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Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I watched a fair amount of TVG this past weekend, especially on Sunday when we were huddled inside from Irene. I myself didn't notice any of the awful ads for their Fandicapping show that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Ken Rudulph, who seemed uncomfortable at best, and downright surly at worst, in that assignment, seemed quite happy to be back in the studio by the side of Frank Lyons, even if it sometimes appears as if Lyons is doing his best to tolerate him. So maybe the suits at TVG had second thoughts. (Or maybe I was just lucky enough to walk away from the set at the right times.)

I know Rudulph takes a lot of flak from posters in forums and on this blog...and sometimes from this blogger too. One thing I will say on his behalf though is that I think he can serve a useful role as the 'everyman' presence on the broadcast. In fact, I think the network should have him fully embrace that role and avoid any futile attempts to pass himself off as an expert on the level of his colleagues. After all, horse racing is a game that can be played on many different levels. That's one of the beauties of the sport. Not everyone is interested in the minutiae between and beneath the lines in the Form. And just because one might take it less seriously and take a more simplistic approach doesn't mean that they can't enjoy success and derive as much pleasure from the endeavor as us hardcore fanatics. Nor does it make them customers that deserve to be alienated or condescended to. So, a guy like Rudulph can provide some welcome relief for those who might be put off by the smug self-satisfaction of guys like Lyons, Carruthers, and even a guy like Paul Lo Duca who only fancies himself as knowing everything there is to know. That stuff can get really tiring too, even to an 'expert' like me.

By the way, I do adore Christina Olivares as you may know. However, when it comes to hats, she ain't no Jan Rushton, that's for sure.

- One quick mention for today's Saratoga card - in the 7th, Michael Matz sends out first-time starter Le Grand Artiste (12-1). This barn has four winners on the meet from only 15 starters....and two of those (winners at 7-1 and 27-1) are, like this one, two-year olds making their debut (from five started). This colt is by Grand Slam out of Theatrical mare, and he's a half-brother to the graded turf winner Kingship. As such, and given his rail post position, surely possible that Matz is looking down the road with this one. But seems worth pointing out in a race in which Mr. Style (6-5) figures to be a big favorite for the Toddster off a big Beyer earned in his debut, in which he sucked along for second in a track record breaking performance by the winner J C's Pride. Best of luck and have a great day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Shorter is Better

- Made it through the storm without much trouble here in Queens. Of course, that's not the case in places like Greene County in upstate NY, in Vermont, and a host of other places. The death toll from Irene is now up to at least 40; so much for it being overhyped. Hope everyone out there is OK.

Shouldn't be a surprise these days that, between the two Grade 1 races for three-year olds at Saratoga on Saturday, the seven furlong race far outshone the one at a mile and a quarter. The Travers was the latest demonstration that today's young thoroughbreds are by and large simply not bred to handle the so-called 'classic' distances of ten furlongs and, occasionally, beyond. I'm still not a big Stay Thirsty ($6.80) fan. Think his recent prowess is due in large part to the weakness of his opponents. But he did get the job done again. And I must concede that it was a more eventful trip that one might deduce from the past performance line. He left from the nine hole along with Shackleford right at his outside flank, vied, though in a non-combative way, with that one for the lead around the turn, then prodded the Preakness winner along for a bit until Velazquez retreated with his mount to third. Then he launched another move into the far turn, put away Shackleford easily, and found himself in the lead turning for home.

Stay Thirsty had done a lot to that point, and was quite visibly ready to be taken as he came home with much urgency in a sluggish 26.29 seconds. However, there was nobody up to the task in this Grade 1 field; a wobbly Rattlesnake Bridge was the only who offered a believable threat. A Beyer of just 101, for ten furlongs in 2:03.03.

On the other hand, the King's Bishop was a scintillating race decided barely a split second before the wire, easily amongst the most exciting horse races of the year thus far, especially given the storyline and significance. Between all of the commotion of the last second upset result and Mike Repole's post-race babbling as to how many races Uncle Mo has left, I think perhaps it's been overlooked just how good Uncle Mo was. (In fact, Repole managed to make himself virtually the entire story for Joe Drape in the Times.) For one thing, Uncle Mo rated quite kindly for Johnny V, a good four lengths off the lead early. I know that sometimes you'll see a horse who usually leads at a route run differently in a sprint; and nobody expected Uncle Mo to run a 45 half. Nonetheless, it was a new experience which should serve him well in his 0, 2, or 5 races to come. He'd surely never had to circle around three leaders before, but looked like a pro doing so despite being easily out in the five path turning for home. He also ran a little extra ground moving over to the rail. Yet, in his first race since what we're told was a serious liver disease, he dug in for a final furlong in 12.39 seconds, earning a Beyer of 106. Didn't do too bad in the 'looking the other horse in the eye' category either. Should have been enough to win.

But Caleb's Posse ($13.80) was a shade better on this day. After he won the Amsterdam, I wrote that it was "a clinic on the concept of races falling apart, as Caleb's Posse was the only one running after the rest of the field stopped in the last furlong." I documented how he won easily despite slowing down markedly, and spoke brashly of betting against him in his next race (especially if he ran out of town as a big favorite), expressing skepticism at his 105 Beyer. Wrong...again. And the King's Bishop surely didn't fall apart. As noted in the race chart, Caleb's Posse was asked from the start. He had to run a 22.44 2nd quarter to stay in contact, ran 23.34 while swinging even a path wider than Uncle Mo, and closed resolutely in a solid 11.94. Heard a fair amount of speculation as to whose race was better, The Factor (104 Beyer for the Pat O'Brien) or Uncle Mo; but I thought Caleb's Posse was the best three-year old of the day. Doesn't mean he will be next time, but this time he was, in my opinion.

- A reader poses the question: Can Uncle Mo win the 3yo championship without winning a Grade 1 if he runs in and wins the Pennsylvania Derby, and then loses narrowly and valiantly to an older horse in the Breeders Cup Classic?

- Wanted to mention a show from last week...St Vincent (Annie Clark) was scheduled to play on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was very excited to be able to score tickets for that, said to be the first concert in that spectacular setting overlooking the park. So it was disappointing when it became apparent that it was going to rain. But then I was intrigued at the news that the show would be moved to the Temple of Dendur. Very ancient and spiritual sounding. Indeed, it was certainly unique for a rock show to take place in full view of a 2000+ old sphinx (who seemed to be quite enjoying himself), and it made for quite a memorable night. A few more photos below, and a link here to some that are actually good, as well as to the latest video from St. Vincent's upcoming Strange Mercies album.

(Not Bowery Ballroom.)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Here Comes Irene on the Far Outside...

It's no joke, of course. Be safe, everyone.

Was hoping to get to handicapping today's card last night, but the Head Chef's dear friend Ilene came over, and that was the end of that! As for this morning and today, we'll be making necessary preparations for the storm. This baby is basically headed straight for us, give or take 25 miles or so. The latest from the National Hurricane Center tells of a weakened Irene that has "lost some organization this morning." That's good, but it's still a hurricane, and we have stuff in the backyard to secure, and things to move off the basement floor. We're not in one of the flooding zones subject to evacuation, but some seepage into the basement seems quite likely based on past experience.

Quickly, on the Travers, not crazy about it as a betting race, but Coil (3-1) seems the most likely winner in my opinion. Yeah, I know people are pointing out that the track at Monmouth on Haskell day featured a dead rail and favored closers, and even this track bias skeptic would have to say that that view may be supported by the race charts. But I think that may be too much information in this case. In his first race on dirt, and with a poor start leaving him far behind his usual stalking position, this son of the great Point Given nonetheless conceded ample ground loss on the final turn and blew by, and then held off, a game Shackleford (9-2), a way-classy and still improving colt who has really earned my respect, even if I think today's distance is beyond is best capabilities. Coil had some reported ups and downs in his training for the Travers, but his half mile blowout on Tuesday should dispel any doubts about his fitness. Don't see any reason why he shouldn't go on for the extra furlong today (despite a curiously low Tomlinson for the distance.....his dosage index is 1.18, and his pedigree is solid). I think he's a bargain if he's paying a penny more than Stay Thirsty (5-2), who benefited from an ideal trip against a soft Jim Dandy field.

