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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Games of Skill and Chance

- Steve Crist writes in the Form about the big numbers for the Travers Day handle. Despite the smaller on-track crowd, the on-track handle of $8.57 million was the third highest ever, and the $1 million guaranteed Pick 4 had a pool of over $1.6 million.

There may be two lessons here. The first is that maybe, just maybe, people actually like betting on really good horses. The second is that horseplayers do not necessarily want pick-whatever sequences of one impossible race after another, and may prefer to have some reliable anchors in their multirace plays, for both confidence and affordability. The Breeders' Cup will not announce the order of its races this year until the races are drawn, presumably to put the smaller fields with heavier favorites earlier on the card and out of the multirace bets. That's not necessarily the best way to go. [Daily Racing Form, sub. only]
When I posted about that Pick 4, writing that it should be a hugely popular bet, I then thought about what I’d written and wondered if it was right. The common wisdom is that the betting public loves to have wide open races to play, induced by the possibility of a life-changing score. But the ‘reliable anchors’ that Crist wrote about is what drew me, not a regular Pick 4 player, to the bet, and apparently many others as well. I’m definitely amongst those who are put off by feeling as if I need to spread each race, not only for affordability but also because I’m wary about including horses in races after the first leg that I would usually wait to see the tote action on. It seemed like everyone had something or other going on in the Pick 4. In fact, the betting lines, which had been a bit of a problem at times during the day, were virtually non-existent for the 2nd and 3rd legs, as many in the crowd chose to just let their bet ride.

I also like those ‘reliable anchors’ because sometimes they ain’t so reliable, and being able to take a stand against one of them successfully is what leads to nice payoffs. I thought perhaps we’d be rewarded a bit more for beating Henny Hughes in the Hopeful than the $62.50 payoff. Crist says that First Samurai’s win was not the kind that summoned the aroma of roses in May
After chasing Too Much Bling through a quick half-mile in 44.81 seconds, he pulled clear through six furlongs in 1:09.25 but then needed exactly 14 seconds for his seventh furlong and lugged in while doing it.

The Travers card featured another remarkable 2-year-old performance, the winning debut of Discreet Cat, a son of Forestry and half-brother to Pretty Wild trained by Stan Hough. Discreet Cat ran six furlongs in 1:09.76 after a moderate opening half-mile in 45.41, scoring by 3 1/2 lengths over the promising Superfly (a full brother to Andromeda's Hero) and earning a lofty 106 Beyer. If he can rate and stretch out, he's going to make a lot of noise this fall.

- Pacific Classic winner Borrego will likely train up to the Breeders Cup Classic.

- Freshman sire Forest Camp has been a phenom with debut runners, having already sired eight first-time winning starters from his first crop. [Albany Times-Union]

- Wednesday has the making of an attendance embarrassment for NYRA at Saratoga. After only 12,376 showed up on Monday, the final week kicks off with the promise of rain from the remnants of Katrina, and a nine race card that includes two steeplechase races, not to mention two maiden claimers. I wonder if the run of crowds of 10,000 or more at the Spa could come to an inglorious end.

- When the Arkansas state government passed Senate Bill 999 last March, it gave Oaklawn Park the right to ask for, and conduct at their expense, citywide or countywide elections to determine whether other “electronic games of skill” can be played at the parks. [Arkansas House of Representatives Release]

Oaklawn had originally intended to conduct the referendum in March. But now, citing pressure from horsemen and city officials, the track has applied to conduct the vote on November 8, in advance of the 2006 race meeting. Oaklawn had the choice of conducting the referendum city or county wide, and opted to limit it to their home city of Hot Springs, citing the success of a city-wide vote to approve Sunday racing several years ago.

Oaklawn currently has 260 Instant Racing machines, on which patrons bet on old races. Oaklawn’s Terry Wallace said said that he didn’t foresee the new games supplanting Instant Racing any time soon. "It’s been tremendously popular.” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette] That’s for sure! I was astounded to read that during the 2005 live meet, betting on these machines constituted 19% of the total [of all-sources handle], with $38,681,732 wagered on the machines, more than double the $16,523,932 wagered on Instant Racing in 2004. [Thoroughbred Times]

The legislation, now referred to as Act 1511, would not add more Instant Racing machines; in fact they are specifically excluded. The question of what constitutes an “electronic game of skill” is a matter of dispute. The Arkansas State constitution prohibits lotteries or games of chance. The bill itself reads: "Electronic games of skill" means games played through any electronic device or machine that afford an opportunity for the exercise of skill or judgment where the outcome is not completely controlled by chance alone. [] The House of Representatives release said that this “apparently” includes video poker, though some states have ruled otherwise. Video backgammon and keno are other possibilities.
The Arkansas Racing Commission has yet to define "electronic games of skill."

Shelby McCook, the commission manager, said Monday that the panel would define those games, as well as the number of video machines to be placed at each track, if and when voters in the two cities approve the games. [Ark Democrat Gazette]

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Tuesday Morning Notes - Aug 30

- I'm watching the horrifying reports from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and I hope that my readers in those areas are safe and sound.

- I looked at the attendance at Saratoga on Monday and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw 12,376. That’s typical of the last couple of weekdays, but this was still technically the end of Travers week. It was pretty apparent to me that the Travers Day crowd would be off when I saw the crowd on Thursday actually decrease from Wednesday, and then the Friday crowd of only 22,796. Usually, the crowds build to around 30,000 on that Friday. NYRA’s Bill Nader spoke hopefully in the days leading up to Travers Day, "We're hoping for over 50,000.”[Troy Record] They had over 66,000 for the race in 2003 even after Funny Cide and Empire Maker both bowed out, and over 48,000 last year. What makes the decline even more alarming is the fact that the weather was perfect all week through Saturday.

It’s hard to say why Travers week crowds dropped off so precipitously. Perhaps some bettors were turned off by the mediocre quality that they encountered too often in the first few weeks? Or perhaps the Saratoga phenomenon has simply peaked. It’s been an up and down summer for NYRA, which was heartened by the positive comments made by the federal monitor earlier in the meet, but has been buffeted by the release of poor 2004 financials, recent comments by Gov Pataki and Senator Bruno indicating that their chances of retaining the franchise are dim, and now this unexpected and rather startling dropoff in the Travers week crowds.

It looked like the sun was out for most of Monday (though I know the forecast had been threatening), and only one of 5 scheduled turf races was taken off. It’s hard to imagine what 12,376 even looks like there; it must seem so empty. This Wednesday and Thursday are traditionally amongst the lowest attendance days of the meet; I wonder if NYRA’s streak of crowds of 10,000 or more is in jeopardy, especially if the predicted mid-week rains arrive.

- The highlight of Monday’s card was the American debut of the 4 yo filly Alinghi, a multiple Grade 1 winner in Australia with earnings of over $2.6 million. She was 4-5 for Bobby Frankel and leading rider Edgar Prado. She must have given her backers some anxiety; though her Aussie comment lines mostly contained the word “led,” she was far, far back – over 10 lengths at the half mile pole of the grassy 1 1/16 mile G3 Ballston Spa BC Handicap. Even Tom Durkin seemed skeptical when he noted that she “has a lot of work to do” as they approached the final turn, but by then she had already started to glide past horses. "She's push-button and she's very exciting," Prado said. "She's got a lot of class. Her turn of foot reminds me of Kitten's Joy." [NY Daily News] She sustained her rally to win by 1 ¼, and I’d like to see how fast she ran in the last quarter mile. It was her first start over a mile, and her first in five months. Yet another potential star for Frankel, though Allnghi is not nominated to the Breeders Cup.

Another Pletcher first-timer burned up money; his 2 yo filly Wait A While (Maria’s Mon) was made the 2-1 favorite in the 4th, and was nowhere, barely even getting a call. Wayne Lukas got the win with front-runner Fast Deal, just his 5th winner at the meet in at least 48 tries. It was a bizarre day for D. Wayne, as he had two horses scratched just minutes before post time. In the third, Dance n Romance acted up while entering the gate, causing jockey Chantal Sutherland to bump her head; she was able to walk away on her own. Fast Deal was the latest horse to have a blinkers change that wasn’t published in the past performances or program.

Then in the 5th, the late scratch of Lukas’ Silent Bid left Pletcher’s Upscaled as the 2-1 favorite; not a first time starter, but first time turf. He got involved in a hot 21.50 first quarter with Terrific Challenge, and that one went on impressively for trainer Stanley Hough – the half in 44.59. and then sprinting away with an eighth in 11.92 with Javier Castellano.

Castellano then took the 6th on the turf, one of several highly competitive betting contests on the day. He saved ground and found room with Mountain Mambo for Philip Serpe, as favored On The Catwalk was absolutely buried on the rail in the stretch “crying for running room,” as sympathetically noted by Durkin. Second place finisher Half Heaven lost a lot of ground on the turn and finished well.

