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Friday, August 31, 2012

Flood Guests

We're out in SoCal, and we still really love the Carlsbad Inn (in Carlsbad) even though we discovered at around 4 AM that our room was nearly completely flooded.  There was a pool of water in the bathroom, the carpet in the living room (it was a condo arrangement) squished with cold water when we walked on it.  Anything that was on the floor was soaked, and it's fortunate that my late 2007 model MacBook was sitting on top of my backpack otherwise I would not be writing this post and Clint Eastwood could have logged on and spoken to an empty blog.  My printout of today's pp's with my copious notes are a little soggy, but still usable; that would have been really bad.  All in all, I suppose it qualifies as quite minor compared to the various natural phenomena that can occur here on the west coast.

The explanation was something about faulty pipes for the landscaping, and we were assured that the water was now turned off.  They let us sleep (ha) for a couple more hours before moving us to another room so that they could move out the furniture and tear out the carpet for repairs.  They hauled away our wet clothes to launder and now we're in an itsy-bitsy regular hotel room.  The envelope containing the keys reads "Flood guest, relocated from room 109."  Doesn't really matter all that much because we're checking out today anyway and heading down to Solana Beach, just steps from Del Mar,  for the rest of the weekend.  But, after our early morning flight on Wednesday and the usual adjustments to the time zone change, I hope that sufficient sleep is not a requirement to succeed at the races later today.

This was actually our second mishap of this trip.  When we arrived and got to National to pick out a rental car, lo and behold there was a bright shiny red Fiat waiting for us.  A Fiat!  We packed it up, and no sooner did the guy at the checkout booth tell us "Enjoy the Fiat," the Head Chef was discovering that the charger for the GPS didn't work.  Seems a minor point.  Especially in retrospect.  But, since we had planned a day of exploration for which the device seemed essential, she declared that we needed a different car.  Truth is, she never seem very excited about the Fiat to start with.  Women.  A very long story short, by the time we completed all of the machinations involved for exchanging the car for the boring white Nissan we're driving now, my driver's license had hit the ground.  Somewhere.  Don't know where.  But now it's waiting for me at the hotel in Solana Beach, thanks to the efforts of Nicole, who was extremely helpful and kind.

Despite these relatively minor (also in retrospect) setbacks, man, it's just gorgeous here; much warmer than it was here last year at this time.  We ended up in beautiful San Clemente on Wednesday, and spent the day on the local beach here in Carlsbad yesterday.  Just perfect.  The Pacific Ocean rules.  The water temperature is just perfect, and I dunno, just seems to me that it's more welcoming than the Atlantic.  The water seems softer, the waves roll in steadily but gently, unlike the angry ones that break with greater force and proximity to the shore back east.  So yeah.  We really like it here.  California.

And I haven't even been to the track yet.  It's a pretty great little seven race twilight card at Del Mar this evening.  You might want to check it out back east if a full day of Saratoga doesn't satisfy your horseplaying cravings, or if, hopefully, you are flush with cash from the day.  It's so tough in fact that, despite having studied it rather thoroughly, I don't have any brilliant picks to definitively relate at this time.  One horse I will mention, though his 5-2 morning line doesn't excite me, is Unusual Heatwave in the El Cajon stakes, the 6th race of the day.  Perhaps he'll be a little higher due to the return of Fed Biz, who caused a little Derby stir when he romped in a Santa Anita allowance back in February.  That was his last race, and he returns with the sharp workouts that one generally sees from Baffert.  Unusual Heatwave never runs a bad race, and has run particularly well - and fast - of late when Rafael Bejarano is aboard as he is today.  So I'll probably use him as a single in between the 5th and 7th and try to come up with some Pick 3's.  But again, those are really tough heats.  So it should be a lot of fun.   Quality, not quantity, is the name of the game out here (though a rare 11 race card is in store for tomorrow).  Perhaps I'll have some revelations that I'll tweet out from the track later on.

Haven't been able to follow the Saratoga races closely out here.  But I did check results, just to see if any of the trainers that we've mentioned in the blog this meet have had any success.  Noticed the Contessa-Jason Servis exacta in yesterday's 11th.  Contessa actually hadn't had a winner since the 20th, but it was his 9th winner from 70 starters for a 13% win mark which is pretty good for that barn at this meet.  And Servis too has cooled down a bit after a rollicking start, at least as far as wins go; but he is still live with every horse he sends out; also had a close 3rd at 11-1 with Best Actor in the 7th.

Another guy I'd mentioned as being poised for a strong finish is John Kimmel.  Since then he's had two horses that both ran 4th; but each within a couple of lengths of the winner, and both at healthy odds.  So I'm going to take a look at Willy Pay (10-1) in today's 8th tomorrow's 6th; seems to love the track and drops in class after a pretty good effort in his first try against winners.

But now, time to go to the free breakfast we've been granted as (partial, we hope) compensation for the inconvenience caused.  Have a great day.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday News and Notes

In Sunday's Personal Ensign, Love and Pride ($22) scored an upset win for the Toddster, his second G1 stakes win of the meet.  It was also the third G1 stakes of the weekend to earn wacky status, after Saturday's dead heat and Dutrow quick turnaround.  It's Tricky stumbled - twice - coming out of the gate in Sunday's Personal Ensign; seemingly kissing the ground on the initial one as reported by our verbose local chartcaller, in rare form these days at the Spa.  She lost a good 8 lengths at least.  However, horses are not machines as we know; so one cannot therefore assume that she therefore would have won by 6 1/2 had she broken without mishap.  The race shape favored her lagging behind, as the pace was quick and mostly contested.  She likely would have been close to that pace with a good start, and there's really no guarantee she would have won at all.  Pletcher's filly, with blinkers off, was able to relax and back a bit off the frontrunner; but still attended quick fractions.  She had enough though, while tiring, to hold off Royal Delta, who lost the race when she drifted very wide turning for home.  Royal Delta actually showed a lot of class battling on as she staged a good comeback to oufinish a pair of rivals, themselves a bit leg weary at the end, to procure the place.

Love and Pride, who earned a Beyer of 100, is inbred to Secretariat, and I sure see a lot of that these days.  I'd have to say that that's easily the third most common occurrence of inbreeding (defined as being within the first five generations) behind Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector.  Love and Pride is by AP Indy out of a Storm Cat mare who's a half-sister to Bernardini.

 - The guys on TVG seemed completely dumbfounded after the 3 yo Dullahan ($12.60) edged by favored Game on Dude late to score a mild upset and beat his elders in record time in the G1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sunday.   They needn't have been if they'd looked at his synthetic and turf form as compared to the dirt he'd been racing on since taking the Blue Grass.  The Derby is his only good race on the real stuff, and that could have been due to any number of factors other than and/or in addition to him handling the surface.  So one would think they'd keep him on the synth/turf circuit.  That would give him many fine options.  However, with the win, he's now eligible to run in the Breeders' Cup Classic.  I'll be putting my money down against him if he does.  (Andy Serling points out on Twitter that all three of this colt's career wins have come in G1 stakes races, a bizarre stat indeed.) 

Back to Saratoga, in the 1st on Monday, True Fortune ($10) won for George Weaver, and this barn is having an excellent meet: now ten winners from 51 starters.  By Yes It's True out of a Fortunate Prospect mare, this 2yo NY-bred filly is a half-sister to the Illinois Derby winner Musket Man.

Two consecutive winners for A. Dutrow, giving him nine from 35 starters (26%).  Wildcat Aly ($5.50) shipped from Monmouth and dropped in class to take the 4th.   O'Frederica ($9.30) shipped from Delaware, went first time for a tag, took the 5th, and was claimed by Jamie Ness.  Ramon Dominguez rode both.  That's three winners from his last four starters for this barn, which seems poised for a strong close to the meet.

In the 7th, Joel Rosario was back after riding Dullahan on Sunday, and guided first-timer Sensational Appeal ($33) to the win for Michael Matz.  The 2yo daughter of Sensational Appeal, out of a Roy mare, was among a cluster of horses arriving at the furlong marker within close proximity of each other, kicked clear of them all and edged away.   I hear people complain about chart callers, but with this guy, you barely even have to bother watching the race.  Just the second winner of the meet from 24 starts for Matz; but you may recall he scored with a couple of double-digit debut runners here last summer.  I see he has one entered for the opener on Friday; Blazing Whip, a half-sister to stakes winners Celluloid Hero and Song of Navarrone.  A little advance heads-up there, as we'll be at Del Mar that day!

In the 8th, Leap ($9) won for John Kimmel.  It was his 5th winner from 27 starters, but here's another barn than looks ready to finish out the meet strong, with two winners and two close seconds from his last five starters.