Ruler on Ice (6-1) puts in a solid effort every time. But if you throw out his effort in the Belmont, as I'm wont to do with winners of that race (sometimes at my own peril) at a freak distance that virtually none of today's thoroughbreds are bred to run (and especially with the sloppy conditions in this year's race), he's never run higher than a 92 Beyer. He's said to have closed on a dead rail in the Haskell, but I just don't believe he's fast or good enough for the Haskell top two. JW Blue (20-1) has a nice pattern of improvement against weaker out-of-town; no real surprise if he picks up a piece here. Raison d'Etat (10-1) and Malibu Glow (20-1) are both surely eligible for improvement.

Time to get to work here. Planning to get to the races at some point later before the dish blows off; check out my Twitter feed if you're so inclined. Again, be safe!!!! Good luck and have a great day.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Del Mar Thursday

- Chance of storms up at the Spa on Thursday, and a solid line of bright colors headed east on the weather radar. So with five turf races plus a steeplechase on the nine race card, I'm gonna pass on handicapping the card and take a look at Del Mar instead. Gotta start to warm up for it anyway.

In the 4th, Wake Me Now (8-1) returns to the turf and drops in class for trainer James Lloyd. This daughter of the British sire Almutawakel was a different mare when she returned in earnest after a couple of stuttersteps for her five-year old campaign in the spring, with two wins and two good thirds. That includes a win at the 50K level in which she moved four wide on the turn while confidently handled by jockey David Flores, and unleashed a powerful late run to get up over Starjumpin Marnie, who had won an overnight stakes earlier in the year. Her two efforts since then that look disappointing at first glance. However, she faced far better two back in an allowance race which produced two subsequent winners. And, if I didn't know better, I might think she was merely out for the exercise last out on Polytrack, when she lagged far behind the field before mounting a no-chance late rally to within 4 1/4 of the winner.

Now, Wake Me Now returns to her favored surface and drops to 32K with what appears to be a definite purpose, as Flores sticks around. Might not be the best pace scenario on paper for her late run, but I think she's simply better than these. Sometimes pays to not think too much about how the race will be run if you're getting a good price on what you consider to be the class of the field. Hameildaeme (4-1), Gumption (3-1), and El Nadia (9-2) ran 1-2-3 in that order at this level in July. The first two had nice trips up the inside, and El Nadia, who had led all the way, battled back gamely and lost by less than a length. Back up to this level after stalking and closing to beat cheaper (and claimed by Doug O'Neill, she can use her speed to her advantage here. Initial Impression (6-1) drops to a more competitive level. Best of luck and have a great day.

- Finally a trip to the winner's circle for Tom Bush with a front-running win in the 9th at Saratoga with Grace and Courage ($9.10). Dracup, who I also mentioned in the last post, completed the exacta, which again was a pleasant surprise at $53.50 with the second and third choices in that order.

Tale of Indian Tale

Joe Drape checks in on the Indian Tale situation in the Times today. Funny that this filly, who I did point out after she was entered for a tag, under curious circumstances, and then claimed by Dutrow, has made it to the Paper of Record with her very own article!

If you don't know the story, in brief, Dutrow ran her back in short order three times, so that she had raced four times in 12 days. She was eased and walked off after the last one, and is now on the steward's list, requiring her to pass muster with the stewards via a timed workout before she can race again. And of course, everyone is all up in arms about it, especially considering Dutrow's record - "a medication violation for every 343 starts by his horses — the highest among elite trainers," as reported by Drape.

For his part, Dutrow maintains that the filly got bumped early, simply didn't like the turf, and “the rider took care of her real good.”

“She was in very good shape before and she still is....“and if you went back and saw her now, you’d see she is fine." [Edited and condensed quote, blogger's license]
I have no doubt that she is fine. She surely showed no sign of wear in her prior two starts for Dutrow, a win and a second, following the close second in her last race for Martin; and the turf excuse is reasonable. And I actually rather like to see a trainer challenge the now-conventional wisdom that horses need more time than ever to recover between their races. However, for this particular trainer, at this particular time, as his license, and his very livelihood, are under review by the State Racing and Wagering Board, to implement such an unusual regimen for one of his horses is just beyond the realm of stupidity; and irresponsible to the clients who still have faith in him. Proper or not, why would he possibly do anything to call attention to himself at this time? Just boggles the mind.

- Speaking of Drape, finally got the chance to read his piece on Pletcher, the man, the family man, the businessman, the myth, the Toddster, and here's the link. You should definitely check it out if you haven't already, just a fantastic read.

- Today's Saratoga card may not be the highest quality program, but, once again, a great betting card....particularly the races one might label as 'cheap.' (Though what's cheap really about low-priced claiming horses running for $25,000 purses?) Didn't come up with any selections for the blog, but it wasn't for lack of trying. (Don't know how guys like Serling keep it up every day.) Will mention the two Tom Bush horses, since we've been following the hard-luck barn here. In the 6th, Gone At Once (12-1) drops in class after showing speed in her first race with blinkers. Would feel better about her chances if the speedball Dean Avenue wasn't in the race. In the 9th, Grace and Courage (7-2) also drops in class, and stretches out; had a nice effort at a mile and a sixteenth on the main course last year. Looks tough here, but don't think we'll see odds as high as 7-2. Also giving a look to Dracup (6-1), dropping in class after a no-shot try against better earlier in the meet. No pace for her closing style that time, and not sure if they'll be one here. Best of luck and have a great day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ho Hum, Another Weekend at the Spa...

Back again from Saratoga, again the usual harrowing drive through storms on Sunday night. Seems to always work out that way. But regardless, we again had the usual great time, and did virtually the same things we did last time - the hike and swim at Lake Moreau, the bbq dinner in Saratoga State Park (where we had to convince a skeptical Saratoga cop that our intentions were purely culinary, and not to avoid the $10 parking fee for the Godsmack concert at SPAC. "Do we look like we're going to a Godsmack concert?" I asked, knowing full well that I'd seen Fucked Up just a few weeks prior. "Look at these people," he replied, pointing at a group walking by. "Do they look like they're going to a Godsmack concert?" Actually, I figured from the fully tattooed necks that they probably were. But I just went along and he let us in); the farmer's market, the dinner out (at Limoncello's, and we both liked it quite a bit), and a pre-rain Sunday morning walk around the art district, where we scored the same living quarters as we did a couple of weeks ago. And, oh yeah, the track.

Those of you who were following my Twitter feed on Saturday know that I had an eventful day. Not particularly profitable (though not unprofitable either), but a fair amount of frustration, both bad luck, a bad decision, and an unfortunate decision that didn't work out. I was alive in the early double after Green Monster ($8.20) held off 10-1 Ground Force, who I didn't use. Nor did I use third-place Cribnote, a good effort in his first race in almost two years. Used three in that race to get to Unbridled Command in the second.

That two-year old son of Master Command was making his turf debut in his second start, for trainer Tom Bush. As you know if you've been following, I've been following the trainer, who's been live with virtually every starter he's sent to the post, but has suffered a string of tough losses, and at very good prices. That was really about it as far as the reasoning went; I just bet the barn. The horse didn't show much in his debut at 37-1; and had OK though not spectacular breeding for the grass. Unbridled Command was well-placed the whole way, opened up some lengths in the stretch, and it was "where's the wire?" time. Unfortunately, it was a couple of strides too long....and it was a 22-1 FL shipper who beat him. Double would have paid over $100, and I had it enough times to pay for the whole weekend. It was a deflating beat.....a signature loss for the meet I fear, along the lines of Teufelsberg in the Sanford in 2006 and First Defence in the 2007 King's Bishop. Stretch always seems a bit too long for me.

