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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Notes - Aug 1

- 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 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.

Trying to Catch the Perfect Race

- I'm adjusting to the time difference, thus, this I'm able to write this late night post (or at least I was able to start it). The first two nights, by the time I was done with the track, sunset on the beach:

and a leisurely dinner, it was after 10 PM here, thus 1 AM on my body clock. Didn't get much done in the way of blogging or handicapping as you might imagine. So as this reader surmised, I did the bulk of my handicapping on the beach in the morning before making my way to the track (and yes, we are indeed in Solana Beach).

The surfers are out by 7 AM every day, and they're still out there when the sun is going down. I've been observing them; surfing is obviously a pursuit which inspires the same kind of fanatical devotion as does our own. What I've really noticed is their extreme patience. A lot of swells come rolling by, but most of them are passed over in favor of a better opportunity down the road; hopefully the perfect wave. After all, it's a long day, and no point wasting energy on a wave that doesn't promise some reward for your effort.

So, I tried to keep that in mind for my handicapping on Monday. I've always done best when I pick my spots and try not to force things on races that just don't seem to click. As with the waves, the selection of races is plentiful every day (though less so on the west coast, with most racing in the country over by the time we get halfway through the live card.)

So, despite getting to the track early on Monday, I patiently sat out the first two races. (Unfortunately, I instead bet the last two at Saratoga. I must say that I absolutely hated the two (winning) favorites, Most Distinguished and John's Song in those races.) So it wasn't a very promising beginning.

Yodelfest was scratched from the second a few minutes until post time of the 2nd, a significant change being that he was 4-5 at the time. The winner Cape Diver is worth a mention as a rare frontrunning winner over the artificial stuff; it certainly helped that he went to the half mile in 48.81 seconds in a six furlong race!

I didn't bet the third either. The winner Exquisite Beauty hadn't run since March of 2006, and had never run on the grass; so how could you take 2-1 on that one? Well, perhaps if you considered that trainer Rafael Becerra was three for six at the meeting coming into the race.

I did wager in the 4th, because Vice Admiral was the 6-5 favorite. This horse had run second eight out of his ten lifetime races, and had been favored in three of his last four races, most recently at even money. So this seemed like the kind of wave you just gotta try. So I did, using a couple of long odds runners. The fact that Vice Admiral actually won this time didn't make me regret the wager....that much. Sometimes the habitual runner-up horses just find a field in which everyone else is slower.

I also bet on the 6th, a wonderfully wide open 50K claiming sprint. Cody Autry is here for the meet with a couple of apparently extremely deep pocketed owners who claimed a bunch of stock at the recent Churchill meeting for this meet. He had two that he claimed for 50K running in this race. They both looked fine, coming off second place finishes at this level. But they really looked no better than several other competitors. Yet they went off as the favorite, and I've been mentioning how I look for coupled entries that get overbet by the public using the two-for-one mentality. So I jumped in here too with Yes He's A Pistol (6-1) and Brooker (7-1), o top of some others. And though I ran 3rd and 4th behind a couple others I also used, again it was a wager that was based on sound principle, if nothing else. Note that Autry is off to a sluggish start with one winner in ten runners; six of those at less than 5-1.

And that was it for the day. It was the Head Chef's birthday, so I headed back on the double decker shuttle bus to the Solana Beach train station to soak up some sun and ocean before leaving for a birthday meal at Pacifica Del Mar (picked out by the birthday girl, and selected over some suggestions submitted by readers which perhaps we'll get to later in the week. Especially if I ever have a winner!) Today is a dark day, and we're off to the San Diego Zoo....and I'm getting those stop blogging and get ready looks right now. The surfers are out again, and they once again have been since 7 AM. No action for me today, but I'll be jumping back in tomorrow, trying to selectively find that perfect race. With the races as wide open and unpredictable as they've been on the Polytrack here, it will just take one to put me over the hump for the week. Back with some pictures from the zoo later on.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Del Mar

This is the view from the balcony off our bedroom. The Head Chef gets full credit for finding this place, and booking us early enough to get the room with a view.

Nice to have a little beach in one's backyard. Why do I live in Queens again, I forgot?

The view from the beach....that's where we're staying. Up there. Nice exercise getting back up there.

All right, all right....I guess you wanna see the track, right?

These shots are all in the paddock/walking ring area, and to me, that's the center of the universe at Del Mar, and from where the intimacy and electricity of the place emanate. It's just unspeakably gorgeous back there, and everything and everyone seems to gaze down upon it; if not from the area immediately circling the paddock, then from the patio restaurants and the balconies overlooking it.

Here's the Head Chef with our two girls. [I think the Head Chef went on my laptop and deleted this photo!] You can see what a great time our teenagers were having. Saratoga or Belmont this is not. Other than the infield, where there is no shade from what I can see, Del Mar is not a picnic in the park. It's pretty hardcore racing, as the Head Chef correctly observed, and, as opposed to the clueless crowds partying in the Saratoga backyard, most everyone is paying attention. So the girls didn't quite know what to make of it. I didn't have any particular problem as you might imagine. If I'm lucky, they won't want to come with us again; or at least they will with a more enlightened attitude next time!

My betting has not gone well thus far, with two days in the can. On Saturday, I have an excuse. I was literally in la-la land, overwhelmed by the beauty and splendor of the place. And besides, I was in full exploration mode. The place has a lot of depth - many different eating and drinking establishments, some great little nooks and crannies overlooking the paddock area to discover. And of course, I had to explore and assess the varying betting areas, to find the ones with the shortest lines. I found that lines were actually an issue here, at least on Saturday and Sunday. But by the end of the day Saturday, I pretty much had the place mastered. After a while, one finds that all tracks have the same basic characteristics, and I was able to navigate my way around largely by sheer instinct.

Sunday was a frustrating day, in which I lost an agonizing photo in the 4th when Legate nosed 6-1 Senior in the final half-stride; saw 7-1 Masterful Miss unable to handle 16-1 Izarra, trained by Ron McAnally, who I thought never wins with first-timers; and then actually came up with In Summation in the Bing Crosby just by eliminating every other entry; but I wimped out and passed the race. And I was just telling someone the other day how much I love Christophe Clement! Afterwards, while complaining a bit about my hard luck to the Head Chef, she reminded me: "You're just not that good of a bettor. You don't win that much."

Oh. Yeah, that's right; thanks for reminding me. Sometimes I forget that amidst stuff like being allowed by the Clancy brothers to handicap for the Special, and from the miniature fame and occasional benefits accorded to a blogger (such as the clubhouse passes that the folks at Del Mar were nice enough to set me up with).

But today, Monday, is another day. No the races are not nearly of the quality I saw this weekend; and I have to say that with all I've heard about how Del Mar is 'no Saratoga' racing-wise, the weekend cards were chock full of excellent betting races and great fields. But maybe some maiden claimers and Cal-bred races is just what I need.

One more thing before I get to my handicapping. The weather. Oh my! We have no air conditioning in our condo, and it's easy to see why not. Instead of listening to an A/C unit all night, we have the balcony door open and a soundtrack of the Pacific Ocean. There's a constant breeze, and it's hot and cool all at the same time. I met a reader who lives out here on Saturday, and he told me that the weather that day was actually relatively humid! I couldn't believe it. Until Sunday. Then I knew what he was talking about. This morning is cloud-covered, but the surfers have still been out since 7 AM, and there's little doubt that a blue sky will soon emerge. Just as surely as I'm going to have a great day. Hope that you do too.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Heat Takes the Startch Out of TVG Crew

- Because of the twilight racing, I got home from work in time to catch the last couple of races from Saratoga on TVG. I must say that the body language of Todd Schrmmppff, Simon Bray, and G. Stevens seemed to be saying "Get us back to California...please!" They did NOT look comfortable in the Saratoga heat and humidity. They were wearing these stiff-looking white dress shirts that were making me sweat just looking at them; they looked like they had more startch than the Freihofer's Outlet store. Whatsmore, they were sitting in a remote spot on the clubhouse turn; I think Michael could have scored a better location from NYRA. The camera angle made them look so far removed from the action that they might as well have been at the Crossgates Mall. And once the FOX Sports portion of the show ended after the 8th race, G Stevens was outta there faster than Point Given.

