RSS Feed for this Blog

Friday, August 12, 2005

Seeking Clarity

- We prefaced the day at the track with a swim at Lake Moreau. It’s a state park not much more than 10 miles north on 87 to Exit 17N. It seems more crowded than I remember from the last couple of years there. Today there was a group there, the Moreau Seniors, having an outing, and they took up virtually all the picnic tables. There was a big Bingo game going on. The caller would announce the numbers, and then several others stationed about like the spotters at a horse sale would repeat the number for those who may have missed the original announcement. "B-13." "B-13." It reminded me of Johnny Carson’s Karnack routine, when Ed McMahon would always repeat the answer in the envelope and draw one of Carson’s hilarious looks - I think Carson was funnier for those looks on his face than for what came out of his mouth. “Shogun.” “Shogun.” “What’s the first thing you do when you hold up a liquor store?” Watching the Bingo proceedings, I thought of something Harvey Pack once said of his father, who told him that because of horse racing, he’ll never be bored a day in his life. Well, there’s always Christmas day. One thing I can tell you for sure; 20 years from now you won’t find me sitting in a park playing fucking Bingo!

The water in the lake is so calm and tranquil even with kids frolicking about. We take ourselves out to the swim lane and just stare out at the still lake with the trees lining its perimeter and it’s just so peaceful, making everything going on in the world seem so much more unreal. Why would we spend time trying to blow each other up when we could all just sit by a country stream? What’s most soothing about the water to me is how clear it is. In fact, everything seems so totally clear up here compared to the city; it’s like watching TV after someone wipes off the layers of dust you didn’t realize were there. The colors seem more vivid and everything becomes more distinct.

Of course, the sport of thoroughbred racing as conducted at Saratoga doesn’t always seem that clear. The track itself does and the horses take on a new individuality that doesn’t come through downstate, but the results are often as confusing as anywhere. To try and simplify things, I decided before the races on Thursday that I would for the time being go back to concentrating on individual races instead of Pick 3s and 4s. Not that I haven’t done well with them, on the contrary, I have a big profit since I recently started utilizing multi-race bets. But I felt as if I missed some good value the last couple of days perhaps because I’ve been looking at races ahead and not giving the present race full attention. In addition, the nice payoffs I’ve either had or agonized over made me a little greedy, and whereas in the past I was always thrilled with a solid $40 exacta, I was starting to reach a bit in my effort to score big.

The second race brought into play a principle I picked up in Tom Brohamer’s essential Modern Pace Handicapping. He writes about what he refers to as “Hey Buddy” horses – ones that are dropping in claiming price after a win. He says that this is the same as if someone slinked up to you at the track and went “Psst. Hey, buddy. I got a horse here that’s worth $50,000 but just for you, you can have him for $40,000.” That’s really what’s happening when a horse that has proven he/she can win at a certain level suddenly drops below it. I imagine most people would walk away from the shadowy stranger making you an offer you can’t refuse, so why would you want to wager your money on that horse in a race? Brohamer considers this an opportunity to throw out a horse that is sometimes odds on, and advises not only to bet against it, but to throw it out completely, and bet aggressively with exotics.

In the second, One Eyed Joker shipped in for Dale Romans after not one, but two wins for 50K at Churchill, but was running here for 40K with Bailey. Hey. Buddy. He also had the crummy 8 post. So as the crowd bet him down to 6-5. I came up with a cold exacta of Love to Tango, moving up in class after two straight wins over Lethimthinkhesboss (to be referred to from this point as the 3 horse), a horse that likes to run in the money but not necessarily win. There are some races during which there’s a point I think, ‘if I can’t win this race, I’ll never win one,’ and I had that thought here as they approached the final turn. Love to Tango is by himself on the lead in moderate fractions with Coa, behind him is 18-1 Lunar Man, who figured to be quitting soon since he hadn’t made the lead, my 3 horse, who had 15 out of 23 in the money but only 3 wins, is sitting reliably in 3rd, and the favorite was lagging in last. It seemed as clear as Lake Moreau. But Lunar Man proved to be a persistent foe, challenging for the lead until midstretch. That softened up Love to Tango up enough so that it took a desperate (and lucky) head bob for me to get the money. The $35 exacta won’t get me an extra night in town, but I had it cold enough times to get me through the day with a small profit despite it being my only winner.