Just 9,915 on hand, as the Monday after Travers weekend has become a regular four-digit attendance day to the best of my recollection.  Labor Day weekend is a great time to go; the weather is generally better, (though the remnants of Isaac would seem a concern for later in the weekend.....surely of course not nearly as much as on the Gulf Coast and we hope for the best for everyone affected there) the fields are full, the crowds are mostly gone, and the Final Stretch Music Festival on Saturday and Sunday nights is always worth checking out.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dead Heat

Alpha ($4.10) was clearly past Golden Ticket ($26.80) as the two approached the wire in the Travers, and it was just sheer chance....a fortuitous moment in time and a bob of the head....that the latter was able to get a share of Travers glory.  Had the wire been a foot before or after where it was, Alpha would have had the winner's share all to himself.  But just at that instant when they hit the wire, the nose of Golden Ticket somehow managed to get back even, for just a split second, with that of Alpha.  And voila!  A dead heat.  The last time there was a dead heat in the Travers, in 1874, the two horses returned for a second heat to fight it out and determine a sole winner.  I rather like that solution.  But I guess that wouldn't fly nowadays.  For one thing, they'd have to re-issue fresh vet reports (and I know you were all waiting with baited breath for those) to make sure there was no last-minute cheating between heats.

Alpha's running lines would be a thing of beauty if you threw out those two races at Churchill Downs.  He's worked his way methodically to the top of the 3yo large part, simply by staying healthy and being one of the last ones standing at this point.  Flashy, he is not.  Nor is he particularly fast.  Alpha earned a Beyer of 100 for his Travers win, a point less even than last year's nondescript winner - quick, can you name him?  Don't have a list, but I'd guess that has to be pretty far on the low end of figs for Travers winners.  But it's also his career high number, and less than one would expect from a division leader at this time of the year.  However, he's worked his way methodically to this point, and one might expect better things to come.  And he surely showed his mettle, overcoming a wide journey on both turns, and digging down to catch a horse who benefited from a glorious ground-saving pocket trip.

So great job by jockey David Cohen on Golden Ticket, who was eligible for an entry-level allowance coming into the race.  And nice work too by trainer Ken McPeek; this horse had not started since finishing second in an allowance race on Derby day.  He'd worked brilliantly over the track, but surely hard to make a case for him, even in retrospect, when you can do so most of the time.  One thing that you could have inferred from his past performances though is that he would appreciate the extra ground.  And if you go back and look under his third dam, you'll see the Manhattan winner Academy Award, and the two-time mile-and-a-half Sword Dancer winner Telling.

The win by Willy Beamin $24.80) in the King's Bishop which preceded the Travers may have been an even more stunning result.  Richard Dutrow kind of repeated a winning pattern from June, when he won a seven furlong state-bred stakes four days after winning at a mile.  This time, it was only three days rest, and he was cutting back from a full two-turn mile and an eighth race.  I'd imagine that the win did not elicit smiles at the New York Times or the Racing and Wagering Board, which has suspended the trainer for ten years, still pending various appeals.  However, for a guy who is supposed to manifest the evil side of the sport, he sure seemed to have a lot of supporters afterwards on Twitter.  A lot of people seemed to think it was a riot, including our buddy jk here in the comments section.  I suppose that the ignorance and incompetence of regulators, with their silly show of extra security and vet reports for the Travers (quite low on the list of races that bettors would be suspicious of), can make even this habitual cheater a hero, and I wonder if he'll be similarly cheered should he ultimately beat the suspension. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Travers Day, Far From the Maddening Crowds

Out on Eastern Long Island today, and with the Head Chef off for her Wellness in the Schools event today, I'll be (mostly) left to my own devices around the pool at her stepdad's house in Sag Harbor.  The wireless works, my NYRA Rewards account still swollen from prior successes at the meeting.  Man, I am ready to go!

Will be here all day and will be on Twitter if you possibly care.  Just some real quick thoughts on a few races, with the 1st race just over an hour away as I write this (can do without 11:35 post times!), and I'm still plodding through the card.

In the 1st, Dehere of the Cat (5-1) has improved last two with blinkers on.  Closing effort two back at a mile indicates he could work out a similar trip cutting back in distance in a race which figures to have some lively pace up front.

In the 5th, Rigby (5-1) has shown nice improvement on fast tracks since a layoff after being claimed by Asmussen at the Big A in Feb.  Beat cheaper absolutely for fun last out after sitting a bit off the pace, has worked solidly since and Ramon sticks.

In the 8th, Devon Rock (5-1) returns to the grass, on which he's racked up some nice figs in his last two such efforts, at Calder.  Competed against some really sharp horses there, and goes first out for Catalano.  Kanagaro (6-1) rarely wins but is a good bet to get a minor reward and liven up the exotics at a fair price.

In the Travers, Neck'n'Neck (9-2) proved in the Jim Dandy that he's not just a horse for the Churchill Downs course.  Had little chance in the slop against a loose-on-the-lead Alpha, especially with the ground loss he suffered on the turns.    Have no idea what the pace is going to look like here.  Really not a confirmed speedball in the field, Alpha included; think that one prefers to stalk but was able to set a dawdling pace in the Dandy.  Will stand against, assuming he can't do that again.

Good luck, and have a fantastic Travers day everyone

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bad Start to an Off Day

Thursday's racing at Saratoga will not go down as one of the banner days in its glorious history.  Just - egads - nine races, one of them a steeplechase, followed by two short-field (five and four horses) races won by 1-5 favorites, followed in turn by two maiden-claimers; and generally a parade of chalk - six winning favorites on the day, all 2-1 or less (mostly less).  Either a glaring case for five day-a-week racing, or a massive purge to clear out all the cheap racing in advance of Travers day.  (And indeed, the only tags to be found on Saturday are optional ones.)  And, on top of that, not a single Pletcher horse to be found on the day!!  Why even bother getting out of bed?

The day got off to a particularly shaky start in the steeplechase event when, a day after at least one more fatal breakdown which followed the one on Wednesday, two of the jumpers fell at the final fence.  This prompted Jerry Bossert of the Daily News to tweet:  Seriously. With all the scandals in the news about racing do we need jumpers falling in front of crowds?

Well, on one hand, I suppose that's a fair point.  As Bossert subsequently pointed out: And the handle is pitiful. Who cares?  I myself enjoy watching those races, and they're surely part of the vaunted tradition of the place.  But I don't bet on them, and I don't think many people outside of the Clancy brothers would mourn their disappearance.   On the other hand, seems a bit of a cheap shot.  After all, as usually seems to be the case, the horses and riders were fine; and I'd love to know what the injury rate is for jumpers as compared to the flats. 

It's also emblematic though of the defensive and apologetic pose the sport has been in ever since the Eight Belles tragedy; presently hunkered down as it is, battered by the repeated (and redundant) attacks by the New York Times.  Only in the hyperbolic world of the Times would the shortened career of I'll Have Another (remember him?) be referred to as being "tragically foreshortened," as stated in an editorial today, breathlessly entitled Run to Death at Racetracks.   Tragic?  Seriously? For whom?  For the horse, healthy enough to appear in the paddock on Belmont day?  For the owners who shipped him off to Japan for a cool $10 million?  I for one - while again and as always acknowledging that improvements can and must be made - am really tired of this crap.  At some point, people need to stand up and say, look, this is our sport;  we're a bit degenerate, and there are bad actors who go beyond the rules to gain an edge just as there are in any financial endeavor.  The vast majority of horsepeople treat their horses with the utmost of love and care, and do the best to keep them happy and safe.  But accidents are going to happen and if you don't like it then go watch fucking NASCAR races, ok?

Chad Brown took the late double - or perhaps, since there are doubles in every race, we should say the late, late, late double -  to give him 20 winners.  He's not going to catch the Toddster, (27) but he's having a great stand, having started 39 less horses than the leader.  The day at least ended with a rousing finish as Yes She Rules rallied wide and held off Donttngowithmngo (apparently pronounced don't tango with mango), who was maneuvered in the stretch brilliantly by Ramon in search of a seam after saving ground to the stretch.  We talked in the last post about riders stealing turf races on the lead; but when Castellano gunned front-running Gold Love to a second quarter of 22.98, this race was a cinch for the closers.  Yes She Rules is by Monarchos out of a Dehere mare; she's a half-sister to the multiple graded turf stakes winner Buddy's Humor, and this is the distaff family of Super May, a popular handicap horse from the early 90s.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Legitimate Saratoga Notes

Colony Strike ($30.60) won the 8th for Pletcher, and no, that's not a typo on the win price.  Hard to believe any halfway-decent looking Toddster horse would go off at that price.  Whatsmore, this one had never been more than 8-5 in any of his four prior starts; and was 4-5 first time against winners - and first time on turf - in his last start!  That was at Delaware though, and this was his first start in NY.  So, despite the presence of Johnny V and running first time for a tag, he was completely ignored at the tote by the provincial betting crowd.

Out of the 27 winners (from 106 starters) the barn has had this meet - also including Coach AJ (a more typical $3.70) in the 7th - 12 have gone off at even money or less, and another eight less than 3-1.  Only one other had paid double digit odds.  Colony Strike was enough to get Pletcher's ROI up to almost even at $1.97 from $1.71 coming into the day.

