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Sunday, August 14, 2005

A Head Bob and Fat Detective

- It was another hot day on Saturday, and we went for a swim up at Lake Moreau before heading back for the last half of the Saratoga card. It wasn’t only the Head Chef that needed a little break. We walked in just before Winning Minister (Deputy Minister) took the 5th for Bobby Barbara, his second winner of the day and third in the last two. Whatsmore, it was his second 2 yo winner in that time (Win McCool on Friday) that had gotten beat at 3-5 in his prior race debut. The old Bobby Barbara second time starter off a loss at 3-5 angle.

In an earlier division of the 2 yo race, first-timer Congo King (Horse Chestnut) got the win for Richard Dutrow; this despite that the fact that he was the 7-2 morning line second choice went off at 7-1. This is one horse I can assure you I never would have had. Formulator 4.0 reveals that it was the biggest payoff for a Dutrow first-time winner in at least five years. It’s not even close; he had one at 6-1 that was first under the wire but DQ’d, and a couple at 5-1.

My day started with the confusing and wide open 6th; Willfullness was going for Castle Village, and I feel almost obligated to back their horses when I’m there. It was a tough race and I got so discombobulated by it that I just passed it altogether, which I tend to do sometimes. It was a bit like old times as Fiddlers Cat, trained by Del Carroll, who at one time thrived here but is struggling with just 7 prior wins this year, got bet hard to 4-1 from the outside post and got the win.

Then came a Pick 3 featuring the two stakes races and the 9th, a NY-bred allowance in which Hollywood shipper The Daddy looked like a lock. I knew that I would have to create some value in the first two legs and the G2 AG Vanderbilt seemed like the ticket. I didn’t like Smokume with his 1 for 7 record at 6 furlongs, nor the favorite Kelly’s Landing, getting bet at 5-2 off a 112 Beyer in his last at Churchill. I’m getting more confident at taking stands against single inflated speed figures like that. Godolphin’s Botanical, coming off an allowance win in his US debut at 2-5, was the morning line choice but he was totally dead on the board; he eventually, almost reluctantly so it seemed, went down to 7-2. I liked Frankel’s I’m The Tiger at 10-1, Jimmy Jerkins’ Voodoo at 7-1, and I had to throw in Biancone’s Pomeroy at 7-2 off his past Saratoga form, though I was sure unhappy when he balked at the starting gate.

But it was 4 yo Pomeroy (Boundary) breaking from the gate, setting absurd fractions of 21.3 and 43.4, and then drawing away in the stretch, unfortunately from I’m The Tiger, winning by daylight in 1:08.69. He’d been a disappointment this year after taking the Kings Bishop here last year as a 3 yo, but he’d demonstrated his affinity for the Saratoga track (water? air?) at 2 and at 3 and with a 46 second half mile work the other day. It used to be that the bettors jumped all over “horse for the course” types here, and in the days before the Form published Beyer figures, I can guarantee that this horse would have been the favorite.

When I looked down at my program, I realized that the 3-4-7 that I’d written down as my Pick 3 plays were in fact the first three finishers, returning a triple of $627. I felt a little silly! I mean, it’s not like I loved Pomeroy and was considering keying him in triples – in fact, if I liked anyone in particular it was Frankel’s horse – but what the hell? It’s a different mindset between picking 3 or 4 horses you think have a shot for Pick 3s and betting an individual race and I’m having some problems deciding which way to go. I do have a budget for betting y’know, and if I went heavy on the Pick 3s and the individual races, I could exceed it early in the day.

Well, it was on to the G1 Sword Dancer, and I had Frankel again amongst my three selections, but I never imagined that his King’s Drama would get absolutely hammered to be the 2-1 favorite. In fact, I was way way off in thinking I’d get some value from amongst he, Relaxed Gesture (5-2) and Meteor Storm (7-2). I tried to create some by using the favorite with Meteor Storm in exactas, as that combo was paying nice, but the latter couldn’t gain any ground despite a nice ground-saving trip as the favorite held off Relaxed Gesture.

When The Daddy cruised home in the 9th, I was almost embarrassed to inform the Head Chef that I’d collected a meager $62 for my $18 investment. Lesson: there’s really no value in these multi-races that have an overwhelming favorite that everyone singles, and it’s probably best to avoid them if you can’t see beating that favorite.