Another losing two-year old first-timer for Pletcher; Tribolet was sent off at 2-1 and finished dead last. I posted the dismal relevant stats yesterday.

Two stakes winners on the grass for Clement and Garrett Gomez, including the ultra-consistent Rutherienne taking the Lake George. And Gomez had four on the day.

Even though we're leaving for Del Mar in a matter of hours, and I'm midway through handicapping tomorrow's card, you can see I'm still having a hard time letting go of Saratoga. There's just a natural attraction, and I guess my east coast bias is showing. But I gotta stop because we're off to the west coast for a new adventure, so eat your heart out Todd Schrmmppff! Speak to you next from the other side of the country.

Saturday Stakes - In Brief (Well, kinda)

- My detailed analysis of the Whitney, Diana, and Go For Wand (I begged out of the Vanderbilt because I'm busy preparing to leave and find stakes sprints to be beyond my capabilities) will be in the print edition of the Saratoga Special tomorrow morning for those of you up there, and posted on the some point. Check for it here; look for Stakes Handicapping on the right. Not going to reprint it here, as I'm giving them the exclusive. But I'll do a brief synopsis, and then I need to get to packing, panicking, and handicapping. Looks like a fantastic weekend of racing on the left coast.

In the Go For Wand, I think that Ginger Punch stands out as a horse to stand against should he really be the 8-5 favorite as suggested by the morning line. As impressive as those Belmont races are, they came against a depth-less and short field in the First Flight, and benefited by that weirdly run Phipps, which saw Take D'Tour battle Teammate in a second quarter of 21.4. And more importantly, she's just 0 for 1 in two turn races, that on a sloppy track in allowance company. So she's being asked to beat graded stakes horses on a dry track (well, hopefully!) for the first time, and you know what Harvey Pack says about betting on a favorite being asked to do something it's never been before.

I was disappointed by the way Ermine capitulated so readily in her last race; that's not characteristic of her, and her trainer Ronny Werner seemed concerned too in some remarks to the Form. So I picked Miss Shop, pointing out that while she seemed to prefer the grass earlier in her career, lately she seems to fancy two turn dirt races. She's won graded stakes the last two times she's run that route. It seems as if Allan Jerkens plays it a bit sly with this filly, and I get the feeling he's been pointing to this race all along; note the two impressive works. She's 8-1 morning line, and I think she'd be great value around that price. I picked Ermine and Plaid for 2nd and 3rd. Plaid is a hard hitter that you gotta love, having finished out of the money just once in her last 20 races! She's the type of horse that I imagine that Greg Avioli of the Breeders Cup had in mind when he spoke about dark horse-types that wouldn't otherwise qualify for the championship races.

The Go For Wand is a kinda strange race. Biancone entered the rabbit Countess Scala, which he did successfully for stablemate Mauralakana in the Locust Grove after My Typoon stole the race up front in the Just A Game. But the rabbit's presence really benefits the entire field given that My Typhoon looks like potential lone speed. In fact, Mauralakana sits fairly close to the pace, and may really need the rabbit less than many others in the field, including some that I think are more talented. My Typhoon, while she can sit just off the pace, is one for nine beyond a mile and a sixteenth, and seven for 9 otherwise; so this seems just a tad beyond her optimal distance.

So I picked Makderah, who looks solid for McLaughlin. She was a very impressive winner of the NY Handicap in her third U.S. start. Alan Garcia merely shook up the reins, and this Shadwell homebred son of Danehill went from last to first with ease running a final quarter of 22 1/5, and drawing away by four over Masseuse, a Grade 2 winner in her next race. She seems to have room to improve, and looks really tough here I think. I picked Pletcher's Magnificent Song for second. She won the Lake George (which Rutherienne just won today), and hasn't done that well since. But I think she's been victimized by some unfavorable pace scenarios, and, as I've mentioned, we've seen Pletcher score some graded stakes wins at nice mutuels here. Mauralakana was my third choice. I'd add that Meribel is a nice consistent sort who will benefit from the rabbit. She's been facing lesser, but has the Clement/Gomez combo which has done well thus far.

And the Whitney? This is one contentious race this year. As Mister Ed mentioned, it may really be a Grade 2 in disguise, but it's one helluva betting race. I picked Diamond Stripes, from Dutrow. It was interesting reading the trainer's remarks on the NYRA site about his third in the Foster.

To most, Diamond Stripes’ third-place effort in the Foster, a half-length off Flashy Bull, appeared solid. The gelding was starting for just the second time in 2007, was making his Grade 1 debut and had never started at Churchill Downs. Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., however, left Churchill disappointed.

“Extremely,” he added. “I was so confident going in and I thought he was the best horse in the race. I was very disappointed with his effort. We went over him and couldn’t find anything wrong after the race. I didn’t think it was a great field. I’m hoping he shows up with a better effort Saturday.” [NYRA]
If he thinks that wasn't a great field, he must feel the same about this one. Dutrow said that the horse likes it here, and is training well - he won at the distance over the track last year. The race that really impresses me is his Pegasus at the Big M last fall. He was shuffled back going into turn, got hung wide, was wide throughout the second turn, but won with authority in a final eighth of 12 1/5. I think he has the most upside of anyone in the field, and by a significant margin; and that he could really be sitting on a big effort in his 6th career start.

I don't like Papi Chullo. He tries two turns here after his two huge efforts at Belmont, and he's only one for 14 in such races; four for five around one. Between he, Fairbanks, Wanderin Boy, and perhaps Flashy Bull should Garcia's hand be forced from the rail post, there should be enough pace for the sharp horses coming off the pace. Lawyer Ron is arguably getting his best distance here, and his Salvatore Mile effort, in which he simply ran out of racetrack, could set him up well. Johnny V seems to have been able to conserve him for one late run when he's been on board, and he'll need to do so from the 11 post. We know that sometimes the rider will tend to get caught wide in these situations, so I'm hoping he'll be able to get him relaxed early and try to improve his position going into the turn.

And Magna Graduate is in career best form. He was ridden by the hot Garrett Gomez for the first time in the Foster, and he had him further back from usual before a strong late run that just missed. I think those tactics could serve him well here, and help him earn at least a piece.

Flashy Bull is sharp and game, but may not be able to employ the middle move tactics that carried him to victory in the Foster from the rail in a crowded field. But I'd include him in the Pick Four's in his present condition. I don't like Zito's horses; their better days seem behind both Wanderin Boy and Sun King. Dry Martini and Brass Hat are admirable horses who just may be a tad below (though Kevin's tout of the latter is worth a read and consideration...and he could move up if the track comes up sloppy.)

So I went Diamond Stripes, Lawyer Ron, and Magna Graduate.

Saratoga Notes

- Pat Kelly won the statebred Dancin Renee stakes on Thursday with Precise Lady at 16-1; the trainer had three double digit odds bombshells here last year amongst his five winners, so you might want to pay attention. She'd actually won her prior race, and two of the last three; but was merely and nearly literally the last horse standing in this case after the leaders dueled themselves into submission. When the quarter splits are 21.3, 23.2, and 25.4, a horse needs merely to run evenly to be there at the finish. That's my idea of ugly racing.

Twisted Tale (Tale of the Cat) was the baby race winner for Asmussen; she had run second to the Schuylerville winner Subtle Aly in her debut. And what a game performance this was. She was pressed on the backside by Pletcher's Alachua on the outside, and by second choice Cozy Mesa on the inside. And after shaking them off, she had to hold off Forest Trail at the end. The latter is trained by Shug McGaughey, and as we've been saying, Shug doesn't win with first-timers much these days. He's 1 for his last 33 with two-year olds in that category; three for 58 overall. And his last debut winner was the late Pine Island in March of last year.

Scott Lake took the Hush Dear Stakes with Truly Blushed at 14-1, and we don't see that much of the trainer around these parts of late. He's only had 39 starters on the NY circuit in the last six months as compared to 530 elsewhere. Over the last two years, his winning percentage is 15% in New York; and 25% elsewhere. Can anyone think of a possible reason for these disparities? Just thought I'd ask.