- Patrick Biancone announced the Chekhov will be rested until next year.

"He just needs more time," trainer Patrick Biancone said. "He will come back next year, forget about it for the rest of this year, and hopefully he will wake up at four when he matures."
"He’s lazy," said Biancone, who does not see any reason to try him again this year. "For what? Right now he has no chance." [Thoroughbred Times]

Perhaps he has no chance because he’s a horse that’s eligible for entry level allowance races running in Grade 1 stakes. Maybe he’s lazy because he’s run his best against the top 3 yo’s in the country and has nothing to show for it, and figures, why bother? Where will they decide to make his 4 yo debut, in the Donn Handicap?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Friends When You Need Them

- New York Governor George Pataki, who now earns the “lame duck” label after announcing that he won’t seek re-election next year, and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno have each named their three appointees to the so-called Committee on the Future of Racing, which will oversee the bidding for the New York racing franchise. For a panel with such a lofty name, you would think that the people selected would know more than just a little about the Thing whose Future is being determined.

"The horse racing industry is a critically important part of New York's economy -- generating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity. We are committed to doing everything possible to ensure that it remains strong and vibrant for years to come," Governor Pataki said. "I'm confident that this new committee and its members will fully explore and determine the best way to secure New York's racing industry and bring our racing franchise into the 21st century."

Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said, "The members of this committee are well-qualified to handle a big mission, to solicit bids and make recommendations on organizations interested in running the racing industry in New York State. With NYRA's franchise expiring, we have a unique opportunity to ensure the future strength of our horse racing industry that has a multi-billion impact on the state's economy and employs more than 35,000 people." [Governor Pataki Press Release]
Those “well-qualified” members of the Committee include J. Patrick Bennett, who began as an Assistant Treasurer for the Carrier International Corporation in 1964, working his way up until becoming its President in 1977. He oversaw the creation of the largest Employee Stock Ownership Program in the nation as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Avis, Inc.

There’s Fredric S. Newman (no relation to Alfred E.), a founding partner of the Hoguet Newman & Regal, LLP, a commercial litigation and employment law firm. We have John Nigro, President of Nigro Companies, an Albany-based real estate development and management firm. Edward P. Swyer is an entrepreneur who has founded and grown several successful companies, including Capital Bank & Trust, the Swyer Companies, a commercial real estate development company, and Selected Properties of the Northeast, a commercial real estate development and management firm.

But don’t worry, we do have a representative of the racing industry. It’s Jack Knowlton, the manager of Sackatoga Stable (and a resident of Bruno’s district), owners of the "legendary" New York-bred gelding Funny Cide.

Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver has yet to make his 3 appointments, but it seems pretty clear that they won’t include Andy Beyer or Nick Zito. It’s apparent that the very future of racing in this state will ultimately be determined by the three politicians - Pataki, for as long as he's still around, Bruno, and Silver - who decide virtually everything else that happens in this state, along with these people who have been appointed for reasons known only to the appointers, and it's obvious that the industry could really use some Friends of New York Racing.

Speaking of whom, Matt Hegarty in the Form wrote an interesting article last week, in which he matter of factly stated that [Friends of New York Racing] was formed to counter efforts by gambling companies to take over racing at the New York Racing Association's three tracks, Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga.

Oh. Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place? The presence of potential competing players for the New York franchise in the organization has always cast doubt as to their motives. But if you think of that way, it makes more sense. The Friends spent a lot of time and money doing economic surveys and issued a huge report in which they basically concluded that there should be slots at Belmont, thank you very much. I’ve been far more interested in the Political Action Group that they'd intended to establish in order to raise funds to support candidates friendly to the industry and to lobby the legislature effectively in order to make what they feel are necessary changes to the state’s racing law.
[Tim] Smith said that one of the goals of the racing law that will be supported by FNYR is to include as many provisions as possible to protect racing, such as minimum racing days and mandatory purse contributions.

"You have to have enough in the statute that would disincentivize a pure casino play," Smith said. [Daily Racing Form]
But Hegarty reports that the organization needs to have its funders ante up once again for an extension in order to merely be in existence long enough to lobby for a bill.
The group's board will meet in September to vote on the extension, Smith said after a town hall-type meeting at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion. Friends of New York Racing was initially given funding for a year to gather data on New York's racing industry and develop strategies and recommendations for how the racing law should be rewritten.
The extension would allow the group to use FNYR money to spearhead lobbying efforts on model legislation that is now being developed by the Albany Law School's Program on Racing and Wagering Law. A draft of the bill is expected to be released in September for public discussion and introduced at the beginning of the 2006 legislative session.

Smith, a former member of the Carter administration and the former chief executive of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said the group has not yet received formal commitments from its supporters to fund another year of operation.

"Anecdotally, informally, some of the people on the board who have advocated extending our life have indicated that they are willing to help pay additional funding, but the short answer is that it remains to be determined," Smith said. "The goal would be to stick around and get the legislation passed, which could take, in the best-case scenario, the next six months, but we could easily be here at this time next year, still working." [Daily Racing Form]
Looking at those members of that Committee, I think we should hope he's right about getting the extension, no matter what their motives really are. Jack Knowles seems like a nice guy, but to think that he’s the only person who knows anything about the sport representing our interests in the state government during this most critical moment is like thinking about sending a bumbling Governor of Texas to represent this country on the world stage.

The Committee also includes the Commissioner of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Bernadette Castro, who was recently seen sucking up to Donald Trump ("we celebrate his remarkable vision and success"), presenting him with some bullshit 2005 Master Builder Award. I mean, 2005 isn’t even 3/4's over, that’s like giving Afleet Alex an Eclipse award now.

If a casino company like Trump’s does get a hold of this franchise, we could be kissing goodbye to the game. It’s scary to think about the Don schmoozing those real estate moguls on the Committee on the Future of Racing. Running thoroughbred racing meetings is not presently a profitable venture; without the subsidies from slots, the sport would be on an endless downhill slide. Under a Trump Racing and Casino Association, one can see the importance of the sport declining on the corporate balance sheet as revenue-hungry legislators continue to turn to expanded gambling for help. Who knows, it may not be long before someone figures out a way to zap the horses down to miniatures small enough to race around an oval contained in a gaming table, and the Saratoga meeting could become a bunch of people hunkered over tables at Siro’s yelling ‘baby needs a new pair of shoes.’ We need our Friends to stick around.

Monday Morning Notes - Aug 29

- A rare off-track day at Saratoga on Sunday. It’s been so dry here compared to many past years, that you can’t help but think that things will even out, and with the weather maps indicating that Katrina may be headed up that way later in the week, they could be in for a deluge (though the weekend looks absolutely beautiful).

I know that people in Louisiana have far more important things to worry about today, but perhaps some may console themselves just a bit with the knowledge that their very own homebred Happy Ticket took the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga on Sunday. The 4 yo daughter of Anet won her first 9 races at Louisiana Downs, Delta Downs, and Fair Grounds in dominating fashion before setting forth to prove herself, and that she has done. She’d won a Grade 3 at Arlington and ran a fine second to Madcap Escapade on Summit of Speed day at Calder, her only loss in 11 starts. But now, she’s really hit the big time, a Grade 1 winner.

Trainer Andrew Leggio however, understandably had his thoughts elsewhere.

"(Happy Ticket) is supposed to leave tomorrow at 7 o'clock.....I've got all my family in New Orleans, and it doesn't look good right now. All my kids got in the car, and they're headed to Shreveport now, about 10 of them. So, that's where I'm at – worrying about the kids right now." [Bloodhorse]
It was another Grade 1 win for jockey John Velasquez, his second in two days.

It seemed like a very tiring muddy track, as front runners wilted and put in harness-horse time final fractions. Sometimes they even got caught. Awesome Twist got back on the winning track in the third. You may recall this John Kimmel 3 yo being sent off as the 8-5 favorite in the Lone Star Derby off wins in maiden/allowance races and then finishing last. After a second here earlier in the meet,, he was able to rally from last, helped in large part by the fact that front runner Penn Pacific slowed from an opening quarter of 21.74 to a 26 second quarter to the sixteenth pole. That’s pretty much the way the day went. Chopping Wood rallied from way back in the next race as they came home in 27.19 seconds at the end of a 6 furlong race. Even Happy Ticket took 13.77 seconds to get her last eighth.

Todd Pletcher may have won his first Travers, but beware of betting his first time starters at low odds right now. He continues to struggle in that category, and is taking tons of money with him, especially with 2 year olds. In the second, his unraced entry ran 2nd and 8th at 1.30 to 1. First timer Artistic Express got the win at 12-1 for trainer Ramon Hernandez and leading rider Edgar Prado. Then, in the 5th, he had another entry that went off at 4-5! One was a first timer and the other had one race on the turf and was now trying the mud. I find this kind of stuff astounding. There are SO many betting opportunities each day given simulcasting that I just can’t imagine that people would “invest” in horses like this. Just like in the 2nd race, this entry ran second and second to last. Pletcher has now gone at least 19 first time starters without a win, and aside from one that went off 13-1 at Delaware, none of the others have been over 6-1, with most of them far lower than that.

