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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Opening Day Snafus

- Leave it to NYRA to screw up the first day of the one race meet that they can really take pride in. They caught a huge, huge break with the weather and the conditions were fast and firm. There was a good crowd (over 25,000), as I noticed as I happily passed by all the people charging ten bucks for parking and made my way into the owners lot. This easily makes the horse investment worthwhile.

It seemed like a perfect scenario for a memorable opening day, but shockingly, there were snafus galore, the most serious of which was with the betting windows and machines. The whole system went down before the second race, and the fans booed when the race went off to express their displeasure with the fact that there was no move to delay post time. I guess that would have messed up the simulcast outlets. Many of the self-service machines didn't work - they seemed to get jammed, perhaps from the sweltering, humid air. The lines were long - really long, at both the machines and the teller windows. I saw one long row of wires and cables awaiting betting machines that were not there. I couldn't find any of the account betting only machines that are so plentiful downstate; those generally have the shortest lines. Even I, who knows every trick in the book when it comes to getting bets in with minimal waits, strained to find a suitable location. I tried the clubhouse, and noticed that the person that went in right before me was none other than Rod Stewart!

I had to bet one race on my OTB phone account, it was so bad. I was watching the race up in the clubhouse on the second floor, and there I discovered where all the account wagering only machines were - they were at the tables and boxes in the fancy-schmancy only section up there, how nice for them, their own little machines! And there I saw Rod Stewart at one of the tables. Can you believe that this guy who had the temerity to release that Great American Songbook crap is set up with his own betting machine, while I, Mr. racing blog guy is calling bets into OTB?

In addition, many TV monitors were out of order; on one which was totally covered in bird doo-doo, I saw a tag that read "Bird Nest - No Good," and the date was July 25. That means no one bothered to check out the TVs until two days before the meet. The big matrix screen behind the Carousel restaurant was totally dark until someone came to turn it on around the third race. Neither infield matrix boards - the ones that displays exotic prices - were working. One was totally blank and the other was garbled.

John Pricci wrote in his column I linked to this morning that For those of us who live here full time, the 137th Saratoga racing season that begins officially on July 27 started in late April when the Oklahoma training track first opened. [] But it seemed like for NYRA CEO Charles Hayward, the season started when he woke up Monday morning and thought "Oh. Yeah. Saratoga." How could they be so unprepared? Who's running this show? What was that Open House for the other day? For heaven's sake!

By the time the card passed the halfway point, the lines started to abate, but I think that was more because people had left than anything else. There's nothing that can drive fans from the track than long betting and cashing lines, and people left in droves. By the time it got to the last two races, it looked a LOT more like the Wednesday on the last week of the meeting than the first. Hopefully some of those people who left will give it another shot, though I'm sure the customer service is far better at the harness track racino.

- But as I said, it was fast and firm, and though dark clouds loomed ominously from all directions throughout the day, except for a brief sprinkle, the day was dry. The first non-steeplechase race of the meet was a $20,000 claiming affair, but even those races take on new meaning at Saratoga, like watching a bad movie at Radio City Music Hall. In the third, my spot play of the day, Rumslinga, was 9-2, got a perfect ride by Coa, looked like a winner top of the stretch, but couldn't put away Aristocrat, who battled back for the win. My horse had no excuse other than losing to a Frankel-trained full brother to Ghostzapper.

My only real excitement of the day was in the 5th, the 2 yo maiden race, when I had the winner Velvet Cat (Cat Thief) as a single leading off some ultimately laughable Pick 3 tickets. Cat Criminal was 6-5 for Steve Klesaris, despite the fact that right there in the Racing Form, the trainer said he thought the distance was too short for him. As for Velvet Cat, I had that link to Dick Powell at Brisnet the other day about Pletcher's first-time Saratoga winners last year that had trained there since May. This colt fit that profile, but he was 5-1. Given the money on Klesaris' horse, I took this an overlay rather than thinking he was dull on the board. I was watching the starting gate, and there are times that I just know for sure that my horse is going to get left at the gate, and this was one of those times. It's like the feeling I use to get sometimes when Mike Schmidt batted against the Mets, and I just knew he was hitting it out.

