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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Casting a Shadow

- Even suffering through a slump, I still arrived at the track Friday full of optimism and with supreme confidence. How can you not walk into this place and not feel hopeful, especially before the races start? I was just having some fun, following the hot money on Oden’s Tale in the second, another of those 2 yo turf maiden sprints, good luck. A first-timer from the struggling Gary Contessa barn and 9-2 in the morning line, Oden's Tale was bet down late to 5-2, and I put him on top with some longshots. When he ran a dismal 8th, it was back to that losing feeling. It was Pletcher with Wedding Singer (Songandaprayer) ($12.80) taking the money, the beginning of a tumultuous day for the meeting’s leading trainer.

The third was yet another 2 yo maiden race, this one on the dirt, and I followed the money once again, this time with a Zito-trained pair who got bet from 6-1 morning line to 2-1 favoritism. They were both first-timers with light work tabs and got bet on the nose for a trainer that usually doesn’t have them loaded first time out. I picked out some horses other than the second choice, Pletcher’s debuting Stan the Man, for the exactas. It was another complete disaster with the pair running 4th and 6th, though I was at least right about the Pletcher horse. If you’ve been betting first time starters from him lately, you‘ve been sending your cash into a money pit. He had two such winners early in the Saratoga meet, but since sending out Unobstructed View to win on August 4, he’s sent out 9 first timers at the Saratoga meeting, and 15 overall without a winner. At the Spa, the odds on the losers have ranged from .55 to 1 to 5.20 to 1.

So, I was losing again, and looking ahead, there was the 4th race featuring a sluggish 5 horse field, and then yet another 2 yo maiden race, this one for state-breds. Look, I love the baby races and I had no regret playing around and losing a little in the 2nd and 3rd. You never know when you can use a little intuition, get lucky and score on one of these, but it involves a lot of luck. When I’m going cold though I have no luck, and I prefer to deal with races with some cold, hard facts and figures to evaluate; I felt like I was just guessing on these.

The 6th looked like a decent maiden affair for 3 yo’s, but then the 7th was one of those turf sprints that I have quickly come to detest. To be fair, it was a full field and turned out to be a competitive betting contest, but there was only one horse with any form in this type of race, so it was unbettable in my opinion. So even early on in the card, I was already looking ahead to the final Pick 3 as my salvation, with the two stakes races and an allowance finale.

Three consecutive favorites in the 4th through 6th helped dull the atmosphere and the imagination. Mike Hushion, who has struggled here big time with only win with 18 starters, took the 5th and the 6th with two extremely impressive winners, taking the races by a combined 18 lengths! Parkhimonbroadway (Ecton Park) was dropping back to maidens after running 11 lengths behind Henny Hughes in the Special, and Madame Diva (Mr. Greeley) had run third behind repeat winner Yolanda B. Too in her debut. I sat the action out until the 6th when I had another loser in Quail Run. This one at least made a run on the turn, but Durkin ruined any momentary fun I might have had by pointing out as she was moving that she was “under a drive, but still second.” Thanks Tom.

With the 7th the dreaded turf sprint, I turned to simulcast action - the first race from Arlington. This is a legitimate use of simulcasting; when I’m committed to sitting out the live race. I came up with Serai at 9-2 off a drop in class, and used him in triples on top of the two favorites and 9-1 Perennial Favorite. The latter set the pace, but was joined and then passed by the 4 horse, who I didn’t have, around the turn. Meanwhile, Serai was sitting in perfect position behind the leaders. When he started to move to the lead and the eventual win, I looked for the favorites, but only one, Counttheblessings, was coming. The 4 still had 3rd outside of Perennial Favorite, but as the wire approached, my choice started to creep back on the rail, and at the wire, she got her nose down and it was an unlikely comeback for third, and a $197 triple for me. Just like that, the losing skein was over, and on an out of town race that I didn’t start to look at until 15 minutes to post (standing the whole time).

The G2 Spinaway for 2 yo fillies was next, and from the very start, the bettors made it clear that they did not think much of the Adirondack Stakes, run here on opening day. The first four finishers in that race were dismissed in the betting here, and instead the action was focused on two unbeaten fillies - Steve Asmussen’s Effectual (Carson City) shipping in off 2 wins in Kentucky, and Sensation (Dixie Union), 2-2 for Stanley Hough. Again the crowd was flocking toward the gaudier Beyers, I wasn’t buying into this. They were 7-5 and 2-1 respectively, and I’m sorry, this was not a two horse race. I liked Folklore and Fifth Avenue, the first two finishers in the Adirondack, and used them to start off some Pick 3s. I loved their change-of-tactics closes in the Adirondack, and figured they’d thrive at the 7 furlong distance. But I did not use Pletcher’s Adieu, who finished 4th in that race and who was dull on the tote at 7-1. Well, they were all dead on the board, but it was Pletcher so I put extra credence into that. Wrong. She won at 7-1 and did so impressively. John Velasquez blamed the slow track on opening day. "Today the track was much better.....It's fast, has plenty of water. She feels much better; she got a better hold of the track. She broke much better and then she stalked, and it was her game then.'' [Daily Racing Form] You can always give a young filly an excuse for a poor performance, something I try to keep in mind.

I liked Shadow Cast in the Personal Ensign; ask Jessica from Railbird. I saw her before the race and told her that I liked both her and Island Sand; but when the latter got bet to 7-2, I was down to just Shadow Cast. I had her on my busted Pick 3 tickets, a lot of good that did now. I just had a feeling Ashado was going down; didn’t think a mile and a quarter here on a fast track at Saratoga on this particular day was necessarily her best game. At 14-1, perhaps it was a time to put aside all my little exotic schemes to make a big score, just throw a 20 spot on her to win and relax. But that’s just not my thing; as unnatural as it used to be for me to not bet a horse to win, it’s the opposite for me now. So aside from a small saver bet to win, I went for it, keying her on top in triples, and in the late double. I was delirious when I saw Shadow Cast make her huge sweep on the turn, and didn’t notice Personal Legend moving up the inside. I had the latter, also 14-1 in the third spot on my tickets, but not in the place. And truthfully, I didn’t like third place finisher Two Trail Sioux at all, so I was dead. Who would imagine that Ashado would finish out of the money altogether? Talk about ups and downs for Todd Pletcher?

It looked like I would at least salvage the late double, as my three picks were sitting 2-3-4 behind 10-1 Power Link around the turn. But when I saw Gary Stevens flying down the center of the track with Drinkwater, I knew that I had gained only a minor reward for a major upset selection. I can kick myself over that, but on the other hand, I look at being able to identify a longshot to win as an opportunity to mine the exotics for a big score. Since I don’t generally make straight win bets, I’m used to going longer between cashing, and I try to make them count when I do. This time it didn’t work out, but it was still an excellent and gorgeous day in which I overcame much negativity and got back in the win column.

- Shadow Cast had run poorly on the grass here in the Diana, but Neil Howard, who had an earlier winner on the card, has an excellent record on the turf to dirt move. Howard commented that the 4 yo had worked so well that he had to give this race a shot. “My filly trained extremely well, almost too well not to run. I know that sounds easy to say now. Her hair never looked better. Her appetite had never been better. Her works had never been better." [Bloodhorse]

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