Only one race stayed on the turf, and not coincidentally, it was my only bet of the day. At the top of the stretch, the entire field of nine was virtually fanned out across the track, all having a shot. If you look at the stretch call in the chart, there were 6 heads plus a length and a half separating them. Not surprisingly, it was the one who saved ground, Insan Mala, who got the win, and less surprisingly, John Velasquez was aboard. Add my pick Who’s Cozy to your watch list; she was bumped and checked repeatedly approaching the turn, shuffled back, and still came 5 wide to rally for third in a quick final eighth of 6.16.

Two winners for trainer Dominick Galluscio, coming on very strong in the final stages of the meet. On the other hand, the Richard Dutrow machine seems to have sputtered, and Scott Lake continues to struggle.

- There are many methods to the madness of picking out horses at a sale, and not all of them are very scientific. Consider Eugene Melnyk’s tale of his purchase of Flower Alley.
"We probably hire some of the smartest people on the planet to help us vet horses, measure hearts, and every bloodstock agent you can imagine comes up and shows us horses.....Of all the horses I've ever bought, this horse was bought for one reason: That the mother's name was Princess Olivia, which happens to be my little (3-year-old) girl's name. I am not kidding about that. That's the way we picked this horse. There's a lot of science in this game, but there's a lot of luck." [NY Daily News]

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Rest of Travers Day

- Saturday’s card at Saratoga was a welcome throwback to better days there in which the races were consistently ultra-competitive and betting opportunities abounded. At the same time, it amplified just how lackluster too many of the racing days have been in 2005. There was a time not that long ago when there was no New York bred program, yet great racing cards were presented consistently; what would the racing here be now if that was the case? Perhaps it would be better because there would be more incentive in the form of more unrestricted races for stables to ship in for from out of town?

On Saturday, even the two state-bred affairs, carded as the first two races, were wide open betting contests. I returned to the track for the third after my walk to town, but just watched as Watchmon (Maria’s Mon) rallied for an extremely impressive 7 furlong victory, flying through the stretch in a final furlong of 12.77, for a final time just two fifths slower than that of Lost in the Fog. Watchmon was 9th when entered in the Belmont (amazing that he went off only 20-1), and showed much promise here at the turnback distance as he became the second horse to come out of the Belmont and win here this week (Nolan’s Cat was the other). Considering the way Watchmon has been ambitiously campaigned (he ran in the Tesio at Pimlico off his maiden win) expect him to turn up in some fall sprint stakes. It was the first of two winners for trainer Patrick Reynolds.

The 4th and 5th were wide open turf allowance races, the kind you might end up sitting out because you can’t throw anyone out instead of because you can’t make a case for anyone. These are the type of races you can look for competitive horses that are legitimate overlays. It’s kind of a guess, really, but compare it to the guesses you make when you bet a first timer at 5-2. It’s these kind of races where you can truly find value and be satisfied that you made a sound bet whether you win or lose. I guessed wrong in the 4th, keying 6-1 Moonlight in a race in which the favorite Silver Strings was 3.45 to 1. Moonlight ran a fine third while wide, but wasn’t good enough to beat 7-1 Steel Buns. The crowd is always turned off when a Mott horse isn’t ridden by Bailey, but Cornelio Velasquez is no slouch these days and provided another clever front-end win. It was the second win in a row after 6 losing (and very well-bet) maiden tries for this A.P. Indy granddaughter of the great racemare Dahlia.

The 5th was possibly even more wide open, though Frankel’s Misto Quente was overbet to 2-1. This time I guessed right, as Baron Von Tap was overlaid at 10-1; perhaps the crowd noticed that his trainer Kristina Dupps had only one win in 24 starters in 2005. He was rated on the lead by that guy Cornelio Velasquez, who calmly slowed the half down to :48, sat chilly as the favorite drew alongside around the turn, and sprinted away with two sub-24 second quarters and a :12.18 final eighth. This guy can ride. After mostly blowing Shadow Cast on Friday, I decided to not fool around and just bet him to win, ok?

In the 6th, a 2 yo maiden race that I once had visions of Highland Cat making his debut in, the aforementioned Superfly, the full brother to Andromeda’s Hero, was the 2-1 favorite, but it was Pletcher’s first-timer Ivanovsky who got pounded on the nose late to 5-2 despite limited works. I jumped on board just for fun, despite the fact that I pointed out on this very website the other day that Pletcher has been burning up money big time with horses making their debut, and hasn’t had one win since August 4. I guess I was trying to be cute, or something. He ran third. (On Sunday, his entry of first time NY- breds ran 2nd and 8th at 1.30 to 1 in the second.)

Another turf allowance in the 7th, and though it looked wide open to me, the crowd made Battle Chant and Miesque’s Approval 9-5 and 5-2 respectively. I ran 6th with King’s Coronation (12-1), but on another day, perhaps with the stars aligned slightly differently (or with me standing somewhere else in the track) I just as easily could have had the winner Rahy’s Chance ($18.20), the second winner for Patrick Reynolds.

Then came the Pick 4 races, and since the individual races presented little in the way of wagering possibilities, I took the opportunity to just let the bet ride, and to spend time to enjoy watching some of the game’s top stars close up in the paddock and on the track. Also, with all the horses coming from the detention barn, they all come through the path in the backyard that winds parallel to the stretch through the grandstand to the paddock, and it seems strange sometimes that you can stand so close as horses worth millions come walking through. Most people seem unaware of this rare opportunity, and it’s easy to find a spot right on the fencing, and you’re close enough to pet them.

It wasn’t long after the Travers that I had my game face back on for the 12th. I was hoping John Velasquez and Jerry Bailey did too, as they wheeled right back after the big stakes race. I liked both their mounts, Tiverton and favored Friar, coming off a layoff for Mott, in yet another wide open turf contest, this one for maidens. I fashioned a triple part wheel with both of them on top, adding one other, Cat’s On a Prowl, to the place spot, and throwing in a couple more for the show spot. Having seen my horse cross the wire first in each of the previous four races, the fact that two of them were prohibitive favorites notwithstanding, I was a little giddy when my pair were sitting 2nd and 3rd behind 16-1 Jay W shot, who figured to fade. But on the turn, Cat’s On a Prowl made a huge move and took the lead. Meanwhile, Jay W faded, and 10-1 Raider Brigade, one of the extras I used for third, had rallied safely into that spot. Friar was done, but Tiverton was there with a shot. It’s funny how these races can unfold when you bet a triple; if it had been someone I didn’t have on my ticket headed for 3rd, I’d been rooting for my top horse to lose to spare me the pain of having a winner and not cashing. But now I was screaming for Velasquez, and he drove Tiverton up the hedge for a neck win and half of a $324 triple for me.

I had a great day, and thanks also to my late rally on Friday, had a winning weekend and wiped out the losses of the previous weekend as well. More importantly, I overcame a bad streak that in the past would have me timid and unsure. I maintained my confidence, stuck to the things that had been working in the recent past, and sat out many races that I thought didn’t provide any chances for value. I think I’m about ready to go back for more.

Travers Recap

- It’s interesting to read the pre-race comments I posted the other day by Jerry Bailey and John Velasquez regarding their strategy for the Travers with their respective mounts Roman Ruler and Flower Alley. Bailey said “I'm not convinced Bellamy Road is dead fit, so I'm not going to compromise my chances and go after him too early.....But I respect him enough that I don't want to let him get away." Velasquez said: “If [Bellamy Road] is in front by five, I'm just going to leave him alone, and when Jerry comes to me, we'll both use our horse at the same time instead of me trying to get after him."

Well, things didn’t quite go that way. Roman Ruler was never able to get close enough to not let Bellamy Road get away, and Velasquez didn’t quite leave Bellamy Road alone. Not for long anyway.

