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Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Rest of Travers Day

- Saturday’s card at Saratoga was a welcome throwback to better days there in which the races were consistently ultra-competitive and betting opportunities abounded. At the same time, it amplified just how lackluster too many of the racing days have been in 2005. There was a time not that long ago when there was no New York bred program, yet great racing cards were presented consistently; what would the racing here be now if that was the case? Perhaps it would be better because there would be more incentive in the form of more unrestricted races for stables to ship in for from out of town?

On Saturday, even the two state-bred affairs, carded as the first two races, were wide open betting contests. I returned to the track for the third after my walk to town, but just watched as Watchmon (Maria’s Mon) rallied for an extremely impressive 7 furlong victory, flying through the stretch in a final furlong of 12.77, for a final time just two fifths slower than that of Lost in the Fog. Watchmon was 9th when entered in the Belmont (amazing that he went off only 20-1), and showed much promise here at the turnback distance as he became the second horse to come out of the Belmont and win here this week (Nolan’s Cat was the other). Considering the way Watchmon has been ambitiously campaigned (he ran in the Tesio at Pimlico off his maiden win) expect him to turn up in some fall sprint stakes. It was the first of two winners for trainer Patrick Reynolds.

The 4th and 5th were wide open turf allowance races, the kind you might end up sitting out because you can’t throw anyone out instead of because you can’t make a case for anyone. These are the type of races you can look for competitive horses that are legitimate overlays. It’s kind of a guess, really, but compare it to the guesses you make when you bet a first timer at 5-2. It’s these kind of races where you can truly find value and be satisfied that you made a sound bet whether you win or lose. I guessed wrong in the 4th, keying 6-1 Moonlight in a race in which the favorite Silver Strings was 3.45 to 1. Moonlight ran a fine third while wide, but wasn’t good enough to beat 7-1 Steel Buns. The crowd is always turned off when a Mott horse isn’t ridden by Bailey, but Cornelio Velasquez is no slouch these days and provided another clever front-end win. It was the second win in a row after 6 losing (and very well-bet) maiden tries for this A.P. Indy granddaughter of the great racemare Dahlia.

The 5th was possibly even more wide open, though Frankel’s Misto Quente was overbet to 2-1. This time I guessed right, as Baron Von Tap was overlaid at 10-1; perhaps the crowd noticed that his trainer Kristina Dupps had only one win in 24 starters in 2005. He was rated on the lead by that guy Cornelio Velasquez, who calmly slowed the half down to :48, sat chilly as the favorite drew alongside around the turn, and sprinted away with two sub-24 second quarters and a :12.18 final eighth. This guy can ride. After mostly blowing Shadow Cast on Friday, I decided to not fool around and just bet him to win, ok?

In the 6th, a 2 yo maiden race that I once had visions of Highland Cat making his debut in, the aforementioned Superfly, the full brother to Andromeda’s Hero, was the 2-1 favorite, but it was Pletcher’s first-timer Ivanovsky who got pounded on the nose late to 5-2 despite limited works. I jumped on board just for fun, despite the fact that I pointed out on this very website the other day that Pletcher has been burning up money big time with horses making their debut, and hasn’t had one win since August 4. I guess I was trying to be cute, or something. He ran third. (On Sunday, his entry of first time NY- breds ran 2nd and 8th at 1.30 to 1 in the second.)

Another turf allowance in the 7th, and though it looked wide open to me, the crowd made Battle Chant and Miesque’s Approval 9-5 and 5-2 respectively. I ran 6th with King’s Coronation (12-1), but on another day, perhaps with the stars aligned slightly differently (or with me standing somewhere else in the track) I just as easily could have had the winner Rahy’s Chance ($18.20), the second winner for Patrick Reynolds.

Then came the Pick 4 races, and since the individual races presented little in the way of wagering possibilities, I took the opportunity to just let the bet ride, and to spend time to enjoy watching some of the game’s top stars close up in the paddock and on the track. Also, with all the horses coming from the detention barn, they all come through the path in the backyard that winds parallel to the stretch through the grandstand to the paddock, and it seems strange sometimes that you can stand so close as horses worth millions come walking through. Most people seem unaware of this rare opportunity, and it’s easy to find a spot right on the fencing, and you’re close enough to pet them.

It wasn’t long after the Travers that I had my game face back on for the 12th. I was hoping John Velasquez and Jerry Bailey did too, as they wheeled right back after the big stakes race. I liked both their mounts, Tiverton and favored Friar, coming off a layoff for Mott, in yet another wide open turf contest, this one for maidens. I fashioned a triple part wheel with both of them on top, adding one other, Cat’s On a Prowl, to the place spot, and throwing in a couple more for the show spot. Having seen my horse cross the wire first in each of the previous four races, the fact that two of them were prohibitive favorites notwithstanding, I was a little giddy when my pair were sitting 2nd and 3rd behind 16-1 Jay W shot, who figured to fade. But on the turn, Cat’s On a Prowl made a huge move and took the lead. Meanwhile, Jay W faded, and 10-1 Raider Brigade, one of the extras I used for third, had rallied safely into that spot. Friar was done, but Tiverton was there with a shot. It’s funny how these races can unfold when you bet a triple; if it had been someone I didn’t have on my ticket headed for 3rd, I’d been rooting for my top horse to lose to spare me the pain of having a winner and not cashing. But now I was screaming for Velasquez, and he drove Tiverton up the hedge for a neck win and half of a $324 triple for me.

I had a great day, and thanks also to my late rally on Friday, had a winning weekend and wiped out the losses of the previous weekend as well. More importantly, I overcame a bad streak that in the past would have me timid and unsure. I maintained my confidence, stuck to the things that had been working in the recent past, and sat out many races that I thought didn’t provide any chances for value. I think I’m about ready to go back for more.