Archive for August, 2009

Double the fun once again

August 20, 2009

There were 0 double carryovers in the Pick 6 during the 2008 Saratoga meet but today we will enjoy the third of this 19 day old meet.  A challenging sequence greets punters this afternoon with a particularly difficult featured event on tap, the Saratoga Special.

Here are a few thoughts to consider when constructing your ticket(s).

Race 5

#8 SMOKE AFTER SIX (4-1) has lost all chance at the beginning of her two career starts as she’s broken poorly both times.  Trainer Gary Contessa is dropping her in class now and she’ll wear blinkers for the first time.  A switch to a more aggressive gate rider should help her chances and the two scratches to her inside reduce the amount of traffic she’ll have to clear early.

Race 6

The maiden claimer that #9 CHROMOSPHERE (8-1) exits was run at a good clip from start to finish and he was the only participant to do any running the whole time.  He dueled the other frontrunners into defeat and was understandably spent when confronted by the eventual winner in deep stretch.  This event isn’t exactly loaded with speed and it seems like he can be effective stalking the pace as well.

Race 8

While most Pick 6 players are going to zero in on #2 CAP THE THUNDER and #5 GRACE’S VALENTINE, this is a leg where you might be able to create some separation with a horse like #3 JUSTIFY (12-1).  She was given an embarassingly bad ride last time out as she launched a huge bid on the backstretch with about five furlongs to go.  Her rider not only asked her to make that run early but to prolong her run for an extended period, something that’s far too tough for a maiden.  She should get a better trip today breaking towards the inside and there should be an honest pace in this affair.

Race 9

His record speaks for itself and trainer Richard Dutrow, Jr. is really, really good with new arrivals to his barn.  He has hit at a rate of 32% with those types on the dirt over the last five years.  #6 D’FUNNYBONE looms a tough customer because of his own merits as well as his most recent outing at Calder was quite good.  He moved first into a strong pace in the JJ’sdream and should fare well with a stalking trip behind the expected hot pace.

Whatever you choose to play in the Pick 6 affords you the opportunity to earn that life-changing score.  Best of luck!

Crazy Saturday, huge carryover highlight Week 3

August 18, 2009

There are two feelings that strike at the core of horseplayers when the Saratoga meet reaches it’s mid-point.  The first is that there are still three weeks remaining in this terrific meet as only 5 of the 15 Grade I races on the schedule have been run thus far.  On the flip-side, the greatest six weeks in American horse racing is already half over.

We’ve been privy to some terrific efforts thus far, Forever Together’s 2nd consecutive Diana Handicap, Quality Road’s sensational return from a huge layoff, Linda Rice’s incredible run with 10 victories at the young meet, and Fabulous Strike making his Spa debut a winning one just to name a few.  What’s in store?  That’s the fun part.  Let’s take a look at some of the stakes races from Week 3.

NYSS Cab Calloway

The race itself had a tough act to follow as bugler Sam Grossman and track announcer Tom Durkin partnered for a rousing rendition of Cab Calloway’s hit Minnie the Moocher.  On the track it was Uncle T Seven who exhibited a solid turn of foot while enjoying a perfect trip under a flawless ride by Julien Leparoux.  His trainer, John Morrison, was winless at the meet coming into this event, so it was a welcome victory for the son of Freud.
BEYER SPEED FIGURE: 83

NYSS Statue of Liberty

It’s Linda Rice’s world and the rest of us are just taking up space.  When Mother Russia wired the field in the Statue of Liberty Rice earned her 2nd win of the day and her 9th of the then 14 day old meet.  She is on a tear the likes of which even Pletcher and Asmussen would be jealous.  Ramon Dominguez showed in this event why he is so tough when he’s on his game as this daughter of Mayakovsky seemed beaten in mid-stretch only to show resiliency in the waning stages. 
BEYER SPEED FIGURE: 80

National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame

On a day where the newest inducees into the Hall of Fame were honored, a Hall of Fame trainer showed further that time has not taken away his ability to win big races.  Trainer Bill Mott was a whisker away from going 1-2 in this affair as Courageous Cat earned his third consecutive victory in here while Mott picked up his 6th win in the Hall of Fame (previously known as the Gallant Man).  Am I crazy for thinking Courageous Cat is a player in a race like the Breeders’ Cup Mile?  He has shown an ability to stalk the pace and finish, he’s a full brother to After Market, who had incredible success on the turf courses out west, and is peaking at the right time. 
BEYER SPEED FIGURE: 99