After dropping a few more bucks in the next race on Gypsy Warrior, second at 14-1 for Bush, his 4th second in a row, I did bounce back with B Shanny ($14) in the 6th. This was kind of a lark. For one thing, I'd already let a horse named after a Ranger (albeit, just briefly in this case) go by without at least a token bet. He was also quite live on the board. And, despite a huge disparity between the Beyers for B Shanny (37 vs state-breds) and Grandpa Len (76 in open company), one of two others who had a race under its belt, B Shanny had a better number adding the DRF speed rating plus the track variant. I do still look at that sometimes, when I get in the mindset of "who would I have had 30 years ago," when the less detailed information seemed to work just fine. Also a good way to just get past the Beyers sometimes, when a race demands more imagination than just looking at hard figures. (And a good excuse to discard the Beyer when you just want to.) Usually, any horse with a big Beyer advantage will also have a higher DRF number, so this one seemed unusual. Used him on top with three in the exacta, was disappointed when the overbet Pletcher first-time beat out Granpa Len for second, but was pleasantly surprised at the $61 return with the third choice over a 9-5 favorite. Nice! B Shanny is by Street Cry, the first foal from Nothing But Fun, and didn't she just run a a year or so ago? Jeez.

Things fell apart in the 7th though. High priced maiden claimer might have been the best of that class I've ever seen! Couldn't decide amongst the main contenders, but noticed that Tapaway, 12-1 morning line, was taking a lot of tote action in his first off the claim for Michael Maker and the Ramseys. Even tweeted about that. Further inspection of the tote showed him getting back squarely on the nose in the win pool. Don't usually bet these to win since, almost by definition, they are overbet. Didn't even really like him on form, but played Tapaway ($14.20) on top in some triples; which did not, unfortunately, include second choice, and third place finisher, The Laurels. In retrospect, I simply missed that one in the course of making a last minute wager. Maybe on another day, would have had the exacta for $105, or the double with Fantastic Song in the 8th, who I liked at the time, but then went off because the Chad Brown first-time starter was dead on the tote. But not on Saturday. (Really need to get into the habit of reflexively considering doubles now that they're offered on every race.)

As far as Fantastic Time ($20.40) goes, I honestly don't have any regrets. He's wonderfully bred for the grass, was 5-1 morning line, picked second by Litfin (though unplaced in the Form consensus box), a debut runner for the high-percentage trainer Chad Brown, who has a reputation for winning first-out (even though I was surprised to see afterwards that he'd only won 5 of his last 57 in that category). He was simply dead on the board and I passed the race. I think I have a pretty good feel for the tote board, and it's really not too often that a horse that I dismiss for that reason wins. This time, it did. Sometimes I'll still bet a few bucks just so I don't feel stupid, but not this time.

I think that was about it....didn't bet the Alabama. Read a lot about Royal Delta and how impressive she was. And don't mean to be such a party pooper....but this was yet another case of a North American graded stakes race which was simply too long for its participants. The final quarter of this race was run in 26.08, right after one run in 23.93. So these fillies stopped cold, Royal Delta five lengths less so than the others (25.63 for the last quarter, the only one in the race under 26.34).

Sunday's rain wiped out most of my handicapping, and between that, problems getting settled after the torrential rain (and handicapping the weather incorrectly), and those short post times in order to beat the rain (and a solid Boo! for that), I didn't do much wagering, at least at Saratoga. Threw away some money in the simulcasts; but in fact, my only Saratoga bet was Wholelotofshakin in the last race - 2nd at 11-1 in his debut for, yes, Tom Bush. Unbelievable. Determined to get out for the meet on that guy; he's just gotta break through at some point, right? Had a lot of live horses at big prices that fell a bit short during both weekend visits. Don't generally bet place, but would have made some money had I done so. (Of course, the one time I did, on Sunday, Zubani ran 3rd in the 6th at Monmouth at 14-1.)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Funky Names and Alabama-Day Cards

- The Head Chef had her first winner in a long time at Saratoga yesterday when she bet first-time starter The Funky Express ($6.10) in the 7th. (She also bet 45-1 Inner Joy in the same race, giving her a net profit of $2.10.) She liked the horse in the paddock, and I guess she wasn't the only one, considering the horse was 10-1 morning line off an up-the-track effort at 17-1. Or maybe it was the slight drop in class, or the addition of blinkers that attracted all that cash. Or perhaps just the fact that the syndicate owners of Funky Munky Stable were in town.

That's at least the third winner of the meet for the stable, which is run by Richie Munk, who I know from my days as an investor in Castle Village, where he worked prior. And congratulations to him, that's a great job. He's way pissed at me though because I trashed the name of his Funky Munky Mama, who won when we were up here a couple of weeks ago. (Also maybe because I've resisted his repeated entreaties to get me to invest in his stable. I've been out of the owning game for awhile now. Just not into that at this time with two kids in college. Prefer having money to travel and stuff rather than writing checks for cash calls, silly me. And if and when I do get back into the game, it will be in a bigger way rather than just going along for a ride with a small piece and no say.) Richie sent me a scathing email after my post a couple of weeks ago. Said I have no sense of humor.

Anyway, the Head Chef wants me to apologize for criticizing the name; she doesn't like when I trash anyone on this blog. The fact is that, believe it or not, I pull a lot of punches, and really prefer not to get personal and hurt anyone's feelings, unless it's really and truly deserved. (That's why politicians are mostly exempt from that restriction.) I just think however that horse owners should have some respect for the game, and exercise a little discretion and taste in naming their horses rather than using them to promote themselves and their business interests (see Karakorum, ugh). Unless of course it's something subtle and clever like, for example, Stay Thirsty. So, while I'll apologize for opening my big mouth, and I won't do it again since Richie is a nice guy who is apparently particularly sensitive about it (talk about not having a sense of humor), I still think it's a rotten name. Good stable though (and they have harness horses as well), I wish them continued success.

- Heard people gripe about the quality of today's Alabama card, and yeah a couple of cheap claimers and likewise maiden claimers. I used to judge these cards largely on how many allowance vs claiming races there were; and by that standard, this would be a weak card for a big day. I've totally changed my attitude though, and now judge races strictly by their competitiveness and not by its class (though I still can't stomach maiden claimers.....though the one in the 7th might be one of the best I've ever seen). With some really bad races, (lack of) class and competitiveness can go hand in hand. But I've found the claimers at this meet to be eminently entertaining and betable.

[Scratched, damn it.] So, in the 4th, Raecinjasin (7-2) cuts back to seven furlongs and drops back to claimers for two-horse stable owner/trainer Brad Baker. Seemed to improve and find a suitable level after a few months off. After an OK effort for 20K three races back, son of Prime Timber just failed to last at a mile for the same tag. Though the winner of that race subsequently failed after being claimed and moved up in class, third place Quiet Power dropped to 15K and ran a close second; and 4th place Majestic Hope also dropped to 15K, and won (albeit around two turns). Coming just 17 days after a career high Beyer and a tough effort as it did, I'll excuse the last race by Raecinjasin, a wide effort in state-bred allowance company; and note that he too drops to 15K today. I think the class and distance should suit. Best of luck and have a great day.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Saratoga Bound (Part 2)

Heading back up to Saratoga on Thursday afternoon; staying in town again at the same place. Weather forecast is not great, though it's improved slightly over the last few hours, not that I'm addicted to the weather websites or anything. Should save my angst for other things; not much one can do about that, other than going to Del Mar instead.

Again, I'm on Twitter now, though I slightly altered my screen name and you can now find me @here at @alanLATG. There you can follow me, if you have an account, or you can just read some of the 21 tweets I've done thus far, a couple of them pretty witty if I say so myself (including this one, which actually got re-tweeted), others just incoherent responses to other tweets that you can't see, which really makes no sense to me.

So now I can provide real-time updates from the track, though I'd like to think that I'll be focusing on the races instead. Besides, you think I'm going to actually share valuable information with the horseplayers with whom I'm competing?

Oh, OK, I'll tell you. Not that it's likely going to help. And I'll also probably post some photos of nature and shit when we're not at the races.

Not too much noteworthy as far as Wednesday's races go. The ten race card featured four maiden claimers amongst six races for non-winners over all; plus two for winners that were taken off the grass.