I’d felt that I’d done some nice work and had little to show for it. The tenth and final was a wide-open NY-bred turf allowance. I’d already thrown out a few bucks on a double with The Daddy and Suffolk shipper and eventual last place finisher Mattsutterrun, and I was looking elsewhere. The crowd was inexplicably betting the 9 horse Smokin John off a 13 month layoff – I swear, I think sometimes people are so wasted by then that they don’t even notice things like the year in the PPs being ‘04’ instead of ’05.’

I settled on the 6, Hunting Hillbilly, first off the claim for Dale Romans, who hits 26% on those. The problem with him is that he was actually dropping 5K off what he was claimed for, and I would generally balk at that. But again, there are no hard fast rules in handicapping for the most part (Romans is the guy who sent out the Hey Buddy horse on Wednesday, but this was a different situation), and he still seemed to fit well, especially with the other horses I identified as contenders coming from outside posts. He also had Pablo Fragoso, winless here in 43 tries; but Fragoso had delivered a flawless though futile ride on Willfulness earlier, so I figured maybe he was due - after all, even Robby Alvarado had 2 winners on the day.

I used him on top in triples, perhaps still smarting a bit over the 7th race triple I didn’t have and trying to make up for it. Hunting Hillbilly broke awkwardly and was steadied a bit, but settled into position on the hedge. They went :25 to the quarter and I shook my head, but the pace and the front-end action picked up. Fragoso hugged the rail around the final turn, and as the leaders started to fade, I saw him start to bull his way through horses. Also rallying was the favorite, Dutrow’s Holy Panache, who I had on my ticket. I saw that the 8 horse, Forget the Judge (9-1), who I also had, was going to be third and that it was going to come down to the battle for the win spot. Hunting Hillbilly was there, but the favorite would not yield and they came to the wire on even terms with their heads bobbing back and forth.

At this point, Beyer figures, trip notes, trainer angles, betting pools – all this is out the window. It’s just a matter of whose head is down at the finish. No more than a flip of a coin or a push of a slots machine button. On Wednesday, the bob went in my favor for a $35 exacta, but this time, with more on the line, it was not to be. I knew that Holy Panache’s head was down on the line and that I’d be lucky to get a dead heat. I wasn’t lucky, and it was a cruel and devastating beat - and to Dutrow no less, becoming a nemesis to me. The triple paid $140 that way, and I tried not to think what it would have paid if it came in my way. Just a little bit earlier, even with my disappointing Pick 3, a wave of euphoria had come over me and I had told the Head Chef several times how great this all was. Now, I was stunned into silence, and it was a long, quiet walk back to the car. I’d been there for 5 races, and was right about many, many things, yet walked out barely even. The thought of picking up the Form and starting all over again for Sunday seemed too much to bear.

We had a 9 PM dinner reservation, and I’d been promised a chance to finally go over to the harness track for a bit, and the Head Chef was now anxious to see me go. I figured it would be better than sitting and moping and replaying the race in my mind over and over, as if a different result there would change things. I went to school in Schenectady in the mid-70s and spent many, many a night at Saratoga Harness, so it’s a familiar scene, even with the first floor now turned into a slots parlor. There were even two drivers, Kim Crawford and Bert Belanger, that I use to see there 30 years ago! I had time for two races there, though I had my Racing Form with me turned to Del Mar. But the live races were surprisingly competitive and interesting, especially for a half-mile harness track, and I stuck with them.

As much as I’d like to, I won’t bore you, my thoroughbred audience, with the details, but I really hope that you’ll be happy to know that I hit the 4th race triple there, earning half of the $347.50 payoff. I’ll just say that was a fine piece of handicapping, and it seemed like a just reward for some rotten luck and some really good but fruitless work I’d put in earlier. The winner, The Fat Detective, is an 8 yo gelding running for a $4000 claiming tag who had earned $65,000 in his entire career. Winners come in all shapes and sizes but the cash and the satisfaction is always the same. So it's with much enthusiasm and renewal that I turn to the races for Sunday, our final day here.

- Wow, what a race the Beverly D was! I thought Megahertz had it midstretch; what an amazing race mare she is. Patrick Biancone had just won with Pomeroy before his Angara got the win. Melhor Ainda seemed to take the worst of the traffic in the stretch. "I got squeezed in there and had no place to go," said John Velazquez, who rode Melhor Ainda. "I had three horses in front of me all the way." [Daily Racing Form]