Sword Dancer

On a day that had already seen an odds-on and seemingly “can’t lose” favorite go down, a pair of $50 dollar horses in back-to-back races and a grand total of one winning favorite, it can’t be considered surprising that Telling scored an upset win in here.  He was an unheralded mid-west invader who was fresh off a decent effort in the Arlington Handicap (an early nominee for key race status).  A picture perfect ride by Javier Castellano, who can ride the weeds with the best of them, led Telling into the winner’s circle.  Excuse the public if they remember longer the gallant effort of Better Talk Now who loomed boldly and stretched the eventual winner to the wire at the ripe old age of ten.  It’s an understatement to say that racing could use more horses like Better Talk Now.
BEYER SPEED FIGURE: 101

West Point Handicap

It’d be hard to find a better NY bred turfer than Banrock over the past few years.  He was fully stretched to get his 2nd consecutive West Point as he made a bold move from off the pace and caught Pennington.  He certainly didn’t embarass himself against open company earlier this year and he rewarded his connections’ prudent decision of putting him back in restricted company with a solid win.
BEYER SPEED FIGURE: 96

Troy

It’s Linda Rice’s world and we’re all just taking up space, Part II.  Awakino Cat became the first two-time stakes winner of the meet as he took the Troy after scoring in the Quick Call on day 2 of the meet.  He once again enjoyed a flawless trip under a perfect ride by jockey Alan Garcia.  Does it ever surprise anyone when Linda Rice wins a turf sprint.  Not me.

Leading Jockeys

Alan Garcia                 22

Ramon Dominguez   18

Kent Desormeaux     16

Julien Leparoux         13

John Velazquez           13

Leading Trainers

Linda Rice                      10

Todd Pletcher               9

William Mott                 9

Kiaran McLaughlin     7

Barclay Tagg                  6

Three Thumbs UP:

1.) NYRA- Click here to read about NYRA’s plan to bring Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta together in the Beldame on October 3.  I know more people than myself are a tad interested in seeing Zenyatta round those sweeping turns at Belmont.

2.) Jean-Luc Samyn- $50 winners on Friday and Saturday for the oldest rider on the NYRA circuit rejuvenated him for the meet’s 2nd half.

3.) Better Talk Now- I mentioned it already but hats off to the old-timer.  His only Sword Dancer victory came in 2004 but for more than a moment in the stretch drive it looked as if was destined for another.  He’s clearly turned back Father Time and is set for another opportunity to become racing’s oldest GI winner in the Joe Hirsch at Belmont in October.

Three Thumbs DOWN:

1.) Norberto Arroyo, Jr.- Click here to read about the troubled jockey’s latest transgressions that look as if they will end his career.  It seems as if his personal demons are going to do him in because he never lacked the talent to ride on the best circuit in America.

2.) Grand Couturier- One of the most opportunistic horses around was beaten rather handily in the Sword Dancer even with his ground-saving trip. Sure, he was behind a wall of horses turning for home, but there was plenty of time left when he had a clear path and he had no punch.

3.) Bruce Levine- I know, I know, it seems as if he can’t get a break from me in this blog.  However, Levine is struggling so terribly at this meet.  He needn’t be reminded of his horrendous record but his 0-fer streak is up to 32.

With half the meet behind us, let’s hand out some mid-meet awards:

Most Outstanding Jockey- Alan Garcia.  He’s ridden with a purpose all meet and seems poised to repeat as leading rider.

Most Outstanding Trainer- Linda Rice.  How can’t she get this honor with 10 wins and a strike rate of 40%?

Best 2YO- Hot Dixie Chick.  I think it’s safe to say no one will match her opening day effort in the Schuylerville.

Best 2YO (non-stakes performance)- Dublin.  He won a salty opening Saturday MSW and has a bright future.

Early Prediction for Horse of the Meet- Quality Road.  Let’s just say I think any of his potential Travers rivals are in big trouble.

This Saturday’s featured event is the Alabama, which was an absolutely tremendous race in 2008.  Here’s a look to whet your appetite:

Pick Six guarantees huge Sunday

August 16, 2009

A Saturday that left even the most ambitious punter scratching their head has given way to a huge Sunday, highlighted by a 262k carryover in the Pick Six.  It almost seems as if racing secretary P.J. Campo anticipated a carryover as a string of deep and contentious fields in the sequence will make it incredibly challenging. 

