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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Sunday Night Back Home

It's Sunday night, and I'm back from Sag Harbor in Eastern Long Island where I spent Saturday and Sunday with the Head Chef and her family, as well as most of our 4 kids. Again, part of the price I have to pay to have the Head Chef accompany me for the upcoming week in Saratoga. Also something about it being her birthday.

Equipped with my new laptop, I thought I'd be able to do some posting, but I guess it's not proper blog etiquette to plug your laptop into your host's only phone line for hours at a time. I didn't see any races from Saratoga, or anywhere, this weekend, except for the last two races on Saturday, which I caught on the replay show. I bet Flower Alley in the late double with the three horses I mentioned the other day, and they were all right there but couldn't get by the favorite, who benefited from a ground-saving trip.

Just at first glance at today's results, I see that there were winners for Leo O'Brien and George Weaver, a couple of trainers that I've wanted to keep an eye on; and Weaver in particular is off to a terrific start. I can never say with certainty, "I woulda had it," because you never can really know what your mindset would have been if you were actually at the track; and of course it's always easy to "red-board" the races once you know the result. Nonetheless, the O'Brien horse was taking a legit-looking drop in class for a guy who's always done well on the turf there, and who I've mentioned a couple of times.

Weaver's horse was a 20-1 bombshell making his first start on the turf in the 8th, and it's very unlikely I would have considered her at that price. Secret Forest is by Forestry, out of a winning Upper Nile mare, and a half to stakes winners Top Secret and Tate, as well as to the dam of Megascape. She'd shown signs of life on the dirt, and in 6 starts since her debut at 7.90 to 1, she'd never been higher than 2.75 - 1. She was coming off a 2 month layoff following the only bad race of her career. Weaver should be considered with virtually anything he sends out. I'll try and catch up on the rest of the weekend a bit later.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Saturday Morning Notes - July 30

- The other day I wrote about trainer George (Rusty) Arnold, and how his live horses usually are pointed out on the tote board. On opening day, he had a first time starter, League of Nations, who was 8-1 morning line. He went off at 29-1 and not surprisingly ran dead last. On Friday, he had Indy Trouble in the 2nd, a 2 yo turf maiden race, who was 6-1 ML but got bet down to the 3.05-1 favorite. She did figure to get bet off her debut in which she had a bad start, but she didn’t have much of an excuse Friday other than John Velasquez’ masterful rating of winner Ready to Talk on the lead. After slowing the half to 49.3 (Durkin, who seems to be doing more editorializing these days, noted that “this augers well” for the filly), he was able to then put in quarters of 24 and 23.4 and put her competition away.

Thus another turf winner for sire More Than Ready, whose Ready’s Gal took the G3 Lake George later in the day. According to the Form, he’s now 10-25 with first time turfers, pretty amazing. More Than Ready never ran on the turf; he’s by Southern Halo out of a mare by Woodman, a winner on the turf in Ireland, and beyond that, I’ll allow others to analyze his pedigree for an explanation. Chetten County (Giant’s Causeway) had a slow start and ducked out in upper stretch, but once he straightened out he closed very strongly for second; trainer George Weaver seems to have sharp horses.

He had a nice winner on Thursday with Maybry's Boy (Broad Brush) and three seconds with his other starters. Wrigley (Grand Slam) got caught in Wednesday's juvenile maiden race but has run well in both career starts. Drizzly (Summer Squall) was flying late only to miss by a neck in Thursday's finale and Chetten County was a good second in today's juvenile filly turfer.

Weaver has many of his mentor's strengths, including his runners excelling on the turf. They always seem to be fit for their races and make a strong appearance on the track. [Brisnet]
- In the Lake George, I was trying to figure out who would challenge Ready’s Gal on the lead and who could sit behind the contested pace; and instead Velasquez got a perfect trip sitting on the rail a couple of lengths behind the leaders, and coming up the inside in the stretch. The filly never left the hedge, a perfect ride. More Than Ready may be a fine turf sire, but in both cases Friday Velasquez showed why he’s Pletcher’s main man.

Zippy Missy held well in her debut for 2nd in the 4th, a NY-bred 2yo filly race, at 7-1 for Dominick Galluscio, whose Real Knowsy ran a close 2nd at 5-1 to Webmistress on Thursday. In the 7th, Quick One was a shocking loser at 1-4. This 3yo NY-bred filly was a well-bet winner in her debut, but had no excuse when passed by 1 for 12 Royal Fudge, the first winner for trainer Roger Horgan.

Pletcher went down with the favorite in the 9th, a state-bred turf maiden race, with 3-2 Spin Factor, interestingly ridden by Jerry Bailey, which, given the keen compeititon between Mott/Bailey and Pletcher/Velasquez these days, seems kinda like the president appointing Hillary Clinton to replace Karl Rove. The Form stats show that the two have hooked up 49 times in 2004-05, with a 20% win percentage. As opposed to the fair prices we’ve been seeing on Pletcher’s winners, this one was decidedly overbet, and created an excellent price on winner One Good Man ($8), the logical favorite in my opinion. He’s by a $1000-fee unraced Storm Cat son named Storm of Angels, while the beaten favorite is a NY-bred only in name, being a $310,000 son of Indian Charlie.

- Here from the Daily News is the latest recap on the possible runners in the Haskell:
Those considered definite for the mile-and-an-eighth race are the Bob Baffert-trained Roman Ruler, Park Avenue Ball and Chekhov. Trainer Nick Zito may start either Sun King, Pinpoint or Indy Storm in the race. Devilment and Dover Dare are possible, along with the Richard Dutrow Jr.-trained Golden Man.

Others who have been mentioned as possible starters include Prince of Wales winner Ablo, Swaps Stakes winner Surf Cat and local horses Joey P. and Smokescreen. Recent maiden winner Papi Chullo also is under consideration.
The Form has the latest on the status of Surf Cat:
"We're thinking very strongly of it," Headley said of the Haskell. "It lightened up the load when Alex came out."

Headley said there are positive and negative factors of a trip to New Jersey.

"It's very interesting because it's a major race for 3-year-olds and I don't have to run against older horses," he said. "But it is a long way to travel. The bad part is you have to leave Del Mar." [DRF]
- Vic Zast on writes about Woodbine’s ambitious plans for a $310 million (Canadian) hotel, entertainment and sports complex expansion to its racetrack and slots facility. If you wonder where they’re getting the money, consider this :
More than 20,000 people now pack the casino on a typical weekday night. The slots operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the exception of Christmas.
That's astounding! I had no idea that their gambling operation was as huge as that, nor that they're open as often as Denny's. They’ve been mentioned as a possible dark horse suitor for NYRA, but it seems that they’re concentrating their efforts at home instead.

- Please feel free to email me with comments, questions, suggestions, or links.

Friday, July 29, 2005

A Jim Dandy Double

- I was going to pick against Flower Alley in Saturday’s Jim Dandy, but why bother? Pletcher has recovered from having only one winner and three odds-on losers on opening day to pick up five on days 2 and 3. Flower Alley ran a terrific race in losing to Roman Ruler in the Dwyer, picking up a lifetime best fig of 103. Draw a line through the Derby, and his lines are quite impressive, and considering how close he was to the Derby pace, that wasn't so bad either. Pletcher told David Grening of the Form “I think he's probably a better mile-and-an-eighth horse, and a better two-turn horse than he is a one-turn mile-and-a-sixteenth. I think with a little bit of improvement and some recency, he should be sitting on a big race." He also told Dave Liftin: "I think he was a race away from being where he needed to be.."

It seems to me that Pletcher is usually more reserved about his horses’ chances, isn’t he? Besides, who’s going to beat him? Andromeda’s Hero is a throwout in my opinion; this is far too short unless he’s vastly improved since the spring. Reverberate seems to love Belmont; this horse was simply rushed into the Belmont after his second to Oratory in the Peter Pan. Now we learn from the Form that he will race with patches to protect quarter cracks on both front feet, but [trainer Sal] Russo does not see that as an issue. We’ve heard that kind of stuff before when it comes to quarter cracks, and then after the race the connections are using them as excuses.

Mr. Congeniality faltered in the Dwyer, but this is his first try around two turns, so you could play the angle that he might like it, and that he could come back with a better effort after bouncing off a couple of fast races to start the year. He’s by Chester House out of a Wild Again mare and the female family of Darn That Alarm. Noble Causeway is difficult to figure here; he’s eligible for N2X allowance......oh yeah - so is the rest of the field. Well, you have to respect the way Zito got Sun King back to winning form, and a repeat of Noble Causeway's efforts in Florida certainly puts him in the mix.

King of Jazz has never been worse than third in 6 starts, and he comes out of that slowly run Queens Plate. I picked him there, figuring he would improve, and perhaps he can do so here. He signaled his readiness with a nice 5 furlong work on Monday, and Prado, warming up with 2 winners Friday after a slow start here, rides for Carl Nafzger, whose 25-1 shot Ominous ran second in the 5th on Friday.