Unfortunately, favored Bluember broke down and became the 4th racing fatality of the meet; 2nd in two days.  In the next race, Live For Today was pulled up and vanned off.  Best information I have on that one though is that he is merely lame.  Of course, in the NY Times database, based strictly on comments like "vanned off" in the results charts, those two horses would both count as the same.  It doesn't make a distinction for legitimate breakdowns.  [UPDATE:  Unfortunately, Live For Today goes in the legitimate category as well; trying to save him at Cornell.  HT to Teresa on that.]

In the 6th, Master Achievement ($10.80) shipped in from Monmouth for trainer David Fawkes and went an uncontested wire-to-wire for Ramon Dominguez, prompting the Form's David Grening to tweet:  In the 2nd division of the Clutch and Grab Handicap, Ramon walks the dog aboard Master Achievement.  Which prompted Andy Serling to reply: It is becoming absolutely ridiculous. That race was particularly absurd...there actually were 3 other potential speeds.  One of which was Knock Rock, who I had picked here, and had him in a cold double, paying more than $70, with a horse I got a tip from a buddy on in the preceding race.  I really liked him, though more so at the 10-1 he was at when I bet him to win with 2 MTP than the 6-1 he went off.  I was actually hoping he'd sit off the pace in this case, since he seemed comfortable closing wide last time out.  But Junior Alvarado, confronted with the sight of the mighty Ramon alone on the lead, seemed unsure of what to do without the pace help one might have expected from favored Kitten's Kid and Pyro City.  So he allowed Ramon to slow the pace down to 48.2 from a 23.3 opening quarter, and the rest was history.

These are the kind of races that used to prompt cries of "Boat race!" and fires in the garbage cans back at Roosevelt.  And a 48.2 isn't really too bad, we see turf races slowed up more than that, and not just by Ramon, as Joel Rosario did aboard Adjacent ($4.80) in the 4th.  That horse went 49.3, allowing him to then reel off quarters of 23.4 and 23 flat, in another race that seemed to include other potential pace horses.  They used to fine harness drivers for slowing down races too much (maybe they still do, not sure).

The aforementioned tipped horse was Bourbon Twist ($7.90), one of two first time starters in the 5th for Chad Brown, and actually the one that went off at higher odds despite getting slammed from 7-2 to 5-2 while the 2 yo NY-bred fillies were in the gate, I'm told.  Ramon was aboard this one too, but this was a huge wide move to pass the field around the turn before being eased up in the final sixteenth as much the best winner.  Bourbon Twist is by Langfuhr out of a Cozzene mare.  Favored The Lady Says Yes (y'know, the only kind of lady who could really get pregnant from a rape in Todd Akin's world), who followed behind the winner to complete the Chad Brown exacta, is by Scat Daddy out of a Strike the Gold mare.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Saratoga Wednesday

In the 1st, Carlos Martin sends out first-timer Saint Arthur (7-2), and for a barn with a well-earned reputation for not scoring with debut runners - just six for 117 over the last five years - he's sure been live with them at Saratoga of late.  In fact, fully half of those six winners have occurred at the Spa during the last two meetings; two last year, and one - Fly Fly Pomeroy ($27) - at the current one.  Not only that, he's had five 2nds with first-timers during that time, for an overall record of 12-3-5-1.  So, while I don't like to officially "pick" first-time starters here, good chance this one will be live based on recent history; pending the usual tote and paddock check of course.  Saint Arthur sports a couple of bullet works, and he's by Invasor, out of an End Sweep mare who is also the dam of Shrewd One, who won for Phil Serpe here the other day.  His second dam is a half-sister to the versatile Precisionist, who I will always fondly recall as my first Breeders' Cup winning wager, at my first live Breeders' Cup.  And for all the changes we've seen at the Big A, you wouldn't know a thing, right down to the seagulls, just from watching this.  (Well, of course, little on the racing side has changed anyhoo.)

In the 3rd, Clear Pasaj (7-2) moves up to face winners for the red-hot Bruce Levine, four winners from his last seven starters, 5-4-0 with his last 13.  3yo daughter of Smoke Glacken obviously loves the dirt with two solid efforts after two poor grass efforts to start her career.  Pretty easy win in last, first time over the track, taking charge under little apparent urging by Ravi Maragh, and handily holding off Cinematize, who has run pretty well all three starts for A. Dutrow, who in turn was far in front of the rest of the field.  Need fair value when betting a horse moving up from maiden company, and I think two others will take the bulk of the action:  Victory Island (5-2) just missed this class first try this year, for Pletcher.  Problem is she's never run particularly fast except her debut in the slop.  Class Action Suit (2-1) did run fast in her last race, earning a figure far better than the rest of these; and she's two-for-two at the distance.  Likely crushes this field if she runs back to that number.  But she changes barns, loses Ramon, and goes first time over the track, and so a repeat performance is hardly guaranteed.

In the 6th, Knock Rock (8-1) turned things around two starts back when returning to Saratoga, where he ran a decent 4th as a maiden in a G2 stakes last summer, and switching to jockey Junior Alvarado.  In his first try against winners last out, he broke awkwardly, endured a very wide trip all around the second turn, rallied against the pace grain after turning for home five wide, and fought on doggedly at the end, barely missing the place spot.  Still managed to earn a good fig and can surely improve with some better fortune here for trainer Scott Schwartz, who moves the 3yo son of Corinthian up in class confidently.  Whether or not that would be good enough to make up the 3 1/4 lengths he finished behind King David (2-1), who had an absolute perfect pocket trip under Ramon (surprise), I'm not sure; but that one is stuck on the AE list.  So I'll play some exotics accordingly should he draw in first off the claim for Nick Canani (and with Ramon off).  Best of luck and have a great day!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Saratoga News and Notes

Got permission from the Head Chef for a quickie Alabama weekend trip up to Saratoga, though not without paying a stiff price.  In return, I cheerfully agreed to accompany her out to the Hamptons this coming weekend, where she is catering an event for Wellness in the Schools.  So, no Travers for me.  However, it was well worth it - two gorgeous weather days, a couple of excellent betting cards (especially Alabama day), and a chance to hang out after the races with some nice folks at the paddock bar on a picture perfect upstate evening.  Great place to drink and chat, not so great to hang and bet the races during the day given the paucity of betting windows and lack of simulcasting screens.

Also was able to expand on my meager winnings from the long trip earlier in the month.  Not however before blowing it all plus more on Saturday.  One might think that a guy who, that very morning, wrote that trainer Phil Serpe was in the sneaky sharp trainer category , might have eeked out a profit on a day when he won three times!   I can't really say for sure I would have had Cybertron ($27.80) even if I hadn't missed the 1st due to two one-lane construction bottlenecks on Route 90 to Albany.  And the other two didn't meet my value standards; used them but preferred others on top.  So, what can you do.

Also didn't help the cause when I bet the wrong horse and the one I intended to bet won.  The only reason I'm even admitting that is because Strong Impact ($7.40) was 9-2 when I bet him....or, rather, when I didn't bet him....with just a few minutes to post.  So, it didn't cost me that much.  Still, imagine my surprise when I checked my account after the race, yikes.  We all know I think somebody who bet the wrong horse and won.  I knew one guy who erroneously bet $50 on Temperance Hill ($108.80) in the Belmont.  (Although I stuck with Genuine Risk, who I bet in all three legs, Temperence Hill subsequently went on to become one of my most profitable horses during that little slice of life.)  I've never had such luck.  But then again, you're talking to a guy who hasn't been put up via disqualification since 1983.

Did come back strong on Sunday though, with the 2nd race winner and exacta, the 9th race exacta and the late daily double (all tweeted out in advance of the addition to the winner of the 9th at Arlington, a race I unfortunately did not cash on).  So a pretty good job overall by me, solidly profitable on-track this year.  Next time I step out onto a racetrack apron will be at Del Mar!

Questing was the star of the weekend with her dominant performance in the Alabama, for which she earned a Beyer of 106.  I watched the race live at around the 1/8th pole, and man, it really looked like she was motoring away from the rest of the field as she drew away to win by 9.  But of course, she wasn't, really.  After running stunningly fast fractions for a mile and a quarter race - 46 to the half, 1.09 3/5 to the three quarters - those in pursuit had had enough.  But so, actually, had Questing.  Just not as much as the others.  Her last half was run - swerved and ducked - in 51.55; so the feeling that she was accelerating away was illusionary, as is often the case in North American dirt racing.  Not a single one of the other fillies, strung out in a single file spanning some 42 lengths as they staggered home - was able to gain any ground; favored Grace Hall was 30 lengths behind.  In truth, it was a horrible race, further testament to the obvious fact that today's thoroughbreds are not bred to run classic distances.  Don't mean to demean (too much) Questing or her effort - she did what she had to do, vanquishing the field with a dazzling display of early speed.   But, from what we've been reading and hearing since, one might think we saw the second coming of Ruffian.  Hopefully, the colts will put on a better show in the Travers.  (Of course, I seem to recall having similarly disparaged Royal Delta's Alabama win last year, and we see how that worked out.)