It’s certainly not easy to narrow down many legs but let’s take a look and come up with a ticket on a relatively large $720 budget.

Race 6

#8 ONE NOTE SAMBA may be the key to starting the sequence if you’re on a budget.  It’s worth watching the replay of his debut as he encountered trouble at the start before making a bold move around the turn to reach contention.  He flattened out a bit in the late stages but showed that he can certainly run a bit.  His sire, Grand Reward, is 1-24 with firsters in his first crop, so you can certainly believe that this guy will get better with experience.  Think about these statistics that pertain to #5 MINESWEPT.  His sire’s progeny win their debuts at a rate of 4% and his trainer is 3-86 with first-timers over the last five years.  Thus, he was a longshot to contend in his debut.  He was slow into stride after breaking from the rail but made a decent late move.   It stands to reason that he’ll move forward in this start but he should be confined to those who have the money for larger tickets.  #9 COMMON CURRENCY is a quick-looking firster from a good barn.  He is drawn ideally for a first-timer and it’s not like any of his rivals to the inside have shown a great deal of speed before.
USE: 8,9

Race 7

There are many ways to go in this affair as favoritism may be at or around 7/2.  #6 STEVE’S KITTEN is by Kitten’s Joy, the champion turf male of 2004 who won stakes races from one mile to one and one-half miles.  His progeny have earned a collective seven wins in America in his first crop and four of them have come going two turns on the weeds.  This guy ran respectably at first asking as he contested a fast opening quarter, he subsequently fell behind and then rallied again late to finish 2nd.  His trainer, Wesley Ward, has a terrific record with 2YOs but he’s only 1-14 with 2nd time starters stretching out to a route from a sprint.

The question marks surrounding Steve’s Kitten leads you to look around the field a bit for other options.  #8 SEATTLE MISSION is by a sire who hasn’t had tremendous success with firsters through his first five crops but this guy has been working very well of late.  Trainer Barclay Tagg is 4-39 with firsters going long on the turf over the past five years but his ROI is $2.82 with three of those winners paying very well.  His last workout was exceptionally impressive for a 2YO as most trainers lack the gumption to work a baby seven-eighths on the weeds with the dogs up.  #4 CHAIRMAN NOW is from a barn that is known for its prowess with firsters but trainer Rick Violette is 22% with 2YO 2nd time starters over the past five years.  This guy lost all chance at the start of his last outing but didn’t sulk and put in a decent late run.  He is bred to handle more ground with ease and his recent works are sharp. 

#1 DROSSELMEYER is due to get plenty of support at the windows because of his trainer and jockey but note this stat about trainer Bill Mott with 2YO firsters on the weeds at the Spa.  He is is 3-28 with these types over the past five years and two of those winners came during his onslaught during the 2007 meet.  The other winner was subsequent Grade I winner My Typhoon way back in 2004.  Dating back to last year’s meet Mott is 0-7 with babies debuting on the weeds and his 3 starters at this meet have looked terrible.  #3 ONE SKY’s trainer, Richard Dutrow, Jr. is 0-21 with firsters on the grass over the past five years, so he’s a toss for sure.  The only time trainer Frank Alexander has scored with 2YOs trying turf for the first time in the last five years it was with debuting runners, so it’s unclear what you should do with #5 TRIPPO.
USE: 2,4,6,8

Race 8

Starting 2 x 4 leads you to take a stand somewhere but unfortunately this is not the place.  I really like #3 ETINCELLE, who is making her 2nd career start on the turf after a 6th place finish in her debut where she never threatened.  She She’s a half to five horses who were victorious on the turf including graded stakes winner Take the Ribbon.  She is drawn nicely and stands to get a great trip.

For Pick 6 players on a tight budget the biggest question you have to ask yourself is if #2 SIREN SERENADE can be trusted.  It seems like Shug McGaughey has a barn full of hangers who always get backed heavily at the windows but rarely win.  This gal had basically no excuse last time out but her dam was a $1.2 million earner and she’s a half to graded-stakes placed Saarland.  She is a must-use because of the question marks surrounding some of her rivals in here.
USE: 1,2,3,7,9

Race 9

The scratch of #6 REDEFINED drastically changed the complexion of this event and ruined a potential single for many Pick 6 players.  #4 ELUSIVE FOX looms a tepid favorite in this affair as he returns to NY off of a 2nd place finish against 40k sellers at Monmouth.  He ran well on the Shore behind a wire-to-wire winner who kept on finding after strong fractions.  His style lends itself well to today’s distance and setup and little does everyone know that this guy broke his maiden at this racetrack.
USE: 4