Some intriguing challengers, but I’m not going against Pletcher here. I don’t like Reverberate and Andromeda’s Hero, so I’ll check out the exotics pools with Flower Alley on top of the other three.

- And there’s always the late double. The tenth is a 50K claiming affair on the turf. Run to Victory is the morning line favorite not counting the MTO horses; he ran a field high last Beyer of 93 winning at Monmouth for Alan Goldberg in his first race in nine months. But it was a grueling affair with a battle to the wire, and this looks like a finale favorite just aching to get beat.

Sabre Baby has been finishing midpack against allowance horses, but last year ran competitively against 65-75 claimers. He finished evenly in his last against an unfavorable pace scenario, and should be competitive at this level with Prado for Juan Rodriguez. Massoud ships in off two nice efforts at Colonial for Graham Motion and gets the Windmill, Ramon Dominguez. It’s his third start in this form cycle and further improvement and the rail could put him close.

But out in the 10 hole is the unfortunately named Matzoh Toga. He closed well for 3rd, beaten 1 1/4 by Run To Victory at Monmouth. It was his first race off a two month layoff, and he’s shown improvement in the second off a respite in the past. He won here last year over the inner course against 35 claimers, and he’s certainly shown a pattern of improvement that suggests he can handle this level now. And, he’s trained by Linda Rice, a live barn right now. She’s sent out three horses here so far, winning with class jumper June the Tiger and with Embraceable You, and her Who’s Cozy ran a nice 3rd in the Lake George at 6-1. Camelio Velasquez is 3-10 for Rice at Saratoga since last year. Could be a Flower Alley-Matzoh Toga double, and I'll probably have savers on the other two mentioned, both of whom break from better posts.

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.

Afleet Alex Injury

- The injury to Afleet Alex is relatively common and not considered serious.

A 35-minute surgery was performed by Patty Hogan, with a single screw inserted across the fracture at the bottom of the cannon bone.

"It's a relatively common type of fracture in thoroughbred horses," Hogan said in a statement. "It occurs in the bottom of the cannon bone at the level of the fetlock [ankle] joint. His prognosis for returning to racing at his elite level is excellent without a doubt.
Afleet Alex yesterday returned to Belmont Park, where he will be given seven to 10 days of stall rest and then walked three times daily for an expected six weeks before resuming training. [Philly Inquirer]
They’re talking about still making the Breeders Cup, but that does seem ambitious, even for Afleet Alex. Given the fact that this all comes just one year after Smarty Jones’ retirement due to an injury that he too was first projected to come back from, some will be skeptical of his return. Cash is King’s head partner Chuck Zacney, while maintaining that they got an “excellent prognosis,” acknowledged to the Inquirer that the injury "puts some pressure" to retire Afleet Alex to stud. Dick Jerardi in the Philly Daily News points out, however, that this situation differs from Smarty.
Smarty's breeding rights already had been sold to Three Chimneys Farm and a syndicate it had formed. Thus, there was some real pressure to retire Smarty. It turned out Smarty's injuries would have not have allowed him to race again anyway.

Alex certainly has attracted interest from several of the big Kentucky farms, but no deal has been made. Thus, there is not that pressure.
The immediate effect of the injury will be on the two main summer classics, the Haskell next Sunday and the Travers, both of which Alex was supposed to run in. This leaves Roman Ruler to head the Haskell field, which will likely bear no resemblance whatsoever to a Grade 1 race.
"This is the worst news I've had in a long time at the sports authority," [NJ Sports Authority chief Geoff] Zoffinger said. "Hopefully it will open the door for a lot of people shying away from the race because Afleet Alex was so strong. But this is our big day in what has been a very bad year in a declining business and I want to see it be a positive day. This makes it very hard to see the light but we're going to do what we can to attract other horses." [Newark Star-Ledger]
The track will now try and persuade Bruce Headley to send Surf Cat for the race rather than face older horses in the Pacific Classic. Other names being mentioned will likely not draw the crowd of 50,000 they were expecting for Alex.
Park Avenue Ball, at least one Nick Zito horse, Chekhov and Papi Chullo are likely, but with Afleet Alex missing, some of the possible starters, Dover Dere, Devilment and Golden Man, are more likely. Joey P., who was third trying two turns for the first time on July 22, is another who may reconsider. [Asbury Park Press]

Back to the Grind

- I had to drive back to the city after the races yesterday, and noticed that there was virtually nobody else going in that direction. Why would anyone possibly be heading that way when there’s a beautiful forecast for a weekend of racing at Saratoga? Unfortunately, reality calls, and I won’t be back up there until next weekend, which will kick off a full week for the Head Chef and I. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to sulk. :-(

Well, at least it was a perfect day on Thursday; they’ll not be a more exceptional weather day for the balance of the meet, and the opening day snafus were largely corrected, except for all the TV monitors that are still out (and which weren’t even inspected until July 25, as noted prominently on the tags on each one). I found a bunch of betting machines with no lines at all, and even made some money. I used my spot play in the 5th, Maybry’s Boy, and when I chose the horses to use in the exacta, I put some extra on the combination with Charming Jim because I saw it was paying a whopping $75. He was dropping in class for the live barn of Edward Plesa, took early money in the win pool and drifted up to 7-1, but the exacta price really stood out. I read somewhere once – Brohamer? Cramer? – that if you see an exotic payoff that seems really outstanding, instead of the natural inclination to think ‘well, since that’s paying so much I just have to bet two bucks on it,’ that’s the time to take a shot. I don't like telling people how they should wager, but this is one betting tip that I think makes excellent sense. I got it right this time and the most generous $72.50 payoff made my two day trip a profitable one even though it was the only ticket I cashed.

There were a couple of races which featured what to me were attempted betting coups, but only one of them worked out. In the 2nd, a 2yo maiden affair, Somethinaboutbetty (Forestry), a first timer from Steve Margolis, was 8-1 morning line, but opened at 2-1 and stayed there (she actually got hammered back down there from 5-2 on the last flash) with Gary Stevens and decent but not spectacular works. She was prominent throughout, but come the stretch run she was left in the wake of the slight favorite India, the second of 3 winners for Pletcher/Velasquez. You’ll read a lot about the impressive win by 2yo Henny Hughes in the Saratoga Special, and Patrick Biancone saying stuff like "He could be the next Secretariat, but I don't know if he will be.....He could be because he does it so easily. It looks like he's just galloping and everybody is struggling behind him." [Albany Times-Union] But India was very impressive in her own right as she sprinted down the stretch to win by 12 in 1:04.66, watch out for her. She’s by Hennessy out of a stakes winning Miswaki mare, and she’s a half to stakes winner Pilfer. Mott’s $1.4 million Serena’s Cat was dull on the board at 9-2 and ran 5th. And if you don’t think Somethinaboutbetty was getting bet on the nose, note that the exacta with the favorite and second choice returned $33!

In the 7th, La Ina was 6-1 morning line, shipping in from a 4th place finish in her U.S. debut at Keeneland in April for Michael Matz, who seems to have some good stock here. But she also took money right from the start and went off 5-2. She set the pace from the start, with Ramon Dominguez doing a good job rating her under pressure to 6f in 1:13, and the German-bred was able to hold off 5-1 Praia Da Pipa (Mott/Bailey) while sprinting home in :35.30 to win by a bobbing nose. Nice score.

Mott had a winner with Sweet Symphony at 1-5 against three rivals in the third. The AP Indy-Brandy Rose 3 yo filly stalked a crawling pace to six furlongs in 1:16.35, prompting Tom Durkin to note “At some point they’ll start to run.” But she never really had to, cruising home in a sluggish 1:53.47 for 9 furlongs. Randy Schulhoefer had Captiva Bay ready off a layoff since January to take the 6th, and Biancone sent Cryptovinsky to win the 9th and sweep the late double.

As for Henny Hughes, he threw in an eighth of :11.70 after the half to put away second choice Master of Disaster, and he cruised to win by 3 3/4. Dick Powell noted in Brisnet: The final margin was irrelevant since Stevens was not asking him for anything. If this was a workout, which it was, the clockers would have designated it as a breeze. He as making his first start for Darley Stable, which reportedly paid $4.3 million for him after his 15 length win in the Tremont.

Friday Spot Play

- Needed to look no further than today’s feature, the G3 Lake George for 3 yo fillies on the turf, for today’s spot play. I just love these races. Ready’s Gal won her turf debut for Pletcher in a Monmouth stakes and takes the logical step up to graded company today. Pletcher/Velasquez took three races yesterday and will likely be favored in this spot. But it’s unlikely she’ll find herself alone on the lead at the half mile mark this time, and there’s enough talent in this field to look elsewhere. Who’s Cozy was the 6-5 favorite at Monmouth, took a spot behind Ready’s Gal and held second over Connie Belle. Who’s Cozy may be more aggressive today….or she may try to sit behind the leaders again. Either way, she’s much improved this year for Linda Rice, who has been sending out live runners and had a winner on Wednesday’s card. Connie Belle is Mott/Bailey, so she will receive consideration, but she couldn’t gain on Rice’s filly in the Monmouth race despite an inside trip and must improve here.

