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Friday, July 29, 2005

Notes - July 29

- I hadn’t paid that much attention to the young apprentice rider Channing Hill before he was injured last month; in fact, I must make the embarrassing admission that for awhile I wasn’t sure whether he was a guy or a girl! But I’ve noticed him the last few days, even though he's not riding at this time. In handicapping the first two days’ cards, I noticed a good half dozen cases at least in which a horse’s form seemed to improve pretty significantly once he picked up the mount. So I’ll be paying some particular attention to him when he does come back.

Just today, in the 6th race, I was looking at the post time favorite Brigadier Brooks, yet another Mott/Bailey horse on the turf. Perhaps it’s all coincidence, but once again, this horse seemed to really thrive with the apprentice, improving his Beyers significantly in his two races with Hill at Belmont. I was sitting in the office listening to the audio (wistfully), and I heard Jan Rushton comment on the rider switch from Hill to Bailey, implying that the former was to blame for having to go around a loose horse in Brigadier Brooks’ last try. Indeed, the Mott horse was the even money favorite, but it was instead Carlos Martin’s Cosmonaut (Lemon Drop Kid) getting up for the win. (Durkin said that Brigadier Brooks took a bad step near the finish, though there's no mention of that in the chart.)

Todd Pletcher had another winner today, his 5th of the meeting thus far (and see update below), with 2 yo filly Ready to Talk (More Than Ready), making her turf debut, and paying $9.50 to win. As Dick Powell points out on Brisnet today, Pletcher’s winners here are actually reflecting some value.

For thickheads like me, "Pletcher/Velazquez" is my "Unitas to Berry;" a winning combination at Saratoga that is killing me. Why I keep trying to beat them I'll never know. If they were odds-on all the time it would make sense, but they have [four] wins already here and have returned the pari-mutuel value that I claim I am seeking.
Pletcher’s winners thus far have paid $12.60 (first timer Velvet Cat), $6.70 twice (Thursday’s early double of Tiffany Touch and runaway winner India), $5.90 (Webmistress) and today’s $9.50, for a average payoff of nearly $8.30. Of course, he did have three beaten even money favorites on opening day. [UPDATE – Pletcher just took the feature with another fair-priced winner, Ready’s Gal, the 5-2 second choice – another turf winner for More Than Ready! My spot play Laurafina was an overbet 8-5 and ran out. Wow, six winners for Pletcher already, on the way to 35 again?]

- There was something really different about being at Saratoga on opening day for the first time; couldn’t put my finger on it at first, especially given the mid-August type heat, but then I got it. There was grass (the kind that you sit on). Yes, there was actually green grass - lush in spots - on the ground in the backyard in areas where I usually only see dirt. I imagine it will be back to normal when I get back, especially after some weekend crowds and the inevitable storms, but it was a surprising and welcome sight.

As far as another kind of grass goes, that is not to be seen or smelled at all there these days. Times certainly have changed in what seems like not that long of a time. Back in the 70s and 80s, there was so much dope smoked openly there that there was actually an official pot-smoking area. If you could spot it through the clouds of smoke, you’d have seen that it was located back along the fence that runs between the saddling stalls and the spring water fountain where everyone who tries it makes a face. (It was of course just a coincidence that this was the same area I used to hang out in.) On more than just a couple of occasions, I saw one of the “whitecap” security people come across people indulging elsewhere and direct them not out of the track, but to the pot-smoking area. Now, they would probably call a SWAT team.

This was taking place amidst the saddling trees – the horses used to actually saddle right out in the backyard around trees amongst the crowds. That seems absolutely unthinkable now, but it wasn’t really all that long ago that all the saddling was first moved to a fenced-off area inside the walking ring. What, maybe around a dozen years? Given all the pot that was being smoked there back in the day, any horse that was being saddled nearby had an excuse for a poor performance, though its trainer may have been puzzled to see how much their horse ate up afterwards.

- When Lady Pegasus was announced as a late scratch for the third yesterday, and Jan Rushton said that something happened on the way to the paddock, I figured it just had to be related to the detention barn. Indeed, he was reported to be "freaking out" there.
Frankel said Lady Pegasus was "wringing wet" when she came to the paddock, and would kick when they tried to put bandages on her. "I said there's no way I'm going to put the saddle on her," Frankel said.

Frankel said he would not run Lady Pegasus or Miss Coronado, another high-strung filly, at this meet.

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Purge, said his horse would not run at this meet. Instead, he could be pointed to races at Monmouth Park. [Daily Racing Form]
NYRA has now cut down on the number of stalls, eliminating a situation where horses were looking at other horses in very close proximity. (“You looking at me? You looking at ME?”) But CEO Charles Hayward is insisting that the stalls are not too small. "We are satisfied in talking to trainers it is not unsafe…..We got a little more due diligence to do." I don’t see any effect on the field sizes yet – Saturday’s card features sizeable fields, one exception being the disappointing Jim Dandy – but with Monmouth and Delaware as lucrative options, we’ll see if that remains the case.

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