Race 10

#7 BANROCK is yet another who will be a popular single for many Pick 6 players as he has been terrific against NY breds over the last fifteen months.  He won this race last year with a perfect pace-stalking trip and his form has held nicely in 2009.  The biggest question mark with this guy is his ability to handle firm turf as he seems to be at his best when there’s a bit of cut in the ground.  That is enough to help this guy with horses like #2 HANGINGBYATHREAD who exits a strong victory in the Do It Fast at Belmont.  He had a very good trip that afternoon and blew by all of his rivals once clear.  He, unlike Banrock, seems to love very firm turf as his last two victories have come over hard courses.  He should be just behind the favorite early rating off the pace and will have plenty of say in the outcome.  #5 MY MAN LARS enjoyed a perfect “watchdog” trip last time out against open company and seems ready to move back into restricted company.  He was narrowly beaten by Banrock on two occasions last year, so it’s not like he has THAT much to make up on the favorite.
USE: 2,5,7

Race 11

The nightcap is an absolute skull-buster as turf sprints tend to be tough even with a couple of standouts.  #5 GHOUL ran what ended up being a remarkable race in a 45k maiden claimer for trainer Bruce Brown last fall at Belmont.  She was unprepared for the start and spotted the field a great deal of ground before rallying late to finish fourth.  She picked up her game once again as soon as new trainer Craig Cox returned her to the weeds in West Virginia as she broke her maiden then finished a game 2nd against males in a N2L allowance heat at Mountaineer.  She has enough speed to stay within striking distance early and that’s a confirmed asset in here.  #3 SMART TRADE rallied well in her last start, a 35k N2L claimer that had been taken off the turf.  She got a great pace setup and closed strongly but missed by a quickly diminishing 1/2 length.  Look for her to improve back on the lawn. #9 WE’RE HOOKED is taking a significant drop in class for a barn that seems to win just about every turf sprint they have a horse in.  She had some trouble last time out and should move forward with the class relief.
USE: 3,5,9

The Ticket: 8,9 with 2,4,6,8 with 1,2,3,7,9 with 4 with 2,5,7 with 3,5,9  TOTAL: $720

Best of luck and I’ll be back throughout the day with some thoughts on the card and the Pick 6!

Weather leads to a fabulous Week 2…

August 11, 2009

The sun shone proudly every day at old Saratoga during Week 2 and not one turf race was transferred to the main track and if you know anything about the Spa and the shaky weather, that is an accomplishment.  There were two Grade I stakes races, two Grade II stakes races, and a number of strong performances.  Let’s take a look at some of the stakes races:

DE LA ROSE

When can a win be very, very ugly?  Cocoa Beach’s narrow tally in this event qualifies as she was fully stretched to get up over a 16-1 shot in an effort that looked nothing like her best performances of 2008.  She may only be rounding into form right now but there has to be some concern about whether she’s just not the same.  Here’s to hoping her legs will get back under her soon.
BEYER SPEED FIGURE: 97

JOHN MORRISSEY

The NY breds were on full display in this sprint as Driven by Success was considered a cinch to get trainer Bruce Levine off the duck.  He went full throttle for 6 furlongs as the pace was absolutely frenetic but unfortunately the distance was 6 1/2 and he was overtaken in deep stretch by Law Enforcement.  Congrats to trainer Mark Hennig for getting his first win of the meet.  He enjoys the “cheese dip” at Leon’s as much as I do.
BEYER SPEED FIGURE: 102

JOHN’S CALL

One of the more interesting stakes races of the Saratoga meet is the John’s Call as it is named for one of the most admirable racehorses to grace the NY circuit.  The distance is gigantic but quite fitting for a horse like John’s Call, who got better as the races got longer.  This year’s rendition was an incredible betting affair as favoritism was well spread.  Solitaire, fresh off a win against N1X allowance company at Woodbine, surged late to get up under a flawless ride by Julien Leparoux.  Does anyone ride the weeds better than Leparoux?
BEYER SPEED FIGURE: 91

TEST

Had it really been since Harmony Lodge’s win in the Ballerina that Richie Migliore won a Grade I at the Spa?  That seemed to be inaccurate but he has a more recent GI triumph at the Spa after guiding Flashing to a win from just off the pace.  The stories in this event were the dull performance from a seemingly lethargic Cat Moves and the slow final time.  On the more positive side, the win earned Godolphin a 2nd Grade I of the young meet and proved that their stable must be considered on its game for the next four weeks.
BEYER SPEED FIGURE: 89