And the Toddster got on the board with Ready's Image, dominating some promising juveniles in the Sanford. Two year old stakes accounted for four of his nine graded wins here last year; and they were Circular Quay, Adieu, Cotton Blossom, and Octave.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Forecast

- Here's the relevant, for me, weather forecast for Del Mar:

Jul 28

Partly Cloudy
76°/65° 10%

Jul 29

Partly Cloudy
72°/64° 10%

Jul 30

Mostly Sunny
71°/64° 10%

Jul 31

Mostly Sunny
72°/64° 20%

Aug 1

72°/64° 20%

Aug 2

74°/64° 10%

Aug 3

75°/65° 10%

Aug 4

74°/65° 0% [The Weather Channel]
Accuweather has the daytime temperatures a good 4-5 degrees higher; more in a couple of cases. I generally find their forecasts to be more accurate, but I couldn't steal the text from them as easily as from The Weather Channel. I crossed out the precipitation probability because I figure that's just bullshit, someone trying to cover their ass in case the wind whips up some ocean spray and a vacationing lawyer from Boston threatens to sue.

The Weather Channel has the better radar - the Doppler Radar 600-Mile (original version) (in motion). And though I love Saratoga dearly and envy all of you who are there right now, I will NOT miss sitting at the computer and trying to handicap the rain as the green blotches filled with angry orange and red make their way towards that area about halfway between Lake George and Albany. (Though I will share your pain on Friday night with the stakes races coming up on Saturday, and scattered storms predicted for the area.)

- Do you think there's something to this thing about Pletcher not winning with first-time juvies on the dirt at Saratoga? Today, he ran 4th with his debut runner Alachua (Grand Slam), at 4-1. That makes him 3 for 30 (10%) with two year olds debuting on the dirt at the Spa in the last two years. Now, if you go back three years (these stats all via Formulator), the percentage jumps from 10% to 20% (he was 7 for 21 in 2004). And if I exclude Saratoga from the last two years, the percentage jumps to 24%. It's probably just a fluke. But the trend is your friend, as they say, so be wary when the odds get short. 11 out of his last 12 debut runners that have started at less than 3-1 on the dirt at the Spa have lost. The lowest of those? Cowtown Cat, at 7-10 last year.

Bruno Beaming....For Now

- I linked to this article from the Times on Joe Bruno's triumphant return to Saratoga in the prior post, and it certainly warrants some further discussion. I mean, look at this mug!

Is this guy in his glory or what? He floated through the crowd like a pasha down the Nile according to the piece; but it looks to me like he had that superfecta in the 10th...with both winners on top!

But the article pointedly notes that the Senate Majority Leader's number is still flashing on the tote board. There was no mention of the continuing federal inquiry into his outside business dealings. Man, an unfavorable outcome of that would certainly wipe that smile off his face, and turn the tables on this contest faster than an A-Rod grand slam.

One version of popular political dance is the one when the protagonists, upon the realization that the acrimony has gotten so out of hand as to have become an embarrassment to one or both, drift closer in a wary waltz, and pledge to put their differences aside for the good of their constituents. But there's no sign of that here. Bruno and his fellow Senate Republicans want to investigate and supboena Spitzer's aides, and perhaps the governor himself. Spitzer's office vowed to fight any investigation, thus leading us down the path to the familiar constitutional fight between the government branches and claims of executive privilege that have become so familiar in Washington, albeit over somewhat more profound issues, since the Democrats took control of Congress.

Of course, here at LATG, we're concerned about how all this will affect the racing franchise issue, and I'm not convinced that it will. Spitzer and Bruno weren't on speaking terms before the AG report, and even if they were, the Senator, as well as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, would have to sign off on any franchise plan and/or closing of Aqueduct. Unless, that is, the numbers on the toteboard stop flashing and Bruno, who, if nothing else, is a known quantity with knowledge and personal interest in the industry, gets taken down. Then your guess is as good as mine.

Notes - July 26

- Hunch bets for today, July 26:

Unofficial - 8th at Evangeline
Have Mercy On Me - 4th at Evangeline
Florida Jack Pot - 4th at Arlington
Joe Thats Who - 9th at Evangeline
My J. E. T. 4th at Lone Star
- While saying "Nobody is hedging," Carl Nafzger seemed to be doing just that yesterday - if just a bit - on Street Sense's anticipated participation in Sunday's Jim Dandy as opposed to the Haskell one week hence. Anticipating the Derby champ's workout which took place this morning, the trainer told the Albany Times Union:
"If he works well and everything is right, he will probably run in the Jim Dandy. If he does something wrong after the work or he's not right, we've got another week and we would run in the next one. Why should we make a decision publicly because we don't know."
As it turned out, the workout was quite a contrast from the blazing five furlong work at Churchill last week while Nafzger was out of the country - a half mile in a leisurely 51.59 seconds. “He went good,” said [Calvin] Borel. “It’s what we wanted, to see how he would handle the track, and he went across it like a bear." [Bloodhorse]

Going West

- With opening day at the Spa out of the way and, especially, having seen the entries for what looks on first glance like two excellent betting cards at Del Mar for the weekend, my thoughts are drifting west. I'm still in New York, but my mind is somewhere over the divide between the Central and Mountain time zones. Full fields, two year olds, impossible looking graded stakes....why it almost seems like....Saratoga!

Except on Polytrack. Any idea that the track was starting to play faster there was dispelled on Wednesday, as the times slowed to a virtual canter - a mile and a sixteenth in 1:48.2; a 48.3 half in a 5 1/2 furlong race; a mile in 1:41.3! And though some winners were close to the pace, none wired the field, and I think it's fair to say that that's the prevailing, and increasingly familiar trend when it comes to Polytrack. Looking back through the charts going back to Thursday, I see only four winners who led at every call. Being naturally inclined to betting closers and stalkers, I should feel right at home in my first ever Del Mar appearance.

Bob Baffert is bringing his three-year old EZ Warrior back against older horses in Sunday's Grade 1 Bing Crosby; quite an ambitious spot! He'll be facing the likes of Bordanaro, Battle Won, 2005 Crosby winner Greg's Gold, In Summation, trying the Poly for Clement, and Declan's Moon, coming off his first win since March of 2005. Baffert is either losing his mind or knows something about his son of Exploit that we can only imagine. There had been some speculation that Surf Cat would run in the Crosby, but he did not turn up in the entries.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Opening Day Closes With A Rush

- I've already tried typing saratoga opening day 10th race into You Tube but it's not there; so I can't post the video of today's finale at Saratoga. But you know where to go to watch it. It was a day of exciting finishes, but none could top the wild finale. I think it's quite possible that each of the four horses strung across the track at the finish had the lead for one instant or another in the last sixteenth of a mile.

For those who lost out on a Pick Four that was haveable, but not too haveable to that point, or, heaven forbid, on the Pick Six when longshots Strong Presence and American Dream'a surged by just when it looked like they would manage to slide by with favored Papa's Kara, it may not be destined to remain a pleasant memory. But for those in the crowd of 30,000 who don't care about stuff like past performances and handicapping, a couple of bucks on either the implausible Strong Presence or the implausibly overlaid American Dream'a could bring them back to the track again to put their money back on the table. Try to think of it that way. But that's a tough beat any way you look at it.

The Schuylerville was an exciting finish in its own right, with Subtle Aly just lasting over I Promise. And as I believe Tom Durkin did, I thought that the latter might have gotten her nose down at the right time. It's always been my understanding that the horse that the track announcer mentions first is the one he/she thinks won; and they're usually right. But it was Subtle Aly hanging on, a quick payoff for IEAH Stables, who purchased the filly privately after she scored a 97 Beyer in winning her debut at Churchill. She's by French Envoy, a Deputy Minister stallion who stands for $5,000 in Florida, out of an Alydar mare; this filly's second dam is the BC Sprint winner Very Subtle. French Envoy (pdf file) had the stakes winner Pay Wright in his first crop last year amongst ten winners overall.