With Dream Lady also promising to provide speed, as well as Bob Holthus’ shipper Beaugeste (with John McKee coming in for the ride), the race just cries for a closer, and Laurafina fits the bill perfectly. In her three races this year, she’s come off the pace and closed in impressive final fractions, and if not for Melhor Ainda she would be 3 for 3. She ran second and beat My Typhoon by more than a length in that race, and the latter went on to win the Virginia Oaks for Mott. Laurafina's jockey Javier Castellano has three winners on the turf here already, and was a neck from a 4th in yesterday’s closer. Laurafina is listed as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line, and I think that would be a gift here.

Laurafina / Who’s Cozy / Connie Belle.

Yesterday: I spelled yesterday’s spot play wrong in the dim light of the Albany internet cafĂ© I was in, but Maybry’s Boy ($9.20) came through with the win.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Notes - July 28

- I sometimes get on Paul Moran's case for being a grump, but he's right on in his column today about the problems with the Saratoga opener. In addition to the problems I detailed earlier (and he adds that Purge had to be scratched from yesterday's 8th because the horse became "upset" in the detention barn), he complains about something that I'm glad to see someone other than I'm upset about.

Horseplayers do not accept senseless change stoically. Until yesterday, NYRA was foremost among the few racetrack operators that still publish a traditional, small program - the type favored by most serious horseplayers.

NYRA's was particularly good because it included simulcast tracks. It wasn't broken. It is now. The new version unveiled without fanfare substitutes useless graphic drivel for the other tracks on which NYRA accepts betting. This may be of vague use to novice bettors but not the type who prefers the smaller program. So NYRA has managed to carry its acrimonious relationship with horsemen and its customers and a general level of ineptitude that has become its trademark to the iconic racetrack in the Adirondack foothills that is the soul of American racing. Suddenly, 36 days seem like a very long time. [Newsday]
I've always loved getting that program, and feeling how thick it is with juicy simulcast options. It may seem like a little thing, but as Moran says, it just shows contempt for the fan by suddenly altering a popular product for the worse.

- Only 17 trotters will compete in 2 Hambletonian eliminations Saturday evening to determine 10 finalists, sounds like the NHL season. The two top contestants, Classic Photo and favorite Ken Wakentin go in separate heats, and the Toronto Maple Leafs' Tie Domi owns a piece of the latter.
John Fielding of Toronto, who has been around harness racing a long time, was the colt's first owner, snatching him at a sale for $26,000 (U.S.). Fielding brought in Domi early, along with Christina Takter, the trainer's wife. They later sold half the horse — for potentially a couple of million U.S. dollars — to a Swedish investor who wants to stand the horse at stud in Sweden when his racing days are done. One other suitor had been Mats Sundin, who has had success owning trotters. Sundin, though, hasn't had one potentially as good as this one — which Domi, enjoying his first standardbred, doubtless is kind enough to remind him. [Toronto Star]
- Madcap Escapade retired with a leg injury.

- Today's second is a 2 yo maiden affair for filles. Bill Mott has Serena's Cat, according to the Form a $1.4 million weanling purchase. She's by Storm Cat out of Serena's Tune, a daughter of the great Serena's Song, and his making her debut. Also making her first start is Autumnal, for Tom Albertrani. This $550,000 yearling is by Forestry, out of Maria J, a half to Chekhov, who is one of the possibilities for the Haskell next Sunday.

- I'm off to Day 2 at Saratoga. The Saratoga Public Library is awesome, check it out.

The Detention Barns

- Besides the shaky start to the Saratoga meet for the fans at the track, the horsemen are up in arms over the pre-race detention barns that their horses are confined to for six hours before the race.

"It doesn't look like something that would be constructed at the Saratoga race meeting," Pletcher said. "It's not a good situation for the horses. It's a concern for their safety and how they're going to perform after being over there for seven hours. These horses are fragile enough. We don't need to create environments they could get hurt in."
"I think what they're trying to do (with pre-race testing) is very solid," Lukas said. "But this is a world-class facility and the best racing in the world. We can't have a Band-Aid approach, and that's what they did." [NY Daily News]
I decided to do a little hard reporting on the subject myself, so I went to the Saratoga backstretch this morning. First, a visit to Billy Turner's barn to try and get a look at Highland Cat. But I was far too late to see him galloping on the track, and since BT has asked all visitors to stay out of the shedrow, the only glimpse of him I could get in the stall was of his rump. It looked nice. I spoke to BT's wife and assistant Pat, and when I asked her about the detention barns, she grew angry and shook her head. "They're big enough for Shetland ponies," she said. She said that two of their horses "won't even fit" and that their entrant today, Truely Ruby in the 7th, was too excitable a filly to handle it, and she discounted her chances based on that. (I was actually interested in that horse today.) And she also echoed the complaints we read about NYRA chairman Charles Hayward, saying that they need to get a horseman running the show.

So I went to see for myself. The stalls definitely look small, though Pat Turner was making them sound like the dressing rooms at the Gap. It was pretty quiet, no commotion, but you could really see the difference from the regular stalls. For one thing, as opposed to Highland Cat who had plenty of room to hide, you could see all the horses, with their heads protruding prominently - and I was much further away then I was from Turner's stall. My main impression was that, as opposed to the horses relaxing in their regular stalls, these horses just seemed uncomfortable, with many of them standing up straight with their ears pricked as if wondering what was next. There were fans going and there seemed like there were enough people available to handle any problems, but I can sure see why trainers and owners would be uncomfortable in having their valuable possessions here.

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.

Celebrating Opening Day

- Ashado tuned up at Saratoga with a 5 furlong work in 1:00.84, preparing for a start Saturday in the Grade 1 Go For Wand. Pletcher said "She is training really well."

She figures to meet Bending Strings, Daydreaming, Society Selection, and Stellar Jayne in the Go for Wand, with Andujar and Capeside Lady listed as possible starters. [Thoroughbred Times]
- Wembley executive Nigel Potter took the stand in his own defense in the Lincoln Park bribery retrial, and testified that he didn’t understand what the track’s former GM Daniel Bucci meant when he repeatedly marked faxes concerning the proposed payment allegedly intended to be a bribe with the phrase “A wink is as good as a nod to a blind man.”
``I think my understanding then is pretty much my understanding now,'' Potter replied in his British accent. ``That is, I don't have an understanding of what that means.'' [Providence Journal]
Potter is contending that it was Bucci who proposed the payment in a memorandum that expressed concern that Wembley was "acquiring a reputation for being ungrateful."
Potter said he was puzzled by the implication that Wembley was seen as ungrateful or the company failed to do something it was expected to do.

"It just struck me as a strange thing to do, to make such a payment," Potter testified.

Potter, who is British, described himself as unfamiliar with Harwood's position or the authority associated with his title.

"I had no particular knowledge at the time of what the role of Speaker of the House was," Potter said. [Turnto]
- I can honestly say that I don't ever remember reading about a racing card cancelled due to extreme heat, but the jockeys at Colonial Downs refused to ride after the third race. The heat index was 112, and the death of jockey Emanuel Jose Sanchez, apparently related to dehydration, was no doubt on their minds.

John Pricci at waxes somewhat poetically on the long-awaited opening of Saratoga:
The vibe is different this time. Not for the obvious what’s-going-to-happen-to-NYRA reasons but for the sport; trouble, trouble, everywhere. Only here you get a sense that love of the game might conquer all. It’s only when racing returns downstate in fall does the reality set in. Racetrackers, all alone together, again.

Maybe camaraderie and love of horses will save the game after all. Maybe not. But before anything can happen racing needs take pride in itself starting opening day. It’s neither NASCAR, nor baseball, nor Texas Hold’em. For the gentle pace of an Oklahoma morning or the half-hour between races any afternoon, it may seem anachronistic to most. But as racetrackers and fans know: Lifetimes can be celebrated in these tiny parcels of time.