WHITNEY

Bullsbay benefited from a perfect pace setup and a heady ride by Jeremy Rose as he inhaled the embattled pacesetters as the field turned for home and had plenty left to hold off Macho Again.  He is a consistent animal who is obviously better on the dirt but realistically he is not a Grade I horse on the dirt and the strength of this race was incredibly suspect.  Hats off to Commentator who was a game third after participating in the scorching pace.  Let’s hope he enjoys a happy and safe retirement.
BEYER SPEED FIGURE: 107

HONORABLE MISS

The biggest question that had to be answered in here was if Game Face’s game could travel.  She answered the questions with a respectable pace-stalking victory.  She is not flashy and seems to be beating up on the same soft competition each time she goes to the post but there’s something to be said for winning.  Look for her to go off among the favorites in the Ballerina pending the health of Indian Blessing.
BEYER SPEED FIGURE: 95

ALFRED G. VANDERBILT

This field was absolutely loaded and the participants basically ensured a breakneck pace and a hot final time.  The clocking of 1:08.69 was over two full seconds faster than Game Face’s Honorable Miss as Fabulous Strike stalked the hot pace, collared Go Go Shoot and edged clear late.  He is simply the best horse in America going six furlongs on the dirt.  He will not be in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint but when our west coast friends ramble on about Zensational, they must think about this guy’s prowess going short.
BEYER SPEED FIGURE: 110

WAYA

What was a forgettable race on paper turned out that way as one of the worst 3/5 favorites of the meet was off the board.  Communique, a confirmed plodder with very few accomplishments, was hammered down when two scratches reduced this field to six.  She received an incredible pace setup but flattened out late and couldn’t get to Queen of Hearts and Zaskar.  The former proved best by a narrow margin.  What race was Queen of Hearts coming out of?  That’s right, she had just broken her maiden at Belmont Park.

Leading Jockeys:

Alan Garcia                         14
Ramon Dominguez          14
Julien Leparoux               11
Edgar Prado                       10
John Velazquez                10

Leading Trainers:

Todd Pletcher                    8
Linda Rice                           6
William Mott                      5
Kiaran McLaughlin          5
Nick Zito                              5

Three Thumbs UP:

1.) Billy Badgett- There is always at least one “small-time” barn that does well at the Spa and Badgett scored his fourth win of the meet with Imandra on Monday afternoon.  His ROI is also gigantic at the meet given scores by Retriever and Exclusive Scheme

2.) Bobby Flay- Even though publicity stunts can rarely go bad, his call of the 8th race on Sunday could have been a disaster.  He held his own and called a tight photo.  You also have to love a celebrity who shows up on Opening Day 30 minutes prior to the first and immediately sits down in his box with an open DRF.

3.) Godolphin- What got into the blue?  After a forgettable summer downstate they are off to a rolling start with Grade I wins by Seventh Street and Flashing, a stakes win by Cocoa Beach and a rousing return to the races by Girolamo.

Three Thumbs DOWN:

1.) Bruce Levine- Granted his record has been poor at Saratoga for years but Levine has been particularly wretched at this meet and through the last four months for that matter.  He seemed destined to rebound off of a terrible Belmont where he finished 9-82.  His 16 losses at this meet include 7 who were 5-1 or less.

2.) Arlington Park- Were they trying to run races on top of the Spa races on Saturday?  Churchill Downs Inc. does not publish handle figures but I have to imagine AP running five consecutive races within two minutes of a race at Saratoga hurt their handle.

3.) Benny the Bull- ‘Twas fun while it lasted, Benny.  The most accomplished son of Lucky Lionel is clearly past his prime and didn’t come back from his extended layoff with the same proficiency he had last year.  Here’s to hoping he’s sent back to stud or is placed where he can be successful.

The great thing about being through two weeks is that there are still four more at the Spa.  Here is a replay of last year’s Sword Dancer as this year’s version is set to feature Grand Couturier going for his 3rd straight win in this race while Better Talk Now attempts to become the oldest horse to win a Grade I.

Sunday at the Spa

August 9, 2009

The only news of the morning, aside from the conditions being fast and firm at the Spa is that one of Saratoga’s favorite sons, Commentator, has been retired.  What can you say about the NY bred chestnut gelding other than that he had brilliant speed, was game in his defeats and always gave it his all.  Here’s to a happy retirement for Commentator.

