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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Notes - Aug 1

- It was a bit after 8 PM this evening, the sun was already down, but yet a group of surfers were still at it. It's like the die hards still hanging around the OTB for the 13th from Fairplex. Well, OK, it's a bit nicer than a NYC OTB.

I have a couple of observations. This is certainly not Saratoga, and not just because it's blocks away from the Pacific Ocean. The racing doesn't seem to define and inspire the community as it does in upstate New York. I see people walking around with surfboards, not Racing Forms under their arms. Maybe I'm hanging out at the wrong places, but I haven't heard anyone at all talking about the races; not at the restaurants, at the supermarket, or anywhere but the track for that matter. I can't buy the Form at the supermarket. In fact, I had trouble finding it at all, before finally scoring one at a gas station mini-market across the street from the track. In Saratoga, you can buy it from kids who've set up shop on Broadway.

I've been riding a free shuttle bus that goes back and forth between the track and the Amtrak station, and there seem to be a lot of people that come down from points north, including L.A., just for the day. When I've mentioned to people around here that I'm here in part to check out the races, I get a "oh, that's nice," and not a sob story about a tough beat nor "my dad is a handicapper for the Racing Form."

Another observation, this one regarding the races, is that, even in the 'cheaper' races on the weekdays, these races have a lot of depth. I find that I'm not able to draw that many 'X' marks through horses on the first go-round, a process during which I can generally eliminate a fair amount of horses back east. Perhaps four days is not a sufficient statistical sample, or maybe I'm missing some more subtle elements that a regular would pick up on. Part of it is certainly the transferability of grass form to Poly, and vice versa, which prevents me from being able to quickly eliminate horses I would have in the past over surface considerations. Overall, I'm finding these races extremely contentious, and I'm not having an easy time with a good way, of course. I'm finding that there a lot of horses in that 6-1 to 10-1 range that appear live to me. I haven't happened upon the correct one yet, but I think that picking some spots to stand against the favorite and going for a sizable score is the way to go here. So wish me luck!

A.P. Excellent shows up in the 2nd race on Wednesday; it's his first race since his gut-wrenching defeat to Lava Man in the Gold Cup. I think it'd be fair to be concerned how he'll bounce back from that effort even if he wasn't switching to the grass. He's not changing surfaces for the right reason as far as I'm concerned; his trainer John Shirreffs doesn't seem to like synthetic surfaces according to Jay Privman's report in the Form, and this is not the first time I've read that. Shirreffs politely declined to touch the subject on Monday morning. But he's clearly running the horse on grass out of what he feels is necessity rather than part of a grand plan.

Owner Ahmed Zayat was not quite as polite as Shirreffs on Monday, engaging track CEO Joe Harper in what was described as a "heated" and "profanity-laced" argument over the surface that ended with the onwer announcing the departure of his 25 horses from the grounds. Zayat is upset about the way the track changes from the cool morning hours to the afternoon sun, and the slow times that have resulted. Bob Baffert, who trains Zayat's horses in Del Mar and helped ship them to Saratoga yesterday, said:

“There has been a quiet rumbling about this on the backside for two weeks. We're not asking for a souped-up racetrack; we're asking for a fair track that is consistent in the morning and the afternoon. [SignOnSanDiego]
I spoke to a couple of horseman at the track on Monday who told me that horses are suffering injuries that, while not life-threatening, are still career-ending. And that's not the first time I've heard that either. One of them also mentioned his concern over long-term health consequences for the jockeys, and again, that's an issue that I feel is being totally glossed over.

Anyway, back to A.P. Excellent, he's the 4-5 morning line, is 0 for 3 on the grass, and I'd love to bet against him. But even looking at the others with a more open-minded view, it's hard to get too excited about anyone. But I will offer up Macduff, the 3-1 second M.L choice, as a suggestion. He's in good form for Neil Drysdale, has a win at a mile and a quarter, and has some nice European class and distance influence in his immediate distaff family; including the Arlington Million winner Beat Hollow.

Gotta also mention the 10th at Saratoga. This is a wide, wide open entry level allowance grass race, wow. You can seriously make a case for at least eight of the ten runners. But let's try Cat Charmer; 6-1 morning line. Graham Motion is off to a slow start with no winners with his first seven starters. But he had seven winners here last year, six of them on the grass; and he hits 24% with 180+ layoff horses over the last two years. Let's say he's due. Cat Charmer last started in the Tropical Park Oaks, where she ran an even 5th in his third lifetime start. But in his maiden win, he unleased a visually dazzling wide rally, and won off despite racing very greenly in the stretch. She comes off a bullet work, and gets Garrett Gomez, who won both times he rode for Motion at the meeting last year.


