07/19/2008 12:40PM

95 Hours and Counting


--Things to do while waiting for NYRA to finish drawing the opening-day card at Saratoga, which should be up later today:

1. Play a little Del Mar.

I jumped in last night with one of those Friday night pick-4's that doesn't start until 9 p.m. eastern time. Turned out there were a couple of excellent betting opportunities, though I managed to make the least of them.

The first opportunity was in the first leg, where Let'spickupthepace was a textbook bet-against at 9-10 making his fourth career start in a $100k maiden claimer. The gelded $17k yearling purchase had tired and lost ground through the stretch in his three defeats, earning subpar figures each time, but was being bet like a cinch because he was dropping into a maiden claimer from a try in the G3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship, where he was outrun early and late and finished 7th.

The tv commentators kept saying how good Azul Leon, the HJC winner is, but my impression of that race was totally different. I thought the HJC drew a very substandard field, borne out by Azul Leon's winning Beyer Speed Figure of just 79 despite winning by four lengths, the second lowest winning fig since 1991 in a race that on average is run 10 points faster.

At 9-10, it was worth betting against the theory that the 7th-place finisher in that race had to be a good horse. The four first-time starters in the field were deader than doornails on the board, but there was money for two second-time starters who had shown little in their debuts but were both 5-1 here. I pitcted the fave, made those two second-timers my A's, and got off to a good start when Fu Peg He Rat ($13.00) scored by a length. The second leg looked like a mismatch, with Let Us Prey, who was close in several graded stakes in Europe as a 2-year-old, making his stateside debut in a scratched-down field where the next fastest horse on paper was a 1-for-24 statebred. Despite some traffic and a very slow pace, Let Us Prey ($4.60) rallied from last to run by the field in deep stretch.

That left me 3x4 into the last two legs but I didn't survive the CTBA Stakes, running 2-3-4 behind second choice Streaming Heat, which proved highly unfortunate when the bomber in my last-race quartet, Kilmartin Hall at $34.20, hung on by a nose to complete a $2326-for-$1 pick-4. Kilmartin Hall was one of my pet angles, a 7f-to-6f turnback for a longshot who ran a winning race to the eighth pole in his previous start before fading (and earning a deceptively low figure.) If you projected a figure for Kilmartin Hall's first six furlongs (where he was "beaten" just half a length) in his last start, it was more like a 70 than the 57 he received for his five-length defeat, and a 70 put him right in the thick of this.

At least I played the nightcap separately after being knocked out of the pick-4 but did so pretty poorly, playing supers keying Kilmartin Hall first and second but emphasizing the combos that also required favored Downtown Lover to hit the board, which he failed to do fading from 2nd to 5th in the final 50 yards after chasing the winner. So for a $90 investment, I ended up with 20 cents of the $4359 super, deftly turning 16-1 into 8-1.

2. Play today's East Coast graded stakes at Belmont and Colonial Downs.

Problem is, I don't see any smart-alecky 16-1 shots in the entries for the G1 CCA Oaks at Belmont or the G2 Virginia Oaks and G2 Virginia Derby at Colonial.

The CCA Oaks has just four betting interests including the formidable Godolphin entry of Mother Goose winner Music Note and Ashland winner Little Belle. Longshots Never Retreat and Flaming Slew look completely out of it, so the only alternative to the entry is second choice Acoma (Empire Maker-Aurora), who sports the field's highest Beyer with a 99 winning the Dogwood last time out. She's no huge bargain at 2-1, stretching out from 8 to 10 furlongs after running down sprinters in the Dogwood, but might be worth a look if her price creeps up. Music Note has looked awfully good winning her last three starts by a combined 18 lengths, but her daylight Mother Goose victory was a bit deceptive because of all the trouble Proud Spell suffered in the race.

At Colonial, Gio Ponti and Sailor's Cap are 7-5 and 8-5 respectively on the Virginia Derby ML and it's hard to imagine anyone else in the winners' circle. I could make small cases for Old Man Buck second off the layoff and El Sultry Sun outrunning his 10-1 odds, but only small ones.

The Virginia Oaks is a little more promising because I Lost My Choo looks like a vulnerable favorite at 9-5 off a race where she was life and death to beat statebreds at 3-5 in an overnight stakes at Belmont. She has better efforts in the past but Cherokee Queen at 5-1, a head from being unbeaten in three starts, may have more upside and offer better value at 5-1.

3. Run out to Belmont for the CCA Oaks.

A basement transformer fire this morning forced the evacuation of the track until 11:15 a.m. and all customers have been herded into the clubhouse while the grandstand remains closed for repairs. Belmont (and its baked-to-a-crisp turf course) looks more than ready for the 47 days of freshening awaiting it when it closes after tomorrow's (mandatory pick-six payout) card until Sept. 5.

Okay, I've convinced myself: Off to Belmont it is.

PS--Here's a longshot worth rooting for.