As far as the racing today, the weather looms a danger but for now the radar is clean and an 11 race card that is without question the best of the meet in terms of quality.  Some of the highlights of the day include:

Race 2- A competitive field of maidens are set to spar as #3 GOLD D’ORO looms the favorite.  A half to graded stakes winner Adriano, this filly be Medaglia d’Oro missed by a beak in her last try over the weeds.

Race 3- The stateside debut of Redding Colliery, who was twice 3rd behind the Godolphin duo of Desert Party and Regal Ransom in Dubai, is matched by the return of Girolamo, who was a nifty debut winner over this track last year.  I’ll pass on both and take a stand with Speight of Hand, a son of Speightstown who’s back off a brief freshening for trainer Chad Brown.  Take a look at how he ran the last time he was fresh.

Race 4- The return of Elusive Heat may be an exhibition as she is arguably the fastest 3YO filly (at sprint distances) in the land.  She showed dazzling early speed in three starts last year and earlier this year.  One of the other speed horses, Rumor Control, has been scratched, so Elusive Heat’s duty will be a bit easier.

Race 5- Join me in taking a big stand against Bribon.  He is going to be wildly overbet in this spot off of his Met Mile victory.  The fact of the matter is that Bribon is not a turf horse.  He is running here to keep him at the distance of one mile and prep for the Woodbine Mile next month.  He’s facing a salty group which includes Inca King, who was a strong 2nd in the Firecracker last time out at Churchill.

Race 6- Just your run of the mill overnight stake at Saratoga with a field of 12 that is as evenly matched as they come.  Linda Rice has her obligatory three entrants and #10 SMART AND FANCY is back to atone for an uncharacteristic loss in the Caress.

Race 7- Where was this MSW on Whitney day?  A number of freshman sires have progeny trying this event including Offlee Wild, Forest Danger, Consolidator, and Roman Ruler.  Might the 2nd timer, Henry’s Time, from the barn of D. Wayne Lukas step up?  I’ll try with him at a good price.

Race 9- The Honorable Miss looms an interesting affair as #3 GAME FACE attempts to answer some serious questions about her inability to win outside of South Florida.  She is fresh off a smashing win in the Princess Rooney and faces a relatively soft group here, but count me among those who will make her prove it at 3/5.

Race 10- There might only be six in the Vanderbilt but it is one of the most competitive races you’ll ever find.  The de facto best sprinter on dirt, #6 FABULOUS STRIKE, will look to win both the battle and war as he will be challenged strongly from the opening bell.  #3 BENNY THE BULL is going to get an incredible pace setup but still has to prove he has some of that 2008 magic.  #2 KODIAK KOWBOY is perfectly capable but can he get the job done at only six panels?  All terrific questions and we’re all lucky a group like this could be assembled in a Grade II stakes race.

Thus, good luck on this absolutely spectacular card…I’ll be back periodically to check in with random, and hopefully meaningful, musings.

Whitney Day…LIVE!!

August 8, 2009

7:36 PM EDT

There’s still one Grade I left in America and all eyes will be on Zensational.  Here are some initial thoughts about the Grade I winners we’ve seen so far:

FLASHING– The cutback in distance obviously did it for this gal as she exited a horrendous drubbing at the hands of Rachel Alexandra.  This event seemed more like a war of attrition than a tour de force, however, the final time was a spritely 1:22.40 (pending re-analysis after a teletimer malfunction).  This filly is obviously geared more towards sprinting and is obviously capable of capitalizing on a great setup.

BULLSBAY– I’ll readily admit that I didn’t see this result coming.  A race that went from looking like it might be another Whitney runaway for Commentator became a considerable upset as the son of Tiznow, Bullsbay, powered home in solid fashion.  Let’s be honest though, Bullsbay is hardly a legitimate handicap horse and this race just illustrated what a lackluster group is the older male division right now.

TAKE THE POINTS– After two close finishes behind Battle of Hastings at Colonial, this son of Even the Score proved best under a perfect ride by Kent Desormeaux.  This race lacked a standout and it seemed like the known quantities rose to the top.  Take the Points is a versatile animal who has developed steadily and obviously doesn’t need to take his course with him as the boggier going bothered him not in the Secretariat.

