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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Losing Weekend

- As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t cash a ticket in three days this past weekend, betting around half the races. Not including simulcasts. On Friday, it at first seemed like a continuation of my last day there the previous Sunday, with the parade of favorites resuming. In the 4th, I had to bet against the 3-5 Pletcher entry – one of his 2 yo fillies was making her debut, and the other had never been on the grass, and it was the latter, J’Ray (Distant View), getting the win easily and breaking the trainer’s “slump.” I ran second with 10-1 Fairytale Story, a Phil Serpe first timer with interesting bloodline for grass – she’s inbred to Buckpasser and to Majestic Prince, and I didn’t regret not having the value-less $21.80 exacta.

The G2 Lake Placid was a competitive six horse field of 3 yo fillies for the turf, and I liked Bobby Barbera’s Victory Lap. She was coming off 5 straight turf wins and a giant fig from Lone Star, and Barbara’s barn had been live of late. He was 5-1, as Mott’s exquisitely-bred My Typhoon (Giant’s Causeway-Urban Sea) was made the 8-5 choice. Christophe Clement had a shipper from France, Naissance Royal; she was 7-2 morning line, and was hanging around 9-2 throughout. A look at Formulator showed that amongst the many foreign shippers Clement has won with over the last five years, 9-2 is rather high for these, so my first thought was that he wasn’t really getting bet. However, a look at the show pool showed that he was getting bet squarely on the nose. I was committed to my choice though, and saved with an exacta with Clement’s filly on top of mine.

Victory Lap ran a creditable third, and it was indeed Naissance Royale holding off the favorite in an exciting stretch duel. If you take a look at the payoffs, you’ll see just how the horse got bet. Even with the favorite running second, he paid $11.20, $4.80, and $4.60 to show; the relatively generous show payoff shows that he wasn’t amongst the top choices in that pool. It was the 25th first time off the plane winner for Clement in the last five years – only once did one of them pay more (5.50 to 1) and all the others were 3-1 or less. When the two favorites ran 1-2 in the 9th, it was a lost day and back to Albany (it was a budget weekend) to regroup.

- Saturday brought my first encounter of the meeting with a sloppy track and off the turf races. We sure have been fortunate with the weather up here this year. Perhaps the rain kept some people away and/or inside, because it was a very comfortable and mellow backyard area with the crowd just under 30,000. The wet track just put me further into a daze, but at least I had a close call in the 4th, when I had MTO Hunter’s Tale, who get absolutely hammered in to 5-2 in the last couple of minutes; he missed by a neck and I would have had the exacta had not favored Wicklow Highlands prevailed in his third gritty stretch duel in a row. I thought these horses are supposed to bounce?

In the 5th, Patrick Biancone’s 2 yo Kilimanjaro was 6-1 morning line, but went off 9-5 and took advantage of a 14 second final eighth to rally for the win. The late closing style was reminiscent of his second dam, Waya, one of my favorite race mares of all time.

My only fist pumping of the weekend was in the 9th, the restricted Troy Stakes, as Graham Motion’s Funfair came up the rail with a rousing rally under John Velasquez, and I was alive in the late double going into the Alabama. The 6 yo gelding’s second dam is Kentucky Oaks winner Seaside Attraction, and her dam is a half to Cape Town and Cape Canaveral.

But no, I did not have Sweet Symphony in the Alabama - I had R Lady Joy and Dance Away Capote - and remarked to the Head Chef shortly before the race that I thought she was being overbet. And I still do, but tell that to those who cashed in on her awesome performance. The 3 yo filly division has turned over several times, with the leadership passed on from Sweet Catomine to Summerly to Sis City to Smuggler and next, perhaps Sweet Symphony? There’s also Spun Sugar and why is it that all these fillies’ names start with an ‘S?’ I think I mentioned previously that Sweet Symphony’s second dam is Sharon Brown, the dam of Holy Bull.