All this is horse racing. Betting is how it survives. Time for marketers to stop apologizing. Time to cater to the people who get this. Occasion to service the customer in 21st Century time. Time to teach people with the temperament, soul, and appetite for excitement about the game’s history. And that handicapping a race is no different than analyzing any market scenario.
On that note, undaunted by the probability of rain, I’m off to opening day. It’s a bit more than three hours to a virtual fantasy world for those of us who love the game, plenty of time for celebrating lifetimes and anticipating the grand pari-mutuel adventure to come.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Doing it in Saratoga, and Down Under

- Taking a look at the opening day card at Saratoga, it makes you grasp just how crappy the racing at Belmont was. It’s like watching the caliber of play in the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup Finals, and coming to the realization that the non-playoff team you root for really, really sucks. Man, I’m excited, and as of now, I’m still scheduled to leave tomorrow morning for the first two days of the meet. Dick Powell of Brisnet has some useful Saratoga facts and tips today, and perhaps the most important one is this: plug zip code 12866 into any weather web sites you want to check. Indeed, tonight’s forecast calls for possible thunderstorms (the rest of the week and weekend look good...though that can change at a moment's notice, if that), and the typical Saratoga soaker can turn the track to slop and wipe out a day of turf racing in an instant.

I hope that’s not the case for tomorrow. There are three turf races scheduled, including the 7th, the kind of N2X allowance affair that you can only find at Saratoga. Rousing Victory is graded stakes placed and returns for Phil Serpe. Shakespeare is a 2-for-2-on-the-turf 4yo for Mott making his first start since March 2004; he’s by Theatrical out of multiple graded stakes winner Lady Shirl. A note on Pedigree Query says that he was retired with a leg injury last year, guess he changed his mind. Whale (Elusive Quality) comes off two ridiculously easy turf wins for Angel Penna, the last an allowance at Delaware. No Theatrics ships in off a good fig allowance win at Churchill for Neil Howard. And Pavo makes his return as well as his turf debut.

The 5th is your typical Saratoga 2 yo maiden affair with the debuts of a lot of expensive horseflesh. The Steve Klesaris/Jeff Puglisi team unveils another of their high-priced sales purchases with Cat Criminal, purchased for 400K earlier this year at Fasig-Tipton February. Klesaris popped four first-timers at the Belmont meet, but the Form reports that the trainer believes this son of Tale of the Cat wants farther than the 5 1/2 furlongs he gets in this spot. Lukas has Overland Trail (Gone West), a million dollar Bob and Beverly Lewis purchase from the same sale, and Pletcher has $300K yearling Velvet Cat (Cat Thief). Jim Mazur, author of The Saratoga Handicapper, the popular resource for trainer and jockey stats from meets past, tells Ron Indrisano of the Boston Globe: ''First-time starters were not really a good area for Pletcher when he first broke away from [mentor] D. Wayne Lukas…'They didn't pay anything, but now, when Pletcher has a first-timer, it's a big percentage play."

Last year, Pletcher started 22 horses (going 6-11-1) during the opening week of the meet, more than most trainers started in the full six weeks. At one point, he won with four straight first-time starters, Ready's Gal, English Channel (who has gone on to be a top turf horse), Funk, and Upscaled. Each of the four had been working out at Saratoga since May. [Boston Globe}
So has Velvet Cat. Dick Powell says, however, not to expect Pletcher to achieve the kind of numbers he has the past two years, in which he’s had 35 winners each.
He has divisions at Monmouth and Delaware and with their purses being only 20 percent less than Saratoga, look for Pletcher to start fewer horses. He'll still be loaded as usual, but the gross numbers might not be there. The same goes for Bobby Frankel. [Brisnet]
Oh yeah, there’s the opening day stakes too, the G2 Adirondack for 2 yo fillies. Two of Klesaris’ first-out winners, Little Miss Zip and Cajun Mistress, go as an entry that may be favored based on the former’s 7 length win with an 88 fig. Here's Dick Powell again, noting of Little Miss Zip's sire, City Zip:
City Zip is off to a fast start at stud and it should continue during Saratoga. Now standing in Kentucky at Lane's End, he began his stud career here in New York and will have many precocious youngsters racing here. Plus, he loved the Saratoga main track, winning all three juvenile stakes that NYRA used to schedule here -- Hopeful S. (G1), Sanford S. (G2) and Saratoga Special S. (G2) -- plus he came back at three to win the Amsterdam S. (G2). []
Pletcher's undefeated Adieu (El Corredor) is sure to get bet, as should Fifth Avenue (Monarchos) the winner of the Fashion at Belmont.

- It was a flight with quite valuable cargo that landed in Sydney, Australia the other day, as a group of shuttle stallions arrived for the type of vacation that the rest of us can only fantasize about. Fusaichi Pegasus, Johannesburg, More Than Ready, and Street Cry are just a few of the lucky bachelors who will do it, and do it a lot Down Under.

Wink and a Nod

- Magna has announced that they intend to concentrate on their “core” assets, so if you’re near one of their tracks that is not on this list, be afraid, be very afraid.

The core operations are Gulfstream Park in Florida, Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields in California, Pimlico and Laurel Park in Maryland and Lone Star Park in Texas. Additional tracks that can be licensed to add slot machines because of recent changes in state laws are Remington Park in Oklahoma and The Meadows in Pennsylvania.

That leaves Portland Meadows in Oregon and Thistledown in Ohio as non-core tracks. [Toronto Globe and Mail]
And interestingly, though not surprisingly, the new $100-million (U.S.) track that Aurora, Ont.-based MEC wants to construct near Detroit was not a core asset. I imagine those in Detroit who approved that deal, which I thought was dubious from the start, must not be happy. Folks in Maryland must be relieved to see their tracks on the list, though I imagine they must be skeptical. To give you an idea of the potential profit difference between slots and non-slots tracks, consider that Magna recently sold Flamboro Downs to pay down some debt, and the company noted that the track’s profit could have increased by between $2-million and $4-million in the next two years.
Profit at Remington Park, however, could rise by between $20-million and $25-million, he said, while results at The Meadows could jump by between $50-million and $60-million. And if slot machines go into Gulfstream, profit there could rise by between $60-million and $80-million.
What’s Magna trading at now? Meanwhile, according to Vic Zast of MSNBC, the rumor mill up at Saratoga is churning, and is coming up Churchill Downs.
..rumors hang around like bats in the attic in a small town such as Saratoga Springs, and in recent weeks, the talk has been that Magna Entertainment, despite its powerful lobbying effort, is out as a potential operator [of NYRA], and Churchill Downs, flush from its sale of Hollywood Park, is the front-runner for the franchise. The fear of the town wags is that Churchill Downs, while sensitive to the ethic of tradition, is not preservationist, and more than one set of imaginary blueprints for the rumored new air-conditioned, marble-floored clubhouse casino on the first turn has cropped up in the worrisome minds of the faithful. [MSNBC]
Well, considering what Magna has done to Gulfstream, perhaps that fear is misplaced. Churchill did draw criticism of its recent renovation at its home track, with some unhappy that the twin spires are not as prominent as they once were.

- Entries will be taken today for the Hambletonian, and the eliminations will be on Saturday night. It will cost $12,500 for anyone who wants to challenge favorite Ken Warkentin.
Dreamers among the owners have to look at Ken Warkentin's last start, July 15, when he came from fifth place at the half to circle the leaders and draw away to victory with a sizzling 1:52.3 mile.

That clocking gave notice to all concerned that the Jimmy Takter trainee will be at his peak for this Saturday's elimination heats, which will determine the 10 finalists. [Newark Star-Ledger]
Classic Photo has done nothing wrong and also figures to be formidable, as well as the clear second choice. Of course, they all have to stay flat and get past the eliminations. Another contender is Southfork, who appeared to run second to Ken Warkentin in that one’s big win; but sharp-eyed observers, which does not include me, may have noticed that he switched to a pacing gait in the last 50 yards, and he was DQ’d.

- After calling just two witnesses, the prosecution in the bribery retrial of executives of Rhode Island’s Lincoln Park has rested. Two executives, Daniel Bucci and Nigel Potter, are accused of trying to bribe the then-Speaker of the state House Speaker John Harwood via payments to the track’s general counsel Daniel McKinnon, who was Harwood’s law partner. The defendants claim the proposed payments, which could have eventually reached $4 million, were merely bonuses. The state says otherwise.
At [the first] trial, Potter testified that he made about $520,000 in salary and bonuses in 2000 and Elliott made about $275,000. Prosecutors noted that the combined $800,000 in compensation to Wembley's two top executives was less than the $1 million proposed bonus to McKinnon. [Providence Journal]
The track was looking to increase the number of slot machines, as well as to block the approval of a competing casino, and the prosecution alleges that the payments were to facilitate those objectives, and presented a trail of written memos and faxes.
"I firmly believe that McKinnon's firm should be given a six figure check," Bucci wrote. "We would have gladly paid, at any time, in the last eight years, seven figures to accomplish what we have achieved."