In the second, Make Note ($9.80) won the only way a plodder like he could ever win - when three horses race out to opening quarters of 22.72 and 22.57 in a seven furlong conditioned claiming race. Bye bye leaders, hello Make Note, winning for 25K two races after trainer Patrick Quick claimed him for 10. He's unlikely to win again any time soon.

2yo first-time starter Voodoo Daddy earned a 90 Beyer in romping for Asmussen in the 4th. And watch out; that was the 5th winner from the last six starters from this barn, now hitting an even .300 (9 for 30) on the meet.

Reserved Quality ($6.20) won the 5th in his debut, and was claimed for 60K by Dutrow from Mike Hushion. Two-year old son of Elusive Quality was purchased for 75K as a weanling, and surely the combined purse/claim proceeds of nearly $80,000 didn't come close to covering the total cost incurred. But you have to think that the connections knew what they were doing, well aware that there's plenty of money around and that they surely risked losing him here. Some interesting pedigree here - Reserved Quality is out of a Bet Big (Distinctive) half-sister to Holy Bull.

Chardsey ($4) shied from a right-handed whip near the three-sixteenths pole, shied from a left-handed whip around the eighth pole after rallying wide from far back, and got up with a dramatic late surge. Durkin seemed skeptical as he noted his position down the backstretch. He was also skeptical of the half time posted as 49.65 after an opening quarter of 23.03. But those are the times on the chart. The yielding course must have been a slow one, as they never really picked it up much from there. Ha, he shied from the left, and shied from the right - sounds like John Boehner.

DQ in the 10th, as Purplegreenandgold drifted out late into Pure Home Brew ($7.10), second winner of the meet for Dallas Stewart. Even though I think the DQ was warranted, I also thought it was still tough luck for Purplegreenandgold and trainer Roy Lerman. He was carried out into the eventual winner during the stretch run by Solid d'Oro, which eventually forced jockey Irad Ortiz Jr to switch to a left-handed whip once Solid d'Oro backed off. That surely appeared to contribute to the decisive bumping at the end. If any jockey is at fault for the incident, it was David Cohen, who continued to pummel Solid d'Oro with a left-handed whip even after his horse started to herd the DQ'd horse with the long name to the outside.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Watched some TVG late Sunday afternoon, and they ran an ad for their Fandicapping show, during which Ken Rudulph interacts with fans at Del Mar. In the spot, he approaches a group of women and goes: "I just want to know one thing. Are you ready to show us your tix?"

Oh, man. Seriously? That is really weak. This is what it's come down to, idiotic sexist frat-boy humor? Once wasn't even enough; the spot included a second similar and equally unfunny encounter (with another group of women, of course). I (and even the Head Chef) had to laugh though when they then cut away to the studio where some brunette bombshell (who wasn't Christina Olivares) was displaying her cleavage prominently. Yeah, we get the message.

The show itself wasn't much better. At one point, Rudulph declared that he was going to find some folks that were "young and attractive!" I'd guess that some people that he passed over may have been understandably offended. Well, at least that means he won't be getting into my face when we're out at Del Mar in a couple of weeks.

One thing about the Versus telecast that I forgot to mention in the last post: the network has a lot of hunting programs as you may know, and they ran a promotional spot that included a shot of a hunter lifting the head of a dead deer, proudly showing off his kill to the camera. Well, I guess you'd expect that a bleeding-heart liberal like myself would be offended by that. But, in any event, it just doesn't seem like a sensitive choice for a telecast of a sport as sensitive to issues of slaughter and animal cruelty as is horse racing.

- Monday at Saratoga will definitely not go down as one of the shining moments in the track's illustrious history. The heavy rain that NYRA raced to beat with accelerated post times on Sunday finally came overnight and into the day. Not a good day as it turned out to card five turf races, and a lot of scratches even from the dirt races. So, some short fields and a short crowd of 9,166.

The Saratoga Special was an ugly affair; four horses battled and blazed their way to a first quarter of 21.78; by the time they got to the third quarter, they had slowed to 26 seconds flat! Union Rags ($8.50) who was the innermost member of the quartet was the only one left still (kinda) running, and zig-zagged down the stretch to the finish, somehow earning a Beyer of 95. Another winner for trainer Michael Matz, who we mentioned yesterday. Union Rags is by Dixie Union out of a Gone West mare (with the standard inbreeding to Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector that I don't bother mentioning because it's so commonplace these days). His second dam is Terpsichorist, and there's a solid grass mare from quite some time ago that I do recall quite well (which means I must have made some money on her). She won several stakes amongst her 11 wins for trainer Woody Stephens.

Indian Tale made her third start in nine days as Dutrow continues to get his money's worth after claiming her last Sunday. Could only manage second this time, but earned $12,700 for a total of over $45,000 since she was claimed from Carlos Martin for 35K. In Step ($9) still has a ways to go to make back the $1 million that Darley paid for the daughter of Unbridled's Song as a yearling.

Versus Getting it Right; Jockey Club Too?

- I'm on Twitter, I hope you're happy. Please follow me at

- Got a chance to watch Versus' coverage from Saratoga on Saturday after missing it last week due to the minor inconvenience of being at the track. And a nice job, as you might expect, with on-air talent like Randy Moss, Donna Barton Brothers (got her name right this time....and she got a nice plug for her new book), and Jay Privman on hand. Laffit Pincay Jr. does a good job with the hosting gig, avoiding the shrill overdramatic shtick that we hear from some others in that role. Rosie Napravnik and her broken wrist did the guest commentary this week.

I really liked seeing the race preceding the Sword Dancer get the royal treatment with the fancy camera angles and expert commentary even though it was nothing but a NY-bred entry-level allowance race. I've always contended that the industry has wasted valuable time trying to promote its sport via particular horses and stakes races rather than finding ways to involve people by making them invested in the result of the races, no matter what class horses they are; it doesn't matter. And it seems as if the sport is finally realizing that, as we now see free race-picking contests such as NYRA and Equibase's Facebook game; as well as the initiative announced in Saratoga on Sunday by the Jockey Club:

The new [proposed, though unspecified, TV] series will feature advertisements and promotions of two other projects that the Jockey Club intends to launch and fund: an Internet site that will allow people to make cost-free wagers and a social-networking game on racing, Jockey Club officials said. The intent of the site and the game is to allow people to become familiar with racing and wagering at minimal or no cost, a strategy that was a recommendation of the report, citing complaints in focus groups conducted by the report’s authors that the game is too complex and intimidating.
“Putting more Thoroughbred racing on television could be a very effective way of raising awareness and improving perception of the sport,” the report said. “However, new TV content should be different from previous efforts.” The report went on to say that new national television broadcasts should be aimed at “new fan segments” such as single male sports fans, seniors who like to gamble, and adult females, and that the broadcasts should be integrated with the free-to-play web site and social game. [Daily Racing Form]
The report referred to was the one developed by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company. But, hello? I mean, I don't want to toot my own horn too much here, but I was imploring the use of such contests years ago, before I got sick of repeating myself. So maybe somebody at McKinsey read my post from almost four years ago on the Breeders Cup site (when they had better taste in hired bloggers). Or perhaps this one.

Back to Versus, it was a brisk production, with a nice piece on the sales, expert pre-race interviews by Ms. B-B and Privman with Sword Dancer connections Christophe Clement, Emma Jayne-Wilson, Bert and Diana Firestone (nice to see them at the Spa, and looking so good!) Ron Moquett (with some interesting comments on the disadvantages presented by the small stature of his Bim Bam) and Dinny Phipps, who waxed poetic about his youthful years at the Spa, and how he came to bring his grandchildren, which prompted the Head Chef to ask me if we would bring our grandchildren there someday, which prompted me to tell her to shut up.