Blitzing was three-four wide turning for home, and then took a right turn around midstretch. But once she recovered, she put her head down and charged towards the leaders, coming up just a nose and a neck short. The final eighth was a slow 13.30, but she finished strongly and I look forward to her going a bit longer than this.

- Unfortunately, Massoud did not survive his fall in the first race.

Welcome to DRF Readers

- If you're visiting for the first time via Steven Crist's new blog-ified version of his Saratoga Journal, welcome and thanks for stopping by. By all means, please visit the other passionate, talented and talkative bloggers of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance; either via our central website, or by using the individual links in the sidebar. Which I hope is updated (I'll be promptly hearing from Patrick if it's not.) There's something for everyone I think, so if you don't like it here, I'm sure you can find a site that strikes your fancy.

- With my departure for Del Mar less than 72 hours away, I suppose I should be all 'surf and turf' all the time. But it's hard to ignore the opening day proceedings up at the Spa. And, I'm undefeated at the meeting! Though I needed my top pick Bold Trust on top in order to make some big money (relatively), I'll settle for the conso exacta which returned a solid $28. My pick was sent off as the favorite with Immortal Eyes scratched, but was no match at all for first-timer Sargent Seattle (Vindication) from the Stanley Hough stable. His winning time of 1:03 2/5 was a fifth off the track record. Hough has a reputation as a big first-time two-year old guy but didn't have a winner in that category last year at Saratoga; I'd guess, without my Formulator in front of me, that his last at the Spa was probably Discreet Cat.

- Back to Del Mar, the second week starts today, and Hank Wesch, writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune, sums up the first week of the Polytrack era, noting that the times, though still slow by CA standards, got faster as the week goes on. But the most important stat is this: There were five fatal breakdowns on the dirt in the first six days last year and none on Polytrack last week.

“Horses are winning from everywhere and the track has held up great,” [GM Jim] Pendergest said Monday. “The comments we are getting from trainers and riders have been, by and large, very positive.” [SignOnSanDiego]
And for the record, Wesch writes that the newspaper report, linked to from this site, that said that there were expensive adjustments made to the surface before the meet, was incorrect; instead, the work was part of the overall $9 million cost.

Woodbine is in the midst of adding the cable jelly to its surface. Jen Morrison, who writes her Thoroughblog and covers the track for the Form, told me that's while there seems to be some improvement, some jockeys have been hit in the eye with the kickback and have taken to wearing masks. She added that the horses, who don't have masks, are swallowing the stuff, ugh. If cable jelly was deemed to be unsafe for the Pacific Ocean at Del Mar, I can't imagine it could be too great serving as equine feed. The issue of jockeys and horses breathing in the dust is one that we don't hear much serious discussion about. I think that everyone is just closing their eyes and hoping it's not a problem. Let's check back on that in about three years and hope there are no long-term health consequences.

Taking a peek at Jen's blog, I saw that there was a spill in the first race at Saratoga involving favored Massoud. Crist wrote that everyone seemed to be OK except the people who backed the underlaid favorite; but we'll listen up for updates.

- And, Sunday is Angel Cordero bobblehead day. No word on whether the giveaway will include a second doll bearing a machete.

Notes - July 25

- We read last week of the reduced takeout for the brief summer meeting at Laurel. But a reminder of the severe problems in the Maryland racing industry came with the announcement of the reduced stakes schedule for the fall meet. No less than 11 stakes, including two $100,000 races, the Anne Arundel and the Martha Washington BC, have been slashed from the schedule. Some remaining stakes, including the Grade 1 DeFrancis Dash, will see their purses cut by $50,000. And every other race during the meet that runs from after Labor Day through the end of the year will be cut by $2,000. [Baltimore Sun]

- I guess that if you can get the U.S. and Iran to sit in the same room and agree on something, than anything is possible. Including getting TVG and TrackNet Media to do the same! And that did actually happen last week. The meeting came in the form of a forum at the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association convention that also included representatives of Youbet and Woodbine. I never quite got around to mentioning that, but John over at Not to the Swift did, and it's worth reading this article from Bloodhorse to get an idea of what the issues are, and just how far apart the sides remain.

However, when people get together and talk, things can happen. And TrackNet has responded to pleas by the horsemen at that forum, and announced that they will make the Claiming Crown races at Ellis Park available to TVG and its exclusive partners.

“They thought we should do this in good faith -- and I left the meeting (on July 20) willing to think about it,” said [Scott] Daruty of TrackNet...."I thought about it, and felt they were right.” [Bloodhorse]
It had been pointed out to Daruty that the only time the series was limited to HRTV, the handle dropped by 50%. But just as we shouldn't expect Bush to invite Iranian president Ahmadinejad to the family digs in Kennebunkport, Maine for some fishing anytime soon, this doesn't mean any agreement is close at hand.
“We would love nothing more than to exchange all of our content with TVG and Youbet,” Daruty said, noting that the exclusivity issue had created a negotiating “impasse” between the companies. “I would not say there are no discussions, but I wouldn’t say there are any ‘active’ talks, either.”
- Hunch play for the day:
Mr. Unacceptable - 1st at Charles Town

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Opening Day Spot Plays

- In Race 2, opening day's baby race, let's take a shot with Bold Trust, 6-1 morning line for Asmussen. This son of Trust N Luck is the veteran of the group with two seconds and a third in three starts. He was game, but couldn't quite last in his most recent at Churchill, succumbing late to Blackberry Road, subsequently a wide and respectable 4th in the G3 Bashford Manor. 4th place finisher Pulaski Runner won a maiden special at Ellis. Last year at Saratoga, trainer Asmussen was...... oh, we don't know, because his horses ran in the name of Scott Blasi. Two years ago, Asmussen was six for 21 overall with two-year olds. And I remember that Tiz Wonderful won last year, so there's at least one more.

I'd prefer to see Garrett Gomez on board my top choice, as he was four for 12 for Blasi here last year (who, as I now discover via the Form's excellent Saratoga Stats [in their paid DRF Plus section], was 10 for 45 overall). But he goes to Immortal Eyes, and who can blame him? This son of the $5,000 Mr. P sire Greatness (and who sold this year for $220,000) ran up against his stablemate Fed Watcher in his debut, and that one earned a 98 Beyer getting the win. The 2-1 morning line favorite, he looms as the logical choice. Forest Prince debuts for Pletcher, who of course is worth a look with any first-timer he sends out, though he did his best work on the grass here last year. In fact, he's actually just three for 28 on the dirt with two-year old debut runners here over the last two years; vs. 22% overall over that time. Hmmm. A statistical anomaly? This colt doesn't have the long series of works that we often see with the Toddster, and sire Mineshaft is looking for his first winner. Still, he's out of Forest Heiress, a graded winner at two and a full sister to the speedy Wildcat Heir; and we ignore at our own risk. Bill Mott has Doctor Cal, a son of the 16% first-out sire Distorted Humor. Note that Mott is 1 for 32 with these over the last two years at Saratoga.

- In the 5th, I like All Verses, 10-1 morning line in his second career start for Christophe Clement. The trainer has won at 24% on the grass here over the last two years. This four-year old son of Pulpit, out of an Alleged half sister to Forest Camp, was wide throughout the turn in his debut, swung very wide turning for home, and finished with interest five lengths behind Buddy's Humor, a close second in the Lexington. He was just three behind runner-up Seastate, a winner by six with a 91 Beyer in his next race...and 1 3/4 behind Rocket Legs, who is in this race, but saved far more ground on the turn. Loses Prado to Frankel, but Gomez won four for 14 (29%) for Clement here last year. Needs to overcome the nine post, but shows a sharp half mile work and looks like good value in what may be an open race....if that is, Frankel's Borobudur, a half to Aldebaran, isn't a monster in his first North American race. I'm not having much luck with this trainer of late whether I support or oppose him; but his running lines are nothing special, and there may not be much value there. Let's leave him out if that's the case.