Horrific spill in the 2nd on Monday; Pete's Parlay became the third racing-related fatality of the meet.  After a glorious weekend, you know that NYRA had to pay the piper as it generally seems to work out.  This was a grim prelude to the task force report on the spate of deaths at the Big A that is due out today. [UPDATE: Not happening, see Teresa's comments below.]

I'd mentioned John Hertler earlier in the meet as a low percentage trainer who nonetheless always gets in at least one win at Saratoga.  In fact, Jitney, who I picked in that context here, came back to win again (didn't have him that time).  In the 4th on Monday, he picked up his third winner from 17 starts (all on grass), a not-so-low percentage of 18%.  Half Wildcat ($12.20) is by Discreet Cat, 5th on the sophomore sire earnings list, now standing at Darley for $12,500, down from his initial $30,000.

David Jacobson, never hesitant to dip into his pocket and pick off a high-priced claimer, found himself on the other end when his 6yo Midnight Silver was claimed for 50K in the 6th, by William Badgett.  But at least he got more than his money's worth.  Jacobson claimed this son of Silver Deputy for 20K at Saratoga last summer, and started him a stunning (these days) 16 times since then, climbing up the claiming ladder while winning six times, with five seconds, and three thirds.  Just twice out of the money, and those were both 4ths.  He earned over $200,000 in purse money, plus the proceeds of this claim.  That's the way to do it!

Another winner for the Toddster as the stupidly-named Notacatbutallama ($4) took the 7th.  More stunning than his 25 wins is the fact that he's started 102 runners, 42 more than Chad Brown or Bill Mott in the runners-up slot in that category.

And yet another winner for Contessa, who dropped his one-time graded stakes winner (of which I imagine he hasn't had that many) Grand Rapport ($5.40) in for 25K, picked up his 8th winner from 50 starters, a solid percentage for this barn especially at Saratoga where he's only 9% over the last five years, and lost him to trainer/owner Diane Balsamo.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday Quick Picks

Karakorum Holiday (4-1)....and I hate picking Karakorum horses but here we go....dropped to this level after some OK tries against better in his last.  He caught a muddy track, and didn't show the early speed that he had in prior starts at the Md 35K level.  Instead, he tried to catch up 3-4 wide on the turn, and then he had to be a good 7-8 wide turning for home despite what the chart comment says.  Tired from his efforts, but that was understandable, and he earned a field- and career-high figure despite the trip.  Shortens up here, not sure what jockey Alvarado will do with speed inside, but I think the level fits, and the price could be fair if there aren't 1,000 Karakorum partners who were given a "free" share (before all the cash calls) in the crowd and wagering on a Saturday at Saratoga.    Seghesio (7-2) caught a fast track for the first time in his career in his last at Finger Lakes, and ran his best career race, and figure.  He held well after a race long pace duel and figures to run well here, though he may encounter an early challenge inside from Raffie's Factor.  Was waffling between the two and will probably box in exactas depending on the tote.

In the 5th, Sonnyandpolly (5-1) starts for the third time in his current form cycle for Zito.  First off the layoff was a sprint, last time his preferred distance as he showed last year.  Got caught wide from the 10 post into the first turn, wider still on the 2nd, and a good six wide turning for home.  Didn't make much progress, but understandable again.  Slightly better post here, a couple of OK works, should be close with a better trip.  Moneyinyourpocket (20-1) was wide both turns in his turf debut and represents more than fair value at that price.  Post Position (5-2) has had has his chances for the sharp Dominick Schettino but has fallen short.  You may notice the trouble line for his last race, and he did have nowhere to go late....but Ramon had given this horse every chance with a perfect ride until then, and I'm not convinced that Johnny V will do any better; oppose as favorite here.

The 7th may be the deepest betting race of the day.  Prince Silver (5-1) shipped up from Churchill for trainer Merrill Scherer, three winners, a very close second and a third from his last six starters, got the rail and a 'good' track which looked wetter than that for his Saratoga debut last month.  This son of Silver Deputy doesn't seem to like breaking from the inside post as you can see from his running lines, and this time he found himself uncharacteristically far back.  He moved wide around the turn though, swung six wide turning for home, and unleashed a monster move to miss by 3/4 to a sharp one in Our Edge.  His final two furlong splits were 11.91 and 12.06.  Moves outside here to a post he prefers and I expect him to be able to make his closing run from a more advantageous position.  Hello Lover (7-2) cuts back to seven furlongs for clever connections and has the best figs in the race.  Shrewd One (3-1) is a sharp one for Phil Serpe, who we'll put in the sneaky sharp trainer category, most recently with Harbor Mist, who ran a gritty third in the Summer Guest stakes yesterday.    And then there's Que Posse (5-2), who runs well off layoffs for McLaughlin.  Tough heat.

And, in the Alabama, just for fun (and that's what this game is about, right?), what exactly was Kent Desormeaux and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer up to with Via Villaggio (8-1) in the Delaware Oaks?  "Rated," it says in the chart comment.  Looked more like a workout in her first dirt race since her first two starts, as the jockey laid back in 5th and last, casually rode her into the stretch, picked up the pace enough to ensure the place spot and then eased her home.  Looked like nothing but a prep for this to me, and she shipped back to Del Mar for four workouts in the interim.  Daughter of the mile and a quarter Travers/JCGC winner Bernardini is out of an Irish-bred mare who won, placed, and showed in three mile and a quarter races overseas and in California; could surprise stretching out to that distance here. Best of luck and have a great day!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thursday Recap - Good Claims and No Nukes

In the 3rd, Show Some Magic ($3.60) took the third for Asmussen (a half length over 7-1 Gombey Dancer, for Kenneally, a trainer going quite well as noted in the last post).  Two-year old son of Any Given Saturday was the big favorite off his second to Spurious Precision, who won the G2 Saratoga Special on Sunday.  He's out of a Real Quiet mare, and descends from the distaff family of multiple GSWs Behrens, Commentator, and Cowboy Cal.  Sire Any Given Saturday, stands at Darley for $15,000, as opposed to the $40,000 he commanded in 2008, his first year living the good life.  He and celebrated cropmates Hard Spun and Street Sense were a package deal for his Royal Sheikhness as you probably recall, and he hasn't lived up to those two at stud as he didn't on the racetrack.  Hard Spun stands for $40,000 (from $50K), Street Sense for the same (from $75,000).

In the 6th, Stoneless ($5.60) breezed in his debut as the well-bet - from 4-1 ML - favorite for trainer Bruce Levine, his second winner in two days.  This is a two-year old from the first crop of Bustin Stones, the trainer's undefeated (6 for 6) crack sprinter and G1 winner from 2007-8.  He stands for $2500 in New York.  Just 24 in the crop, and this was his second winner.  This horse walked to the lead in 47 and held by nearly five over No Nukes....who reminds me of.....No Nukes, the harness horse, a sensational 2 yo in particular, and an extremely successful stallion.  The only race of his I could find on You Tube was a losing one, but a spectacular effort.  Watch the monster move he makes down the backstretch in the 1982 Meadowlands Pace, a great race with a great call by Durkin.

Trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero showed no fear in claiming Dan and Sheila ($7.20) when Pletcher dropped them him in for 20k here on Aug 1.  Shortened him up to seven furlongs from nine, moved him up to 35k, took the 8th and lost him to Terri Pompay.  With purse winnings of $24,600 in addition to the claim proceeds, owner Rontos Racing Stable nearly tripled their money; well, not quite given expenses, but still not so shabby a return.   Though not quite as good as the connections of 9th race winner Plainview ($13.60).  That's three in a row since being claimed for 25K by trainer Greg DiPrima, earning a total return of $81,000.

In the 10th, the West Point, Lubash ($9.50) made a No Nukes (the harness horse)-like move in blowing wide past the field on the turn, but by the time Durkin picked up this one, the horse was practically already in front.  It's the first win for the Clement-trained 5yo son of Freud in 12 starts going back to November 2010 at the Big A.

Industry Gears Up for Battle

I wanted to write exclusively about racing this month - they'll be plenty of off-track and political action in the fall months that are imminent now.  Lots of drama to come once Governor Cuomo and the legislative leaders start to shape the new NYRA board.  And, of course, the little election coming up with the president facing off against Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers.  That all promises to be ugly to be sure, so no need to ruin what's left of the summer racing season.

But here I'll briefly refer you to Matt Hegarty's piece in the Form on a conference yesterday in Saratoga, where there seems to be no shortage of such discussions of various issues concerning the industry.   At this particular one, conducted by the Saratoga Institute on Racing and Gaming Law, industry types defended the tracks' share of racino revenue against the drumbeat of criticism from the Cuomo administration that has been starting to build; most recently a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (which I have not seen) which states that the money has not resulted in increases in attendance or handle. 

