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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Travers Day Notes

- There’s supposed to be some kind of “Travers Festival” going on here, but it’s hard to tell, really, that there’s anything special going on here this week. For one thing, NYRA has got to be concerned about the crowds this week. Yesterday’s attendance of 22,761 was higher than the previous two days, but actually almost a thousand less than the week before, and that was a day of threatening weather, whereas yesterday was perfect. I’m sure everything is full in Saratoga itself, but the place I’m staying at in Albany, which is usually filled this weekend, seems considerably less so. I dunno, they’re still calling for 50,000, but we’ll see about that.

As far as any special Travers week events, the only thing I saw was a procession of kids in town the other day, led by a guy with a sign that said Traver’s Childrens Parade. I know there was some kind of Marylou Whitney-sanctioned event at the track itself, a hot dog eating contest and some kind of microbrew thing.

But I was lucky enough to see the most spectacular Travers Week event at all, though I don’t know if it was officially anointed as part of the festivities. I made my brief nightly stop at the harness track. I’ve needed to get it all out of my system, but I've restrained myself well and actually only made one bet in three quick visits this week. Last night, I got there for the 6th and was disappointed to see that the program would be interrupted after that race for something called the “Hot to Trot” fireworks event. Oh man, fireworks at a racetrack? Isn’t that bad for the horses? I was wondering about the signs posted around the track warning that there would be a lot of smoke, and to stay inside if you have “trouble breathing!”

So I imagned it wouldn’t be an ordinary fireworks display, and boy, was I right. It was Vincent Silvestro, the Pyrotechnic Wonder from Down Under. This guy comes out in his sulky, which is loaded with fireworks canisters and pulled by his “wonder horse,” and after a couple of laps and some dramatic music, he stands up on the shaft of the sulky, sparks start flying out, seemingly from the sides of the horse, he's shooting fireworks up into the air as he circles the track...oh man, what a freaking riot. And meanwhile, this horse is pacing around the track, not turning a hair and without a care in the world. I didn’t have my camera but took this from his website.

This was truly worth the price of admission. Which was zero. It even caused me to pass on the 6th from Del Mar. So Vincent Silvestro made my Travers festival a festive one indeed.

- I walked through the racino each time I was at the harness track, and I can’t tell you just how depressing it seems. What particularly struck me is that I’ve never actually seen anyone win. Just people of various ages assuming assorted seating postures, pushing buttons, staring at the screen, repeat. Some people have these cards that they stick in the machines, which I suppose makes for an endless flow of cash. Not once have I heard a cheer or seen someone pump a fist. Does anyone every win at these places? I pass by the place on my way to the races and I’m just shocked by the number of cars in the lot. It’s hard to believe that anyone would spend a beautiful summer early afternoon sitting in that place like that. It doesn’t make me feel the least bit good about our game to think that we’re depending on these machines for survival.

- Todd Pletcher seems perplexed by Ashado’s off the board performance in the Personal Ensign, telling the Daily News "I can't see (a reason) yet,"

"She never seemed to fire......Even though that filly was going pretty fast, she was never dragging Johnny (Velazquez, her jockey) along the way she normally does. She left there flat and ran flat the whole way." [Albany Times Union]
- Steve Crist thinks that the $1 million Pick 4 could pay something like $24.60 for the first three favorites along with one of the 3 top Travers choices.
How are you going to beat Leroidesanimaux in the Fourstar-dave, Henny Hughes in the Hopeful, Lost in the Fog in the King's Bishop, and the three favorites - Bellamy Road, Flower Alley, and Roman Ruler - in the Travers? The more you look at it, maybe $24.60 for a $6 investment on that combo wouldn't be so bad.

It will take an extraordinary combination of cleverness, contrarianism, and luck to escape the seeming inevitability of such a chalky outcome. While Saturday's favorites all have a little something to prove, they are all wonderfully consistent and talented championship contenders to whom there are few reasonable alternatives. [Daily Racing Form, sub only]
- Todd Pletcher at least had the win by Adieu in the Spinaway to console him, but he teed off on those who saw fit to downgrade the race to a Grade 2 this year.
"One thing I would like to say is that to me, it's an absolute joke that the Spinaway is not a Grade I race. In my opinion the Graded Stakes Committee should be ashamed of themselves. The oldest stakes race run for 2-year-olds in the country, in a place like Saratoga, not to be a Grade I is an absolute joke." [NY Daily News]
- Bob Baffert has this to say to those, like me, who may be speculating that Flower Alley has a conditioning advantage because of an extra week’s rest. "[Winning] the Haskell was like nothing for Roman Ruler.....He was like, 'Hey, I can do that again in an hour.' Bailey got off and said he's learned how to run, that he can go a mile-and-a-quarter." [NY Post] Bailey is a guy who is generally honest and fortright when he expresses opinions like that.

- Well, I’m off in a little while to the big Travers program – 12 races starting at 12:30 and running until 7!?! This sounds like a lot even for me, especially coming after the last three nearly full days. I’m outta here after today, and this is likely my final appearance of the meet. Maybe. Of course, there’s still a slight possibility that Highland Cat, who turned in another solid half mile work yesterday, will run here on Friday; then I’ll have to come back. I haven’t done much in the way of advance handicapping for today. I tend to lose my concentration when I’ve handicapped too much before the day, so I’m trying a change of tactics for today. Have a great day at the races (or at the slots...yuck).