Warn was freaking huge in his last race, his first on the grass. Man, he was really far back entering the turn, and came very wide - with Calvin Borel no less! - eating up ground in the stretch while sharply weaving left and right faster than Rudy Giuliani. If Calvin can keep him straight here, he could be one to watch in the stretch. Virginia Minstrel has two solid seconds on the grass for Tagg. His race two back has come up very strong, with three winners and four seconds having emerged in subsequent races; including the awfully-named War Monger, the winner of Virginia Minstrel's last race, which has already produced a first, second, and third.

- In Race 7, Kill Devil Rum, another horse with an idiotic name, is listed at 10-1 despite winning his last on grass and running in the money in his prior two starts at Colonial. Yes, he set a slow pace in his last, but he finished very gamely, holding off a host of challengers late. You have to go out to the eight post to find the next possible speed, and with a short run to the turn, Kill Devil Rum, a five year old gelded son of Devil's Bag with only those three lifetime starts, could control the pace with Gomez and be tough to run down while cutting back slightly in distance.

Phil Serpe will try to put last year's Saratoga meet behind him; he was 1 for 36! We know he's a better trainer than that (he had seven winners here in 2005, and he's 23%, with only 64 starters this year). Hangingbyathread has speed, and he'll need it from the 12 post. He has some quite decent running lines against the likes of Distorted Reality and Red Giant, and, other than the post, fits well here dropping into state-bred company. Stately Pegasus is certainly consistent; he hasn't finished more than 2 3/4 lengths behind the winner in any of his last eight turf starts. Unfortunately, he's only won one of those. Good post, Kent D. sticks with him over the top choice; so he should be good for his usual share. Dantastic has improved for Albertrani and begs inclusion on your superfecta tickets.

- In the Schuylerville, I was going to point out that each of Pletcher's fillies come out of maiden wins against small fields at Monmouth, and thus try to beat him. Then I noticed that Pletcher took this race last year with Cotton Blossom. Whose only prior start was against only two others, at Monmouth. She paid 8-1 last year. I doubt we'll get that on this entry, but remember that Pletcher won some stakes at nice mutuels here last year. Four of his nine graded winners paid 5-1 or more, including another two-year old filly in Octave, who took the Adirondack at 9-1. New York City Girl is a daughter of Forest Camp who took her debut by 11 [Update: Pletcher planning to scratch her, according to the Daily News]; and Lady Chace, by Tiznow out of a stakes winning Carson City mare, won hers by 10. Both have solid works for this; take your pick.

According to Plan, the house horse (she's part owned by Charles Hayward), is the filly who "ran promptly to the man" according to the chart caller when she breezed in her debut for Barclay Tagg. We'll find out if that's a good thing today. Blitzing was well-bet in her winning debut at Churchill for Asmussen. This daughter of Montbrook chased down and put away a speedy filly in Reen, a winner of her next race with an 88 Beyer. The race has produced an additional two winners and one runner-up.

Good luck, and have a great opening day!!

Notes - July 24

- Reader Jim L writes: Are you going to have a Saratoga-only blog again this year? It does look like a terrific meet.... Yes, it certainly looks like a terrific meet, but no, sadly there will be no Saratoga-only blog this year. (Though the Head Chef promises to write some food columns again.) Reality (as in working for a living and dealing with kids) rears its ugly head this summer though, luckily and thankfully, interspersed with vacation. As you may know, we're off to Del Mar on Saturday morning for a week. By the time I extract myself from my beach chair and stroll over the track for the 2 PM post time there, the Saratoga races will be just about over! So as much as I'd love to write about the entire meet in detail as I did last year, Saratoga coverage will be spotty until I return (and same goes for this week amidst the usual pre-vacation hysteria).

But I will be up for Travers week. Whatsmore, I'll be doing some horse-by-horse stakes analysis for Sean and Joe Clancy's Saratoga Special, starting with the big BC Challenge races on Saturday; and I'll also, once I get back, be providing picks for the Special's selection grid in which us "professionals" will be competing against Joe's son who will be making his picks by throwing darts. Talk about pressure!!

As we mentioned yesterday, Governor Spitzer will not be at Saratoga this week either, nor at any time during the meet it would seem. Thanks to the reader who sent a link yesterday from the NY Daily News. It doesn't seem to be working today, but nonetheless we learned that Spitzer also "encouraged" the New York State Racing and Wagering Board to give up its boxes as well, though "not happily." I think that Brian, who, by the way, will be in Saratoga blogging on his Triple Crown Racing site (when he's not escorting patrons to their seats) made a great point when he wrote that turning down the box was a swipe at Bruno IMO. Whatever Spitzer's intention, it's really a swipe at the entire industry in New York.

The question for the Governor now, regarding the Attorney General's report on his office's plot to discredit Senator Bruno, is the familiar "what did he know and when did he know it?" The same questions that NBA Commish David Stern had to answer this morning (nothing, and 'not until after the season.') Not surprisingly, not everyone is buying Spitzer's claims of ignorance.

The claim was met with skepticism from politicians in both parties, since the governor is known to be something of a micromanager.

“Did the governor know?” asked Senator Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican and the deputy majority leader. He said the report “leaves many questions open in terms of how far up the chain of command were the acts of — at least the acts of Dopp and Howard — known?”

Mr. Skelos added that he believed it would be “totally appropriate” for the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, which has subpoena power, to review the matter. It is expected that the Senate will do just that. Mr. Skelos is a member of the committee.

“You have the makings of a real conspiracy here,” he added. [NY Times]
I wouldn't be surprised if one of Spitzer's remaining aides is making some calls trying to find out what's up with that federal investigation of Bruno.... That seems to be about the only thing that would take the heat off the Gov at this point. Perhaps a trip (escorted by state police at taxpayer expense) up to the races would take his mind off things for a few hours!

- Good news from Belmont, where Rags to Riches was pronounced to be fine after a training scare the other day.
“Although everything seems to be fine, in order to be thorough she will have a complete physical done," said Pletcher. “Though her race plans will be made after the exam, she remains under consideration for the (grade I) Alabama at Saratoga August 18.” [Bloodhorse]

Monday, July 23, 2007

Hoops and Horses

- The astounding investigation of NBA referee Tim Donaghy is a reminder that cheating and chicanery is not limited to horse racing. Where there's money to be made, a dedicated minority is going to play outside the rules, no matter what the game. There's just no getting around that. Dishonesty will never be completely eliminated from racing anymore than it will be in the society at large.

You always here people yelling "Hey ref, whaddya have a bet on the game?" I must admit that I've screamed that myself, probably at Kerry Fraser during Rangers games. However, though I can be susceptible to the odd conspiracy theory, I never really thought he bet on the games. But now....I mean, I'm of course not suggesting that Kerry Fraser fixed games, but....well? Who the hell knows?

I used to gamble on games nightly, and basketball was my favorite sport to bet, especially the college variety. I believed that, as opposed to the NFL in which every game was so carefully scrutinized, there were so many college games that you were bound to find some bad lines from time to time. I carefully handicapped the matchups in Sports Eye, which had the equivalent of past performance charts for virtually every game in the country; perhaps they still do. Looking for an edge, I concentrated on the more obscure conferences, like the Big Sky, the Missouri Valley Conference, and the Ivy League. The latter was just about the only league playing on Friday nights, so at first I bet them just out of addiction. But I soon got really into it, and I remember doing pretty well with Penn, Yale, and especially Princeton. I loved watching Pete Carril's team play; his Princeton teams from that era are what I think of when I recall how pure the college game was until it was first eroded by dunking and three-pointers, and then ultimately nuked by the shot clock. I held my own betting on those games for awhile, but things eventually went really south and got out of hand. At one point, I lost something ridiculous like 12 games in a row, and 19 out of 20. So I stopped, and I haven't bet on a game since 1981.

But before that, I remember a game from the 1978-79 season; a buddy and I went to St. John's to see the Redmen, as they were so politically incorrectly known at the time, host Boston College, another team who, like Princeton, would pass the ball around for two minutes if necessary to find the perfect pass and shot. (I guess that could sound boring and perhaps you had to be there.) We had read about how great this guy Ernie Cobb was, and partly because of that, we bet on BC. Man, were we disappointed. Cobb was just awful; he took terrible shots and missed them badly, and just wasn't into the game, so it seemed. I remember saying to my friend that it looked like he was dumping the game. He sucked that badly.

