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Thursday, August 22, 2013

By the Numbers, Verrazano Seems Worthy Favorite

 - Verrazano has been installed as the 2-1 favorite in a field of nine for the Travers, the 12th race on a 14 race marathon at Saratoga on Saturday that begins at 11:35 AM.  I'm going to go out on a limb without having done any research on the subject, and say that that's the most races ever on a NYRA card.  As if to rub it in to those who dislike oversized cards and the quality of the races that are used to fill them, the 13th and 14th races are a 20K claiming turf sprint for non-winners of two lifetime, and a NY-bred maiden race. I'm kind of excited for them.

It would certainly not be a surprise should the Wood winner indeed go off as the public choice.  He simply seems to be the fastest horse in the race, at least off his Haskell win.  He earned a Beyer of 116, which kinda overwhelms this field; Palace Malice's 107 in the Jim Dandy is the closest second.  [He also got a 116 on the TimeformUS figs; it's highly unusual for the two to be in line.  Ours is a higher scale, so Beyer rated the race pretty significantly faster than we do; a comparable TFUS number would be around 130.]  On BRIS, he got a 111, best last-out but tied for top career number with Orb's Derby.

So, if you're going by the figures, he's strictly the one to beat.  There is the question of distance though, as well as the thought that he'll be facing much better horses than he has in his two eye-catching Monmouth efforts since he faltered at this mile and a quarter distance in the slop of the Derby. And, as the Toddster told Joe Drape, in a typical Pletcher quote (and talking about Palace Malice as well):  “We’re concerned we’re trying to match lifetime-best performances in four weeks.” Yeah, we'll see, but I think Pletcher should stop worrying about that stuff and just send them out to run.

Orb drew the two post and was listed as the 4-1 third choice, behind Palace Malice (5-2). Somewhere, I read Shug expressing regret that he didn't draw further outside, perhaps thinking back to the Preakness, in which he was never able to escape the inside path - said to be a bad one at Pimlico that day - and never seemed comfortable regardless of any possible track bias. Now, I've been dissing Orb's chances to win on Saturday (and for the rest of the year).  But, were he really to go off at 4-1, I'd be remiss to not have him on my tickets in some way, maybe even on top.  I have to respectfully disagree here with NYRA's oddsmaker Eric Donovan; I do not at all believe he'll be 4-1. It's the Kentucky Derby winner on a big race day that draws a lot of casual betting money; he has a win and a good figure for that mile and a quarter race, and a lot of attention from the press, declaring him "back" after his respite at Fair Hill and his snappy work on Monday.  I would not at all be shocked if he goes off the second choice; and wouldn't faint dead away even should he be the favorite.

 - A very interesting day on the Saratoga toteboard on Wednesday.  The first was a two-year old race in which all the starters were making their debut.  Two of them who were each 6-1 in the morning line went off as the favorites, and second choice Court Dancer ($8.30) ran off for trainer George Weaver.  With nine winners from 29 starters (31%), this barn is tied with Chad Brown and Jack Fisher for the second-best winning percentage amongst trainers with ten starters or more.  Don't have to tell you who's first.

Court Dancer is by War Chant out of a mare by the Secretariat stallion D'accord; and this is the direct female family of the great sprinting mare Honorable Miss (the dam of the latter is the 3rd dam of Court Dancer). And I must admit that I well remember her beating the boys to win her second straight Fall Highweight Handicap with Willie Shoemaker aboard at Belmont Park.  What I didn't recall as clearly is that the race took place on opening day at Belmont....on August 31, 1976.  Seems so long ago now that Labor Day weekend was a major racing weekend downstate.  How long before we're saying that about the 4th of July too?  (Well, I suppose we can already say that, but how long before July 4 is opening day at Saratoga?)

Kiaran McLaughlin had two winners, and also has nine for the meet; albeit from 43 starters.  Sayaad ($6.80) was for some reason second choice to the Toddster's Winning Cause even though he was clearly faster according to the popular speed figures.  Reinforces how surprising those odds on Corfu were given how Pletcher's horses tend to get bet (understandable when you're winning at 36%). Sayaad is by Street Sense out of a mare by Time for a Change (Damascus); and this is the distaff family of the fun-loving and stakes-winning Warrior brothers (A Z, E Z, and J Z).

In the 8th (and in the goofy stuff happens in racing category), McLaughlin won with his first-timer Almurra, who was 6-1 morning line, but for some reason paid $47.80.  Talk about dead on the board; type of horse I would never, ever bet.  She's a Shadwell home-bred by Street Cry out of the Grade 1 winner Alwajeeha!  Seriously!  True, her works were mostly just breezes, and the barn may not be the best debut outfit; but it's hardly incompetent.  Really hard to figure that one.

In the 9th, the Albany Stakes for state-breds, 3-5 Amberjack went down to Escapefromreality ($8.50), for trainer Dominic Schettino.  I'd picked that barn's horse in the 10th, and as much as I like to follow hot trainers, I usually prefer that he/she doesn't win the race immediately preceding. Then, Schettino's horse in the finale, Cielo Soleggiato, was inexplicably bet down to 2-1 favoritism. I mean, I thought he looked intriguing at his 6-1 morning line, and honestly thought he'd go off higher than that. But he was an absolutely awful bet at 2-1, maybe the worst favorite of the meet, and he didn't run so good either.  Rosario was able to slow the pace to 49 4/5 after a 24 1/5 opening quarter, but really had nothing left (and seemed to get bumped pretty good too).  The goofily-named Horse Latitudes ($14.20) sat the perfect trip and won easily for trainer John Hertler, who's been dropping this one seeking his proper level.  Guess he found it.  It seems that every year, I'm sitting here writing about how Hertler is a low-percentage but highly capable trainer who always seems to put together a little streak up there.  In fact, this year, he's having a particularly rough time; but this was his second winner from his last three starters (giving him a total of three for the year).

 - In this Postcards from Saratoga column from Wednesday's edition of the Times, Drape shows what he can do when he is celebrating the sport instead of trying to tear it down.


El Angelo said...

I can't figure out for the life of me how McLaughlin's horse went away at such a large price. It's not like there was a world-beater in the field.

Figless said...

Not that I beat that race up but I did lob in a P4 and I ignored that filly because she is bred to run long on the turf and I presumed this was just a prep for a later stretch out. Those sprints have been trending front runners but the speed unusually collapsed in this race.

Assume everyone was thinking similarly but red boarding she did have a nice final breeze and 24-1 certainly does seem ridiculous.