Anonymous said...

I think that you are right to observe that Del Mar does not have the same horse playing culture sround it that does the Spa. Besides the fact that Saratoga has seen quality horse racing almost continuously since the Civil War whereas Del Mar has only in the last fifteen years or so reached somewhat similar levels, the population of Del Mar (and California, for that matter) is more transient and, as a result, cannot sustain the same tradition of horseplaying.

Anonymous said...

The uproar over surface really doesn't surprise me now that I've gotten a look at the Tapeta (I'm going to assume that they're all relatively similar). The guy doing the installation at Presque Isle Downs told me that it changes from hour to hour, and even the clump that I have here seems to change depending on the weather outside / whether or not I have the air conditioning on.

I would imagine that a track that constantly changed would screw with a horse's head, too. I think they're smart enough to figure that things will be a little different after rain / dry spells, but not from hour to hour. With some of the more fragile horses (mentally), I'd worry.

Anonymous said...

Found your comments on Del Mar's Polytrack very interesting. Sounds like you are having second thoughts about it now that you have seen it in action? Anyway, still waiting to hear you hum a few bars of "Where The Turf Meets The Surf"?! Do they still play that anthem every day b efore the first race? Have you met the Del Mar regulars to get their take on polytrack? Seen any of the Hollywood crowd? As you know, years ago it was a summer hangout for them a la Bing Crosby and other luminaries including FBI Czar J Edgar Hoover and Texas oilman Sid Richardson. Del Mar certainly has a racing tradition, and it's share of character-patrons over the years, but like everything else in SoCal the beach always seems to trump all. /S/Green Mtn Punter

Anonymous said...

Your quote in today's NY Observer:

“Spitzer can’t possibly come into office speaking about doing this new way of politics in Albany and then pick the bidder that has Richard Fields—his main guy,” said Alan Mann, who runs the thoroughbred racing blog “Left at the Gate” and has been following the industry for nearly 35 years. “There are political entanglements.”

Nice ink.

inthebeginningtherewasace said...

Great post!

I agree with Zayat about the track and with you about the glossing over of potential long-term health problems for the jockeys.

I also agree with your comments about the racing atmosphere in Del Mar versus Saratoga. You might be able to chalk some of what you have observed to the differences between the coasts. Del Mar is more about being seen at the races, with the actual racing second. On the other hand, it doesn't really seem fair to compare Saratoga to anywhere else in the world. Despite growing up a few miles away from the mecca that is Churchill Downs, I never got chills there the way I did when I walked in to Saratoga the first time.

I don't know about Cat Charmer in the 10th, though I did have her at 21-1 at Laurel last year. I have trouble seeing her improve enough to beat Tears I Cry and/or Ruban Blue. I do like St. Hildegard (6-1) in the 4th and Amansara (5-1) in the 9th.

Alan Mann said...

Late Scratch - That's really cool, though that's not really what I said. I said that you would THINK that Spitzer couldn't come into office the way he did and then pick Fields. But I added that I believe that Spitzer feels it's something that he can explain away and have it fly under the radar of the larger scheme of things. Or something like that.

Michael said...

Why aren't these problems being reported at Keeneland?

There are no horsemen or owners up in arms there... I think everyone pretty much loves the surface. Is the weather that much different?

Alan Mann said...

Michael -

The weather is cloudy/foggy and rather cool in the morning. But once the sun burns off the clouds, it can get hot - it is Jul/Aug after all, and we're not far from the Mexican border. So the horseman are saying that the track plays differently in the afternoon than it does during the morning works.

Keeneland's weather is probably more constant. Plus, it has the jelly cable that they don't have here due to environmental considerations.

Anonymous said...

Is it true ....35 years??!!

Unknown said...

At which quickie-mart did you find the DRF? I was out in Del Mar a couple of years ago and told that one gas station sold it, but when I asked the clerk of said gas station where I could find it, she looked like she had never heard of it.

Anonymous said...

Dont forget about the long term health consequences of the horses lungs please, the jocks can at least wear a mask.

As for the KEE regulars not complaining, that is simply explained when you consider that KEE owns the company that makes the folly track.

Del Mar trainers and owners can speak their minds.

Alan, nice pick of Cat Charmer, cost me the trifecta, wish I checked in earlier.

Have you gone to Black's Beach in La Jolla?

Those pictures would be interesting.

Alan Mann said...

>>Is it true ....35 years??!!

Yeah well, since I started at the harness tracks, yeah.

>>At which quickie-mart did you find the DRF?

Right across from the main track entrance on Via de la Valle