It was a few years later that Cobb and two teammates were charged with shaving points during that season. Cobb was acquitted at trial (one player and four others were convicted). And the St John's game was not on the list of those he was accused over. But since that scandal broke, I've always figured that, in that case, my first impression was the correct one. And that you never really know what is really going on inside a person's head and bank account.

With all the security and suspicion inherent in the post 9/11 world, we're still a very trusting people at times. We put our kids on school buses driven by people we know nothing about, eat food prepared by strangers behind closed doors, tell the post office when we're going to be on vacation. And some of us wager on games whose integrity, on the part of player and officials alike, we assume are assured. It may take awhile before the NBA regains that trust, especially if, as speculated on in print, the investigation expands to other players or officials (oh man), or if David Stern knew about it during the season.

When we gamble our hard-earned money on horse racing, the crazy part isn't that we bet on horses. After all, I find that these animals are remarkably honest. What you see in the past performances is more often than not what you get in the race, allowing of course for a certain margin of improvement or decline. It's the humans that insert the dishonesty in the game. The next time you think you see a jockey stiffing a horse or an animal that seems juiced, well, most likely, you're just being a sore loser. But the sad truth is that you might be right. And unless we find a way to limit human beings' participation to mucking the stalls, there will always be a handful looking for an edge. And that's a slam dunk back door layup.

Spitzer Takes a Beating

- Steven Crist, writing in the Form, makes a good point about Governor Spitzer's stated intention to announce the new, or old, franchise holder on September 4.

This augurs well for the incumbent since the Saratoga meet ends Sept. 3 and, especially with spectacular purse increases in effect, there is every reason to think this is going to be a feel-good meeting of world-class racing and strong business. So unless the NYRA trustees are reliably photographed beating up little old ladies on Union Avenue over the next six weeks, it seems unlikely that Spitzer will call for a new track operator the day after Saratoga closes. [DRF]
If the meeting is as successful as NYRA anticipates, hopefully including a classic Travers, the announcement may be more coronation than drama.

However, Spitzer got beaten up himself today, and not by the NYRA trustees nor by little old ladies on Union Avenue. In a stunning development, his fellow Democrat and heretofore political ally Andrew Cuomo, his successor as Attorney General, has issued a report that exonerates Senator Bruno for his use of state aircraft on trips that combined state business with political fundraising, and blasts the governor's office for gathering and releasing the information for political purpose. Quoting from the report: [large PDF file]
The Governor’s Office planned to obtain information concerning Senator Bruno’s use of state aircraft for the purpose of giving this information to the media. Under the pretext of responding to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, the Governor’s liaison caused the Acting Superintendent of the State Police to (1) create documents detailing where the State Police had driven Senator Bruno, and (2) report details of Senator Bruno’s requests for ground transportation, upcoming schedules, and changes to those schedules. This conduct deviated from State Police standard operating procedures and past practices, and was not required by FOIL. [via New York Times]
Though the report clears Bruno of any wrongdoing in a legal sense, it took a swipe at the lax regulations that allow the Senator to combine political fund-raising with his state business paid for with taxpayer money.
The current state aircraft policy is overly permissive and porous and allows for an abuse of taxpayer funds. The policy should be changed to provide stricter, clearer guidance concerning when state aircraft may be used in connection with official state business, and under what circumstances, if any, official use of state aircraft may be combined with political or personal use.
Spitzer responded by doing what any self-respecting chief executive would do under the circumstances: he blamed his employees, disciplining two aides, and denied knowing anything of their motives (a tactic I imagine he learned from the CEO's of the companies he prosecuted himself as AG). And he took off his Steamroller Helmet for the Hat of Contrition.
"I apologize to Senator Bruno, as I did earlier today.....I apologize to the people of the state of New York." [AP]
- Don't expect to see the Gov at Saratoga on opening day, and not because he'll be engaged in damage control (though he very well may still be). Calling the four box seats set aside for him an "inappropriate perk," Spitzer urged NYRA to utilize them for other purposes. State Senate Majority Leader [Bruno] reportedly has no plans to give up his complementary box. [WCAX-TV] And nor should he as far as I'm concerned. Y'know, it wouldn't kill the governor to get in his limo and make the 30 minute drive up to Saratoga, if just to show his face and demonstrate that he cares just an itsy bitsy teeny weenie bit about the sport and industry about which thousands of workers and devoted fans are depending on him to make the correct decision about its future. Shame on him!

- And Todd Schrmmppff and a full TVG crew will abandon their post at Del Mar and broadcast live from Saratoga during the opening week (and no, I have not been asked to replace them out west). G. Stevens, Simon Bray, and Jill Byrne will also be on hand; as Cristina Olivares is sadly left behind. Let's see if she turns up at Emerald Downs again.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Monday Morning Notes - July 23

- I'd have to say that the Virginia Derby was the most exciting finish I saw this weekend. Jockey Horacio Karamanos, on 37-1 Red Giant, had dead aim on Strike A Deal, but the latter would not, and did not give in, and was on even terms on the wire when he lost the head bob, wow. Circular Quay was 9-5 and no redboarding this time; as I've said many times, this is one of the best betting opportunities in racing - the popular dirt horse trying the grass. I know that those of you who had Strike A Deal suffered an agonizing beat, (I had the exacta boxed with Summer Doldrums and would have been split by Soldier's Dancer anyway). But I think you have to take something out of the fact that you took a correct stand against a false favorite, and had absolutely tremendous value at 9-2. Sometimes you can figure everything right and still get beat; but if you can consistently identify live horses at inflated odds such as in this case, you'll cash your share of tickets at fair prices to be sure.

If I was really disciplined, I'd only bet this kind of race, when you can throw out the favorite with confidence.

It looked like Karamanos had to check just a bit around the turn, and he looked to be in trouble when behind two with one outside of him turning for home. But he calmly waited, got the three path, and barely got the nod over his game opponent. And for the second week in a row, it was the "other Pletcher" getting a big stakes win.

It was a rough betting day for yours truly on Saturday, as the Head Chef and I bid farewell to Belmont. I'd made three picks here in the blog; one of them, Arm Candy, was scratched, from the grass stakes at Del Mar. Greater Fool was a disappointment in the third at Belmont; Timber Reserve got bet hard in his first off a layoff for Kimmel, and was impressive drawing off from some sharp horses in his first race since November. I mentioned him for second, but didn't turn that into any profit.

And then there was Heatseeker, sent off at odds of 8-1 in the San Diego Handicap. Here was another race in which I had correctly identified the favorite as one to bet fact, the top two favorites in this case; Arson Squad was somewhat dead on the board 7-2. Buzzards Bay looked gorgeous on the track, but not so on the tote, at odds of 3-2, ugh. Heatseeker turned for home with the lead, but the blinkers that Bobby Frankel added did not prevent him from once again losing focus and turning his head out towards the stands. However, what really beat him was the trip; wide on both turns, he covered by far the most distance in the race according to Trakus - some 53 feet more than the winning Sun Boat and 31 feet further than runner-up Awesome Gem. Those were the two I keyed in the exacta, as I came to like Sun Boat, who I didn't mention in my picks. As they were loading into the gate, I thought to myself, 'Gee, I should have boxed those two in the exacta as a saver....' Oops.

Anyway, I'm going to continue to follow Heatseeker. He's lightly raced and only four, and there seems to be a lot of talent there if Frankel can straighten him out. By Giant's Causeway, he's out of a half-sister to the Grade 1 winner, and ill-fated Spanish Fern. A lot of grassy stakes winners on this one's distaff side, including Geraldine's Store, a popular NY turf mare in the 80's for the late P.G. Johnson who won several stakes, including the Diana.

Ron Ellis said afterwards that Buzzards Bay doesn't like the synthetic track: "Some horses can handle this (Polytrack) and some aren't. He just didn't like the track." [North County Times] But really, he didn't seem to be crazy about the Cushion Track either, despite his win in the Californian.

As for Sun Boat, you have to wonder if trainer Mike Mitchell really thought he had the goods after he claimed him for 50K on April 12, since he promptly ran him back for just 40K a month afterwards! But since then, he's run second in the Californian, and now is a Grade 2 winner. Was it the change in barn? Or is he just a synthetic track lover? Sun Boat is by Machiavellian, out of the Grade 1 winner One So Wonderful.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Saturday Races

- Ron Ellis said that Buzzards Bay will go straight to the lead in the San Diego Handicap. This five-year old son of Marco Bay looked as if he could be a factor in the handicap division after two dominant stakes scores in the spring of 2006. But since those wins, he's raced only three times, with a 10 1/2 month gap after his 4th in the Stephen Foster as the 7-5 choice. I wasn't thrilled with his win in the Californian; he had a picture perfect trip and a slow last quarter mile to close into when nosing out the improving Sun Boat (also in this race). Even Ellis said, "I thought he should have been more impressive than that." [DRF]

He's back as the 2-1 morning line favorite after missing the Gold Cup with stifle problems. So let's try and beat him.

I'm actually surprised that Arson Squad isn't the morning line favorite. He certainly seems to be going in the right direction. However, he's never started on synthetic tracks (he's worked out twice at Del Mar). He also comes off a 5 1/2 month layoff, the longest break in his career. I think he'll probably vie for let's try and beat him too.

I'm going to try for a price with Heatseeker (10-1), from the hot barn of Bobby Frankel, who has had three winners from five starters thus far. Heatseeker was third, less than three lengths behind George Washington in the National Stakes in 2005. He makes his U.S. stakes debut here after crossing the wire second in allowance company, twice on grass and once on Cushion Track. In his last two, the last of which he was put up via a DQ unrelated to his journey, Joe Talamo has had trouble keeping him focused in the stretch - you can see him turning his head towards the stands both times. So Frankel adds blinkers here, and that's a 26% winning move for the barn over the last two years. I think this lightly raced four-year old son of Giant's Causeway has an upset chance here if he keeps his mind on the race.

Awesome Gem has been sharp in two races on the Cushion Track after a brief layoff. He showed class with a win in the G2 San Fernando earlier this year. Trainer Craig Dollase, also off to a good start at two for three, told the Form of the horse's last start, an optional claimer, "He had a little bit left in the tank." Indeed, he appears to have been pointing to this race and I think he'll go well.

The Osunitas Handicap is the other stakes on the Del Mar card, and this one goes on the grass. Let's go to the outside post for Arm Candy. She was a quite decent 6th in the Cash Call last out; before that was a very close third in a restricted stakes behind Somthingaboutlaura, winner of the G2 A Gleam in her next start, and the Grade 1 winnner Dancing Edie. Victor Espinoza is back on board, and he's won at a 40% rate (10 for 25) for trainer B.D.A. Cecil.

Frankel is in this race too, with morning line favorite Double Trouble. She beat four others in this field in an allowance race in her last, and did so with style, waiting patiently in last place to the stretch, waiting for room and weaving her way through for a win that looks easier on tape than in the pp lines. Fleetheart is an interesting entry; undefeated in four tries, two each on dirt and Cush, she tries the grass and stakes company for the first time. By Northern Afleet, she has four siblings with turf wins, including stakes winner Guardianofthegate.

- The Coaching Club American Oaks comes up as an interesting race in the absence of Rags to Riches, having attracted Darley's Folk, who ran her way into the UAE Derby with two dominant wins against the girls in Dubai. She'll face Pletcher's Octave, off her breakthrough in the Mother Goose following five straight seconds; as well as West Point's Lear's Princess, unbeaten in three races albeit on Keeneland Poly and turf. I plan to just watch and enjoy this race; good luck if you try to figure it out.

I like the third at Belmont on a card dominated by state-breds and claimers as everyone gets set for the Spa. Greater Fool needs a better start; he's had early mishaps in each of his last three races after getting good support at the tote. He put in a nice wide run for third at six furlongs last time in a race which has produced two next-out winners (2nd and 4th place finishers), and the extra distance would appear to help. Richard Violette, having a nice July at 21-6-2-5 at Belmont, turns to Johnny V, who doesn't often ride for the barn, but is two for three doing so at this meeting.

Timber Reserve makes his first start since fading to 4th behind Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Remsen. Prior to that, he beat a talented maiden field at Churchill which produced three subsequent winners and three seconds too. John Kimmel has had a couple of seconds with long layoff horses at this meet, and this $400,000 son of Forest Camp shows two fine five furlong works in preparation. Parading is the probable favorite for Shug; he whistled by four last month in his first race since last August. He beat, however, an extremely weak maiden field.

Good luck and have a great day; man, it's gorgeous here in New York. Hope you're having nice weather too.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Last Dance for Bidders

- Governor Spitzer, flush from an agreement with legislative leaders on what is at least some partial reform on the lax campaign finance laws in the state (he negotiated with aides to Bruno rather than the Senator himself), announced today that he will make his long-awaited selection of the next franchise holder (or holders) on September 4. He also requested that each of the four bidders submit new proposals "to reflect its current structure and financing or to confirm that there have been no material changes since the last submission." Since the last proposals, Capital Play has taken on Mohegan Sun, Empire has lost the backing of the NYTHA, and Excelsior has added real estate developer Steve Roth. He also invited bidders to submit new ideas, take on new partners or partner amongst themselves, and express any interest in running racing or slots alone.

Unless there are any surprises (i.e., the four team up as a single entity - NYRA runs racing, Excelsior runs the racino, Capital Play conducts Ladies Nights, and Empire takes out the garbage), I personally believe that the state is merely looking to formalize any changes in writing, and I don't really expect Spitzer to deviate from whatever he has in mind now; which is, reportedly, a combination of NYRA and Excelsior. NYRA's land claim, which state lawyers take seriously according to Tom Precious' report on, is not going away; so this option would allow the matter to be settled without a court battle (assuming an agreement on the land is part of the deal), and also allow Spitzer to take credit for personally righting the NYRA ship with his threatened prosecution as attorney general. Capital Play is an intriguing choice, but at this point I'd be rather shocked if Spitzer awards them the deal given their foreign roots; and in fact, I think they've been bucking long odds from the very beginning.

As for Empire, Jeff Perlee told Thoroughbred Times: “We appreciate the Governor’s statement and share his wishes to conclude this process and bring needed change to New York’s racing industry.” In my opinion, if anyone had actually read the Inspector General's scathing assessment of Empire, its shady beginnings, and its proposed giveaways to Magna/Churchill (none of which have been refuted publicly), they'd have been thrown out on their ears long before this point. Reading Perlee speak in this manner is like hearing Michael Vick promote himself for SI's Sportsperson of the Year. With the withdrawal of the NYTHA's support (a small detail which has not yet been noted on Empire's website!), they bring nothing to the table. They have zero shot (or at least they should), and Spitzer would do them the favor by saving them from spending the money to even bother writing another proposal. They may need it for the $500,000 that they may be obligated to repurchase Magna and Churchill's shares with.

- Here's some fantastic news for all thoroughbred racing fans. The Thoroughbred Daily News, the self-anointed "Wall Street Journal for the Thoroughbred industry worldwide," is changing their business model from subscription-based to advertising-based as of August 1. So everyone will be able to partake of the invaluable information they provide on a daily basis - with emphasis on international racing, pedigree and auctions that we just don't get elsewhere. Actually, I'm a little upset because as a subscriber (it came free with a subscription to Bloodhorse), it made me feel smarter than those who didn't get it. Now, everyone can and we'll all be better informed for it.

- Thanks to Jessica for steering us to Bob and Ike's Picks, where we learn that the winning Pick Six ticket was a paper one cashed by an 80 year old man! Nice picking there, guy!! (And as Kevin said, Whew!)