And a thoroughly professional job afterwards covering Alan Garcia's objection against Winchester, with an excellent camera angle for the slow-mo replay. Had to laugh when Randy Moss tried to downplay the contact, saying that the winner came "kinda sorta into the path of Al Khali" even as the replay showed Winchester drifting in a full two paths and clearly knocking the complainant sideways. Comments from each of the jockeys involved were relayed to the audience - Privman noted that Garcia did not give the stewards "a very long speech on his behalf." Bert Firestone didn't look like he was that worried. Interesting point by Rosie, who said that a big horse like Al Khali is particularly affected by even the slightest interference. However, I've never known that to be a criteria in these decisions, and I think it was the right decision to leave the result unchanged. (And a great job by the producers feeding Pincay the information that Theatrical, Winchester's sire [also bred by the Firestone], won this race by disqualification.)

- Dreamingly ($10.40) held off favored Brilliant Future in Sunday's first. Four-year old daughter of Giant's Causeway is out of a Lasting Approval half-sister to the dam of the Breeders' Cup Classic Raven's Pass. Does anyone other than those who had him remember much about that race?

First-timer Welcome Dance ($57.50) won the second, on the grass, for Michael Matz, who is now not-so-quietly three for 12 on the meet - his other winners, one of them, And Why Not, also making its debut, paid 7-1 and 14-1. Two-year old filly is by Henny Hughes out of a Dynaformer mare.

The Toddster got his 22nd winner (from 78 starters) with his two-year old filly Stopshoppingmaria (5.30). Pletcher's juveniles are getting bet by rote at this point (though this one looked well-deserving on paper), and you're just not going to get any value on them at this point. Almost pays to try to beat them by rote at this point, particularly the first-time starters, just from the standpoint of value. This one romped however, and earned a Beyer of 101, ten points higher than My Miss Aurelia ($3) earned for winning the "G2" Adirondack. That filly dug in gamely to hold off Millionreasonswhy, who seemed to be going easier than the winner as they rounded the turn for home. She's two-for-two now, but may very well not be favored if she meets up with Pletcher's filly next time.

- Saratoga rocks, but if I was there all summer, I'd miss nights like Friday at the East River State Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In perfect weather under a cloudless sky, Sonic Youth performed a magnificent set that fully spanned their 30 year career, from the oldest to the newest. They were preceded by Kurt Vile (and the Violators), whose Smoke Rings For My Halo (Matador) is surely one of my favorite albums of the year; and by buzz band of the moment Wild Flag. This all-fillies band closed their set with a song called Racehorse, as seen in this video (which also features the back of my head).

Friday, August 12, 2011

Portrait of a Stretch Run

Another tough loss for trainer Tom Bush in the 2nd on Thursday, with Summer Share, who looked well on his way to victory after making a three wide move turning for home. I know I would not have liked my chances if I had Most Happy Fella ($7.40) at that point, as he looked like he was getting gobbled up as Summer Share and favored Cinder Cone ranged up alongside. But he somehow managed to fight back and hang on by a long nose, giving William Badgett his first training winner of the meet. I dunno, maybe there was still a speed bias, or an inside bias; hard to say considering there were only three dirt races on the day.

Already discussed Indian Tale ($7.20); and while I feel a little silly that she won, probably not as much so as her prior connections for letting her go for 35K on Sunday. We'll see if Dutrow enters her next in the Alabama.

Crazy stretch run in the 4th (and another excellent call by Durkin). Stormin Bud ($10.60) held on to win in a melee as wild as last night's Republican presidential debate. But the runner-up was the subject of what might be the most epic chart call of all time.

LAW ENFORCEMENT was unhurried in the early going while racing along the outside, ducked over to the rail after another had vacated the premises in the vicinity of the three-eighths pole, was given some rein and accelerated past many of those who had chosen a wider route into the stretch to reach contention, altered course outward just past the three-sixteenths pole, but had no sooner done so when her newly chosen path got shut down by the drifting embattled pair just up ahead, saw a more promising route along the rail and altered course a second tine to avail of the opportunity, wrested away from the lead as the front runners brushed and continued to make their way towards the middle of the strip, attempted to stave off the eventual winner when once more on even terms in deep stretch, got outfinished late and had to settle for the place.
Been wondering for over a year now just who this chart-caller guy is, and it turns out to be Henry James.

Two horses claimed for the 50K optional claiming price; Radiohead, last seen running a close 4th in the G3 Jaipur, was taken from IEAH (remember them?) by James Chapman (for himself); Mannington by Rudy Rodriguez.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thursday Morning Notes

Some off-track notes and a quick comment on today's third at Saratoga:

- Governor Cuomo announced, with some fanfare the other day, the opening of a new call center for NYRA's telebet center in Amherst, NY; thus, according the governor's press release, bringing up to 60 jobs back to New York and securing a $750,000 investment to the region.

"I am pleased that we were able to bring these jobs back to New York," Governor Cuomo said. "The proposal to move these jobs out of state should never have happened and I want to thank NYRA and ESD for their hard work in reaching this agreement and preserving these New York-based jobs."
Of course, it's rather disingenuous for the governor to suggest that 60 jobs were ever actually shipped out of town, since NYRA moved the full-time union tellers that had been working in their call center - approximately 30, according to the association - back to the windows. “The only workers that will be displaced are non-union extras that serve as part-time employees," NYRA's Dan Silver explained at the time, in response to Cuomo's blasting of the association for contracting with a Churchill Downs telebet unit in Oregon.

And, while I don't want to belittle the creation of 60 jobs - after all 60 new jobs is 60 new jobs - that number pales in comparison to the number of layoffs with which the governor threatened the public employee unions, while he at the same supported tax cuts for the wealthiest 3% of the state's residents. The low end estimate of the revenue from the expiring so-called "millionaire's tax" is more than twice as much as Cuomo is seeking to save on the state's work force. (The unions will soon vote on contracts that would save jobs in exchange for concessions that include no raises for three years, furloughs, and increases in healthcare contributions.) Just wanted to put this in perspective.

- Charlie Hayward told the Times Union that NYRA so far has captured just 35 percent of the lost NYC OTB business.
"Some may have leaked to New Jersey, some could have gone online, and some leaked to bookmakers," he said, adding that NYRA expects to be profitable next year.
Recall however that 35% is the same number that Hayward had said last year that NYRA needed to capture in order to make up for the closure of NYC OTB. So we can figure that NYRA is more or less in the same (unprofitable) position it would have been without the closure as we head into the golden age of VLT's. Difference is that it has built the infrastructure, with its ADW platform and Aqueduct/Belmont simulcasting facilities, and gained long sought-after regulatory advantages such as live streaming and uncoupled entries, that should allow it to make further gains as we go along. And that's not to mention the anticipated purse hikes that should allow the racing to be more competitive for betting dollars during the bleak winter months.

- You may have read about Governor Cumoo being open to the idea of non-Indian casinos being legalized in the state....but don't start making plans. Of course, it helps if the governor of the state is on board; but this is almost a non-story at this point. Casino gambling would require amending the constitution, which presently prohibits full-fledged casinos (except of course for the tribes, which operate in their own little legal netherworld). That would require legislative approval in two consecutive sessions; and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has long been cool to the idea. (Indeed, the Assembly failed to consider the idea after it was passed by the Senate last year.) And even should that happen, the question would have to put before the voters. So don't get your hopes up, cheese, just yet.

- And, as this fairly knowledgeable reader pointed out, Indian Tale, the filly who I mentioned in the prior post, is entered right back in today's third after being claimed on Sunday by Richard Dutrow. I'd mentioned her because it seemed rather odd that this daughter of Tale of the Cat, out of an AP Indy mare, who won her debut by 4 lengths at 5-2 last fall, was entered for the optional $35,000 tag in a race that she was eligible for under the NW 2 lifetime conditions. Now Dutrow enters her right back for 75K and she's listed at 5-2. She did earn a field-best last out Beyer of 80, and closed strongly against a distinct speed bias to just miss. On the other hand, the leader was tiring badly, Indian Tale figures to like the mud with her 426 Tomlinson, and the race was a weak one in which the favorite had come out of a 14K claimer. So just as I was (wrongly) skeptical of her on Sunday, I remain so today. [UPDATE: O_o ] Best of luck and have a great day.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Notes From a Saratoga Weekend

Friday -

Got there in time for the second, that $150,000 maiden claimer for two-year old fillies. I imagine that more people than usual were keeping an eye out when the horses came back after the race for those red tags signifying that a horse had been claimed, but there were none to be found. Probably a relief to anyone who may have contemplated claiming any of the filles other than, perhaps, Singlet ($14, 61 Beyer), with the field strung out behind she and pace setter Alydaria, who collapsed late from her early efforts.

