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Friday, August 26, 2005

Where are the Crowds?

- It doesn’t seem that crowded here as the Travers approaches. It was an absolutely perfect weather day on the Thursday before the big day, yet the crowd was only 17,405, actually a couple of thousand less than Wednesday. I imagine NYRA must be concerned, as the attendance usually builds as the big day approaches. It doesn’t seem particularly crowded in town either, nor at the motel at which I’m staying. I've also noticed the crowds noticeably thinning out as the days go on, perhaps because the races just haven't been that interesting?

It was another fruitless day for me on Thursday, and I’m getting frustrated not only with myself, but with the races. I feel as if my chances have been limited; not like in the past, when it seemed like every race was wide open, presenting a chance to make the one big score needed to get you through. It was like the day was virtually over for me after the 6th race; the 7th was a 4 horse field (more than 60 lengths separated first and last), and the 9th was one of those formless turf sprints that I despise – that eliminated the chance of me playing the final Pick 3 or 4. In the 8th, a sprint stakes for 3 yo fillies, Reunited was 4-5 for Dale Romans off a dominating win here earlier in the meet. I suppose I could have had the winner Nothing But Fun (Dixie Union). She was undefeated with two impressive wins herself.

So what made her 5-1 as opposed to 4-5? 13 Beyer points. That’s the way we handicap the races these days, and I was as intimidated as anyone else, and sat the race out. I think we all need to use a little more creativity! Yes, Reunited had won her last in a class above that of the eventual winner, but Hushion’s filly had every right to improve just as Reunited had. OK, I’m done lecturing myself.

Nothing But Fun is out of a Theatrical mare, and her second dam was a European stakes winner who produced others of the same, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find her on the grass at some point.

At least I showed discipline and kept my losses at a minimum on another difficult betting day. Tom Durkin got off to a bad start in the first when he mis-called Legs Benedict as Legs Diamond throughout the race. Chantal Sutherland drove Contenders Emotion through a late hole to take the opener; trainer Frank Martin, the one time NY claiming king, is enjoying a bit of a revival with a 10-3-2-2 record here.

I didn’t bet until the 3rd, an interesting maiden race in which Frankel’s Sir Halory got pounded late to 4-5; the half brother to Halory Hunter was making his first try around 2 turns. I recalled the failure of Aristocrat, Frankel’s half to Ghostzapper, negotiating distance for the first time the other day. Bredwinner is a money burner and was an easy throwout, and who would think 9 furlongs would be enough for Nolan’s Cat, the horse who finished third in the Belmont, breaking up my triple. I took a stab with 9-1 Pennant Contender, returning to the races for Bill Mott, who has an excellent record with returnees. But the addition of blinkers did the trick for Nolan’s Cat, who shockingly stalked the pace and then out dueled Sir Halory in an exciting stretch contest, as my selection was an outclassed third. Of course, you wouldn’t have known about the equipment change unless you were at the track listening to the announcements.

It was not announced at 12 p.m. (EDT) but at 12:30, and throughout the day on the crawl of the NYRA simulcast feed. Trainer Dale Romans had checked off on his entry that he was adding blinkers, but the NYRA race office missed it. When the overnight came out, Romans saw that Nolan's Cat was not listed as adding blinkers and he alerted the race office and stewards. It was too late to get it into the track program or past performances, but why NYRA did not have it on their initial changes for the day is inexcusable. [Brisnet]

(It may be worth noting (or not) that Andromeda’s Hero adds blinkers for the Travers.)

The more I handicap a card in advance, the more I’m subject to the temptation of simulcasts. Since I’m familiar with the live races, I tend to stray; but I successfully held myself back from losing wagers in the 3rd races at Monmouth and Ellis Park.

Darley Stable sent out 2 yo first timer Changing Weather in the 4th. Here was a hot money favorite (8-5 from 7-2 morning line) that totally lived up to his billing, setting a hot pace of 21.3 and 45.2, and then sprinting home in 12.1 for a sparkling final time of 57.3. Darley was a big player at the 2 yo in training sales, and they got this son of Storm Boot for $260,000 at Ocala in March.

The 5th was a gloriously competitive turf affair with lots of ways to go if you went against favored Fishy Advice, and the second choice Mumble Jumble. The latter is from the barn of Jimmy Jerkins, who has gotten very quiet the last week or so after his hot start. My two longshot stabs were a couple of shippers with fine form, Lone Arrow and Shredded, as I went against the Beyer grain, but they were nowhere. The race turned anticlimactic as Patrick Biancone’s Ball Four, with the outside post and 10 lb apprentice Julien Leparoux, jumped to the lead and never looked back. He was 7-1, but didn’t seem like a popular winner at all, as I heard virtually no cheering. Sometimes you’ll see a horse bet even lower win, and no one seems to have it, and you know that it was a “smart money” horse rather than a popular choice. Funny game sometimes.

By this time, I was getting frustrated again, especially with the poor last three betting races coming up. I was forced to move my chair because there was a woman next to me with a really annoying laugh. It was the piercing “Heh heh heh heh’ type cackle, and it was coming at a rate of 2 or 3 a minute, so I had to go. If I'd been winning, I probably wouldn't even have heard it. The 6th was a maiden turf event for 3 and up, and I tried to beat the logical favorite Dancy’s Angel. She was breaking from the ten post on the inner turf course, and at a mile, it’s a short run to the sharp first turn. I was thinking how difficult that post is, and how the crowd often doesn’t factor that in enough. I was feeling intellectually superior. Of course,she won easily by 3 at 6-5, as Elbar Coa expertly managed to get to the inside. My day at Saratoga was over. In the 8th at Monmouth, I correctly threw out the 3-5 favorite, and ran second to an 11-1 shot. Bad luck, but at least I was right on principle about something.

Friday’s card looks like another tough one, and includes three 2 yo maiden races. Us horseplayers are funny sometimes. We pore through the past performances for the most minute details of a few Beyer points or a few fifths of a second, study tapes of past races to find a couple of feet of ground lost here and there, and obsess over trainers’ records in similar spots. But put in front of us a bunch of babies who have never raced before and have absolutely nothing in terms of a past record for us to go on, and we’ll bet our money on them anyway in wagers that really are basically just us guessing.

- I overheard a group saying that they’ll be lined up at the gate at 3 A.M. Saturday morning so that they can run in and get a table for Travers Day. I’d like to be able to size the competitors up beforehand and get some bets down as to who gets the choice tables first. No past performances here either, just a matter of sizing up the field.

- Journey is performing here on Saturday night, and they always remind me of the comedien Robert Klein, who used to do a funny bit in which he would go something like – NEWS FLASH! IT’S TRUE! JOURNEY, KANSAS, AND STYX ARE ALL THE SAME BAND!! Klein also does a mean Fred Capossela.