"To me the real key decision in the race was around the three-quarter pole, when Johnny decided to turn up the pressure on Bellamy Road," Pletcher said. "When they threw up :47 2/5 (for the opening half), I said, 'Perfect.' At that point, I'm watching Bellamy Road and I'm watching Johnny's hands. I could see Johnny was sitting very confidently. I never really felt very anxious during the course of the race." [NY Daily News]
Velasquez explained, "I didn't want to be head-to-head with him early.... I wanted to go easy. But I saw he was the horse to beat, and so I thought, 'Let's go get him.” When they came to the top of the stretch, Flower Alley responded.
"Then I asked him and he took off.....And I still had a lot left. When I got to the quarter pole, I started looking around because I didn't want to get surprised. I had a lot of horse, but I wanted to make sure that I kept attention to my horse to see if the competition was coming." [NY Times]

Nah, there was none, other than a game Bellamy Road. "He kept fighting, fighting, fighting," [jockey Javier] Castellano said. "When that other horse passed him, he waited for a second and then he came right back. He was tired but he kept on running." [Albany Times-Union]
"I thought Bellamy Road was really something," Zito said. "He hasn't run in four months. I salute Flower Alley, but I also salute Bellamy Road. Four months coming off the bench, and he gives us this. What a future he's got." [NY Times]
That future is expected to include the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct 1, and the BC Classic on the 9th. Flower Alley should be in those races too. He’s obviously a nice, improving colt, but he didn’t do anything in the Travers to make me think he’s much more than that. After Bellamy Road went 1:10.92 to three quarters with a third quarter of :23.49, he tired as one might imagine a horse coming off that kind of layoff would, taking :25.46 to get to the mile mark. Flower Alley took the money with a driving last quarter of :26.38. These are not the kind of closing numbers that are going to have the older horses quaking in fear. It’s hoped that Bellamy Road will show marked improvement, and if all goes well, the BC Classic will be the optimal third race in the cycle. Flower Alley has worked hard to get his two Saratoga stakes wins, and I don’t know how much, if any ability to move forward he has. Hopefully, we’ll get to find out.

I don’t think this will go down in the annals of great renewals of the Travers. Despite the slow fractions at the end, the field was well strung out at the end, and none of the plodding closers was able to gain any ground. Some will blame that on the track being speed favoring, but the result is more than consistent with each of the also-rans' past histories of failure. Andromeda’s Hero in fact went backwards in the stretch after being closer to the pace with blinkers on. (His 2 yo full brother Superfly, also trained by Zito, ran 2nd in the 6th.)

- Roman Ruler was the slight favorite. It seemed that he was the choice of all the party-boy frat types at the track. A severely drunken group wearing “Run for the Tables” shirts, meaning they’d likely been downing Buds long before most of us dragged ourselves out of bed, started a “Roman Ruler” singsong chant near the paddock, prompting a member of the horse’s entourage to motion them to chill. Well, I guess that was one hard stare I saw during the day. Baffert conceded that the distance seemed beyond his scope. Dick Powell at Brisnet observed that he showed up today with fiberglass patches underneath his front heels. This is usually a sign of running down on his ankles and not what we were looking for.

- Flower Alley completed a $62.50 Pick Four, and I kept to my plan as detailed here the other day, and nailed it cold. Well, almost cold. I imagined how upset I would be if Don’t Get Mad beat me, so I threw a buck on the combo with him, as well as with Chekhov and Andromeda’s Hero, two others I would have been pissed to lose to if the race fell apart. I guess the price was OK...imagine what it would have been had Henny Hughes won the Hopeful. When they came on the track for that one, I figured I was going down with First Samurai. Henny Hughes looked like an absolutely magnificent athlete, his muscles glistening in the sun, while First Samurai looked a bit hot, with that white washy stuff running down his hind legs. But once Bailey but First Samurai on the lead at the top of the stretch, I felt I was home free, and that Henny would never catch him. The Darley boys who spent $4.2 million on the latter must be disappointed, but he certainly didn’t disgrace himself and will be heard from again I’m sure. First Samurai lugged in through the stretch as he did in his previous race here, showing he still has more to learn.
"He still has a lot of green about him," [owner Bruce] Lunsford said. "Jerry said he still has a little of that kind of bull about him. He hasn't quite gotten it together yet, but he'll get there. If anybody can fix this mystery, it's Frankie. Because I'm hoping he's going to be a super horse." [Louisville Courier-Journal]
His time of 1:23.25 was only around 7 tenths slower of that of Lost in the Fog.

Leroidesanimaux was awesome in winning the Fourstardave in track record time with Velasquez replacing regular rider Jon Court. Tom Durkin was not fooled for a second by the posting of a 26 second first quarter, commenting that it seemed “hard to believe.” In fact, he zipped along to a 47.31 half, 1:10.77 three quarters, and held off his pursuers with closing splits of :23.07 and 6.08. This is one magnificent turf horse, and another superstar for Bobby Frankel.

Lost in the Fog probably didn’t satisfy the skeptics by beating a hopelessly overmatched field in the King’s Bishop, getting to 6 furlongs in 1:09.09, and being kept busy to the wire in a final furlong of :13.47. There was a claim of foul against the winner by Calvin Borel, for an incident he didn’t cause coming out of the gate. Can you imagine all the Pick Fours out the window if he had been taken down, ha! I think Russell Baze would have had to punch out one of the other horses for him to be disqualified in this situation.
"Actually, my colt was hit on both sides coming out of the gate," ... Baze, said. "I knew (the objection) wasn't going to change. When I phoned the stewards, they said, 'Forget it and hang up.' "
"Had he not been bumped, he might have done even better than that," Baze said. [Albany Times-Union]
- Please feel free to email me with comments, questions, links or suggestions.

A Perfect Day

- Back in New York, and it was a particularly long trip home knowing that it’s quite possible I won’t return until next summer. I've been quite fortunate to have been able to spend more time there this year than ever before, incredibly fortunate. “You’re at Saratoga AGAIN?” my parents and siblings wonder. “Aren’t you sick of it?” There are days I do feel burned and think, well, that’s enough. But it only takes literally a few hours before I’m feeling fresh and ready to return. Besides, when I get out of the city and travel to towns like Saratoga, I just love the way people are so civil to each other compared to back home. If there was a subway in Saratoga, every woman or person over 45 would be guaranteed a seat, and people would clear out a whole area for a pregnant woman to lie down and offer her their purses or backpacks as a pillow.

Yesterday, some 42,000 people turned out for Travers Day. That was less than the 50,000 NYRA had expected (hoped for), and 6,000 less than last year. Many, if not most of them, had been there since the morning hours. It seemed crowded but it was manageable. NYRA’s Bill Nader, seeking the bright side to the disappointing attendance, said . 'It's less people, but in terms of customer satisfaction, the crowd was very comfortable. It was a perfect day.' [Saratogian] It was so perfect that come 7:15, with the 12th and final race run and the early darkness that signals the coming end to the season having already started to take hold, it seemed people were starting to filter out only reluctantly. (I had just hit the 12th race triple, so I was checking out the upcoming races from Del Mar.)

I looked around at the lingering crowd, some of whom were possibly approaching 12 hours there, and marveled at just how happy everyone looked. Not just happy; the expressions were those of people who were totally and utterly satisfied, as if the long day had fully met if not exceeded their most optimistic expectations. And then, I considered the fact that 95% of these people had probably lost money. Over 42,000 people had gathered together on a hot day in a slightly too-small enclosed space. Many of them drank alcohol throughout the day (and morning!), all of them were competing against each other for money, most of them were unsuccessful, yet there wasn’t a cross word or angry stare to be seen all day. And come the end of the long day, nobody wanted to leave. Least of all yours truly. Amazing.

Well, my office is closed this week, and we won’t have any kids after Tuesday....

Again? Aren’t I sick of it?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Travers the Library?

There's around 14 minutes to post time for the second race, and I'm the Saratoga Public Library. I got to the track a bit before noon, got a parking spot (again, thank heaven for the onwers parking! The people here have no shame - $5 parking spots were $20 today), and found a nice little spot for my lawn chair. It's funny how most everyone was already at the track when I arrived - little in the way of car traffic remaining. It's an all-day affair for many. It's crowded, and it's a really, really long day. I have every intention of being alive in something going into the 12th at 7 PM, so I decided to skip the two NY-bred races leading off the card, and go for a walk to town. It's pretty empty, as you might imagine.

It's so quiet and tranquil in here. Well, it's a library, I guess it's like that every day! Got to do a little late pedigree research for the grass races. Now I'm heading back to the madhouse that is Saratoga on Travers Day.

Travers Day Notes

- There’s supposed to be some kind of “Travers Festival” going on here, but it’s hard to tell, really, that there’s anything special going on here this week. For one thing, NYRA has got to be concerned about the crowds this week. Yesterday’s attendance of 22,761 was higher than the previous two days, but actually almost a thousand less than the week before, and that was a day of threatening weather, whereas yesterday was perfect. I’m sure everything is full in Saratoga itself, but the place I’m staying at in Albany, which is usually filled this weekend, seems considerably less so. I dunno, they’re still calling for 50,000, but we’ll see about that.

As far as any special Travers week events, the only thing I saw was a procession of kids in town the other day, led by a guy with a sign that said Traver’s Childrens Parade. I know there was some kind of Marylou Whitney-sanctioned event at the track itself, a hot dog eating contest and some kind of microbrew thing.

