, and they looked like they were the best two in the race.
“Hey, the other filly fought hard. She dug in, but our filly was the best one today, and I was very proud of her.”
Crystal Ball was 4 3/4 lengths clear of the next finisher, Antoinette.
The logical next step for Paris Lights is the Grade I Alabama in four weeks.
Mott has won that race three times, most recently with Elate in 2017. He hadn’t won the CCA Oaks since Ajina in 1997.
Paris Lights has made steady progress through four starts to warrant a shot at the Alabama.
“I would think so. Sure,” Mott said. “I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t make that a major potential goal.
“She’s won her last three. She didn’t draw away and win by 10 or anything. We’re not going to call her Ruffian just yet. I’d say she’s a pretty accomplished filly for the lack of seasoning that she’s got.”
“She just keeps getting better and better with each performance,” Gaffalione said. “She loves extra distance, and she’s a big, strong, powerful filly, so I have no doubt that she’ll keep on improving moving forward off of this.”
HALL OF FAME STAKES
Decorated Invader improved to 3-for-3 this year with a win in the Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, drawing past front-runner Get Smokin in the final sixteenth to win by a length and a quarter.
Sent off at odds of 2-5, Decorated Invader added the Hall of Fame stakes to victories in the Cutler Bay at Gulfstream Park and the Grade II Pennine Ridge at Belmont Park in 2020, and he improved to 5-1-0 from seven career starts.
Of his seven races, three have come at Saratoga, where he just missed in his career debut last year, then broke his maiden by 3 1/4 lengths on Aug. 10.
“He’s a top-class horse and has been since Day 1 for me,” trainer Christophe Clement said. “I love him. I love the way he trains. I love the way he races. It’s a different scenario every time we run him, but the final outcome is the same. That’s what good horses do, they win.”
“When I got to the horse on the lead turning for home, he kept running a little bit,” jockey Joel Rosario said. “He had been all alone on the lead, but I could feel I had a lot of horse underneath me and he was moving much the best.”
Clement said Decorated Invader would be considered for the $500,000 Saratoga Derby on Aug. 15.
His other good 3-year-old turf runner, Gufo, who has won four straight, was scratched.
“With the rain yesterday, it was nice to keep our options open,” Clement said. “We’ll train him for the same race, and see what happens.”