15 Years in the Rearview: The 2002 Test

As the 2017 renewal of the GI Test S. draws near, Saratoga’s Saturday patrons would be fortunate to witness a race half as exhilarating as the 2002 edition of the seven-furlong dash. An instant Saratoga classic highlighted by a stretch-long battle between Edmund Gann’s 4-5 favorite You (You and I) and the previously unbeaten New York-bred Carson Hollow (Carson City), the race established the two fillies as local legends and highlighted the brilliance of a number of exemplary careers.

In many ways, it was the perfect race. The blinding early speed of Carson Hollow beneath 2012 Hall of Fame inductee John Velazquez stood in sharp contrast to a tardy start that left You and fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey at the rear of the pack. Following a bold inside move by the latter, the stage was set for a dramatic, neck-and-neck stretch run and, in the indelible words of famed NYRA announcer Tom Durkin, a photo finish that doesn’t deserve a loser. In the end, You claimed victory by a nose over her stubborn rival, but together, the pair created an lasting moment in Saratoga history. [Click here for NYRA video]

Aboard the Winner

For Jerry Bailey, the memory of the race remains vivid. Ironically enough, the famed jockey said the tensest moments came well before You engaged Carson Hollow in their prolonged battle to the wire.

I remember every stride of that race, Bailey said. You got off a little bit slowly, and I found myself a lot further back than I thought I would beI kind of bided my time and moved up, and I was right behind [Jorge] Chavez [aboard eventual third-place finisher Spring Meadow]he was off the rail, and I dove down, but just as I did, he started to change paths and come in. I screamed at him because he was going to be interfering with me, and he straightened up and I got through. Velazquez was on the lead with Carson Hollow. I thought there was plenty of room, but when I got there he tightened it upjust race riding. And it stayed so tight.

Bailey admitted that he had some fleeting doubts about his predicament, but ultimately horse and rider proved their mettle.

I said, ‘Oh, man, I’m on a filly. I don’t know how brave she is.’ But she was as courageous as they come, Bailey said. It wasn’t the scariest moment, because with Johnny and I, we were just shoulder-to-shoulder.

Aside from emerging on the winning end of a close photo finish, Bailey’s ride aboard You carried added significance in completing a graded stakes double for the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, who also teamed with Bailey to capture the GII Diana H. with Tates Creek (Rahy) two races prior. According to Bailey, the two narrow victories secured him another pair of winning Saratoga mounts on an immensely talented Gann colorbearer in the GII Jim Dandy S. and GI Travers S. later that summer.

The funny thing is, I was trying to get the mount on Medaglia d’Oro, Bailey recalled. Bobby Frankel said, ‘Look, I have two mounts for you this weekend: You in the Test and Tates Creek in the Diana. Kent Desormeaux is riding two for me in California, and whoever does better gets the mount on Medaglia d’Oro.’ I won the Test by a nose and the Diana by a nose.

Bailey would go on to win two more graded stakes aboard You, who retired at the end of 2003 with nine wins from 23 starts and over $2 million in earnings.

A Photo Finish That Doesn’t Deserve A Loser

From Tom Durkin’s perch atop the Saratoga grandstand, the gifted racecaller knew he was witnessing something special as the race played out. A sensational opening quarter-mile carved out by Carson Hollow in :21.60 and a daring move by Jerry Bailey through the narrow opening along the rail were fitting precursors to what ensued in the stretch.

Equipped with over 30 years of racecalling experience at the time, Durkin captured the showdown in perfect fashion: There’s absolutely nothing between them! You’s in so tight! Carson Hollow is unwavering!

And so the Saratoga crowd awaited the results of a dramatic finish that would ultimately yield a well-earned victory and an agonizing defeat.

Sometimes as a racecaller, you say the wrong thing, or you say the thing that doesn’t exactly fit the moment in a split second, but when I said, ‘a photo finish that doesn’t deserve a loser,’ I don’t think I’ve ever said anything truer in my life, Durkin said from Saratoga Springs Thursday. It was a thrilling stretch drive. I don’t know that I’ve ever called one that was more thrilling than that.

When asked what made the race so special, Durkin observed that Thoroughbreds prove their greatness by responding to adversity and finding more in a tight spot. An electrifying finish between two fully extended racehorses can resonate with seasoned racetrackers and casual observers alike.

When you get two horses that have 300 years of breeding and Thoroughbred ‘I’ve got to win this race’ blood coursing through their veins, and they meet like that, it’s just a thrilling thing to watch. Without going over the top, it’s almost inspirational, the Saratoga icon said. I remember people applauding both horses when they came back to be unsaddled. I think everybody at Saratoga that day realized that they had really seen something that was quite special.

Durkin was quick to credit both jockeys for giving their mounts every chance to hit the wire in front. In the case of the previously unbeaten Carson Hollow, the announcer noted that the courageous filly augmented her reputation in defeat.

At first blush, it’s probably the best losing effort I ever sawalmost up there with Seattle Slew in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup, he said. The filly was certainly gallant in defeat.

A Confluence of Saratoga Icons

Bailey, Velazquez, and Durkin, as well as Saratoga’s leading trainer Chad Brownwho was in his first year as an assistant to Bobby Frankel in 2002will all be in attendance at the Spa Saturday. Brown will saddle the undefeated Your Love (Flatter) in the Test; Durkin will be rooting on Breaking Lucky (Lookin At Lucky) as one of the 5-year-old’s co-owners in the GI Whitney S.; and Bailey will be covering both races as part of NBC Sports’ live, on-site coverage.

A large portion of Saratoga’s mystique comes from unforgettable moments featuring diverse human and equine actors, and the 2002 Test leaves an enduring impression as one of the track’s greatest races of all time.

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