In the 4th, one of those juvenile turf sprints that you gotta love, Inny Minnie (Hard Spun) got some late sneaky action on the tote and was my play on that basis (and because I eventually grew to love his sire). Nice effort for second at 6-1, tab for next time (not at 6-1). No one was catching CD shipper My Due Process ($10). The Kentucky stables got off to a slow start, but this was the first of several such winners over the weekend. First time on the grass for the winner, one of two fillies in the field with a prior start, a pretty constant theme in the juvenile racing thus far. Dale Romans' filly is by Henny Hughes out of a Crafty Prospector mare.

Now, a trip to Saratoga means greeting friends and meeting people, which is always one of the highlights of the whole experience. Of course, that means that one has to strike some kind of balance between socializing and gambling; and unless you've done all of your work in advance, the latter tends to suffer. Not that there's anything wrong with that....and not to make excuses. However, after the Head Chef and I spent some quality time with El Angelo and his better half at the Paddock Bar, we headed back to our backyard spot behind the Carousel, and were greeted there by a good friend, and fellow bourbon aficionado. He had two cups, ice, and a flask in hand, and explained that his bounty, one George T. Stagg, was a rare and exclusive brand. Failed to mention that it was 140 proof....not that that really would have mattered given the generous pour.

Some people, including my bourbon buddy, who is amongst the very best horseplayers I know, can carry on under the effects of alcohol. Given the fact that I'm pretty bad under perfect conditions, by the time he left, shortly before the 7th, my brain was as scattered as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and my focus about as clear as Mitt Romney's platform. I'd liked Sanagas, the "German horse," as I'd discussed with El Angelo, who liked him too. Not at 9-2 though, which was his price (I think) when I saw the tote. He paid $13.80, winning with the greatest of ease even as he drifted to the right in the stretch like President Obama during the debt ceiling talks. I have no problem going off a horse that wins because of price. However, given that I landed on second place finisher Center Divider, I have to think that, with a clearer mind, I would have landed on the $125 exacta, as El Angelo did. Thanks a lot, George T. Stagg. I could have afforded a single bottle if I had that one.

Well, I did have a great time though, and there's no price tag for that to be sure, especially at my favorite racetrack in the world. I don't really remember the 8th at all. I do recall staring, or should I say, squinting at the board for the 9th, another baby sprint, noticing, too late, that Sportswriter ($14.40) was taking the sneaky late money that I like to see. However, with a clearer mind, I perhaps would have remembered that Carlos Martin never wins with first time starters (more on that shortly), and passed anyway. Sportswriter is a NY-bred by Maybry's Boy out of a Point Given mare, and he's inbred to Alydar (3x5); don't know if I've ever seen that before. Nice distaff family for a NY-bred; Excellent Meeting, Doneraile Court, Early Pioneer amongst the names to be found there.

Jeez, I've written all that, and only for one day? Will try to be brief..


I hit the first race exacta for $47.40, nice way to start the day. Spent the rest of the day giving it back, but what the hell. Cheyenne Nation ($14.20) had burned his share of money of late, but sometimes a horse will find a field that he's just faster than. Wouldn't have touched him as the favorite, as he'd been three of his last four races, all losses, but 6-1, with Ramon and Chad Brown; that's value there.

In the second, Optimizer ($57) was the second longest shot on the board, for Wayne Lukas, as the babies stretched out on turf. By the grass champ English Channel, out of the same Phipps distaff family discussed here regarding Puzzling, one could do far worse if you were looking for grass breeding.

In the third, Takes the Gold (Corinthian) was the pre-race fastest horse in the world; 6-1 morning line, he opened at something like 6-5. Drifted up a bit as time went on, and then you just had to absolutely love seeing him hammered late back down to that price from 3-2; don't know if he even bothered stopping in between. What a game. Unfortunately for his backers, he got cooked by the Toddster's Street Fight, but held well for third while the other one faded to last. Tab for next time at 2-5. Monmouth shipper Currency Swap ($21.80) is the 5th winner from the first crop of High Cotton (8th on the rookie sire list with his $2500 fee), out of a Pine Bluff half to the stakes placed Nacho Friend.

Nice price in the 5th on the Toddster's Katz My Song ($16.60). Well, yeah, easy to say now; he lost by 14 in his debut at GP after all, but always a nice price I guess when you get 7-1 on a trainer hitting at 30%. Especially since he's the 4th subsequent winner out of that Jan 15 race, including stakes winner Arch Traveler. The winner, Heron Lake, is the only one not to have since run; watch out for him if and when he does so for Zito. Three-year old is by Unbridled's Song out of the stakes winning Katz Me if you Can (Storm Cat).

In the 7th, Higher Court ($3.50) blistered the turf course for Darley; 21 flat to the quarter, 43.2 to the half, home in 1:01.1, a 96 Beyer. By the British juvenile champion Shamardal, out of the British 3 yo champion Zilzal, one might expect that this colt could carry his speed at longer distances.

Turbulent Descent was dominant as advertised in The Test ($3.90), earning a Beyer of 103, and I don't want to be overly critical or anything, but she did come home rather slowly, 13.73 seconds for the last furlong after a prior quarter of just around 24 flat. I know she didn't have to run any faster than that; and seven furlongs can be a quirky distance to navigate. But why is it that only harness racing fans care about how fast their horses come home? Jeez, this was a Grade 1 race; and I can't buy reading that she won in "electifying style" when a horse is coming home at a pace at which she couldn't beat many quality pacers; well over 27 seconds a quarter. And besides, I just like to see fillies close strongly unless its name is Michelle Bachman.

You've read all about the Whitney I'm sure; all I'll say is - since (almost) nobody I know thought Tizway had a chance at nine furlongs around two turns, who the hell bet him to make him the favorite?


OK, I'm tired of writing, and you're tired of reading, so I will really try to make this (kinda) brief. The rain and resulting muddy track may not have had too bad an effect on field size, but the surface was a quirky one that definitely seemed to favor horses on or near the lead (on Monday too)....words you'll rarely read on this blog, since I think that the notion of track bias is crap far more often than not.

Here is where I wanted to get back to trainer Carlos Martin. Proficient barn to be sure, though, with all due respect, not one of the dominant names here. He was, however, for the first three races on Sunday. In the first, his Indian Tale dropped from stakes company and came in off the MTO list to close strongly to just miss to Palooza ($8.80). What I found interesting here is that Indian Tale was entered for the optional $35,000 claiming tag even though he was eligible under the conditions of the race. And indeed, he was claimed by Dutrow. Be interesting to see what becomes of him.

In the second, Martin had first-time starter Shot Gun Pennie; 7-2 morning line, she was getting bet off the board, despite the fact that bettors only had to read the Racing Form to see that the trainer said that she would "improve as she goes along." The boys were talking about her on the pre-race prattle, with Serling pointing out that the fact that Martin rarely wins with first-time starters makes it particularly noteworthy that she was getting bet; though on the other hand, that Martin rarely wins with first-time starters (perhaps forgetting about Sportswriter...of course, he had other things on his mind with his upcoming work on the Versus telecast). She finished 5th after racing greenly. As the trainer said....

Then Martin had the favorite, again, in the 3rd; Life's Measure finished 4th at 3-2 and was claimed by David Jacobson. I had the exacta in that race as a saver, which got me back even for another race or two.

In the 4th, first-timer Purple Cat (Bluegrass Cat) was 4-5, but Beautifulnightmare ($25.20), the only horse with race experience, got the jump on the field, and it was just about 'they're off, you lose' territory at that point if you weren't there early (or able to benefit from a pace that's just unsustainable....still maintain that there's never an absolute speed bias...look at the charts of the 2nd and 8th races). The winner was moving up from maiden claimers, thus her long odds I guess. But is a horse really moving up in class when it's facing horses that have never started?? Too bad that bit of brilliant logic only came to me after the race.