"A wink is as good as a nod to a blind man and these people would never put their hand out," Bucci wrote. "I think we have an obligation. I think we've ignored it; and I think we may have reached a point where the extra mile is not going to be walked."
"I suggested (following your requests for recognition of McKinnon past contribution as well as further commitment) that we should pay McKinnon's law practice a 'retainer' of $500k in 2001 and 2002," Potter wrote. "If the strategy is successful and extra machines (1000+) are implemented in 2002 we would consider increasing the retainer to $1m for each of 2003/2004/2005. Similarly if no additional machines are achieved then the $500k p.a. for 2001 and 2002 would cease."[Providence Journal]
The defense starts their case today, and it was good enough for a hung jury the first time. McKinnon did not accept the payment and neither he nor Harwood have been charged.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Monday Night Notes - July 25

- While the rest of us are enjoying the races, NYRA management will be sweating out August 23, when they will learn if they will be prosecuted on tax fraud charges, or if NYRA has reformed its ways sufficiently to drop the charges. David Grening in the Form reports on the tense atmosphere between management and the horseman at a time when everyone should be working together during the most important six weeks of the year.

While [CEO Charles] Hayward has worked diligently to fix the ills of previous administrations, he has created a divisive atmosphere between management and horsemen, some of whom complained about a "we-versus-them" mentality. Some horsemen felt it was facilitated with the creation of a race-day security barn at Belmont that required trainers to send their horses to a holding barn six hours before a race. A similar set-up will be in place at Saratoga. Many believe it escalated on July 14 when Hayward fired popular racing secretary Mike Lakow, who had worked here for more than a decade.

"I think we-versus-them has been here in the last six months," said one trainer who requested anonymity. "I don't think it was the holding barn, but it was punctuated by Lakow's removal.'"

"It's the first time I've ever felt it and I've been here 20 years," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "It's probably not as much we versus them as much as them versus outside forces to get the franchise and the slots." [Daily Racing Form]

- Surf Cat will not come east for the Haskell, but rather will stay in California for the Pacific Classic, where he will face older horses and ten furlongs for the first time. Regardless, Monmouth is expecting a crowd somewhere between the high 40,000s and the mid-50s for the big race.

- Emanuel Sanchez, the jockey who passed away this weekend from apparent dehydration, had been warned by stewards at Colonial Downs about his weight-loss tactics five weeks before he died.
The warning came on June 20, according to Stanley Bowker, the racing commission's executive director and the chief steward of Colonial Downs. Bowker said that Colonial stewards had issued the warning after track officials noticed that the rider was struggling to return to the winner's circle after he won the first race of his career on June 19.

"As the horses were pulling up around the turn, the outrider called up to us and said that he was having some problems," Bowker said Monday. When Sanchez got off the horse, said Bowker, "it was a struggle for him to weigh in, and then before he went back in he had to sit down to catch his breath."

Bowker said that stewards and other riders had advised Sanchez about how to monitor his weight without resorting to drastic weight-loss measures. Bowker also said that stewards threatened to suspend Sanchez's license if they received any other reports about the rider struggling physically. [DRF]
This is sure to revive calls by the Jockey Guild to raise the minimum riding weight.

The Third at Saratoga - Opening Day

- It won’t take long for you to know it’s Saratoga time. The first race on opening day is a steeplechase affair, rich in tradition, but to me it just means an extra half hour to get settled and get to the rest of the card. While the second is a $20K claiming affair, the third race is an early reminder of why we just love the racing there. It’s a maiden special for 3 and up, and Frankel has an entry of a pair of 3 yo’s who have each raced once, both running 4th at Belmont last year. Aristocrat (Awesome Again) is a full brother to Ghostzapper, and he was 13.60 -1 for his debut which was last Oct 16, just a couple of weeks before Ghostzapper confirmed his wins at Monmouth at Belmont with his victory in the BC Classic. He adds blinkers for his return and has a steady series of works and I doubt he’ll be 13-1 this time. Besides, he’s coupled with Sir Halory (Unbridled), the last foal of Halory, the dam of several stakes winners, most notably the 1998 Blue Grass winner Halory’s Hunter. Sir Halory ran very well in his debut, rallying to within 2 1/4 of the winner.

George Arnold has League of Nations, a $975,000 yearling making his debut. All I can say about horses that Arnold sends out at Saratoga, or anywhere for that matter, is watch the board and also, watch the board. Check out that thing with the show pool I sometimes write about with Arnold horses; you can almost always be assured of at least a live one when his horses get bet. This one is by A.P. Indy out of multiple Grade 1 and millionaire Clear Mandate; and that makes him a half to stakes winners Newfoundland and Full Mandate. His second dam, Dream Deal, was also a stakes winner and is the dam of one of my all-time favorites, Creme Fraiche, the only gelding to win the Belmont, and the 4th of Woody Stephens’ 5 in a row! (He also won the Jockey Gold Cup twice, and that at a time when that still meant quite a lot.) Check out if his odds are lower than his 8-1 morning line.

So, are you excited yet? :-)

It’s hard to handicap these races in advance of seeing the odds, but there are three horses with decent form to keep an eye on. War Marshall (A.P. Indy) ran just 12 days ago for Allan Jerkins, opening up a six length lead in the stretch before fading to second at a mile, earning a field best Beyer of 88. The cutback should help for sure, but it’s his third race in a month, and he faces early pressure outside of him from Afternoon Que, and whatever first-timer shows speed as well. War Marshall is out of stakes winner U R Unforgettable, and this is the female family of Point Given, who had his first winner as a sire the other day. Jonathan Quick has much improved Beyers that are competitive here for Zito, always a dangerous scenario. He showed speed at a mile before fading to third in his last, but he’s shown himself to be adept at fading at shorter distances as well.

Rumspringa (Siphon) has the most starts in the field, not necessarily what people are looking for at Saratoga. He started to improve upon shipping up to the big A this past spring. Then trainer Barclay Tagg added blinkers, and he was a 4 wide 2nd with an lifetime best 87 Beyer, and most recently a 5th at Belmont after a bad start in which he still earned an 86. He’s been off since June 9, not necessarily a good thing based on his past such experiences, but isn’t Tagg one of the guys those of us that are bad thinking for ourselves are supposed to follow here? He picks up Elbar Coa, and had an excellent work over this track the other day. Figure Frankel’s entry to be overbet, and this could be a live number at a fair price.

- Some trainer tips from Ed Fountaine of the NY Post (I left out Pletcher, Frankel, Mott, the stuff we already know):

RICK VIOLETTE: Shows remarkable profit margin with his 2-year-olds, going 9-for-37 over past six summers at average payoff of nearly $20; ones to watch are Out Performance, half-brother to Richter Scale by Aptitude; Purple Aces, full brother to stakes-winner March Magic; and McMagic, colt by Unbridled's Song.

On turf, Christophe Clement and Jimmy Toner are forces to reckon with, as is longshot specialist Tommy Voss. Phil Serpe, Barclay Tagg and N.Y.-bred specialist John Hertler also deserve a nod. Allen "the Chief" Jerkens, Jim "007" Bond and Nick "Hall of Fame" Zito are dependable fixures year in, year out. As for 2-year-olds, Steve Asmussen and Patrick Biancone always unleash a bevy of sharp youngsters, but you usually have to take short odds, while Stan Hough can spring first-timers at a price.

Out-of-state trainers shipping in for the meet who figure to make an impact include Wally Dollase, Neil Howard, Dale Romans, Chuck Simon, Graham Motion, Michael Matz, Ralph Ziadie and Tim Ritchey. [NY Post]

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Sunday Night Notes - July 24

- The Belmont meet closed out with a mostly lackluster weekend of racing and as the action shifts upstate to Saratoga, Nick Kling of the Troy Record, citing the strict barn detention policy, says that a continuation of the stagnant product at Belmont could tarnish the track with its worst meet in a decade.

..many horsemen have been inconvenienced, and in some cases forced to hire more staff to accommodate the rules. That has apparently resulted in fewer horses being entered in NYRA races. Why, you ask? Because those same horsemen have the alternative to race their animals at venues where there is no security barn.

At this time, that includes every other racetrack in America. This has been particularly true for trainers who are not already stabled in New York. NYRA officials are hoping that the cachet of racing at Saratoga, along with the reality that many non-NYRA-based horsemen will have already shipped their horses into town, will reverse this effect during the 36-day Spa meet. [Troy Record]
There was a two year old race on the turf each day this weekend, which we should see more of at Saratoga, and they both produced winners at nice prices. On Saturday, it was 21-1 Loushe, the first turf starter for first year stallion Black Minnalouche, who I posted about a while back. I’m excited about him as a stallion just from watching his stretch kick in the races linked to on this page. Loushe is out of a Dixie Brass mare who is a half-sister to Platinum Tiara, who ran second to 45-1 shot Caressing in the 2000 BC Juvenile Filly.

In today’s juvenile turf affair, Pletcher had a two-horse entry of first timers sent off at 7-10. The presumed strong half of the entry was Dyna’s Destiny, a full sister to Dynamist, recent winner of the grassy Rhudy Memorial at Delaware. She ran well but checked in third behind the winner, first-timer Be A Believer, for Linda Rice at 6-1.