I sat and watched as a couple of betting coups followed. In the third, the absurdly hot Jimmy Jerkins had Dina, a 3 yo Dynaformer filly making her turf debut. Jerkins’ dad Allan had the logical favorite at 8-5, but the money came in on the nose in the win pool on Dina and persisted, making him the 7-2 second choice. I’ve been following J Jerkins, but it’s at the point with him for me like that episode of Taxi when Louie knew that Rieger’s luck had run out at the craps table. So I just observed in amazement as the barn won again. In the second race, Coa had rated Love to Tango in splits of 24.3, :49.1, 1:13.2. In this race, with a 3 yo filly, he was pressured to fractions of 23.4, :47.1, 1:10.4, but was still able to come home 6 2/5 seconds for the win, Jerkins’ 7th of the meet with just 14 starters, amazing.

The 4th race featured a universal good thing. Dutrow’s My Dynomite, a 2 yo NY-bred making his debut off 4 works was 5-2 morning line, but was the heavy favorite all the way, eventually getting hammered to .45-1! To me, the people who bet all this money on 2-5 shots that have never stepped on the track, the “they” of “they’re betting the 7”, exist in some kind of mysterious netherworld. Far be it from me to criticize anyone with a winning strategy, but to wager vast sums on horse that have never run for a miniscule return is just a concept that is beyond my comprehension. My Dynomite is by Lite the Fuse, a 19% first-out sire according to the Form.

With the 5th an unplayable 5 ½ furlong turf race – these races may eventually prove to be popular here (for me), but for now they’re an unbettable mish-mosh of sprinters who have never tried the turf and turf routers who have never tried a sprint – my discipline broke down and I started betting races at Monmouth. I’d been very good ignoring the simulcast tracks up to this point. I pissed away money in the 4th there , but I got way into the 7th, and came up with another cold exacta combo with an improving winner over a horse that gets a piece but hasn’t recently won. It was well-conceived but I was foiled when I ran 2-3 to a 27-1 shot that had no business winning! Argh!! Didn’t see the will-pay but it was a 2-1 over an 8-1 with a 9-5 Pletcher horse out, and it would have made the day a solid winning one.

The 6th (at Saratoga) was the first divison of the restricted De La Rose stakes for F&M on the turf, and it was the race I was most looking forward to as a betting affair. I recalled the sharp shippers who won the other day at big prices and saw this as a similar chance. I came up with Brunilda (9-1), High Court (22-1) and Broad Hopes (12-1), and agonized over how/what to bet. I’d been looking forward to this one all day but it was quickly over. Remember the fractions from the 2nd and 3rd? John Velazquez took Pletcher’s Path of Thunder to the lead in 25.3, and that was really it. In 25.3 seconds, hours of handicapping and anticipation went up in smoke. Poof. After a :51 first half – remember, this was a stakes race - it took Velazquez and Path of Thunder just :45.4 to complete the mile, and no one in his wake had a shot in the world, that was crystal clear from the start.

A couple more futile attempts and I was done for the day, retaining my small but psychologically important profit as the 9th approached. Again, a Dutrow first time NY-bred was getting totally hammered, though this time it may have been more the fact that the 3yo, Stephanootz (Afternoon Deelites), is a half-sister to Lion Tamer than some inside info. Still, she went off at 7-10, unbelievable – that netherworld again! I had a feeling this one was going down, but I just watched as she got left at the gate and could only manage to rally for 4th. Chantal Sutherland, who made the cover of Friday’s Form, almost stole another one at 14-1, but settled for second to 17-1 Chopping Wood.

At night, we went to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to see the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was the Tchaikovsky Spectacular. I’m more of a baroque guy myself, but I guess you can’t go wrong with stuff like Swan Lake and the 1812 Overture. The guy playing the piano for the Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op. 20 was really amazing and had to take his jacket off halfway through. I don’t think Tchaikovsky liked piano players. The finale of the 1812 Overture was accompanied by real cannon fire; and I must say that in this day and age, a guy who warily boards the New York City subway each workday could have done without that; I must have jumped three feet in the air. More welcome were the fireworks after the show. Again, the sky was so clear that the colors seemed much more vibrant than one would normally see downstate; every light and every little sparkle seemed to take on its own life. I’m hoping for half that much clarity at the races today.