Richard Violette, the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, starkly disputed figures in the DiNapoli report, contending that handle and attendance at tracks operated by the New York Racing Association have increased significantly since a casino opened at Aqueduct in October 2011.  “How someone who lives and dies by the numbers could interpret them so poorly is pretty frightening,” Violette said during a late-afternoon panel. [DRF] 
   I think really the only numbers that DiNapoli lives and dies by are his poll ratings and the amount of money in his campaign coffers.

There was discussion as well about the possibility of full-blown casinos, and the possible catastrophic consequences should the existing racetrack racinos gain casino licenses.  In that case, the state could re-set the revenue splits which are currently set by law.  Of course, presently, we don't know who would be granted the facilities.  And New York Gaming Association president James Featherstonhaugh contended that voters would not approve the expected 2013 referendum unless they have that information.  “The public wants to know, if there are going to be casinos, where they are, how they are going to be run, what the tax rates are."

However, like most everything we hear from NYGA, his statement is disingenuous.  Because it's the NYGA who really wants to know where the casinos will be, so they can decide where they stand on them, for or against. And if it turns out that it's established before the vote that Genting is to be the only member of the group (which represents all of the current racetrack racinos) to be getting a casino, then I imagine the members will go their separate ways.

Racing industry people however don't have to have that information to decide where they will stand on the referendum.  There will be nothing in the proposed casino law and/or the prospect of full-blown casinos throughout the state that will be beneficial to racing, only detrimental; I think you can take that to the bank.  We talk about how the industry is splintered, with different groups having different interests.  But in this case, I think it's quite clear that everybody - every entity and every soul -  who cares one whit about this sport needs to band together, organize and do whatever they can to help defeat the casino referendum next year.   It's going to be a wild ride.  We could potentially see a lot of odd bedfellows - racetracks and racino owners, Joe Faraldo and Jeff Gural, me and religious conservatives - depending on what we know, who's going to be in and who's going to be out.  And surely we'll see a fair amount of corporate and other money flowing from out of state - I'm sure that Sheldon Adelson will have some cash left over from the $100 million he plans on spending to defeat the president should he have some kind of shot at a property here.  But I don't think it's a lock to pass.  And the industry has to do their best to help see that it doesn't.

 - Two more winners for Contessa at Saratoga on Wednesday; that gives him four from his last six starters, and 7 for 42 on the meet (though an ROI of just $1.11).  He took the 7th with Eden is Burning ($7.60), and this has been quite a claim thus far.  Contessa took the 4yo daughter of Hook and Ladder for 20K from Tom Bush at Belmont, and moved him back to state-bred optional claimers.  Two close seconds and yesterday's win adds up to $62,000 in purse earnings. 

Eddie Kenneally is another guy who's picked up the pace of late.  Wild Target ($5.80) was his 3rd winner in his last five starters, to go along with Knight of Thunder, second at 12-1 on Sunday.  Two of those winners were first time starters, and he has one in today's third.  Gombey Dancer (Dixie Union) is out of a Carson City mare, and descends from the direct female family of Hard Spun (the 2nd dam of the latter is the 3rd dam of Gombey Dancer).

George Weaver continues to win at the meet; he now has eight with 32 starters, for an even 25% and an ROI of $3.00.  He dropped Boots Ahead in for 35K off some thoroughly respectable form in graded stakes.  The Saratoga crowd seemed rather skeptical, making him a mild favorite at 2.45-to-1.  David Jacobson was not however, and claimed the gelded 6yo son of Storm Boot.  And who knows with this barn; we could next see this guy dropped for an even cheaper tag, or in the Bernard Baruch.

And another winner for Pletcher, but that's not news.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Racing Ugly

I was looking at the chart of Monday's 2 mile event at Saratoga with some fellow aficionados when one of them asked "What did they run the first half in?"


Ha!  For a two mile race?  Where did Joel Rosario think he was going on Sumo?   He slowed it down to 51 2/5 for the next quarter, but it was far too late for that.  I mean, Saxophone Len ran the same fraction in a mile and an eighth race earlier on.  And Sumo was a 2-1 shot too; imagine all the money pissed away in all the pools when he quite understandably failed to finish the race.  Meanwhile, Ramon sat patiently on Jacobson's Ea before taking over, and was able to coast home, and actually widen his margin, "running" the final quarter in a time of 28 2/5 that I think would be an insult to a lot of standardbreds if I called it harness horse time.

Of course, this is an extreme example, and we know that today's thoroughbreds aren't bred to go nearly this far.  But if it was on the turf (as I believe it was originally written to be), they probably would have gone 53 to the half and maybe come home in 48'n'3.

Actually saw a good number of dirt races while I was up there, especially but not limited to the rainy weekend just past, in which the leader looked exhausted in the stretch, but he, she or some other horse ran fast enough early to bottom out the rest of the field so that nobody could catch it anyway.   The most egregious example I can recall was the 4th on Sunday (the last of that many off-the-turfers to lead off the card), when Political Justice ran them off their feet with a 47 1/5 half in the nine furlong race, and widened his margin slightly while coming home in 26.97 and a final furlong in 14.16. 

Yuck.  That stuff is pretty ugly to watch.  Especially in the slop, when the horses are often even more strung out (on the track that is) than usual.  There was one day, I think Friday, when there was rain and slop up and down the east coast and beyond.  Man, Arlington and Woodbine sure were looking good those days.  You can call that stuff they run on what you'd like - plastic, crap, garbage; y'know those epithets that people always fall back on and spit out disgustedly when they try, without success in my opinion, to articulate an intelligent case against synthetic tracks.  Don't really know what's in there myself.  But it at least looks like a fast dirt track, and you still have a shot if your horse is 7 behind on the backstretch.  That seemed a mini-revelation at one point after watching all the merry-go-rounds in the slop.

And, speaking of rain, I was sitting last night watching a large mass of it on the weather radar heading towards Saratoga, so I didn't spend much time on today's card.  Now I see it's fast/firm; don't know how they escaped that one.  And too bad; looks like a decent betting day.  But in any event, I'm left for now with the 1st from Del Mar.   Gonna be there in a couple of weeks, so might as well get in practice.   Slammer Time (7-2) comes off a layoff and returns to the grass for a new conditioner in Martin Jones (same owner as before), 12-3-0-2 on the meeting.  This 4yo son of Grand Slam (out of an In Excess half sister to the G1 winner The Wicked North) has run well in his four career grass tries, though to little avail against better in a couple of fast-paced races in his last two attempts on the surface.  Turned in a pretty solid effort last turf try in which he finished well for 3rd after encountering a little traffic late.  First time tag, should appreciate the class relief against a highly flawed field.  This horse has a lot of layoff lines, and apparently had some kind of setback that caused a month interruption in his training regimen from June 17 to July 17.  But he's put together four works since then, and picks up Gomez, who doesn't ride too much for this stable but has won at a 36% clip from 14 tries when he does.  Deadly Catch (4-1) showed speed on this course on opening day, may be one to catch.  Muny (5-2) is a G2 stakes winner as some public handicappers point out; but that was four years ago!  Recent form does not inspire confidence, and he's tired badly in his last two distance tries.  Aqua Fever (3-1) won for 50k here last year; also hasn't shown much this year, but obviously dangerous this level for the live Mullins barn.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Winning and Losing in Saratoga

Back home in Queens from Saratoga, where obviously I didn't have too much to keep up with the blog, except for some pretty decent picks if I don't say so myself.  Saturday was particularly special when I spent time to make cases for three horses who all subsequently scratched.   Nice hat trick there.  We were busy and had a great time, and scored a cool rental with an awesome screened-in porch with a ceiling fan, yeah!  Not that we did anything we haven't done many times before (other than a hike I'll come back to, sure you can't wait).  Just that we never seem to get tired of it.  The air is so clear (when it's not pouring rain but even when humidity hangs), that it's like your seeing everything - the trees, the lakes, the view from a mountain summit, and yes, even the horses - in HD.

I'm pretty damn proud of myself - was at the track for at least a portion of nine racing days, and came out with a small wagering profit; not too shabby!  I also however suffered a string of frustrating, at best, to horrible, at worst, beats; four 2nds in particular that stick in the craw, any one of which would have easily put me over the top for the trip.  Two were horses I picked here; the very first day, had a cold double going with the two horses selected.  Jitney ($17.80) took the 7th, and I had a cold double, paying around $80, going with Native Wave, the favorite in the 8th.  This wasn't a close loss, but I'd warily noted the Toddster-first time getting sneaky bet before Ravi Maragh stole it with a nice rating job.  Then on Thursday, again hit the first of two blog picks; but then, in the finale, Ambit, at 6-1, encountered all kinds of traffic on the inside after being taken down there by Irad Ortiz Jr., finally got out and closed with a rush, only to fall 3/4s short to a 29-1 shot.  Argh!