But I was lucky enough to see the most spectacular Travers Week event at all, though I don’t know if it was officially anointed as part of the festivities. I made my brief nightly stop at the harness track. I’ve needed to get it all out of my system, but I've restrained myself well and actually only made one bet in three quick visits this week. Last night, I got there for the 6th and was disappointed to see that the program would be interrupted after that race for something called the “Hot to Trot” fireworks event. Oh man, fireworks at a racetrack? Isn’t that bad for the horses? I was wondering about the signs posted around the track warning that there would be a lot of smoke, and to stay inside if you have “trouble breathing!”

So I imagned it wouldn’t be an ordinary fireworks display, and boy, was I right. It was Vincent Silvestro, the Pyrotechnic Wonder from Down Under. This guy comes out in his sulky, which is loaded with fireworks canisters and pulled by his “wonder horse,” and after a couple of laps and some dramatic music, he stands up on the shaft of the sulky, sparks start flying out, seemingly from the sides of the horse, he's shooting fireworks up into the air as he circles the track...oh man, what a freaking riot. And meanwhile, this horse is pacing around the track, not turning a hair and without a care in the world. I didn’t have my camera but took this from his website.

This was truly worth the price of admission. Which was zero. It even caused me to pass on the 6th from Del Mar. So Vincent Silvestro made my Travers festival a festive one indeed.

- I walked through the racino each time I was at the harness track, and I can’t tell you just how depressing it seems. What particularly struck me is that I’ve never actually seen anyone win. Just people of various ages assuming assorted seating postures, pushing buttons, staring at the screen, repeat. Some people have these cards that they stick in the machines, which I suppose makes for an endless flow of cash. Not once have I heard a cheer or seen someone pump a fist. Does anyone every win at these places? I pass by the place on my way to the races and I’m just shocked by the number of cars in the lot. It’s hard to believe that anyone would spend a beautiful summer early afternoon sitting in that place like that. It doesn’t make me feel the least bit good about our game to think that we’re depending on these machines for survival.

- Todd Pletcher seems perplexed by Ashado’s off the board performance in the Personal Ensign, telling the Daily News "I can't see (a reason) yet,"

"She never seemed to fire......Even though that filly was going pretty fast, she was never dragging Johnny (Velazquez, her jockey) along the way she normally does. She left there flat and ran flat the whole way." [Albany Times Union]
- Steve Crist thinks that the $1 million Pick 4 could pay something like $24.60 for the first three favorites along with one of the 3 top Travers choices.
How are you going to beat Leroidesanimaux in the Fourstar-dave, Henny Hughes in the Hopeful, Lost in the Fog in the King's Bishop, and the three favorites - Bellamy Road, Flower Alley, and Roman Ruler - in the Travers? The more you look at it, maybe $24.60 for a $6 investment on that combo wouldn't be so bad.

It will take an extraordinary combination of cleverness, contrarianism, and luck to escape the seeming inevitability of such a chalky outcome. While Saturday's favorites all have a little something to prove, they are all wonderfully consistent and talented championship contenders to whom there are few reasonable alternatives. [Daily Racing Form, sub only]
- Todd Pletcher at least had the win by Adieu in the Spinaway to console him, but he teed off on those who saw fit to downgrade the race to a Grade 2 this year.
"One thing I would like to say is that to me, it's an absolute joke that the Spinaway is not a Grade I race. In my opinion the Graded Stakes Committee should be ashamed of themselves. The oldest stakes race run for 2-year-olds in the country, in a place like Saratoga, not to be a Grade I is an absolute joke." [NY Daily News]
- Bob Baffert has this to say to those, like me, who may be speculating that Flower Alley has a conditioning advantage because of an extra week’s rest. "[Winning] the Haskell was like nothing for Roman Ruler.....He was like, 'Hey, I can do that again in an hour.' Bailey got off and said he's learned how to run, that he can go a mile-and-a-quarter." [NY Post] Bailey is a guy who is generally honest and fortright when he expresses opinions like that.

- Well, I’m off in a little while to the big Travers program – 12 races starting at 12:30 and running until 7!?! This sounds like a lot even for me, especially coming after the last three nearly full days. I’m outta here after today, and this is likely my final appearance of the meet. Maybe. Of course, there’s still a slight possibility that Highland Cat, who turned in another solid half mile work yesterday, will run here on Friday; then I’ll have to come back. I haven’t done much in the way of advance handicapping for today. I tend to lose my concentration when I’ve handicapped too much before the day, so I’m trying a change of tactics for today. Have a great day at the races (or at the slots...yuck).

Casting a Shadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 26, 2005

Thoughts on Travers Day Pick 4

- Saturday’s Pick 4 at Saratoga is a $1 million guarantee, and I think it’s going to be an extremely, extremely popular bet, with short fields and at least two of the races likely to be popular singles. You have to go against the grain at some point in these bets in order to really make out, though if the pool is big enough, can you just go Leroidesanimaux-Henny Hughes-Lost in the Fog-Bellamy Road and have it be worthwhile? You look at the four races, and there's really not all that many options. A successful stand against one or two of the favorites could lead to a generous reward.

I would forget about betting against Lost in the Fog, and it’s hard to see anyone beating Frankel’s turf monster in the Fourstardave. But I could go against the grain in the Hopeful, opting for First Samurai, whose potential seems as unlimited as that of Henny Hughes at this early stage.

As far as the Travers, I’m assuming that Bellamy Road will be the betting favorite, as predicted by morning line maker Eric Donovan. I can tell you what I want to see happen in the Travers, and I think everyone who loves the sport should wish the same. I hope that Bellamy Road goes to the front and puts on a Wood Memorial-type display, effortlessly crushing the field in an awesome display that has everyone speechless, and Javier Castellano doing cartwheels on the horse’s back as he eases under the wire. I think our sport needs something like that right now. It’s been a bad year in terms of keeping our stars healthy and with the latest pessimistic prognosis on a timely return for Afleet Alex, we really need a horse to emerge. Of course, if that horse turns out to be Roman Ruler, Flower Alley, or even Andromeda’s Hero with blinkers on, that’s fine too. But of the participants, only Bellamy Road has shown a hint that he could be the game’s next superstar, one that we need really badly and right now.

But as far as tomorrow’s Pick 4, it’s another option for going just a bit against the grain, and Flower Alley has a chance to be third choice. I recall around the Derby watching Frank Lyons on TVG, and he was saying that the “boys” around the Pletcher barn were saying that they liked Flower Alley as much as Bandini. At the time, the latter was considered the barn’s top prospect, and Flower Alley just a nice late developer. The improvement he’s shown since being rested after the Derby is consistent with that assessment by the “boys,” and perhaps he’s a colt that is about to really come into his own on Saturday. Yes, he was beaten by Roman Ruler in the Dwyer, but he dominated in the Jim Dandy around 2 turns on this track. It seemed an easier win in terms of effort than that of Roman Ruler in the Haskell, where he really had to work to get by a stubborn Sun King. Plus, Flower Alley has had an extra week to recover. I think these factors set up Flower Alley to take over should Bellamy Road falter, and I plan to single him in the Pick 4. As of now, anyway.

Where are the Crowds?

- It doesn’t seem that crowded here as the Travers approaches. It was an absolutely perfect weather day on the Thursday before the big day, yet the crowd was only 17,405, actually a couple of thousand less than Wednesday. I imagine NYRA must be concerned, as the attendance usually builds as the big day approaches. It doesn’t seem particularly crowded in town either, nor at the motel at which I’m staying. I've also noticed the crowds noticeably thinning out as the days go on, perhaps because the races just haven't been that interesting?

It was another fruitless day for me on Thursday, and I’m getting frustrated not only with myself, but with the races. I feel as if my chances have been limited; not like in the past, when it seemed like every race was wide open, presenting a chance to make the one big score needed to get you through. It was like the day was virtually over for me after the 6th race; the 7th was a 4 horse field (more than 60 lengths separated first and last), and the 9th was one of those formless turf sprints that I despise – that eliminated the chance of me playing the final Pick 3 or 4. In the 8th, a sprint stakes for 3 yo fillies, Reunited was 4-5 for Dale Romans off a dominating win here earlier in the meet. I suppose I could have had the winner Nothing But Fun (Dixie Union). She was undefeated with two impressive wins herself.

So what made her 5-1 as opposed to 4-5? 13 Beyer points. That’s the way we handicap the races these days, and I was as intimidated as anyone else, and sat the race out. I think we all need to use a little more creativity! Yes, Reunited had won her last in a class above that of the eventual winner, but Hushion’s filly had every right to improve just as Reunited had. OK, I’m done lecturing myself.

Nothing But Fun is out of a Theatrical mare, and her second dam was a European stakes winner who produced others of the same, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find her on the grass at some point.