DYNAFORCE– The two wins this mare has earned in America have been in Grade I races where she upset a heavy favorite on wet turf by getting the jump.  She received another perfect ride by Kent Desormeaux and stayed on nicely.  Trainer Bill Mott is very dangerous with horses going 2nd off layoffs and this gal obviously prefers turf with a bit more give.  Look for her to come back in the Flower Bowl and should excel if there’s a bit of rain leading up to it.

GIO PONTI– The Million featured three horses who hail from a category that you can’t find in a racing publication as Gio Ponti, Einstein, and Presious Passion are old warriors who always run their race.  This rapidly improving son of Tale of the Cat just went about his business once again and kicked clear off the turn to win by a length.  He is beyond versatile as he’s now won at 8 furlongs on firm turf, 8 furlongs on Pro-Ride, 10 furlongs on 3 occasions and 11 furlongs.  That’s what you call consistency.

We still get to see what Zensational has in his holster as his punishing early speed should be on full display in the Bing Crosby.

 

5:00 PM EDT

I’ve neglected to stay on top of the live blog but being at the wagering facility makes it tougher.  How about Kent Desormeaux on the green at Arlington today?  I’ve been as big a Desormeaux detractor as any over the years but the guy can flat out ride on the spinach.  He put Dynaforce in the perfect spot from the get-go and she is now a two-time Grade I winner with the lone similarity between the two wins being the boggy condition.

The Test is a minute away and we’re rolling the Capital OTB Pick 4 for the patrons with Cat Moves.

3:25 PM EDT

Well, Afrikaner did what he was supposed to do and it was nice to see Cornelio Velasquez get it going a bit with back-to-back wins aboard Fort McCoy and Immortal Eyes.  Is there a better trainer on the circuit than Angel Penna given the run he’s been on since earlier this year?

It’s time to start constructing a Pick 6.  I’m thinking it’ll be more a fort than a mansion considering it behooves all punters to hold a bit in the kitty for the Pick 4.

2:20 PM EDT

They’re through three on Whitney day at Saratoga and it’s been all mid-range prices thus far.  My top pick in the opener, Brecciate, came roaring down the center of the track and scored at 7-1 and he was followed by Andiron in the 2nd and Fort McCoy in Race 3.

The 4th features a bulky field and the board is wide-open now with #3 THIEFONTHERUN (FIRST-TIME GELDING) currently on the board at 3-1.  He obviously rates a big chance going 2nd off a layoff for a barn that is overdue to get things going.  I’ll take #2 SHAREHOLDER DUES at a juicy 11-1.

I’ll be back shortly with looks at the Pick 6 (carryover of 140k) and Pick 4 (guaranteed pool of 500k)

Trip of a lifetime…Spa Week 1 in review

August 5, 2009

It’s official…I’ve now done what every racing fan must at least once in their lifetime.  I made my first visit to Saratoga last week and enjoyed the many fruits of the nation’s most majestic racetrack from Wednesday thru Saturday.  The week sent straight from racing heaven culminated with a trip to Monmouth to see the filly that exudes excellence, Rachel Alexandra.

What is it that makes Saratoga so special?  After four days, many trips to the paddock, numerous freshly squeezed lemonades, a few trips to Hattie’s, an appearance with Steve Byk on At the Races, a Capital OTB News Desk unveiling, my first viewing of Post Time USA, seeing Alan Garcia at dinner on both Friday and Saturday evenings, I really don’t know what makes Saratoga so great.  Want to find out?  Go, especially if you’ve never been.

Let’s take a look at the opening week stakes and some facts and figures:

SCHUYLERVILLE

The favorite did not disappoint in the opening day feature as Hot Dixie Chick stalked, pounced, and pulled strongly clear amid the raindrops that began to fall in earnest as they left the gate.  She defeated what looked like a very strong field and stamped herself the clear favorite for the Spinaway on the penultimate program of the meet.  This was also the 2nd consecutive Schuylerville for Steve Asmussen and Robby Albarado.
Beyer Speed Figure: 103
Click here to watch the Schuylerville

SANFORD

What looked like  a group that was inferior to the fillies that ran a day before on paper proved to be just that in actuality.  Backtalk won in what was a very exciting, but particularly slow race, as he surged late to get up on the wire.  He is now the first two-time stakes winner for Smarty Jones and will be among the juveniles pointing to the Hopeful.  The win gave Miguel Mena and Tom Amoss their first Saratoga stakes wins.
Beyer Speed Figure: 82