The other two were out of town, a 9-1 shot at Del Mar, Jerry'shoneycarol, who grabbed the lead at the 1/16th pole but couldn't last.  And, worst of them all, on our last day, Strawberry Scarlet, who rallied wide in the 4th at Woodbine, looked like a winner at the 1/16th, but somehow couldn't pass the 1 horse (who I had underneath in exactas) until a couple of inches past the wire.  The official margin is a "head," but it was a pretty small one in my book; the chart comment of "just missed" sums it up nicely. 

However, and on the bright side, if you're betting horses at those kinds of odds who are just missing, you're at least picking live horses with good value.   And I think you can't really ask for much more in this game than being able to do that consistently.  If you're selecting horses that are involved, you're gonna have your share of winners....but you're sure gonna have your share of losers too.  (Especially if you're not betting to place or reversing all your exactas!)

So I'm feeling pretty good and confident, and it's funny how that comes and goes.  The horses all look about the same on paper when I'm going bad; nothing seems to make sense.  Now, I can find a simulcast race with 8 MTP, digest it thoroughly and be down with plenty of time to stop in the bathroom before the race.   So, hoping to make it back up there one more time, at which time I'll surely pay the price for writing the above.

 - On Tuesday, we headed up north to a hiking spot off the southeast shore of Lake George.  Took a dirt road for 7.9 miles with some particularly narrow and winding stretches. The Head Chef seemed uncomfortable.  (She has more on this excursion, as well as some photos and comments on the Saratoga Farmer's Market....and a particularly delicious [as I can attest] recipe inspired by it, on her Grapes and Greens blog.  Please check it out!)  We walked down one trail and found ourselves walking along the edge of the lake....a quiet, unspoiled (if you will) section where recreational boaters were taking refuge from the tourist havens.

Then we hiked back up and found Shelving Rock Falls, a gorgeous setting on a beautiful day....especially in HD.  Here, there were some great swimming holes, and one rock formation in particular which had formed and smoothed into a perfect chair-like spot in which to set down one's butt and enjoy the water. 
I also couldn't resist climbing up a couple of levels to stand under one of the cascades.  You can make me out under the water down below.  It was both exhilarating, and terrifying!  The rocks were slippery, and the water wanted nothing better than to take me along with it as I pinned myself back against a mossy wall of rock.  It was quite an experience.  Though don't know if I'd do that again anytime soon!

 - Not often one sees a horse win and pay $40.80 with Ramon Dominguez, but that's what Synthesizer paid in the 4th on Monday, one of four winners for the jockey on the day.  I suppose I could make a red-board case as to why that was an overlay, but I suppose you can do that for most such winners at a racetrack.  Most of them.  It was the first winner for trainer H. James Bond since he took the opening race of the meet.

Another first-out winner...and another winner...for Pletcher, now comfortably on top of the trainer standings with 20 winners, from a whopping 81 starters.  By comparison, second-place Chad Brown has started 49 (14 winners).  The Toddster has 11 debut winners from 28 such starters.  Coconut Shrimp ($6.60) won on the turf; she's a 2yo daughter of Distorted Humor, out of Weekend in Indy (AP Indy) who in turn is a half-sister to the trainer's graded stakes winners Bohemian Lady and Any Given Saturday.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday Picks

In the 3rd, on a dicey Saturday card with four races washed off the grass, Argument's Sake (5-1) returns to a dirt sprint, for Contessa.  Barn is not exactly burning up the joint; but he was unlucky on Friday with Ambit, and man, that was one tough beat, ugh.  This 3yo daughter of Closing Argument (one of the worst of many bad Preakness bets on my part), graduated at Belmont two back this distance with a huge closing move; that with the addition of blinkers and jockey Wilmer A. Garcia.  Yeah, he didn't beat much to be sure.  But that was a legitimate racehorse move, way wide on the sweeping turn, and then he blew by the entire field, getting the last furlong in 12 3/5.  Don't see many horses at this level crack the 13 second mark.  Forget the last on the grass, hope for a little pace and that the drying-out track is tiring and favorable to closers as we sometimes see.  I guess Centrique (5-2) could crush this field with Ramon if she's right, but been in and out of late, hope for the best worst.  Paws Up (12-1) has run pretty well on wet tracks, chance for a minor award.  Theatre Queen (3-1) is obviously dangerous for Canani, 1-2-1 with four starters here.  Hasn't been on dirt but neither had his Los Ojitos the other day.  Contention runs deep as they sometimes like to say.

Speaking of which, the 5th is a wide open state-bred maiden claimer.  This is the kind of race I usually avoid, but this one is pretty fascinating from a betting standpoint.  You know most of the field is going to be staggering in the final furlong of the 7/8th affair, so let's try to have some fun.  Spider Fan (6-1) ships in from Woodbine for Lisa Lewis, two winners and a second from three starts at the meet thus far.  Two of those horses also shipped over from Woodbine (though they ran here on the turf, so more a comment on her horses' fitness than any surface switch affinity).  This 3yo son of Jazil closed well at seven furlongs in his last after being 3-4 wide on the turn.  This is his first try on dirt, but if he can handle and still be running late here, he would have a shot, but the price has to be right, something around the morning line would do.  (Of course, not too high so that he's dead on the board!)    Keyaly (15-1) closed well in the mud at six furlongs, which doesn't mean, in the case of this 0-for-27 maiden, that he'll continue on at seven; but it was his first off a layoff and first with Prado.  Missile Nick (10-1) dropped to this level and finished well at 6f; think the morning line is too high on this one.  Ali's Winner (12-1) ran pretty well at this distance two races back and would be a solid overlay at that price.

In the 10th, Major Gain (5-1) switches back to turf for trainer Wayne Catalano.  This barn seems to be picking up steam after a slow start, with two winners and a very close 3rd from its last four starters here.  This is more of a hunch on my part, so take it for what it's worth.   Four-year old son of More Than Ready out of a graded turf stakes mare Dream Lady (2nd in the Lake George here in 2005) was favored in his first grass race, and off an 18 month layoff at Arlington in July.  It was an altogether fine effort considering the layoff and the fact that he pace-engaged a very sharp horse in the reformed 10K claimer Ratatat, who went on to win his next race in the next condition.  Then he shipped here, and closed from last for a no-threat third in a seven furlong dirt race.  Now back to grass, which his breeding surely indicates he should like; and that sprint race seems to me like strictly a prep for this race, third of the form cycle (and encouraging just in that he's able to put three starts together considering his history).  Two sharp half-mile breezes since, and I love the switch to Johnny V.  Quantity (5-2) is the logical choice for Chad Brown; faces better here, but still have to use in the exotics.  Change of Command (3-1) may be tailing off (he says hopefully) after a very long campaign and faces an early duel with Mia Poppy, but an obvious threat with Ramon.   Best of luck everyone and have a great day.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Thursday Picks

In the 4th, Megalith (5-1) returns to a dirt track for trainer Merrill Scherer.  If you look at only his sprint efforts on a fast surface (which will hopefully be the case today), his form is pretty good against a better brand of horse than he will face in this restricted claiming event, and with Beyers surely fast enough to take this.  Forget the last on the synth at Presque Isle; prior was a third at 6 1/2 at Calder in which he tangled early with eventual winner Abdel's Ghost, who earned a 94 fig that would blow this field to smithereens; and the place horse won his next effort with a 93.  Prior fast-track sprint was a close second to Close it Out, who came back to show in the G2 Smile.  This barn has been very sharp of late both out of town and here, where it earned its first winner yesterday in Do I Do, in addition to a close second and two thirds from six starters.  Flying Pegasus (3-1) takes a drop in class; his effort two back should put him close.  Silken Bid (8-1) has speed and drops for the dangerous Jamie Ness, looking to weave his 36% magic here at the Spa.

In the 10th, assuming it's still on the turf with the chance of storms in the forecast (though I don't see much activity on the radar at this writing), Ambit (5-1) seems to have figured out the game for trainer Gary Contessa since concentrating on turf routes.  Graduated two back against cheap maiden claimers, edging out professional maiden Griffin Rock, who ran a close second yesterday and will figure out how to win one of these days.  Shipped to Monmouth and acquitted himself quite well in his first try against winners with a rousing rally from dead last, just missing to class dropping Knack.  Reunited here with Irad Ortiz Jr., who guided the 3yo son of Belong to Me to his maiden win, and gets the rail.  Hoping that a couple on the outside can provide a little pace.  Rover (7-2) looks dangerous off the class drop.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Wednesday Quick Picks

Pretty brutal card at Saratoga today, with three maiden claimers, another inscrutable baby race, and others that figure to feature heavy favorites.  But let's see what we can do with it.