Mike Watchmaker in the Form(sub only) discusses a couple of ways to look at Sweet Symphony’s performance.

In reality, Sweet Symphony's main opposition was Spun Sugar, whose development has proven to be disappointingly stagnant, and Sis City, who has been, and still is, miles removed from her best form.

But even though Sweet Symphony's off-the-pace romp in the Alabama should be viewed in this context, there is reason to be optimistic about this filly, who is now undefeated after four starts. For one, the Beyer folks liked the way she ran in the Alabama, assigning her a figure of 104, although it should be noted that the Alabama was a tricky number to make. The Alabama was run over a harrowed track rated as good, while all the other dirt races Saturday were run over a sealed track termed either sloppy or muddy.
- I was optimistic going into Sunday, but then again, who isn’t optimistic in Saratoga at 12:30 P.M? This feeling lasted until the gate opened for the first, when my top selection Smoke Warning, was left at the gate. It was like my bubble was burst right off the bat as I looked ahead to a ponderous card of short-priced favorites and three off-the-turfers. I found it disappointing that the 3rd and 4th from Delaware were far more interesting than the 2nd and 3rd at the Spa. However interesting though, I still lost.

The Head Chef, who became energized there this weekend and studied the horses intently and even had me buy her a program, had a winner when Cooking the Books was put up via DQ in the 2nd. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have not been put up in at least 20 years. It’s like the Mets never having a no-hitter, I feel like I’ll never get DQ’d into a win.

Wayne Lukas had two winners. His 2 yo Ex Caelis (Fusaichi Pegasus) came back along the inside to nip Serena’s Cat, overbet to 8-5 after being trounced by India, in the 5th. Then, he had A. P. Arrow in the 8th, and I’d been looking forward to betting against him since his last race, in which he rallied for second in a slow last eighth against a field lacking 2 turn experience. He was facing three of those once again here, and I was looking for someone, anyone, who might be running in the final eighth. I settled on Cosmonaut, trying the dirt for Carlos Martin after two sterling turf tries. It was a guess really, and a poor one as he ran last. I wasn’t wrong though about the race nor about A.P. Arrow despite the fact that he won. The leader Spanish Mission, was absolutely dying in the stretch; he was literally wobbling home he was so tired. The final eighth went in 14.45 seconds, and it took every inch for A.P. Arrow to run him down. You could see Jerry Bailey ease up as soon as he knew he had the race right before the wire.

I watched as Offlee Wild got beat, intimidated by all the winning favorites that had beaten me in the last three days. It was a lost weekend, but only in terms of money. I'm undaunted by this temporary setback, and already itching to go back for more.

- Sweet Symphony races for George Steinbrenner’s Kinsman Stable, and if Bellamy Road goes in the Travers, he’ll be going for a sweep of the big 3 yo races for each sex. The Boss wanted to play out the question of which race he will run in to the very end.
Steinbrenner had hoped to draw out the suspense to the morning of the race, instructing Bellamy Road's trainer, Nick Zito, to enter both races.

"They do that at other tracks, but they don't do it in New York because it's a state rule," Zito said Sunday after Bellamy Road, the Wood Memorial champion, blazed five furlongs over a muddy track in a swift 594/5 seconds.

While Steinbrenner's sleight of hand was thwarted by regulations, Zito essentially told on himself Sunday when questioned about how Bellamy Road appeared to run a lot farther than five furlongs in his workout.

Zito conceded that he had instructed the exercise rider Maxine Correa to gallop Bellamy Road out strong for a mile, which he clocked in 1:40. He also sent Bellamy Road out with two stable mates, Chief Commander and Go Now, both of whom Bellamy Road easily blew by.

"Yeah, he went farther," Zito said. "It was a two-turn work, and it was like a minirace."

In fact, it was the kind of endurance workout a trainer gives a horse in preparation for a mile-and-a-quarter route like the Travers rather than a seven-furlong sprint like the King's Bishop. [NY Times]