LAKE GEORGE

Steady rain throughout Friday morning and early afternoon forced this event to the main track and a field of only four was left to contest the nine furlongs over a sloppy oval.  Be Fair was sent directly to the lead as a result of jockey Rajiv Maragh’s aggressive early tactics.  She was confronted by heavy favorite Mary’s Follies at the top of the stretch but repelled that rival and went on to win by over a length. 
Beyer Speed Figure: 93
Click here to watch the Lake George

DIANA

When trainer Jonathan Sheppard plotted the 2009 course for his champion mare Forever Together he probably hoped for a repeat victory in a major stakes race.  It might not have been the Diana, but that hurdle is out of the way as the gray mare rolled home to grab her 2nd consecutive victory in the storied Grade I turf event.  She seems well on her way to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Beyer Speed Figure: 101

JIM DANDY

There were a number of questions that had to be answered in the Jim Dandy and chief among them was whether Kensei was capable of running back to his sharp win in the Dwyer.  He proved, without question, that he is among the best 3YOs in the country as he stalked the pace, took over, and kicked strongly clear to score his second consecutive graded stakes win.  His silks probably looked familiar as he’s also owned by Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables and that will set up an interesting situation given that Rachel Alexandra is also a possible participant in the Travers.
Beyer Speed Figure: 106

FOURSTARDAVE

A field of talented turf veterans was assembled and it ended up being the runner making his stakes debut that took the top prize.  Justenuffhumor, who is kin to multiple graded stakes winners Lewis Michael and Dreaming of Anna, came bursting through towards the inside in deep stretch and won going away.  He seems destined for the big stage as far as turf racing goes and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the Breeders’ Cup Mile later this year.
Beyer Speed Figure: 103

GO FOR WAND

A cloudburst just before the Go For Wand that lasted through the running of the race and it had an effect on the race as eventual winner Seventh Street benefited from being placed well off the rail.  When Spritely made a bold move on the rail it looked as if she was going to kick clear but the daughter of Street Cry battled back and scored.  The final three furlongs was somewhat excruciating in length, but that probably had a great deal to do with the conditions.
Beyer Speed Figure: 96

AMSTERDAM

The return of Florida Derby winner Quality Road was switched to the Amsterdam rather than the Jim Dandy, so only the weekend vacationers who stayed through Monday were able to witness a sharp performance by the son of Elusive Quality.  He defeated Capt. Candyman Can and all the rest en route to stopping the clock in 1:13.45, good for a new track record.  Expect him to be very sharp in the Travers, his 2nd start off the long layoff.
Beyer Speed Figure: 103

Leading Jockeys:

A. Garcia             38: 9-2-5
R. Dominguez   42: 6-9-11
R. Maragh          37: 6-2-3
J. Leparoux      39: 5-8-3
E. Prado              36: 5-4-7

Leading Trainers:

W. Mott                19: 5-1-2
S. Asmussen       17: 4-2-3
T. Pletcher           21: 3-1-4
A. Dutrow            7: 3-1-3
N. Zito                   13: 3-0-2

Three Thumbs UP:

1.) NYRA: The 500k Guaranteed Pick 4 was  a rousing success as the pool swelled to over 830k.  The guarantee looks like it’ll be easily reached week in and week out, weather permitting.

2.) Churchill Downs– The 2YO racing under the Twin Spires is obviously the best around as stakes winners Hot Dixie Chick and Backtalk were both exiting scores in Louisville.  Second time starters Kinsey and Dublin both won competitive juvenile heats on Thursday and Saturday and each debuted at Churchill.

3.) Kensei– Considered a one-hit wonder, this son of Mr. Greeley more than validated his Dwyer win by scoring decisively in the Jim Dandy.  He has come to hand quickly and is a serious threat in the late-season 3YO events.

Three Thumbs DOWN:

1.) IEAH Stables- After an opening day win by Optimer in a 20k claimer, the stable failed with favorite Burley’s Gold on Saturday and with Kip Deville on Sunday.  The problem with those two efforts was how poorly both of those runners ran and further added to what was a forgettable week for trainer Richard Dutrow, Jr.

2.) Shug McGaughey– An opening week that included losses at short odds by Consequence, Colors Flying, and Gone Astray only added to Shug’s 1-17 record over the past 30 days.  His horses should be handled carefully until the stable turns things around a bit.

3.) Rain– It is supposed to be gone from the upstate NY area for all of Week 2, which will guarantee terrific racing day in and day out.

I hope that your Week 1 was enjoyable and somewhat profitable.  Week 2 will be headlined by the Whitney, so here’s a view of last year’s to get you primed: