- It was a bit after 8 PM this evening, the sun was already down, but yet a group of surfers were still at it. It's like the die hards still hanging around the OTB for the 13th from Fairplex. Well, OK, it's a bit nicer than a NYC OTB.
I have a couple of observations. This is certainly not Saratoga, and not just because it's blocks away from the Pacific Ocean. The racing doesn't seem to define and inspire the community as it does in upstate New York. I see people walking around with surfboards, not Racing Forms under their arms. Maybe I'm hanging out at the wrong places, but I haven't heard anyone at all talking about the races; not at the restaurants, at the supermarket, or anywhere but the track for that matter. I can't buy the Form at the supermarket. In fact, I had trouble finding it at all, before finally scoring one at a gas station mini-market across the street from the track. In Saratoga, you can buy it from kids who've set up shop on Broadway.
I've been riding a free shuttle bus that goes back and forth between the track and the Amtrak station, and there seem to be a lot of people that come down from points north, including L.A., just for the day. When I've mentioned to people around here that I'm here in part to check out the races, I get a "oh, that's nice," and not a sob story about a tough beat nor "my dad is a handicapper for the Racing Form."
Another observation, this one regarding the races, is that, even in the 'cheaper' races on the weekdays, these races have a lot of depth. I find that I'm not able to draw that many 'X' marks through horses on the first go-round, a process during which I can generally eliminate a fair amount of horses back east. Perhaps four days is not a sufficient statistical sample, or maybe I'm missing some more subtle elements that a regular would pick up on. Part of it is certainly the transferability of grass form to Poly, and vice versa, which prevents me from being able to quickly eliminate horses I would have in the past over surface considerations. Overall, I'm finding these races extremely contentious, and I'm not having an easy time with them....in a good way, of course. I'm finding that there a lot of horses in that 6-1 to 10-1 range that appear live to me. I haven't happened upon the correct one yet, but I think that picking some spots to stand against the favorite and going for a sizable score is the way to go here. So wish me luck!
A.P. Excellent shows up in the 2nd race on Wednesday; it's his first race since his gut-wrenching defeat to Lava Man in the Gold Cup. I think it'd be fair to be concerned how he'll bounce back from that effort even if he wasn't switching to the grass. He's not changing surfaces for the right reason as far as I'm concerned; his trainer John Shirreffs doesn't seem to like synthetic surfaces according to Jay Privman's report in the Form, and this is not the first time I've read that. Shirreffs politely declined to touch the subject on Monday morning. But he's clearly running the horse on grass out of what he feels is necessity rather than part of a grand plan.
Owner Ahmed Zayat was not quite as polite as Shirreffs on Monday, engaging track CEO Joe Harper in what was described as a "heated" and "profanity-laced" argument over the surface that ended with the onwer announcing the departure of his 25 horses from the grounds. Zayat is upset about the way the track changes from the cool morning hours to the afternoon sun, and the slow times that have resulted. Bob Baffert, who trains Zayat's horses in Del Mar and helped ship them to Saratoga yesterday, said:
“There has been a quiet rumbling about this on the backside for two weeks. We're not asking for a souped-up racetrack; we're asking for a fair track that is consistent in the morning and the afternoon. [SignOnSanDiego]I spoke to a couple of horseman at the track on Monday who told me that horses are suffering injuries that, while not life-threatening, are still career-ending. And that's not the first time I've heard that either. One of them also mentioned his concern over long-term health consequences for the jockeys, and again, that's an issue that I feel is being totally glossed over.
Anyway, back to A.P. Excellent, he's the 4-5 morning line, is 0 for 3 on the grass, and I'd love to bet against him. But even looking at the others with a more open-minded view, it's hard to get too excited about anyone. But I will offer up Macduff, the 3-1 second M.L choice, as a suggestion. He's in good form for Neil Drysdale, has a win at a mile and a quarter, and has some nice European class and distance influence in his immediate distaff family; including the Arlington Million winner Beat Hollow.
Gotta also mention the 10th at Saratoga. This is a wide, wide open entry level allowance grass race, wow. You can seriously make a case for at least eight of the ten runners. But let's try Cat Charmer; 6-1 morning line. Graham Motion is off to a slow start with no winners with his first seven starters. But he had seven winners here last year, six of them on the grass; and he hits 24% with 180+ layoff horses over the last two years. Let's say he's due. Cat Charmer last started in the Tropical Park Oaks, where she ran an even 5th in his third lifetime start. But in his maiden win, he unleased a visually dazzling wide rally, and won off despite racing very greenly in the stretch. She comes off a bullet work, and gets Garrett Gomez, who won both times he rode for Motion at the meeting last year.