Just a mention here in the 2nd; Key Victory (8-1) goes for trainer John Hertler, who came through on Friday with Jitney.   Low percentage barn as I mentioned....but he also had a good third, also on the grass, with Lord of Love at 10-1 on Saturday.  Key Victory is 2 for 51 lifetime, which is hard to get behind for the win spot.  But he's gone well his last two tries at this level, and could liven up the exotics here.  Jess Not Jesse (5-2) will be real tough for Linda Rice if ready off the layoff.

In the 6th, Marvelous Margaret (6-1) returns to the dirt for trainer Carlos Martin (10-1-4-0).  This 3yo daughter of Put It Back was rushed into stakes company off her maiden win last winter, and appears to be rounding into form at more appropriate class levels.  This filly had an absolute nightmare trip two back, steadied early, lacking room, and then steadied again, off heels, in the stretch before recovering quickly to finish with enthusiasm for third.  Royal Start (7-2) and Tanglewood Tale (6-1) ship in off the same race at Churchill; they finished virtually evenly, but the latter was far wider, and gets the edge over Royal Start, who could however improve first off the claim for Peter Walder.  Salvar (8-1) is on the improve and moves up in class.  Whoever you like, might be worth checking out the double prices with Post Pattern (5-2) in the 7th, who has finished well against some horses that have run really well since.

In the 10th, The Kid N Me (6-1) had no shot whatsoever in an exceedingly slow-paced affair at Belmont, in which he closed in 11 1/5 to no avail for trainer Barclay Tagg, looking for his first winner of the meet.  If there's any such thing as a key 25K maiden claimer, that race would be it; it's produced five subsequent winners and a second.   This gelded son of Lemon Drop Kid is bred for grass through and through; out of an Unaccounted For mare who's a half to graded grass winners Royal Mountain Inn, Miss Josh, Highland Springs, and Highland Crystal.  Santonio d'Oro (3-1) seems the logical choice after running evenly against better; and will hopefully, along with Hidden Vow, at least provide some pace for the top choice.  Griffin Rock (8-1) is 0-for-23 lifetime but has shown life with jockey Wilmer A. Garcia.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Close Encounter of the Sheikh Kind

Was at the yearling sale standing in the back, in the area behind the sales ring last night (where they now have spotters stationed so you can bid from outside) and noticed a certain someone standing literally ten feet away on my right.  "That guy right next to me in the blue, " I said to the Head Chef.  "That's the Sheikh of Dubai."

"Oh, you mean the guy with the blue shirt and the suit?"

No.  It was the little guy in the blue pullover, the white cargo pants, and hiking boots.  Sheikh Mo in the flesh, and in his own style.  Shortly thereafter, he took off, and the entourage that followed in his wake must have numbered 20.  All dressed better than he.  The Sheikh was off to find his spot from where he bid on, and purchased, the sale topper, a $1.2 million colt by Street Cry out of Serenading, an A.P. Indy mare who was a Canadian champion.  Prior to this colt, the high seller was a Tapit filly who I caught a passing glimpse of in the back getting ready to enter the sales ring; she was a blur even there.

Seems the sale didn't go so good, at least on this first night.
Average price of the 52 horses sold on Monday night was $261,346, a 20.7 percent decline compared to last year’s average of $326,694 on the first night, when 49 horses sold from a smaller catalog. Median fell from $285,000 to $200,000, a drop of 29.8 percent.
Twenty-six horses did not meet their reserves, for a buyback rate of 33 percent. Last year, buyback rate on the first night was 26 percent. Gross fell 16 percent, from $16,155,000 last year on Monday night to $13,590,000 this year. [DRF]

Monday, August 06, 2012

A Saratoga Whirlwind

Wow.  I am now officially between jobs.  My last day at the company where I've worked for the last 5 years was Thursday.  We arrived up here in Saratoga just around post time for the second race on Friday.  We've spent three full days at the races, bbq'd at our favorite spot in Saratoga Springs State Park, spent a night at SPAC with the Philadelphia Orchestra, hung out and drunk with friends, enjoyed a home-cooked meal, and found some time to relax (and, for me, to handicap) in the screened porch with a ceiling fan overlooking the backyard of the great little house we've rented here.  Oh yeah, and then passed out.  And now, suddenly, it's Monday morning.  Wow.

The weather has already run the gamut of Saratoga; Friday was pretty hot and humid, Saturday was noticeably moreso on both counts, a real steamer, and Sunday featured an impressive Saratoga downpour that wiped out the grass races and turned the track to slop after the 2nd.  Fortunately, we were spared any further precipitation until well after the races.  And today is a perfect, clear cool morning without a trace of moisture.  We'll see how long that lasts.

And, as usual, the days at the track just fly by, measured, race by race, by the annoying ringing of that bell, the calls to the post, they're off, and reviewing what went wrong.  (Or, fortunately, what went right, just occasionally, but enough to have my head above water thus far.)

This morning, we're off to Lake Moreau State Park for some hiking and swimming, and I'll be at the races later on.  I am on Twitter with some mostly useless comments and observations throughout the day.  And, I will try to find some time to actually write about some racing here at some point soon.  Until then....we're off!  Best of luck everybody and have a great day!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Sunday Double

In the 1st, Fire Assay (7-2) stretches out to a mile and 3/16 for trainer Jimmy Toner.  This filly seemed to just be getting started in each of her last two starts, at 1 1/16, before literally running out of real estate.  Those were both slow-paced affairs in which she finished with a big burst each time, though never as a threat to get up for the win.  Seems only natural that this four-year old daughter of the Travers winner Medgalia d'Oro, out of the Alabama winner Jostle, would take to the extra ground.  Don't expect the pace to be too much livelier in this spot, but she's already proven she can close against the pace grain, and she could be up in time against moderate rivals here.  Trophy Wife (3-1) ran evenly in her first on turf and against winners and figures to improve.

In the second, Hogue (8-1) comes off the bench for a capable layoff trainer in Ken McPeek.  Son of Exchange Rate showed ability in each of his starts as a 2yo last fall, two on grass and one on the grass-like Keelenland Poly, despite being victimized by poor starts and slow paces.  Finished second in his last race behind subsequent Remsen winner O'Prado Again (and haven't seen that one again since then).  Steady works, adds Lasix (barn is 24% in that category), and would be good value at that morning line in a questionable field.   Quite Danger (6-1) moves back up to maiden special weights after an improved effort against claimers for the hot George Weaver barn.  Input (3-1) and Conspiracy (4-1) were both dull on the board in their 6/30 debut, lagged far behind a hot pace and passed tired horses in the stretch; doubtful they'll be seeing a 45 1/5 half to close into here.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Friday Quick Picks

Couple of quick picks then we're hitting the road for upstate.  In the 6th (and this only if the race is on the grass), Jitney (8-1) cuts back to a sprint for trainer John Hertler; he's a low percentage guy, but he's managed to pop at least one winner here each of the last five meets.  In her turf debut sprinting two races back, this 3yo daughter of Utopia bobbed and weaved her way through traffic and missed by only a length, a half length behind A.P. Hutchy (9-5), the presumed favorite in this race who benefited from a perfect pocket trip that day.  Last was a bummer at a route, will appreciate the cutback to 5 1/2 here, and gets a hungry rider in Shaun Bridgmohan, a 20% guy trying to make the most of his spare opportunities amongst this jockey colony.  Cape Cod Carol (8-1) goes well for Alvarado and can rally for a share.

In the 7th, again hopefully on the turf with isolated storms in the steamy forecast, Native Wave (5-1) drops in class for trainer A. Dutrow.  In his turf debut two races back, this 3yo son of Rahy seemed to take a few moments to gain his bearings on the new surface before moving up inside, waiting for a seam, and finishing well to miss by 3/4's.  Each of the three who finished in front of him have since raced well enough so that they would each be solidly favored in this field.   Native Wave faded in his last after chasing an extremely fast pace.  Dropdown and switch to Ramon should make him tough here; would be quite the bargain at his morning line in my view.   Best of luck and have a great day!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Thursday and We're Off

A somewhat less-winded recap of Thursday's card as we prepare to head up to the races tomorrow morning.  You can follow me on Twitter for spontaneous observations if I'm in the mood and not getting killed too much.

In the 3rd, Tuvia's Force ($8.00) gave Zito two in a row after 35 straight NY losers (he won twice at Parx on the 4th of July), and I do recall writing about similar occurrences in the past while writing about this wacky game.  Part of it is definitely percentages.  Not like a 15%-type guy like Zito suddenly completely loses his scoring touch like Scott Gomez; just a matter of time, and the percentages dictate that they're likely to come in bunches.  Even money favorite Joe Vann faded to 5th and was claimed by Linda Rice, as the Toddster continues to cull his stable after losing two similar dropdowns in Wednesday's finale.