At least I showed discipline and kept my losses at a minimum on another difficult betting day. Tom Durkin got off to a bad start in the first when he mis-called Legs Benedict as Legs Diamond throughout the race. Chantal Sutherland drove Contenders Emotion through a late hole to take the opener; trainer Frank Martin, the one time NY claiming king, is enjoying a bit of a revival with a 10-3-2-2 record here.

I didn’t bet until the 3rd, an interesting maiden race in which Frankel’s Sir Halory got pounded late to 4-5; the half brother to Halory Hunter was making his first try around 2 turns. I recalled the failure of Aristocrat, Frankel’s half to Ghostzapper, negotiating distance for the first time the other day. Bredwinner is a money burner and was an easy throwout, and who would think 9 furlongs would be enough for Nolan’s Cat, the horse who finished third in the Belmont, breaking up my triple. I took a stab with 9-1 Pennant Contender, returning to the races for Bill Mott, who has an excellent record with returnees. But the addition of blinkers did the trick for Nolan’s Cat, who shockingly stalked the pace and then out dueled Sir Halory in an exciting stretch contest, as my selection was an outclassed third. Of course, you wouldn’t have known about the equipment change unless you were at the track listening to the announcements.

It was not announced at 12 p.m. (EDT) but at 12:30, and throughout the day on the crawl of the NYRA simulcast feed. Trainer Dale Romans had checked off on his entry that he was adding blinkers, but the NYRA race office missed it. When the overnight came out, Romans saw that Nolan's Cat was not listed as adding blinkers and he alerted the race office and stewards. It was too late to get it into the track program or past performances, but why NYRA did not have it on their initial changes for the day is inexcusable. [Brisnet]

(It may be worth noting (or not) that Andromeda’s Hero adds blinkers for the Travers.)

The more I handicap a card in advance, the more I’m subject to the temptation of simulcasts. Since I’m familiar with the live races, I tend to stray; but I successfully held myself back from losing wagers in the 3rd races at Monmouth and Ellis Park.

Darley Stable sent out 2 yo first timer Changing Weather in the 4th. Here was a hot money favorite (8-5 from 7-2 morning line) that totally lived up to his billing, setting a hot pace of 21.3 and 45.2, and then sprinting home in 12.1 for a sparkling final time of 57.3. Darley was a big player at the 2 yo in training sales, and they got this son of Storm Boot for $260,000 at Ocala in March.

The 5th was a gloriously competitive turf affair with lots of ways to go if you went against favored Fishy Advice, and the second choice Mumble Jumble. The latter is from the barn of Jimmy Jerkins, who has gotten very quiet the last week or so after his hot start. My two longshot stabs were a couple of shippers with fine form, Lone Arrow and Shredded, as I went against the Beyer grain, but they were nowhere. The race turned anticlimactic as Patrick Biancone’s Ball Four, with the outside post and 10 lb apprentice Julien Leparoux, jumped to the lead and never looked back. He was 7-1, but didn’t seem like a popular winner at all, as I heard virtually no cheering. Sometimes you’ll see a horse bet even lower win, and no one seems to have it, and you know that it was a “smart money” horse rather than a popular choice. Funny game sometimes.

By this time, I was getting frustrated again, especially with the poor last three betting races coming up. I was forced to move my chair because there was a woman next to me with a really annoying laugh. It was the piercing “Heh heh heh heh’ type cackle, and it was coming at a rate of 2 or 3 a minute, so I had to go. If I'd been winning, I probably wouldn't even have heard it. The 6th was a maiden turf event for 3 and up, and I tried to beat the logical favorite Dancy’s Angel. She was breaking from the ten post on the inner turf course, and at a mile, it’s a short run to the sharp first turn. I was thinking how difficult that post is, and how the crowd often doesn’t factor that in enough. I was feeling intellectually superior. Of course,she won easily by 3 at 6-5, as Elbar Coa expertly managed to get to the inside. My day at Saratoga was over. In the 8th at Monmouth, I correctly threw out the 3-5 favorite, and ran second to an 11-1 shot. Bad luck, but at least I was right on principle about something.

Friday’s card looks like another tough one, and includes three 2 yo maiden races. Us horseplayers are funny sometimes. We pore through the past performances for the most minute details of a few Beyer points or a few fifths of a second, study tapes of past races to find a couple of feet of ground lost here and there, and obsess over trainers’ records in similar spots. But put in front of us a bunch of babies who have never raced before and have absolutely nothing in terms of a past record for us to go on, and we’ll bet our money on them anyway in wagers that really are basically just us guessing.

- I overheard a group saying that they’ll be lined up at the gate at 3 A.M. Saturday morning so that they can run in and get a table for Travers Day. I’d like to be able to size the competitors up beforehand and get some bets down as to who gets the choice tables first. No past performances here either, just a matter of sizing up the field.

- Journey is performing here on Saturday night, and they always remind me of the comedien Robert Klein, who used to do a funny bit in which he would go something like – NEWS FLASH! IT’S TRUE! JOURNEY, KANSAS, AND STYX ARE ALL THE SAME BAND!! Klein also does a mean Fred Capossela.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Notes - Aug 25

- Interest in the Travers has been revived with the entry of Bellamy Road, and NYRA’s Bill Nader is expecting 50,000 or more to show up on Saturday. "I think there are a lot of people who will come out and see this horse run," said jockey Javier Castellano, who will ride Bellamy Road. "He is a big, black beautiful horse." [Albany Times-Union]

Paul Moran of Newsday provides his take on the Bellamy Road team’s decision to opt for the Travers.

To beat Lost in the Fog, something no horse has done, it is necessary to be somewhere in the same vicinity at the furlong pole of a 7-furlong race. Lost in the Fog, who is 8-for-8, has run twice at the distance. On the day Bellamy Road won the Wood at Aqueduct, Lost in the Fog hit the furlong pole there in 1:08.80 in the Bay Shore. He won the Riva Ridge on Belmont Stakes day after 6 furlongs in 1:08.60. Bellamy Road is a fast, free-running horse with immense potential, but asking him to run fast enough to defeat probably the best sprinter in the nation, while coming off an injury and a layoff, would be reckless. The Travers is the softer spot.

If he was a magnificent physical specimen in May, Bellamy Road is only more so in August, and he has trained purposefully here. "He's an amazing horse," Zito said. "He's developed; he's gotten taller and longer. Hopefully, if he can duplicate his Wood Memorial, you'll see what kind of horse he is."

If Bellamy Road is the horse he appeared to be in May, it will be evident Saturday. This is not the bizarre, 20-horse stampede he encountered in Louisville. He is clearly the speed of a seven-horse field and in position to control the pace, as he did in the Wood.
- Reverberate is 8-1 in the morning line, and jockey Jose Santos says that the colt has developed since his second in the Jim Dandy. "His neck is getting bigger and he is getting more muscular. Can we win? Well, you never know. I've seen a lot of surprises before. We're going into this thinking we can win." [Albany Times Union]

- Henny Hughes will be the focus of the Hopeful, but another 2 yo with a buzz at Saratoga is First Samurai. He was bet off the board in his dominant entry-level allowance win here earlier in the meet, and is the likely second choice in the Hopeful.
The massive, well-chiseled First Samurai is a favorite with Saratoga's breakfast crowds. Fans snap photos as he stands near the finish line before embarking on his training -- so composed that on his first day training at Saratoga, breakfast commentator Mary Ryan informed her audience that the colt surely was an older horse. [Louisville Courier-Journal]
Owner Lansdon Robbins spoke about the son of Giant’s Causeway’s two wins: "The first time he ran, he had a horse right next to him and he was toying with him.....Pat Day was riding him that day and he didn't even ask him. He did the same thing in his race here and he had a lung infection, too." [Bloodhorse] Emphasis added by me. I guess it wasn't an Afleet Alex type of lung infection, just a regular old Saratoga one.

- Nobody will ever accuse Billy Turner of rushing a 2 year old to the races. After weeks of anticipation, it looks less and less likely that our Highland Cat will be running up here at Saratoga. The only remaining possibility is a race written for next Friday, Sept 2, but the feeling is we'll be waiting for Belmont. It wasn't a wasted trip for the colt though; he's progressed well in his workouts, and he was able to catch the Grand Funk Railroad / Edgar Winter gig down in Albany last week.

Travers Update

Bellamy Road is the 2-1 morning line favorite in the Travers, and has drawn the rail.

"The horse is 2-1," his trainer, Nick Zito, said Wednesday after the draw for post positions. "He's 2-1 regardless of everything. That's what this horse does. He's the morning-line favorite. How much more juice can you bring to a race than being the favorite?" [NY Times]
What the hell is he talking about? Maybe Nick should have a drug positive and score one of those Dutrow vacation type deals. Reading comments by the riders of Roman Ruler and Flower Alley, it seems clear that neither will be putting early pressure on Bellamy Road. Jerry Bailey, riding Roman Ruler told the Times: “I'm not convinced Bellamy Road is dead fit, so I'm not going to compromise my chances and go after him too early.....But I respect him enough that I don't want to let him get away." John Velasquez, on Flower Alley, told the Racing Form “If [Bellamy Road] is in front by five, I'm just going to leave him alone, and when Jerry comes to me, we'll both use our horse at the same time instead of me trying to get after him." It could be a matter of Bellamy Road alone on the lead and let's see just how fit he is. Roman Ruler and Flower Alley are talented colts that seem to be improving, and either or both could certainly be right there if Zito's horse is a bit short.