Suspicious Pick Six

- Brad Free, writing in the Daily Racing Form's DRF Plus section, is rather suspicious of yesterday's Pick Six at Del Mar. Despite winning horses at odds of 65-1, 8-1, and 14-1 amongst the first four legs and a 9-2 winner of the fifth leg, there were still two live combinations, with the two favorites, in the 8th and final race of the day. At that point, Free observes, the mythical payout on a $2 parlay far exceeded the $198,000 in the pool. When 9-5 Mix swept past the final race field, one lucky winner collected the payout of $110,000 (what's the takeout on this bet?? Sounds like more than 4%, that's for sure!)

Just how "lucky" was this winner?

According to the Del Mar publicity department, the lone winning ticket was a $16 combination ticket that “singled” the first four winners, then used four obvious contenders in race 7 and the two favorites in race 8.

Does anyone play the pick six that way? Does anyone single the first four legs including three longshot winners, then “spread” the final two legs using only logical contenders?

Apparently, someone does. According to Del Mar publicity, the lone pick six ticket was purchased at nearby Viejas Casino.

Sure seems like there could be more to this story. [DRF]
Quite a handicapper there to be able to single horses that paid $133 and $31, eh? Hmmm....sounds familiar, don't it?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Add a Pinch 800 Tons of Jelly Cable And Stir

- A night after Todd Schrupp should have been getting the information from Martin Collins and Del Mar executives, Gary Stevens filled him and the TVG viewing audience in on jelly cable, the ingredient missing from the Del Mar Polytrack.

Stevens added that the material is not included at Woodbine. However, as of this week, that's no longer the case. Approximately 800 tons of jelly cable was added to the surface [DRF], with around 200 more to come. (Jen Morrison, on her Thorough-blog, notes that the surface was a bit slower on Wednesday in heavy rain.) Last spring, CEO David Wilmot said:

"What's becoming clear is that jelly cable is critical to holding the surface together during the colder weather, preventing separation and moderating the effects of weather change."
Of course, there is no cold weather at Del Mar during the summer, or at least not like in Canada. But isn't it a concern that Turfway, another troubled Poly surface, lacks the jelly cable too?

And I just want to reinforce here that I'm all for the synthetic surface experiment. However, I'm just relating what is going on, and not all of that is presently good. It's still early in the game, and I think that the problems have to be given time to be worked out.

During the TVG telecast, I saw a two-year old pace from the Meadowlands in which favored Bono Blue Chip was 1-9, despite it being his first career pari-mutuel race! As you may know, harness horses compete in non-betting qualifying races as a warm-up before a debut or a return from a layoff, and sometimes as required by the judges due to excessive breaks. I didn't see the pp lines, but I'm sure he won his 'Q's impressively. Now I can't conceive betting virtually any horse at 1-9. But a two-year old harness horse making his debut? Oh man! So Bono Blue Chip is sitting 5th down the backstretch with John Campbell, and suddenly shows why he was 1-9 with a powerful brush to the lead. Then he showed why you don't bet harness horses at 1-9; he went offstride on the turn. But he only dropped back to second before recovering, promptly regained the lead and turned for home. Man, that's a long stretch for the chalk bettors. He just couldn't quite put the '7' horse away while continuing wide, and then mercifully put his backers out of their misery by breaking again, finishing second and being DQ's out of the money. But I'm sure that all the bettors had fun.

Notes - July 19

- Haskin wrote just yesterday that Any Given Saturday is likely for the Jim Dandy. But Pletcher told the Form that the horse is going to the Haskell. He and Any Given Saturday's owners, the WinStar Farm, chose the Haskell because it's a Grade 1 and its $1 million purse is double that of the Jim Dandy. The Haskell is a week after the Jim Dandy and just three weeks before the Travers, generally too short of a gap in Toddville to make both races.

So it looks like Curlin, Hard Spun, and Any Given Saturday at Monmouth; and Street Sense in the Jim Dandy, where he could face Tiz Wonderful and Nobiz Like Shobiz. The Derby champ blazed five furlongs in a Hard Spun-like 57 2/5 seconds at Churchill this morning; getting the last quarter in 22 3/5. Assistant trainer Ian Wilkes, speaking of the vacationing Carl Nafzger, said: “When I talk to him I’ll tell him the horse worked in 1:04.”

- Rail Link, the winner of last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, will be retired to stud with a tendon injury; that is according to the UK's Independent.

Bettors in the UK have apparently decided that Authorized will not run in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, as they have now made Dylan Thomas the betting choice, while the English Derby winner has drifted up from 7-4 to 5-2.

"If money talks," said Totesport's Damian Walker, "Then we won't be seeing the Derby winner at Ascot. He's friendless."
A decision is likely to be made today as to whether Authorized will take his chance. The racing career of the Montjeu colt is now under the control of Sheikh Mohammed's Darley operation, which bought him as a stallion prospect after the Derby. "He's fine, and I'd like to run him," said trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam yesterday, "but I'm waiting to hear." [Independent UK]

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

TVG Lobs Polytrack Softballs

- I was quite alarmed by this article on Polytrack from the LA Times that reader Cookie Jill sent along. It paints a not-so-pretty picture, noting the severe problems encountered at Turfway, where there was said to be 14 fatalities this year, and at Woodbine, where CEO David Wilmot called the surface "broken." Martin Collins, the British developer of the surface, is quoted as saying:

"We are on a learning curve here....The waxes alter in hot and cold temperatures. It swells in the hot and tightens in the cold…. We never had to deal with [such variables] in England. It's a very difficult job." [LA Times]
But then, I saw Collins and racing secretary Tom Robbins on TVG's Racing Roundtable, and suddenly, as if by magic, everything was mostly fine. Or so they would have us believe. Just after I got through praising TVG in my last post, they presented this toothless interview - bordering on infomercial - that skirted past and glossed over the serious issues raised in the article. In this softball forum, Collins never raised the concerns about Polytrack in the varying climes of North America that he did in print. When asked by Todd Schrupp why a track should pick Polytrack over its competitors, he responded: "If you want a Rolls-Royce, get a Rolls-Royce." A very curious choice of words, because in the LA Times piece, Wilmot said that "we paid for a Cadillac and got a Chevrolet."

Schrupp didn't press Collins when he basically gave a one-word "yes" response to his asking if the Del Mar surface was different from the others. In fact, according to the Times piece, the difference could be significant. Environmental regulations at the seaside track prohibit the inclusion of a substance called "jelly cable" due to concerns about copper contamination.
The substance is a waste product imported from China — chopped-up, lubricant-coated plastic previously used to insulate stripped copper wire. It was used in Polytrack turf installed at Chicago's Arlington Park and at Keeneland Race Course in Kentucky, where officials call the racing surface "outstanding."
Without the jelly cable, Del Mar's new surface reportedly became "loose" and "soupy" in the warmer afternoon hours, forcing eleventh-hour repairs.

Track officials, exercising further caution in advance of a 43-day meet, informed owners and trainers that they would stable only 2,200 horses during the race meet this year, a reduction of about 200 horses.
But Robbins didn't mention the reduction of the horse population, and instead spoke about how well the track has handled all the traffic. Both he and track president Craig Fravel referred to "minor glitches," whereas the Times piece talks of costly repairs that have already taken place. Robbins did explain a problem that occurred on Monday, when some trainers canceled workouts due to track being too "tight," but it was more in the context of showing the track's responsiveness to horsemens' concerns.

Ironically and tragically, there was a fatal breakdown on opening day; but it occurred on the grass course when Mayor Bozarth had to be put down after the last division of the Oceanside. But the Polytrack seemed to receive positive reviews, though it was most definitely slow. I'd mentioned the slow fractions in the baby race; but as Walter pointed out, it wasn't a case of the riders trying to slow things down. The track is just s-l-o-w, at least at this point. Richard Migliore told the Form:
"It's a very tiring surface....They're gripping it, but it's a lot different from anything they've ever been on. It's going to take some time for some of them to get used to it."

As an aside to handicappers, Migliore added, "You're going to want a horse that makes one run. You don't want a horse that's going to be fighting you."
- Discreet Cat is back on the track! Godolphin Guy Rick Mettee told the Form: "He's jogging sound and we're real happy with him....He'll probably start galloping by the time we get up to Saratoga." But no target return date or race has been announced. Seems a long road to the Classic, even if we really knew that he could get a mile and a quarter.