Bill Mott had a winner on Saturday to wrap up the trainer’s title, with his Rayon edging out challenger Christophe Clement’s Let the Lion Roar in a contest that proved decisive, as Juan Rodriguez scored with Yankee Mon in the state-bred Evan Shipman on Sunday. Keep an eye on this one at one-turn distances. If you throw out his one two-turn race this year, he’s 4 for 4 in 2005, including a win in open company against next-out winner Dwango. Yankee Mon is by Maria’s Mon out of a Wavering Monarch mare who’s a half to Florida Derby winner Creoso and to Maytide, the granddam of Highland Cat, preparing up at Saratoga for my Castle Village partnership group. He worked 4f in 49.37 yesterday, 14th best of 26. We're waiting for word on his getting his gate card.

Another nice NY-bred winning Sunday was Chestertown Slew, a Seattle Slew 3 yo out of a Hansel making it 3 for 3 on the turf for John Kimmel. In the 7th, Godolphin invader Keep the Faith ran 6 furlongs on the turf in an American record of 1:06.82.

For the most part, the betting action was so dismal that I ended up playing mostly the races from Monmouth. The 4th was an interesting maiden turf affair that saw the debut of $1.1 million yearling Diaphanous, a 3 yo daughter of Unbridled’s Song, and a full sister to 1998 Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama winner Banshee Breeze, starting for Alan Goldberg. He got OK board support at 4-1. That was second choice to Wear Well, who was going out first time off the claim for Kirk Ziadie, who has fabulous numbers in that category. If you ignored the hot first-timers and the trainer stats and just boxed the horses with the best last Beyers on the turf, you’d be rewarded with a $27.80 mutuel on winner Eloquently, and a $255 exacta.

The 6th was a maiden 2 yo affair, and Pletcher had first time starter Western Slam (Grand Slam) who got slammed late down to 3-1, and got up at the wire with the stable's main Monmouth man Chris DeCarlo. Keep an eye on Bound Notebook, a firster from the aforementioned Stanley Hough, perhaps at Saratoga; he was live on the board at 5-1 and rallied well for third.

I bounced back from my bad day Friday, hitting the final Pick 3 at Monmouth. The key was my single of Cherokee’s Boy in the Salvatore Mile. I went against the eventual 1-5 favorite Gygistar, reasoning that his recent good efforts were at one turn and he’d never raced at Monmouth, while Cherokee’s Boy was improving for Gary Capuano, and had a win over the track in his last. He’s by Citidancer, the sire of Park Avenue Ball, who won the Long Branch last weekend and is expected to start in the Haskell. I used three horses in both the 8th and the 10th, and came up with a $150 payoff for a dollar bet. As for Gygistar, it was apparent as soon as they entered the final turn that he wasn’t going to be a threat, and Elbar Coa said "I'm not sure if he didn't handle the track so much as he just didn't run his race today.”

Sunday Morning Notes - July 24

- I’m not the type to brag too much, but it seems to me that I've picked a few winners on this blog in limited attempts lately, most recently Gun Salute ($9.80) in the American Derby at Arlington Saturday. I've also certainly mentioned other winners as contenders if not selecting them right on top. Those qualify as winners to the guys who hawk the tipsheets outside the admission gates at Saratoga. Maybe I should be more demonstrative about successes like this like they are, and proclaim something like SEVEN WINNERS RIGHT ON TOP. Every day seems to be a good day for these guys. WE HAD THREE TRIPLES, THE PICK 4 FOR $3500, THE LATE DOUBLE, THE EARLY DOUBLE, THE MIDDAY DOUBLE, THE DOUBLE FUDGE SUNDAE! Of course, any horse mentioned anywhere on the sheet amongst the four they give out for each race qualifies as a winner. I promise that if I ever walk up and hear a guy go “Well, we didn’t have a great day yesterday, but we’ll try again today,” I’d buy a whole bunch of them in an instant.

I’ve never been to opening day at Saratoga - I’ve probably been to every day except that one - so I don’t know what they say on the first day. Maybe something like OVER TWO HUNDRED WINNERS RIGHT ON TOP LAST YEAR! WE HAD THE LATE DOUBLE AT THE HARNESS TRACK AND THE NEW YORK STATE LOTTO. I’ll hopefully be finding out this Wednesday as I plan to make my opening day debut. I’m also planning to start to do a spot play of the day for the Saratoga meet - we’ll see how long that lasts. And where the hell is my new PC laptop? The day after I ordered it from Hewlett-Packard, they laid off 10% of the staff, perhaps including the guy who took my order? Once I do get it, which should be any day, and regain the use of Formulator, I’ll dazzle you with incredibly relevant facts and figures, more trainer stats (oh good), and with the overload of information, will probably never select a winner here again.

I was out and didn’t see any racing yesterday, the price I had to pay for our trip to Belmont Friday, so I’ll have to find a replay of the American Derby, in which Mott’s colt Gun Salute got up by a whisker over favorite Purim at the wire. Purim’s trainer Tom Proctor offered a novel rationalization to deal with the loss. " If you won them all, no one would want to race with you.” [Bloodhorse] Cornelio Velaszuez swept the three grassy graded stakes races on the card at Arlington, and Mott also took the G3 Modesty with Noisette (Broad Brush) - can you believe how on fire this guy is? Velasquez’ other winner, Cool Conductor (Stravinsky), has really stepped up for trainer Ralph Nicks and won for fun - he was coming off a close 4th in the G1 United Nations, just over a length behind Better Talk Now.

- And can you believe that Smuggler paid nearly 5-2 in the Coaching Club American Oaks? She continues to mature and to win, this time doing it easily. "She does it so easy I'm kind of floored a little bit," said Shug McGaughey... "She has taken to racing good now. It is pretty exciting. We have been looking for a really nice horse for a while. It looks like we have on now." [NY Post] With many of the early season 3 yo filly contenders having either retired or faltered of late, this one is certainly in contention for a championship. The generous price was in due in part to all the money bet on John Ward’s For All We Know, who was sent as a close second choice based on her 3 for 3 record against maiden and allowance fields. She finished 4th, 6 lengths behind the three more proven fillies in the field. Jerry Bailey had his usual frank assessment about second place finisher Summerly: "She probably doesn't want to run that far."

- Jerry Bossert in the NY Daily News is reporting today that Bellamy Road, who worked 4f in 50.20 yesterday, is being pointed to the 7 furlong King’s Bishop at Saratoga on Travers day, where he would possibly face Lost in the Fog and Roman Ruler. As Bossert writes, the King’s Bishop may turn out to be a better race than the Travers.. As for Bellamy Road :

"He looked super like he always does," Zito said. "It's good to see him come back. He's a special horse and we'll see what happens. But when he's right he can run with any horse." [NY Daily News]
If the King's Bishop really does unfold in this fashion (and it's way too early to get as excited about it as I feel now), we'd certainly find out if the vocal skeptics of Lost in the Fog are right or not.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Day at Belmont - Trainer Stats and Cute Butts

- It was the final Friday twilight card of the Belmont meet, and I got the half day off and made an appearance on a sweltering day with little temperature relief from the breezes in the backyard. As has been the case all too often recently, I’d had very little chance to handicap the races in advance. With the heat as well as the rare accompaniment by the Head Chef, it was a day to plunk down on a chair under the trees and chill.

Eventually. I’d had a chance to at least check out the first few races, and so when we walked in just around 8 minutes before the second, I immediately left the Head Chef to set up and went to check out the betting action on this 2 yo maiden state-bred race. I knew Baffert’s first timer would be bet, but I was interested in another one, from James Jerkins, who has been live all meet. Indeed, he was 3-1, and getting bet on the nose in the win pool. I’ve been doing OK lately following hot trainers and watching the board, and it all just fit with recent success. Running Dog is by A.P Jet out of stakes winner and millionaire Clabber Girl, and a closer look at this unconventional pedigree reveals that he has Fappiano as his grandsire, and his granddam is Jedina, a stakes winning half-sister to Fappiano! This is also the female family of Commendable and Keeper Hill.

Anyway, I hooked him up in some Pick 3’s. He drifted up to 9-2, but right before the start got hit to 4-1. I love that last flash to a nice square price like 4-1 after a horse drifts up like that (though I guess it’s not the last flash anymore). Unfortunately, the horse broke awkwardly and took too long to settle before rallying for second; I'll put him on my watch list. The winner, Trading Pro, was a more logical form horse, and this was to be a trend for the day.