Slumber ($6.20) took the 4th for Mott, his 4th winner of the meet, all after significant layoffs.  This one had been off since rallying for 4th in the Hollywood Derby on Thanksgiving weekend; the other three were Alaura Michele (301 days), Raison d'Etat (182) and Lunar Victory (142).  Those are his only winners from 27 starters.  6-1 runner-up Kindergarden Kid was claimed for the optional 50k tag by Maker for Kenneth Ramsey.

Caution Sign ($11.80) took the 5th by collaring front-runner Malibu Red, who was 5-1 for trainer Jason Servis.  Mentioned Servis the other day - he's now 6-2-2-0 - think he's a guy we can make some money on this meet.

San Pablo ($4.60) was the first of two straight for Pletcher, as he temporarily took over the trainer lead from Chad Brown, when he won the 6th, the Birdstone.   In the 7th, R King of the Road ($3.00) outdueled Little Drama after a spirited stretch duel.   That's the 4th win in 6 starts for this 4yo (gelded)  son of Trippi out of a Concorde's Tune half-sister to the minor stakes winner R Holiday Mood (also by Trippi).

Gary Sciacca took the 8th on the grass with bombshell The Silver Machine ($68.50), really hard to make a case for even in retrospect.  But Sciacca pops these every once in awhile; just 6% (13 for 189) over the last five calendar years at Saratoga coming into Thursday; 12 of those on the grass, and this is the 7th to pay at double digit odds.  The 3yo daughter of Drewman, an Indiana-based son of Unbridled, was nursed along nicely on the lead by Irad Ortiz, Jr., basically running at an even pace, albeit incrementally faster each quarter, and holding off the fast-closing Forever Vow.

Chad Brown tied the Toddster at nine winners apiece with Inaugurate ($5.10) in the 10th.  Claimed the 4yo daughter of Empire Maker for 50K at Gulfstream in February, dropped her to 35K off the layoff here.

Lisa Lewis now two-for-two on the meet, both on the grass, and this one in the finale, Archer Hill ($7.20), a first-out two-year old son of Big Brown, who, I have to say, steroids and all, was the last three-year old that really got me excited.  He made a "breathtaking move," as a spry-sounding Durkin put it, sweeping very wide past the field on the turn, and continued with good energy to wear down Holy Endeavor and outlast Pletcher's Notacatbutallama who we mentioned in the last post.  Archer Hill is out of a Grand Slam mare who's a half to the stakes (though just occasional) winner Dina.  See you in Saratoga.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Wednesday Recap - Double Digits and Happy Tweets

Rudy Rodrigeuz has now sent 1,112 horses to the starting gate since February 2010, when he set out on the path from being a low-percentage jockey to a high-percentage trainer.  I think I can honestly say that I can't at all recall ever wagering any money on him as a trainer, at least to win.  (Which has made me right 78% of the time.)    I have nothing against the guy, unless maybe it's something subliminal from his jockey days.  Just seems as if he's usually starting horses that are moving significantly up in class, and starting at low odds.  His ROI is $1.82 and his median payoff is $6.00.  (By contrast, David Jacobson, a guy of a similar ilk as a claiming guy [who wins at a slightly lower percentage] is $1.72/$6.30 over the last three years.)

But, like anyone, Rodriguez gets his share of winners at double digit-odds - 14 out of his 248 winners. Don't know what the context that I always demand from others is in this case, and don't really feel like looking up other trainers.  (Oh OK...Jacobson has 11 from his last 247 winners...)

Actually, that was coming into Wednesday; Rodriguez now has 15 after Count Catamount ($27.60) took the opener.  Not a bad price for a horse who'd won his last start.  And yes, he was moving significantly up in class...but the last time he made the same exact class jump after winning for the same claiming tag - last Aug/Sept at Sar/Bel - he also won, and paid $30.40.  (And again, not red-boarding, didn't play the race; just trying to point out interesting tidbits that will maybe make us - or me, anyway - better horseplayers in the future.)  The winner held off Glacier Bay in a desperate finish; that horse was 19-1, but Ken Ramsey must have known something because he signed the ticket for Maker, who claimed him for 25k (he was coming off a win too).

I had the wrong Peter Walder horse, as Cypress Isle ($8.20) took the second.

I'd noticed in the morning that Gary Contessa was in a really cheery mood on Twitter.  "Saratoga is a mindset not just a race track," he wrote.  "The fans, the people and the ambiance can never be equaled. There is nothing quite like it."  So maybe he was feeling really good about his chances with Margaret Lilian ($9) in the third.  Keep that in mind next time you see him tweeting giddily in the A.M.  Three-year old filly has really seemed to find a niche sprinting on the turf even though she's a daughter of Suburban (at 10f) winner Political Force out of an Always a Classic mare who's a half to Estevan, a turf stakes winner at a mile and 70, and the dam of Newdad, who won the Pan American on grass at a mile and a half.

We mentioned Corail ($3.90) the other day; that's four straight 2yo first-out winners for Pletcher, and his 7th win at the meet overall, putting him one behind Chad Brown.  As we all know, you can't keep a good Toddster down.  He has another in the 11th (!) on Thursday, another one of these increasingly popular turf routes for juveniles.  The ridiculously named Notacatbutallama (5-2) is a $105,000 Repole purchase at Ocala in April; he's by Harlan's Holiday out of a Hansel half-sister to Lost Without You, a minor stakes winner in a turf sprint at Belmont. 

Unbridled Command won the 6th; the first of two winners for trainer Tom Bush which both paid an identical $15 even.  In the 8th race, the Fleet Indian Stakes, winner Beautiful But Blue was quite impressive in her first try against older fillies and mares (she was the only sophomore in the race), just burying the stick favorite Risky Rachel in the stretch.  She's by El Corredor out of a multiple state-bred stakes winner (including one at Saratoga) in Beautiful America; and she sure seems to like seven furlongs.

Saginaw took the Morrissey for the aforementioned Jacboson, and this one wasn't double digit odds ($7.30).  It's the first stakes win for Jacobson in at least five years at the Spa.  Well...the first flat racing stakes anyway.  As you might expect, he's only had one other stakes entrant over that time (from 114 starters).  Nice training job in this six-year old gelding's first start since getting crushed in the Met Mile, and it's the third state-bred stakes win for Saginaw since he was claimed for 30K from R. Dutrow.  Saginaw earned a Beyer of 103.  Two winners from 17 starters for the barn, and as previously mentioned, he won't win a high percentage here but he'll likely get his fair share; a bit better, I'm going to guess, than his 8% Spa win rate over the last five years.

Zito off the schneid in the 10th with Sinorice ($28), his first win in 17 tries at the meet and 35 on the NYRA circuit overall.

13,991 in attendance on a good weather day, which is down by 2,063 from the second Wednesday last year.

Wednesday Picks

I spend far too much time trying to handicap the weather this time of year.  Last night, saw a big blob of green with yellow patches meandering in the general direction of Saratoga.  As has seemingly been the case thus far for the most part this meet however, the system broke up and skirted elsewhere, sparing the track from the worst.   However, the perceived threat was just enough to throw me off my game, as obsessed - horrified would be the better word - with the prospect of sloppy tracks as I am.  Not too thrilling of a betting card under any conditions though, I must say, which is what happens when one tries to maintain a six-day a week schedule these days, no matter where you are.

In the 10th, Spielberg (10-1) ships up from New Jersey for trainer (and owner in this case) Peter Walder.  Like Jason Servis who we mentioned the other day, he's a high percentage Jersey-based guy who rarely makes the trip up here; just seven times in the last five years, and no wins (though a nice stakes placing with Lacie Slew last September).  This three-year old son of Simon Pure has been moving in the right direction since being claimed four races back, with a steady advance on the Beyer scale, if only an incremental one class-wise.  Has been given a breather lately after a long stretch of racing, and comes off an off-the-layoff second as the favorite at Monmouth, beaten by a big class dropper for Kelly Breen.  Another, shorter, layoff since then, and three recent drills punctuated by a nice five furlong move on Saturday.  Have the feeling that Walder, 20% in the 31-60 day layoff category, has this one primed to continue his improvement in this spot.  Gets Maragh, who won on Spielberg twice off the Walder claim, and who wins at 25% for this barn.  Big Creek (5-2) ran third in the Wando Stakes at Woodbine for the Toddster in April; one to beat if he can translate that form to dirt.  Dan and Sheila (3-1) also drops for Pletcher but must overcome outside post.

In the 6th at Del Mar, where I don't even have to look at the weather radar (and where I turn when I have misgivings about the weather here), Panettone (7-2) drops in class off an improved third at Betfair Hollywood Park with blinkers added for trainer Dean Pederson.  He was two lengths behind Chapman's Peak, who came back with a solid placing in an allowance at Del Mar, and three lengths in front of Magic Beam, who then romped on this track in this very class.  Of course, those results alone don't mean that Panettone would take to the Del Mar surface as well....but he graduated here in his first start last July, so he's already shown he can handle it.  Seems a routine selection; his morning line would be a bargain here in my opinion.  Best of luck, wherever you are and whatever the weather, and have a great day.