After Funky Munky Mama ($29.80) (only the second worst-named winner of the week behind Stinking Creek, whose name Durkin, having a strong meet after an early stumble or two, could barely bring himself to spit out) wired the 7th, I was frustrated and turned to the stability and sanity of Polytrack. Missed the 6th race triple at Arlington when late rallies by the 3rd and 4th horses fell just short, prompting my first and only profane outburst of the weekend. Facing the long drive home, and with the Alfred G. Vanderbilt not enough of an incentive to stay, we left. And no Teresa, your stupid Ranger fan friend didn't even bother betting two bucks on Sean Avery ($36.20, 112 Beyer). And so it goes. Until next time (the weekend after next).

- One more thing. We didn't make it to the Philadelphia Orchestra at SPAC this year. The programs on Friday and Saturday were Cirque de la Symphonie, and the Head Chef said that she doesn't like Cirque de la Anything. So much for that. I see there are some really bad rock shows coming up - though Kings of Leon canceled - lowlighted by Journey, still insufferable I'm sure after all these years. However, and interestingly, Elton John is playing there on Sept 4, and lawn tickets are still available; so there's something for those of you who will be there on the final weekend. Which is coming up faster that we'd all like.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Marker Post

Back from Saratoga. Sorry for no posts while we were up there, but what can I say that hasn't been said in five years of visiting there and blogging about it.

Besides, between a stop at the Rusty Anchor on the way, a hike and a swim up at Lake Moreau, a picnic at Saratoga State Park (and an after-dinner party), the farmers' market, a stroll around town, dinner at Mouzon House, the Beekman St. Art Walk, and, of course, three full days at the racetrack, when would I have time? We scored a great last minute deal on a really cute place right in town, thanks to Craigslist, which comes in handy for things other than finding tickets to sold-out shows. So we were able to pack in a lot of activity in the three days. And great to see readers El Angelo and jp. The Head Chef wrote about the least the non-parimutuel aspects....on her Grapes and Greens blog.

As far as the racing goes, if you've been playing, I don't have to tell you that it was tough. Especially with the off track on Sunday. It was the late Tom Ainslie who once wrote that you should find something else to do when the track goes off, and the results the last couple of days demonstrate why. I was lucky enough to hit a couple of exactas over our three racing days there to keep it from being a total disaster. But profitable, it surely was not.

Interesting it was though, that's for sure. You can talk about how the quality ain't what it used to be, and about all the conditioned claimers and state-bred races. But, strictly from a betting standpoint, as far as wide open wagering contests go, the racing this year is tough to beat. Even on Sunday, when the three turf races were washed off, the MTO's did their job and filled the fields admirably. I sure could have had a lot to tweet about if I had an active Twitter account. Will have to write a bit about it tomorrow when I have some more time. Just wanted to put up a post so the cobwebs don't set in.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Wednesday Saratoga Notes

Puzzling ($23) took a strangely-run first on Wednesday in his first try against winners for McGaughey; and that's three winners from ten starters for the Shugster. And the second to return a nice price; Hit it Rich returned $16.20 on Saturday. Alan Garcia, riding Inflation Hedge, managed to slow the pace down from 23.84 to a half in 50.45. That's a second quarter of 26.61! Puzzling was a pocket rocket, sitting third in the garden spot on the rail, and swinging out to sprint the final furlong home in 11.06 seconds. In fact, every one of the seven starters finished in less than 12 seconds. I know some people deride races like that (especially the ones on synthetic); they love their early speed. While I have to admit that this was an extreme example, I think it's a lot closer to how races should be run than, say, a fiasco like Sunday's Ruffian.

Puzzling is by Ghostzapper out of a Seeking the Gold mare. She's a half to the Phipps' G1 winner Dancing Forever; a look at her distaff line reveals Phipps stakes horses like the champion Heavenly Prize, Fantastic Find, Good Reward, Persistently, Oh What a Windfall, and her third dam, Blitey.

The Toddster back on the winning track with first-timer Hunt Crossing ($3). The word was obviously out on this one, perhaps because of a bullet five furlong drill on July 28 in which he outworked his older stablemate Ibboyee, who was the morning line in the John Morrissey later in the day (and the winner, giving Pletcher a double); that as reported by our buddy Discreet Picks on his site. Hunt Crossing is the second winner for the rookie sire Corinthian, who had his first, My People, at Monmouth on Saturday. Heavily inbred to Mr. Prospector (4x4x4) he's out of a stakes winning Silver Deputy mare, and hails from the distaff family of the 2010 Melbourne Cup winner Americain.

Churchill shipper Yadira ($14.60) took the third, first try on the turf, at 5 1/2 furlongs, for Asmussen, now four for 21 on the meet. Daughter of Pulpit is a half to two turf stakes winners, Capitano and Dilemma; and her third dam is the great multiple G1 grass winner Sabin.

An all-Woodbine exacta in the 4th; but another mention here for trainer Tom Bush, whose Ouchy Night closed for third at 9-1, beaten just a length and a neck after being three wide on both turns. This barn has been extremely live at 9-2-2-1; and some tough luck with those in-the-money finishers missing by margins ranging from a nose to a length and a quarter. None of the five in the money overall went off at less than 5-1, so this is a barn that bears continued watching.

Two noses, a neck, and a head were the respective margins of victory for the 6th through 9th races. The last one was a tight three horse battle to the finish, and a game win by a persistent Argentine Talisman ($31.40). Three-year old son of Dehere looked like he was gonna hang midstretch after a big four wide move on the turn. But he grimly hung in, seemed to re-break as he surged to the front in the final yards, and just lasted over Sour. This is the first winner, from five starters, for trainer Michael Matz. Just another neck back to show horse Top Surprise, who was claimed for 50K by Dutrow. 6th place finisher Mr. Pippit was claimed for the same price by Chad Brown for owner Michael Dubb.

Here We Come

After seeing the results of Monday's races, I mistakenly, and quite embarrassingly, assumed (and you know what happens when you do that) that the Pick Six wasn't hit, but it was, three times in fact. Thanks to reader Jackie for sparing me from even further humiliation. The racing at the Spa has seemed really hard, but I dunno, maybe it just seems that way to me! A look at the results charts seems to indicate a fair rate of winning favorites mixed in with the overlays and illogicals. It does seem particularly challenging though to those like me who prefer to tread in the 7-2 to 6-1 range.

That the racing has been superbly competitive is fairly obvious from looking at the results charts; not to mention the uptick in business both on and off-track, inter and intra-state. (The weather has been a bit better as well.) Don't recall a recent time when the races were so consistently solid from a betting standpoint (probably last year's meet). I've made a few advance picks (and a couple of mentions) on this site; a couple ran OK but none of them have won. But in many, if not most, of the races I've handicapped in advance, I've found it nearly impossible to separate a horse or two from the deep well of legitimate contenders. And forget about the numerous two-year old races, which are an automatic pass for me without seeing the tote action (unless I pick up some sharp insight and workout info from Discreet Picks).

But y'know, things come into far sharper focus when I'm actually at any track, but especially in Saratoga, as we will be this weekend starting on Friday, woo hoo! The fresh air, majestic trees, the paddock (and the Paddock Bar), the tip sheet hawkers, the buzz of the crowd, the horses casually strolling down the path through the backyard towards the paddock....even that damn bell that tolls the passing time can come in handy if I'm dozing off in my chair in the serene backyard. Far different environment and one surely more conducive to wagering than sitting home on the couch or, especially, sitting at my job, where gambling is expressly prohibited in the employee handbook, and a dismissible offense. That tends to put a damper on the proceedings.

Most importantly though, the tote board puts everything in context for me. Looking at the Form in advance can be like perusing Amazon with no prices posted....can't compare the relative values of products and determine what is fairly priced, and what seems like a bargain or a ripoff. Seeing the values of each of the betting interests can quickly eliminate some, or put others in play. And of course if a horse seems like its odds are too generous, then I might throw it out on the basis of it being dead on the board; while others attracting surprising attention may suddenly become a contender. I'm the type who could stare at the board in the final minutes and make betting decisions tick by tick. Don't know if that's a good thing or not. But it sure is fun.