Well, I would have been out of the Pick 3’s after the third anyway, but maybe I should have paid attention to the fact that winning trainer Frank Alexander had been 0-16 at the meet prior, and the losing favorite came from the Lukas barn. Then I discovered a lone TV monitor outside that had the NHL Entry Draft Lottery on. The team winning the number one pick would pick the supposed next great phenom, a guy with a very unlikely hockey name of Sidney Crosby. I knew it was hopeless to think that the luckless Rangers would come up with the gem, even though they had more balls in the lottery than most other teams due to the fact that they’ve sucked so much. If they’d had more balls as a team over the years they might have won a couple more Cups. I just wanted to see the despised Islanders name come up so I knew they wouldn’t get him. I was the only idiot standing there in the sun in 95 degree weather in July watching this, and was actually sweating it out until the Islanders finally came up at 14. I could go back to the racing. I should have stuck with the hockey.

In the 5th, two hot trainers were vying for favoritism - Juan Rodrigeuz (Richard Dutrow), going for the training title, and Steve Asmussen. The former had Evasive, coming off a win in this same 50K claiming class. I threw out Asmussen’s shipper and used Evasive (9-5) on top in exactas with a couple others, including Fast Laner, who had finished just one length behind Evasive here last month before throwing in a rare clunker at Monmouth. And she was 6-1 shipping back here for Patricia Farro, but I never really considered using her on top. It was like I was just mindlessly following the hot trainer as if he could do no wrong, like someone at one of those religious revival meetings. Fast Laner also had Elbar Coa, and he timed his closing move perfectly, getting past the two favorites just before the wire. She’s an ultra-consistent filly, and the type you could just KICK yourself for missing at a price like that!

For the sixth, the Head Chef came to the paddock and offered these comments. The 1 horse was “like, Gee, it’s too darn hot.” The 6, Intimidator had “an elegant tush, a most superior butt.” The 7, Westmoreland, was “very well proportioned.” Besides his proportions, I noticed the board action on Westmoreland, stretching out for Pletcher. He was getting bet on the nose in the win pool just as I like and anyway I thought he had a chance to be lone speed. And it’s Pletcher. Among the horses I used in exotics was Angliana. Gee, I thought, that’s a nice price on him. He’d finished just a nose behind Victory Circle, and the latter was the favorite here!! And here’s Elbar Coa again! But Angliana’s trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has struggled here with 4 wins in 67 starts. So again, I went with the trainer and the tote board, and Angliana paid an unbelievable $19.80, oh man. The Head Chef had commented before the race that she liked his name, and commented afterwards that she got distracted by the cute ass (which, by the end of the race, only one other horse was able to see). I got distracted from basic handicapping principles by trainer stats and mutuel pools.

Maybe if I had known that Angel Dancer was running for Castle Village in the 7th, I would have worn a collared shirt and long pants in this weather to go to the paddock. Or maybe not! What do you have to wear at Saratoga, a fucking tux with tails? I saw Jeff Mullins in the winner’s circle at Del Mar in shorts and a goofy Hawaiin shirt; I mean, what’s wrong with that?? Anyway, I would have actually gotten in the winner’s circle myself in this case, even though I’m not in on this particular horse, as he made it 3 wins in the last week for the partnership, wow. The Head Chef asked why I didn’t bet him, and I said, well, partly because his trainer was 1 for 42....DOH! There I go again!

I sat out the feature, a NY-bred turf stakes for 3 yo fillies. So I didn’t bet on leading trainer Bill Mott’s filly Cayuga’s Waters, defeated by His Beauty, only the second winner of the meet for trainer Howie Tesher. She’s by Adcat, another Storm Cat son, this one standing for a private fee in Florida. Adcat won just 5 of 28 races, with one grade 3 win.

When I looked at the ninth race, the usual state-bred maiden turf affair, I noticed that with the exception of one horse, this could have been a race with a condition of “For Trainers Who Have Not Won Two Races At This Meeting.” I’m not going to name all of them here to avoid unnecessary embarrassment, except to note that the 2-1 favorite was trained by Del Carroll (0-37). The one exception was Jacks Express, trained by Richard Schosberg, who I’d just mentioned the other day. He’s had 3 winners from limited starters in the last couple of weeks, and is 50% in the money for the meet. Jacks Express (7-2) showed good speed in his turf debut and held for third at 29-1, and was now getting that man again, Elbar Coa. I assured myself that he fit on the merits and I wasn’t just betting him because of the trainer angle. One of the horses I used in the exotics was Whereforartthou, for Leah Gyarmati (1-30, though with an OK in-the-money %). He had actually finished just a couple of lengths behind Jacks Express in his turf debut and was 11-1 here.....

After he won, the Head Chef wanted to know why I didn’t bet him, pointing out that the owners have the same last name as me.

- Overheard at the track Friday: “I feel like the guy in Let It Ride.” I can honestly say that I've never had the occasion to utter those words.

- Christophe Clement had another winner, and depending where I look, he’s either one or two wins behind Mott as he continues his rally. (How’s that for accurate reporting? If it was something really important I’d spend the time to get the answer.) It seems like Clement is taking it seriously - maybe. In the first at Belmont today, is he dropping Commission in claiming price off a win because he's going for the title or because there's something amiss with the horse?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Notes - July 22

- Joe Bravo broke his collarbone in a spill at Monmouth yesterday. That particular injury seems to be in vogue for jockeys these days - better that then some other things we've been seeing of late. For Bravo, it’s the latest in a bizarre string of bad luck.

Bravo had led a charmed life, escaping serious injury for most of his career until July 27, 2001, when he broke his leg in a spill at Monmouth Park.

That started a run of bad luck — and bad breaks.

He came back to Monmouth Park with a vengeance in 2002, winning 21 races in the first eight days of the meet, including six on May 18 and four the next day. His season ended, though, on May 30, when he was hurled from his mount trying to avoid a fallen Eibar Coa on the Monmouth turf course. Bravo landed hard on his left wrist, suffering a broken radius, fractures and a dislocated lunate (the central bone in the wrist). He also tore all the ligaments in his wrist.

Bravo stayed healthy all the way through the 2003 Monmouth Park meeting, winning 110 races and the ninth of his 10 riding titles, but fractured a vertebra in his neck on opening day at the Meadowlands, Oct. 2, after Tactical de Naskra clipped heels and fell in the ninth race. [Asbury Park Press]
Of course, he’s more fortunate than some other riders who have suffered critical injuries, including Omar Camejo, who remains in guarded condition.
He suffered three broken ribs and a punctured lung. He has been on a respirator to assist with his breathing and isn't able to speak, said Julie Carrasquel, wife of his agent, Pedro Carrasquel.

"But he was making signals with his hands, like thumbs up or 'I love you,'" she said. [Rochester Democrat and Gazette]
- Tim Ritchey was somewhat more enthusiastic about running Afleet Alex in the Travers less than 3 weeks after the Haskell in talking to Sherry Ross of the NY Daily News. "I really, really want to run in the Travers…..Saratoga is where Alex won his first big stakes races (the Sanford and the Hopeful last year as a 2-year-old)." We really, really want him to run in the Travers too. Meanwhile, Ms. Ross, commenting on her recent handicapping acumen, quips, "Get the feeling I could stop Lance Armstrong?” Perhaps we should get her to bet on Karl Rove to survive the Plamegate scandal.

Coupla Of Saturday Stakes

- Familiar faces in Saturday’s Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks for 3yo fillies at Belmont. Smuggler held off Spun Sugar by a neck with Summerly 2 lengths further back in the Mother Goose, and the trio will reconvene here. There’s no reason to think that Summerly will benefit from the mile and a quarter distance here, though recall that the Mother Goose was her first try since the Kentucky Oaks. Spun Sugar’s trainer Todd Pletcher lamented his filly’s trip, as she found herself on the lead, ahead of the speedy Summerly, in quick fractions. "I wish she could have been ridden a little differently. When she tried to make the chute, her position was compromised and then she was at the mercy of everyone else." [Bloodhorse] Javier Castellano was subbing for out of town John Velasquez in that race, and the latter will be back on board. Smuggler just exudes classs, and Shug McGaughey is looking for further improvement. " "She kind of pulled herself up once she made the lead in the Mother Goose...It's important to time her run, but this is something that hopefully she'll get over with more racing experience."

An interesting new addition here is undefeated For All We Know (Stephen Got Even), shipping in from Arlington with Shaun Bridgmohan for John Ward, hitting at 33% with limited starters this year. It’s a daunting jump from allowance company to Grade 1. But like Smuggler, she’s out of a multiple graded stakes winning mare, in her case Over All, winner of the G1 Matron and Spinaway at 2.

- Arlington Park has its Arlington Million Preview Day, with three graded stakes on the turf. The G2 American Derby is for 3 yo’s, and Purim (Dynaformer) will put his 3 for 3 lifetime record on the line for trainer Tom Proctor. He's the 9-5 morning line favorite. Her last was a win over this course in the Arlington Classic just 20 days ago. The trainer seems more concerned though with the distance.

Purim hasn't run beyond 1 1/16 miles, and the American Derby is a 1 3/16-mile race. Purim has the pedigree to get the distance, and appears suited to longer distances, but Proctor remains concerned.

"That's a big jump, a huge jump with a horse that's only run three times," Proctor said. [Daily Racing Form]
Bill Mott has a runner here, and you of course always have to be wary of him on the turf. Gun Salute (Military) has shown huge improvement in his last two, which corresponds to the addition of blinkers and Lasix. He won the Forerunner at Keeneland easily, and his last was a game third, two necks behind Rush Bay in the G3 Jefferson Cup at 9 furlongs. He has four works since that 6/18 race, capped off by two excellent five furlongs breezes, and is tabbed for the mild upset.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Thursday Night Notes - July 21

- When jockey Chantal Sutherland won the Tom Fool with Smokume on Sunday, it was only her third win of the meet, with the other two coming on the same day. If you take a look at the odds of the horses she rode at Belmont today, it’s obvious that she still has work to do to gain the confidence of trainers other than Allan Jerkins. She had mounts that went off at 19-1, 40-1, 67-1, and 68-1, all finishing out of the money. But she had a fifth ride that was a winning one, on 17-1 Giant’s Promise, a 3 yo NY-bred maiden filly; she drew clear midstretch and held off John Velasquez on a Pletcher 7-10 shot. That’s the type of result that could get her better quality mounts. Pretty nice priced winner for trainer John Kimmel considering that she’s a Giant’s Causeway filly out of a stakes placed Affirmed mare making her turf debut against state-breds.

Christophe Clement crept a bit closer to the training leaders - he trails Billy Mott by just 2 wins now - with Deed, another turf winner for this barn, with jockey champ Edgar Prado aboard. (Note the second horse was a 32-1 trained by Stanley Hough, who I mentioned the other day.) And Steve Matthews of Newsday had a 16-1 NY-bred winner right on top: Lucky S. Lorenti is drilling with a purpose for first start since moving to suddenly live stable ([Richard] Schosberg).

- The highest priced Fasig Tipton yearling at by a first year sire, at $500,000, was a colt by Buddha (Unbridled’s Song), the 2002 Wood Memorial winner, and a favorite of the Head Chef. She had him that day at the Big A - she was very taken by his looks, and she seems to have a knack for that. I seem to recall buying her a Derby futures ticket as well. Of course, he never ran again after that day, retiring to stud with an injury and leaving behind the usual frustration of wondering what could have been. After one off the board start at 2, he went 2 for 2 at Gulfstream, winning his allowance test by 9 1/2.

He went right from there to the 2002 Wood, which was as exciting a race you’d ever want to see, and hopefully you can do so on this page (if I can watch it with my browser and on a Mac, anyone should be able to). If you watch the allowance race that's on the same page first, you’ll see his sheer talent as he draws away easily while greenly checking out the crowd. In the Wood, you see his courage as, in just his 4th career start, he battles on the rail to the inside of the imposing Medaglia D’Oro, with Sunday Break looming boldly 3 wide. Tom Durkin, delivering one of his usual classic calls, noted at the 16th pole, “Medaglia D’Oro with Laffit Pincay --THEY’RE SURGING” and at that moment they indeed looked like the winners. But, as Durkin exclaimed as they crossed the wire, “BUDDHA WON!”

Durkin was the first guy I remember that extended his call after the horses crossed the wire. It used to be that the call always ended when the race did, so in a race like this, the announcer would have said something like, “Medaglia D’Oro on the outside, Buddha on the inside....To the wire!” If the winner was apparent, most calls ended in, say, “Buddha...In Front!” Or in the dark age of Marshall Cassidy at NYRA - I get queasy just thinking about him - “Buddha HAS the LEEEEED.” I don’t really remember giving much thought to this - it was just the way it was. I don’t recall any public outcry for the call going on past the finish - didn’t get any emails from on the issue. Durkin had called harness races at the Meadowlands and he did it there, and when he came to NYRA, I wondered whether he’d be allowed to, and he did from the very first day. I wonder if Marshall Cassidy was pissed off about that.

Buddha’s big seller is a colt out of a stakes winning Danzig mare. Despite the big price tag, the buyer said he intends to pinhook this colt! "My partner tells me there’s old pinhookers and bold pinhookers, but not both. We’re getting close though. This horse will go to a two-year-old sale." [Thoroughbred Times]

Thursday Notes - July 21

- The NTRA couldn't rally its member tracks to get behind the Thoroughbred Championship Tour (TCT), which could have added continuity and order to the racing season for the casual or prospective fan, particularly during the period between the Triple Crown and Breeders Cup when much of the general public other than those at Del Mar or Saratoga barely know that the sport exists. But do not fear, the NTRA is still on duty. Today, in conjunction with the Breeders Cup, they made this exciting announcement: The complete race order for the 22nd Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, will be announced on Wednesday, Oct. 19, when the Pre-Entered fields for all eight races are released. The Classic - Powered By Dodge will, of course, be last.

Since the Breeders' Cup is the greatest betting day in all of sports, we would like to present our fans with the highest caliber wagering card possible by providing a race order that we believe will generate the largest pools and potentially greater payouts than ever before." said Ken Kirchner, NTRA senior vice president of product development. [Bloodhorse]
Well, that's really worth a headline in the trades. Now the casual fan will know a few days in advance exactly when the races featuring horses they've never heard of because there's nothing like the TCT or standings in the sports section will be. Outstanding.

- Afleet Alex was on the track at Belmont this morning, getting a mile in 1:36 3/5.
"He started out easy and he finished well," trainer Tim Ritchey said. "He came out of it good, cooled out fine, no problem. The clockers said they got him in :25 and change for the opening quarter and around :49 4/5 for the half. He's put on probably 100 pounds. I mean he has really blossomed; it's amazing. You can't believe how he's filled out." [Bloodhorse]
- The investigation into the whereabouts of Wild Desert before his Queen's Plate win will not effect the purse distribution of the race. "Wild Desert met the criteria here," said [Woodbine steward Gunnar] Lindberg. "The problem isn't with us, he met the conditions to race here." [Toronto Star] He just needed to have one listed 3f workout in lieu of a race in the prior 30 days.

- The only numbers from the Fasig Tipton yearling sale that seem to be up from last year are the number of horses offered and the buyback rate. Even with 37% more horses in the catalog, the gross still declined, leading to speculation that supply is outstripping demand, a trend that could continue.
"We've clearly saturated the market," said Bayne Welker, director of sales and stallion marketing at Mill Ridge Farm near Lexington.

Part of the reason, Welker believes, is that the thoroughbred breeding industry has recovered from the effects of Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome, the illness that hit Central Kentucky in 2001 and, to a smaller extent, in 2002.
An upcoming yearling auction in Ocala, Fla., has 1,498 horses listed for sale, a 23 percent increase from last year and the most since at least 2001.

And while Keeneland still is compiling entries for its September sale, spokesman Jim Williams said the company expects to have close to the record number offered last year.

"I don't think there's anything in the marketplace that indicates that there's more end users, so we're going to keep running into this," Welker said. [Louisville Courier-Journal]
- Further details of the deal to facilitate the sale of Rhode Island's Lincoln Park are emerging, and the reaction is: Extraordinary. Unique. Unheard of in the gambling industry. This refers to the eleventh-hour commitment that will have the state compensate the track and racino for any "slippage" caused by the opening of a proposed Harrah's casino.
The promise was made amid suggestions by some lawmakers that Harrah's -- not the state -- would pick up the tab.

But Jan Jones, the former Las Vegas mayor who has been the face of Harrah's in Rhode Island, says don't count on it. "That is not something we have offered. It is not something we expect to do. And it is not something that was represented to us by leadership.

"They said that slippage would be the state's issue, not Harrah's issue," said Jones yesterday.
An analysis provided by House Fiscal Adviser Michael O'Keefe yesterday indicates the state could end up paying BLB out of its own share of the track revenue anywhere from $55.3 million, if the losses are modest, to $282.2 million over eight years if the initial losses to the casino are more severe. [Providence Journal]
- Jay Cronley, on, writes:
Note to gamblers who bet historical trends: Are you completely out of your minds? Are you that bad at thinking for yourselves?
Note to Jay Cronley: Shut up. Are you that good that you can totally ridicule other bettors for their betting strategies? I actually don't totally disagree with him - I think people do sometimes get carried away betting, for example, a trainer with a first time starter at Saratoga just because he might have popped a couple 2 years ago. Nonetheless, some trends are worth noting, especially at "boutique" meetings like the Spa, and anyway I bristle when I read one of these guys giving us a condescending attitude like this. If he was so great, he wouldn't have to spend his time writing columns to show how much smarter than us he is. He also writes: Note to problem gamblers: doubt a single reader skipped ahead to the next item.... " Wrong, moron, I'm skipping ahead to the subway soon in case the cops want to rummage through my bag. What a world.