Back at the Track

- I’m back in Saratoga. Well almost in Saratoga; another budget stay in Albany. I was at the races today, I stayed on my feet almost all day, and I showed more discipline in terms of sitting races out (and avoiding simulcasts), but I got blanked again. I really suck right now. It’s fortunate that I didn’t get there until the 3rd. At this rate, the next time I come here I may have to stay in Vermont . I dunno, I think I’m doing the same things I was doing when I was doing OK, but I’m not even coming close. I need to find another place to watch the races. I’ve been watching up in the clubhouse, around midstretch, and it’s close enough to the turn that I can tell that my horse is finished as soon as they straighten away for home. At least if I’m on the finish line or watching on TV, I can get the visual illusion that my horse actually has a chance until the eighth pole anyway!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 4 weeks since I came up for opening day. In the old days of 4 week meets here – and it wasn’t really that long ago – this meeting would be over. 6 weeks seemed like a long time when they first extended, but now it seems to go by just as fast. Labor Day used to be a huge day at Belmont – the Jerome Stakes and a crowd of 40,000 usually guaranteed. Now, there’s no racing in the NYC area on that holiday at all; not even at the Meadowlands anymore.

The third was a 2 yo maiden turf race, and Dale Roman’s first timer North East Storm, a Fusaichi Pegasus half brother to graded turf stakes winner North East Bound, was taking a ton of money when he dumped Gary Stevens and ran off and had to be scratched. It was very reminiscent of when Performing Diva head butted Jerry Bailey when she was taking a lot of tote action. When she returned, she was dull on the board and ran that way. I was thinking of betting North East Storm just because of the action, so the scratch likely saved me money. Harrigan was left a horrible 7-10 favorite, and he promptly ran dead last with no excuse. The George Weaver stable has tailed off considerably and is 2 for 22 after getting both winners in the first 4 days of the meet. The winner, Smoke Em Again (Two Punch) is another grassy winner for Graham Motion and he won impressively, taken in hand late, winning with something left. The 25-1 runnerup Para Rider (Exploit) finished well, and his dam is a half to Artie Schiller, watch.

The 5th was a wide open $35K claiming event on the turf at 1 1/16 – an excellent betting race, unlike the putrid 5 ½ furlong races that have been carded here. Form (Arch) was 15-1 morning line shipping in from Delaware off a couple of disappointing allowance tries, got hammered on the nose to 7-2, and ran 5th. The smart money isn’t always smart. There was a lot of value and I landed on 8-1 Defrocked; he had a great record closing on good and soft turf courses, and this course was labeled as good. It didn't seem to play that way though. The pace was lively, and they still came home in a snappy :30.59, with Defrocked doing well to close for 4th. Not a terrible betting decision, just a bad result. Peace Emblem won it for Dutrow, his 12th winner of the meet, and the more I think about it, the more ridiculous his “suspension” seems. Some punishment; it was more like a reward - like a vacation in which he had people like Bobby Frankel looking after his horses while he slept late every day.

In the 6th, a state-bred 2 yo race, first timer Red Hot Rose, 5-1 in the morning line, opened at 8-5 and went off at 6-5! His trainer Joseph Imperio is not one who usually has hot horses; perhaps it was the fact that sire Boundary scores at 25% with 2 yo first timers according to the Form. I was going to sit it out until I noticed some late tote action on firster Bella Dorato (Goldminer’s Gold), showing sharp works at Finger Lakes for Anthony Ferraro and John Grabowski in to ride. He went off at 5-1 and ran a fine second as the favorite ran dead last with no excuse. It’s nice to see some these absurd favorites going down. No way I would have had the winner, Follow My Dream, who actually was bet himself at 7-1. Another OK decision with a bad result.

In the 7th, well, I posted about Comacina earlier in the day, and she was a miserable 7th at 5-2, so that took care of the late Pick 3s (which I wouldn’t have had anyway). The winner, Seeking the Ante (Seeking the Gold), really did figure to be best if she wasn’t weary from a long campaign against the best of the 3 yo filly division. I was betting that she was, but she was dead fit for John Kimmel. She’s a nice filly, and hopefully her connections will keep her spotted in a more reasonable fashion. She’s a half sister to Friends Lake, being out of Grade 1 winner Antespend.

I ran dead last with Accountforthegold in the state-bred Albany stakes, as Naughty New Yorker got enough of a pace to rally for the win. Blue Sunday was sent off as the 2-1 favorite despite the fact that he’d never been beyond 7 furlongs and was trying 9 here; another awful favorite - he ran a distant 5th - but I didn’t take advantage. Blue Sunday’s trainer Thomas Albertrani, was on fire at Belmont, but has just one winner in 8 starters here.

And I lost the 9th too, OK? I lost! I tried to beat the Mott/Bailey Tar Heel Dime, who went off the 3-1 favorite. It’s been said that you get better prices on favorites in the 9th because people try to find longshots to get even for the day. I tried various combinations and permutations of three contenders, but none of them made the top three. I suck.

But I ended the day with some discipline, as I didn’t make a bet on the three races I was at the harness track for, nor the simulcast 6th from Del Mar. My handicapping and decisions throughout the day weren’t terrible, even if the results were. And I stood and walked a lot and got a lot of exercise. It was still a great day.

- Have I mentioned that there are a lot of Red Sox fans here this year? A lot.

- Way back those four weeks ago, when there was grass on the ground, I’d mentioned the problems with the betting lines and machines. Those glitches have long since been remedied, and I haven’t had to wait on any line at all since the second day. The track has easily handled the crowds this year; a day like today, with 19,531 on hand, seems downright mellow.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


- The Travers’ gain is the King’s Bishop’s loss. Lost in the Fog will be a prohibitive favorite and whatever he does, it will likely not silence those who are skeptics. Trainer Greg Gilchrist is not upset at all though that Bellamy Road is headed for the Travers. "I am certainly not sad that (Bellamy Road's) not going to be there....I am not the kind of guy who wants to go find the toughest race that I can. If he's not in there, it won't hurt my feelings." [Albany Times-Union] Gilchrist also downplayed the bar shoe the colt has been wearing to protect a quarter crack in his left hind foot.

"I would doubt very seriously that he wears it in the race," Gilchrist said Monday from northern California. "I'm not even concerned about that foot. It's not bothering him. I wouldn't say it won't bother him after the race, but you've got to play hurt sometimes. It's not a major thing." [Daily Racing Form]
Hmmm. Seems like we’ve heard that before.

The other big race on Travers day is the Hopeful for 2 yo’s and Biancone’s Henny Hughes worked a spectacular 5 furlongs in 59.65.
Trainer Patrick Biancone called it a routine work for an extraordinary juvenile colt.
"He's not just any kind of 2-year-old," Biancone said. "He's different. He relaxes well, he's got all the qualities of a good horse. He does the job push-button - he's a pro."
Henny Hughes did Tuesday's work so easily that as he walked through the paddock on the way back to his barn, you could hardly hear him breathe. [DRF]

Wednesday Morning Notes - Aug 24

- The 7th at Saratoga today is the type of race that has always made us love the place; and these have been unfortunately all too rare this season. It's a wide open allowance race with some classy looking 3 yo fillies from top stables. Patrick Biancone sends out Comacina (Dixie Union), who won impressively in her 3 yo debut at Monmouth last month. She prompted a fleet opening quarter, and then, according to the chart, “moved to the front passing the quarter pole while under a rating hold, drew clear when asked, and was ridden out to the final yard before allowed to coast home.” She was placed very ambitiously last year, as this barn tends to do, running in the Astoria as a maiden, and in the Futurity against colts after her maiden win. But she seems to have come back strong. Comacina faces a tough field today, but picks up Gary Stevens and ran her best race last year at this 7 furlong distance.

- Pari-mutuels in Broward County, Florida got a boost in their effort to install slots as a judge put pressure on the state legislature to establish regulations when he reaffirmed his decision that they have the right to install machines on their own. Still, it’s unlikely, at least for now, that anything will happen.

Track owners say that for now, it's enough that they're working with state lawmakers and Broward County commissioners to draft regulatory guidelines. The likelihood that lawmakers will convene a special session this fall to finish writing regulations is promising enough to keep the parimutuels from immediately bringing in slot machines.

They won't wait forever though, said Tom Julin, a lawyer for the three Broward horse tracks and one jai-alai fronton that won voter approval for slot machines in March.

''I think Dec. 1 is a good sort of outside date,'' Julin said. ``There's only so long you wait.'' [Miami Herald]
In New Orleans, the City Council last week approved Churchill’s plan to install slots at the Fair Grounds, but with severe restrictions and under the close watch of the neighboring community.
The [citizens advisory] committee will meet quarterly to consider any alleged violations of the provisos covering issues such as hours of operation of the slots, police patrols of surrounding neighborhoods, and landscaping, fencing, lighting and signage at the track.

The hours set in the ordinance are the same as those in the zoning petition: 9 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to midnight Sunday. Batt had said in June that he hoped Churchill eventually would agree to delay the Sunday opening to 11 a.m., but the ordinance authorizes 10 a.m.
One proviso in the ordinance bans "amplified outdoor sound, including but not limited to live music, recorded music, D.J. services and public address announcements" at the track except during the race season and the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. [Times Picayune]
It’s hard to imagine gamblers in a slots parlor being herded to the exits at midnight! Churchill originally requested a 24 hour operation, and this is quite a concession on their part; but clearly, the company just took whatever they could get, and it sounds like they better be on their best behavior.

- The final report and decision on NYRA’s deferred prosecution has been delayed until September 13, as it was reported that NYRA lost $16 million in 2004.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Stand Up

- Every serious horseplayer knows that you should keep detailed records of your bets. This way, you can compile a set of past performances on yourself. Are you more successful in allowance races or claimers? Dirt or turf races? Have you been more profitable (or less unprofitable) betting speed horses or closers? Perhaps you do well with first time starters, or maiden claimers, or with non winners of 3 allowance races. Have your best scores been exactas, triples or Pick 4s; what is your P&L on each? You could theoretically assemble a database like Formulator, and find that you have a high winning percentage betting mid-pack closers on muddy tracks in $35,000 claiming races on Tuesdays and on days that Pat Robertson calls for an assassination.

For me to be writing this is kinda like the chain smoking parents who tell their kids not to light up. I don’t keep any records despite the fact that all the pros say you should. I blame it on simply not having the time, but perhaps I’m afraid of what I might learn about the bottom line and find a less expensive pastime like gardening or bird watching. Besides the cash, it’s a huge investment just in the sheer mental energy required to devote such intense concentration to the effort, with so many different things to process, quantitative, qualitative, and intuitive. Remember when you were a kid, it was easy to shut everything out and make a ballgame or an album seem like absolutely the only thing in the world. Now, after a full day of some serious handicapping, I’m mentally spent and would have trouble comprehending My Pet Goat.

I think I have a pretty good idea at this point of what races I do well with (3 yo turf races, maiden races, mid-price claiming sprinters, races with clear false favorites like Hey Buddy horses) and which I don’t (sprint stakes, any races over 9 furlongs, the Preakness Stakes, and any races at Charles Town, Philadelphia Park, Australia (ha!), or, if last weekend was any indication, Saratoga.

Marc Cramer packed a lot of wisdom into his little 1994 novelette Scared Money, and he expanded on the idea of keeping records. Cramer distinguishes between handicapping and decision making. I imagine that me and most of you reading could probably look at most races and agree on who the contenders are and aren’t. Identifying the contenders is part of the handicapping process (for me, the races I really jump on are the ones in which I handicap that the favorite is not one of them). But then, after narrowing them to perhaps 2 or 3 or 4, comes the decision making process, when you may want to weigh the odds and determine who presents value, whom you're going to bet and how; and it’s in the final few minutes, at least for me, that the final decision making is completed. I would say that I rarely bet a race more than 2 minutes before it goes off – even for Pick 3s.

Cramer writes about keeping records of not only how he came to his decision on each race, but where.

Pouring through my own records, some valuable evidence materialized. I keep a “book of why” in which each bet on the ledger is accompanied by a complete explanation of each betting decision. Going back through my winning periods as well as the latest crash, I learned that my most inspired betting decisions had been achieved while I was standing at the rail or walking around under the grandstand. Literally, I had been thinking better on my feet.

Both of this year’s IRS payoffs had been the result of exacta inclusions made while walking from one haunt to another. A third big score had been fashioned while standing at the urinal. Meanwhile, none of my best decisions had come while seated.
I loved this idea of keeping track of where I am and what I’m doing when I make my bets when I first read the book - it just makes sense to me - but never followed through on actually keeping the records. But again, at this point I’m well aware that I also think better on my feet, and almost always make my best decisions that way, often while walking to a specific monitor or to find a betting machine. It didn’t help this past weekend, but I realized that I’d done a lot of sitting, and I started to make a conscious effort to get up out of my comfy lawn chair and head into the grandstand or clubhouse, where the greenery and serenity gives way to the racetrack, with the betting odds and the chatter and the tension building as the track announcer counts down the minutes to post.
No expert’s book would have explained that, for me, the difference between a winning and losing streak was primarily one of decision making. And decision making was linked to things like attitude and inspiration.
I do get inspired when I’m on my feet and particularly when I’m inside, where the atmosphere becomes hard core; my attitude goes from laid back and subject to distraction to total focus on the task on hand. When I’m sitting, I look at the board and think, “Jeez, they’re already on the track.” When I’m standing, it becomes “Still plenty of time.” I’ll be on my feet a lot when I return to Saratoga for Travers weekend.

Notes - August 23

- Lava Man is OK after getting “rubber-legged near the wire” after Sunday’s Pacific Classic. Pat Valenzuela commented that he “just fell apart the last 20 yards….He lost his air. I was concerned about him. I didn't know if he was hurt or not, but I didn't want any weight on him if he was." [AP] It’s certainly understandable that the horse would be so tired. He was pushed by Surf Cat to blistering fractions, and it’s a wonder he held as well as he did. Trainer Doug O’Neill said that he “looks fantastic,” and that "He didn't need the van to get back to the barn…..But we put him on just to be on the conservative side." [LA Times] I can generally use a van ride home too after a full day at Saratoga, but, hey, I’m not a Grade 1 stakes winner. His fine third place finish earns him a trip to Belmont for the Jockey Club Gold Cup on October 1.

As for the 4 yo Borrego (El Prado), he’s a consistent sort who in this case got the pace up front he needs and finally got the top spot, his first graded stakes win, just his second victory since his 2 yo season, and only the 6th this year for trainer Beau Greeley. He may be considered a hanger, but he’s hung around enough to now have earned nearly $1.5 million. He’s out of a mare by Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold, who you rarely see in pedigrees.

- Valenzuela was involved in a fight on Monday with Corey Naktani. He overheard a comment Nakatani made after the second race, and the fireworks began.

The fight's ignition point, Nakatani said, was when Valenzuela threw his riding helmet at him. They grappled, fell to the floor, punches and kicks were thrown before security personnel separated the 42-year-old Valenzuela, a 26-year riding veteran, and the 34-year-old Nakatani, a 16-year veteran.

Valenzuela emerged with a gouge on his left ear that required stitches. Early rumors at the track were that it was the result of a bite – giving it a Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield aura – but both combatants said that was not true. [SignOnSanDiego]
The two riders were then involved in an incident in the 7th which was reviewed by the stewards, and when they took no action against Nakatani, Valenzuela shouted obscenities at the stewards' booth, six floors up in the grandstand, as he headed for the archway leading to the jockeys' room.

- Bellamy Road will run in the Travers, and that is just excellent news! The race was shaping up as a truly lackluster affair with just six entries, including plodders Andromeda's Hero and Don't Get Mad. I don’t think anyone was excited over a “showdown” between Roman Ruler and Flower Alley. And I personally can always do without Don’t Get Mad, who I find particularly confounding.
"Right now, he's ready to run, he looks absolutely beautiful and I'm going to take my shot," said Zito, who last year's Travers with Birdstone off a 12-week layoff. "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

Zito believes that the Travers may actually be a better race to build on for the future for Bellamy Road than having to run a hard seven furlongs against Lost in the Fog, arguably the best sprinter in the country.

"That's what we're thinking too," Zito said. "Which race really builds? I'm thinking in a way if he comes out of that race good and everything so be it, we just keep going forward. The Breeders' Cup Classic [on Oct. 29] is still our main thing." [Daily Racing Form]
- Todd Pletcher comments on his current Saratoga meet.
"I think you've got to put it in perspective….Three years ago, if we would have won 15 races and $1.2 million in purses, everyone would be saying, 'Man, you're having an awesome meet.' When you win 35 races two years in a row, and all of a sudden you have 15 wins at the three-week barrier, everyone acts like you're having a (terrible) meet." [NY Daily News]
Pletcher now has 16 wins, Dutrow 11, and Asmussen 10, the latter two with about a third as many starters as Pletcher. Indeed, how many trainers will even achieve 15 winners for the entire meet?