So, I'm psyched, and hopefully will arrive upstate in a footloose and fancy free frame of mind that will allow and encourage creative thinking, fearlessness, and a disposition toward dissent from the popular opinions of the moment. A perfect time to think in terms of Marc Cramer's Division Fourteen, as I discussed in this post written nearly five years ago, yikes. Another way of putting it is that some races demand that you think in terms of an alternate universe, where the longer shots seem logical and the favorites beg to be completely discarded. After all, Saratoga itself is an alternate universe of sorts. It's a crowded racetrack for one thing, and that's pretty radically alternative these days, especially in this state. Nobody's working (except for the fine folks at NYRA putting on the show for us), people are losing their money with a big smile on their faces, no one is worried about the stock market (not outwardly anyway), there's no thought of debt crises, Democrats and Republicans get along (as long as they don't talk about anything other than horse racing), the ongoing tragedies of the world are a world and a half away (some of which nobody is paying attention to anyway), beer prices have gone down. Down! Only in Saratoga. Here we come.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Travelin Nowhere

The Toddster's consecutive day streak went crashing down in flames on Monday, with Counterparty out of the money at 1-5, and Travelin Man delivering an absolute non-performance in the Amsterdam, checking in 16 lengths behind.....the second-the-last finisher, To Honor And Serve (Bernardini), who seems to have lost interest in the game at the age of three. (Luckily for him, his two Grade 2 wins as a juvenile and his fashionable sire are plenty enough to earn him a stud career.) Don't know what the problem was with Pletcher's colt; who knows, if the race was on national TV, maybe John Velasquez would have told Donna Brothers-Barton that his horse wasn't warming up that well.

The Amsterdam was the second graded stakes in the last two days to be won by the longest shot in the field, contributing to a two-day Pick Six carryover of over $317,000 (oops). On Sunday, Ask the Moon bottomed out an absolutely ragged Grade 1 field in the Ruffian, and actually widened her lead even as she zigzagged home in a languorous 14.02 seconds, final three furlongs in 39.62. Ugh. And for that she earned a 98 Beyer, 11 points higher than she'd ever run, gimme a break.

The Amsterdam turned into a clinic on the concept of races falling apart, as Caleb's Posse ($27.60) was the only one running after the rest of the field stopped in the last furlong. He came home in 30.09 seconds for the final furlong and a half; that's a pretty steady pace, but surely he'd slowed down markedly from the 22.54 second quarter he ran to the half. Classic case of a horse slowing down less than the rest of the field, and he drew off to win by four. Nice job by jp picking this one, especially the bit about his sire Posse having debuted in sizzling fashion over the track; and a good point about him probably preferring one turn. Still, tough for me to come up with this one cutting back from so many races around two. And his Beyer of 105 is 13 points higher than his previous best.

These two horses are gonna take a lot of money in their next start - especially Caleb's Posse, who'll get bet off the board with that number assuming he ships back out of town. May pay to follow and bet against should they be facing potentially different pace scenarios than they benefited from here.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Monday Morning Notes [UPDATED]

Three more winners for Pletcher on Sunday, as he extends his hitting streak to the first nine days of the meeting. The Toddster now has 14 winners from 40 41 starters, batting an even .350 341. Seems unfair that he'd been given Sidney's Candy ($2.60), who controlled the Fourstardave from start to finish in his first start for the barn; kinda like tax cuts for the rich. His other two winners were class dropping claimers Never Right Joey ($8.70) and Writingonthewall ($5.80), both for Mike Repole, who had a pretty nice weekend I suppose.

Pletcher stands a pretty fair chance of extending his streak to ten days on Monday with Counterparty (1-1) in the 5th. This filly comes off a debut win with an inflated Beyer, which often leads to underlays in the subsequent first try against winners. But this daughter of Exchange Rate recovered from a troubled start to effortlessly circle her opponents, including subsequent winner Joonbi, on the turn on the way to a dominant win with an 82 Beyer. That effort, not to mention the way the trainer and jockey John Velasquez are going, puts a damper on motivation to try and beat her in a race in which none of the others who have been racing against winners have particularly distinguished themselves since their own graduations.

But here's a mention for the other maiden graduate here, Bid a Moon (8-1). Her last was rather similar to that of Counterparty, as the daughter of Malibu Moon moved with the greatest of ease some four wide around her opponents, which also included Joonbi, on her way to a dominant win (albeit 17 Beyer points slower than Pletcher's filly). Bid a Moon has some experience too, and has shown a consistent closing kick in her dirt races, including one at a mile and 40 yards. Thinking that seven furlongs should be no problem, whereas Counterparty will be stretching out a furlong while she steps up in class. Not a great post for this distance, so I'm thinking of Bid a Moon mostly to create some value in the exacta with the favorite, though she might be worth a few bucks on top as well for Clement, also off to a good start at the meet, at least for a mere mortal trainer (9-2-2-1).

UPDATE: Had a chance to look at today's Amsterdam, and I think the Toddster has a pretty good shot in here too (at least if the threatened rain holds off and the track is fast), with Travelin Man (9-2). Note that, in his two wins, he broke from middle posts and was able to stalk the pace from the outside; whereas in his three losses (one of them at an unsuitable distance in the Derby Trial), he broke inside and found himself being dueled into submission from the outside. His second to the speedy Flashpoint in the Hutcheson was certainly no disgrace, as he continued on after dueling that one and bested some nice horses. Now, it's not exactly clear who he will be able to stalk here; perhaps the returning To Honor and Serve; but in any case, Johnny V should at least have options breaking from post 6, and could control the pace on his own terms from there. His last win, in the Swale at Gulfstream, came against what turned out to be a very strong field, with runner-up Indiano recently taking the G2 Carry Back, third place Little Drama taking a stakes at Philly in his next start, and the other two placing in stakes races since then.

- A sharp reader noticed that I jumped the gun and erred regarding Stay Thirsty's Beyer in the Jim Dandy. He earned a 106, rather than a 99. Better to bet against him in the Travers with.

Monday Morning Notes

Three more winners for Pletcher on Sunday, as he extends his hitting streak to the first nine days of the meeting. The Toddster now has 14 winners from 40 41 starters, batting an even .350 341. Seems unfair that he'd been given Sidney's Candy ($2.60), who controlled the Fourstardave from start to finish in his first start for the barn; kinda like tax cuts for the rich. His other two winners were class dropping claimers Never Right Joey ($8.70) and Writingonthewall ($5.80), both for Mike Repole, who had a pretty nice weekend I suppose.

Pletcher stands a pretty fair chance of extending his streak to ten days on Monday with Counterparty (1-1) in the 5th. This filly comes off a debut win with an inflated Beyer, which often leads to underlays in the subsequent first try against winners. But this daughter of Exchange Rate recovered from a troubled start to effortlessly circle her opponents, including subsequent winner Joonbi, on the turn on the way to a dominant win with an 82 Beyer. That effort, not to mention the way the trainer and jockey John Velasquez are going, puts a damper on motivation to try and beat her in a race in which none of the others who have been racing against winners have particularly distinguished themselves since their own graduations.

But here's a mention for the other maiden graduate here, Bid a Moon (8-1). Her last was rather similar to that of Counterparty, as the daughter of Malibu Moon moved with the greatest of ease some four wide around her opponents, which also included Joonbi, on her way to a dominant win (albeit 17 Beyer points slower than Pletcher's filly). Bid a Moon has some experience too, and has shown a consistent closing kick in her dirt races, including one at a mile and 40 yards. Thinking that seven furlongs should be no problem, whereas Counterparty will be stretching out a furlong while she steps up in class. Not a great post for this distance, so I'm thinking of Bid a Moon mostly to create some value in the exacta with the favorite, though she might be worth a few bucks on top as well for Clement, also off to a good start at the meet, at least for a mere mortal trainer (9-2-2-1).