Awesome Debate upsets Union Avenue Handicap

Thursday, August 19th, 2021

Awesome Debate and Luis Saez loved the slop Thursday at Saratoga in the Union Avenue Handicap. NYRA Photo.

By Mary Eddy

Mark Van Vranken made his way down the box seat stairs to the Saratoga Race Course winner’s circle, arms raised in victory after his mare, Awesome Debate, scored the first stakes win of her career in Thursday’s $100,000 Union Avenue Handicap.

“Is this even real?” Van Vranken kept questioning, his hands on his head as he watched the replay of the gray mare’s victory over the sloppy main track.

Awesome Debate’s win was reality thanks to a smart ride by Luis Saez, who kept pacesetter Sadie Lady within his reach, 2 1/2 lengths back in second through an opening quarter in :21.91. Swung three-wide in the turn, Saez got to work on the 5-year-old daughter of Honorable Dillon, taking over the lead at the top of the stretch.

Widening her lead, Awesome Debate galloped easily across the wire 4 1/4 lengths ahead of Irish Constitution in a final time of 1:17.48. Hannah Dances followed in third, a half-length ahead of Sadie Lady, who tired and finished fourth.

“The plan was to be right there and to not let them breathe too much, and everything worked out pretty well,” Saez said. “This filly, I love her. I rode her (before) and I knew she’d have that quick turn-of-foot at the top of the stretch. She did it perfectly.”

With the sloppy track playing in favor of speed on the front-end, it was both trainer Bruce Brown’s and Saez’s plan to not let Sadie Lady loose on the lead in the 6 1/2-furlong race.

“We knew we had to stay close to the speed and not let her get away,” Brown said. “The rain, I didn’t mind at all. When we claimed her, she ran good in the slop, so I was happy with the surface. Luis did a good job and stayed right there. He had it in mind to really be aggressive and not let that horse get a loose lead. … Luis knew (Sadie Lady) had to run to get there.”

Making her second start off the claim for her connections, Awesome Debate’s Union Avenue victory comes after a difficult start last time out when she stumbled badly and nearly lost her rider in an Aug. 9 optional claimer at Finger Lakes. Brown felt less of a sting over her last outing after the Union Avenue win.

“That was a total mess,” he said. “Afterwards, I felt bad about how everything went up there, but if she had run hard that day, maybe she wouldn’t have ran as well today. Things have a way (of working out). In the moment, I was very upset, but this makes it better.”

Van Vranken said the win also helped to ease the emotions of another tough loss when eventual John Morrissey Stakes winner Foolish Ghost was claimed from the group at Saratoga last year.

“(Foolish Ghost) has done nothing but win money, so it was bittersweet watching him win the (Morrissey),” he said. “The only thing that could erase it is this victory today. I can’t say enough about Bruce. To bring this horse back here 10 days (after her last race) … I give all the credit to him. We have had some ups and downs, but it has been great.”

Now with eight wins and four other placings from 16 starts, Awesome Debate has increased her earnings to $322,577. Out of the winning Freud mare Healthy Debate, she is a half-sister to seven-time winner It’s Debatable and five-time winner Tricky Posse. Bred by Charlton Baker, Awesome Debate was foaled at Rockridge Stud in Hudson.

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