Sure enough, the gates open, and he breaks dead last. Velasquez moved him up to midpack, but he was still 7 lengths back at the stretch call. I saw he was gaining and figured he'd get second, but he just kept going as the leader tired and completed an improbably rally and win. He's a half to stakes winner Ole Rebel, and he cost $300,000.

Other than that, I didn't have anything close. I had the right idea betting against even money Giullame Tell, a bad favorite from Pletcher, but Delaware shipper Wood Be Willing was not up to the task; nice price on winner Fishy Advice (Woodman); David Donk had him ready off a layoff - his last was a third in the G3 Palm Beach back in March.

In the 7th, Shakespeare got up for Mott off a layoff since March 2004. Just last night, I was telling this guy who asked me which trainers to watch at Saratoga to watch Bill Mott on the turf. But 5-2 wasn't acceptable off that layoff, and I was way off the mark with some longshots. At that point, perhaps I just ran out of gas, as none of the last three races interested me from a betting standpoint. In the featured Adirondack for 2 yo fillies, Folklore scored a mild upset for Wayne Lukas and Bob and Beverly Lewis. Pletcher had the 6-5 favorite Adieu, who Folklore ran second to in the Astoria, and he was full of excuses. "We encountered some traffic problems, and we couldn't punch through the hole coming through the lane....The track had also changed over the past couple of races, which might have compromised her chances." [Bloodhorse] (Pletcher also had Kathir, the beaten even money class dropper in the 10th, making it three beaten heavy choices on the day.) She's the first stakes winner for first year sire Tiznow. She's out of an unraced Storm Cat mare, and her second dam is Jeano, a mare who has won some minor stakes over the last few years.

I'm in a really weird internet cafe in Albany. There are a bunch of kids playing some kind of game, and they keep referring to crackheads. ("Kill that crackhead Keith, cmon! They're on my body, come help me!") I gotta get outta here, but lemme give out a quick spot play for Thursday. The fifth is a 25K claiming affair, and one of the better looking betting races on the card. Lethal Weapon comes off a win with a good trip against cheaper for Hushion, in which he earned a stellar fig of 98, one which should handle this field. He has back class too, but he recent form suggests that he's more comfortable against cheaper. Seneca Summer ran competively against 35s two back; his last was in allowance company, he drops to a level that should suit him and gets Prado. Albert E lost by a nose in 35s two back, then dropped to 30 and got claimed by Schettino, and now drops to 25, bad signs. Marbry's Boy gets the 12 post, but drops from 50 claimers, against whom he ran an even 4th with a 92 fig. He's consistently performed creditably against far better than these, and raced OK here last year, again versus better. John Velasquez has ridden him a couple of times before, and gets on board here. This looks like a legitimate drop for George Weaver, seeking the horse's level, and he should have a big shot against these. Picks: Marbry's Boy / Seneca Summer / Lethal Weapon. I just gotta get outta here now.


Ruben Bailey said...

Oy!! Sounds almost NOT fun. Sorry to hear about the troubles. I had a nice day at work listening via intenet radio to most races and came out on the plus side with the triple in the last.

Hope tomorrow goes a bit better.

What do those bumper stickers say...A bad day at the (blank) is better than a good day at work!

brooklyn_bound_F_train said...

Hmmm, I must say, I was not a big fan of opening the season with a steeplechase. I spend the entire first week every year at the Spa, and the last thing I need is to blow the early double by throwing a rider right out of the box. The only steeplechases I ever see are at the Spa (maybe I saw one at Pimlico once) but I guess a couple of the jockeys were pretty busted up. That's no fun. Go back to "And they're off at Saratoga" with the gate and all!