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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Tuesday Morning Notes - Aug 30

- I'm watching the horrifying reports from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and I hope that my readers in those areas are safe and sound.

- I looked at the attendance at Saratoga on Monday and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw 12,376. That’s typical of the last couple of weekdays, but this was still technically the end of Travers week. It was pretty apparent to me that the Travers Day crowd would be off when I saw the crowd on Thursday actually decrease from Wednesday, and then the Friday crowd of only 22,796. Usually, the crowds build to around 30,000 on that Friday. NYRA’s Bill Nader spoke hopefully in the days leading up to Travers Day, "We're hoping for over 50,000.”[Troy Record] They had over 66,000 for the race in 2003 even after Funny Cide and Empire Maker both bowed out, and over 48,000 last year. What makes the decline even more alarming is the fact that the weather was perfect all week through Saturday.

It’s hard to say why Travers week crowds dropped off so precipitously. Perhaps some bettors were turned off by the mediocre quality that they encountered too often in the first few weeks? Or perhaps the Saratoga phenomenon has simply peaked. It’s been an up and down summer for NYRA, which was heartened by the positive comments made by the federal monitor earlier in the meet, but has been buffeted by the release of poor 2004 financials, recent comments by Gov Pataki and Senator Bruno indicating that their chances of retaining the franchise are dim, and now this unexpected and rather startling dropoff in the Travers week crowds.

It looked like the sun was out for most of Monday (though I know the forecast had been threatening), and only one of 5 scheduled turf races was taken off. It’s hard to imagine what 12,376 even looks like there; it must seem so empty. This Wednesday and Thursday are traditionally amongst the lowest attendance days of the meet; I wonder if NYRA’s streak of crowds of 10,000 or more is in jeopardy, especially if the predicted mid-week rains arrive.

- The highlight of Monday’s card was the American debut of the 4 yo filly Alinghi, a multiple Grade 1 winner in Australia with earnings of over $2.6 million. She was 4-5 for Bobby Frankel and leading rider Edgar Prado. She must have given her backers some anxiety; though her Aussie comment lines mostly contained the word “led,” she was far, far back – over 10 lengths at the half mile pole of the grassy 1 1/16 mile G3 Ballston Spa BC Handicap. Even Tom Durkin seemed skeptical when he noted that she “has a lot of work to do” as they approached the final turn, but by then she had already started to glide past horses. "She's push-button and she's very exciting," Prado said. "She's got a lot of class. Her turn of foot reminds me of Kitten's Joy." [NY Daily News] She sustained her rally to win by 1 ¼, and I’d like to see how fast she ran in the last quarter mile. It was her first start over a mile, and her first in five months. Yet another potential star for Frankel, though Allnghi is not nominated to the Breeders Cup.

Another Pletcher first-timer burned up money; his 2 yo filly Wait A While (Maria’s Mon) was made the 2-1 favorite in the 4th, and was nowhere, barely even getting a call. Wayne Lukas got the win with front-runner Fast Deal, just his 5th winner at the meet in at least 48 tries. It was a bizarre day for D. Wayne, as he had two horses scratched just minutes before post time. In the third, Dance n Romance acted up while entering the gate, causing jockey Chantal Sutherland to bump her head; she was able to walk away on her own. Fast Deal was the latest horse to have a blinkers change that wasn’t published in the past performances or program.

Then in the 5th, the late scratch of Lukas’ Silent Bid left Pletcher’s Upscaled as the 2-1 favorite; not a first time starter, but first time turf. He got involved in a hot 21.50 first quarter with Terrific Challenge, and that one went on impressively for trainer Stanley Hough – the half in 44.59. and then sprinting away with an eighth in 11.92 with Javier Castellano.

Castellano then took the 6th on the turf, one of several highly competitive betting contests on the day. He saved ground and found room with Mountain Mambo for Philip Serpe, as favored On The Catwalk was absolutely buried on the rail in the stretch “crying for running room,” as sympathetically noted by Durkin. Second place finisher Half Heaven lost a lot of ground on the turn and finished well.

- Patrick Biancone announced the Chekhov will be rested until next year.

"He just needs more time," trainer Patrick Biancone said. "He will come back next year, forget about it for the rest of this year, and hopefully he will wake up at four when he matures."
"He’s lazy," said Biancone, who does not see any reason to try him again this year. "For what? Right now he has no chance." [Thoroughbred Times]

Perhaps he has no chance because he’s a horse that’s eligible for entry level allowance races running in Grade 1 stakes. Maybe he’s lazy because he’s run his best against the top 3 yo’s in the country and has nothing to show for it, and figures, why bother? Where will they decide to make his 4 yo debut, in the Donn Handicap?