09/24/2008 2:37PM

Autumn Leaves


3:30 pm: The equinox was a few days ago, but autumn really begins today for racing with the opening of Oak Tree, the resumption of racing at Belmont for the second half of the fall championship meeting, and the start of a 30-day countdown to Breeders' Cup Friday.

OSA's opening is of even more than usual interest, since today's card is the first over the new Pro-Ride surface on which 8 of the 14 Breeders' Cup races will be run Oct. 24th and 25th. Everyone is of course curious about how the track will play and what kind of horses take to it, but the surface is probably a moving target, likely to be tinkered with many times during the 22 days of racing before the big days.

On the theory that the best way to learn about a new track is to gamble on it, and purely as a public service, I'm going to play the early part of the meet sporadically, starting with today's late pick-4. The sequence includes the G3 Morvich Handicap, where the winner gets a WAYI berth in the new BC Turf Sprint.

As for Belmont, the co-featured Floral Park Stakes and Heybabaloulou [sic -- the filly it's supposed to be honoring was actually named Hey Baba Lulu] Stakes are roughly 1,000-1 to produce a BC runner, but since there's no mandatory pick-6 payout on changes of season, there was $55k from the last Sunday of summer seeding the pool. I was out at Belmont earlier to meet a friend for lunch and am feeling smart for having failed to pull the trigger on a modest play for a card that looked impossible and is proving that way so far. I might have used Ground Frost ($14.40) in the first leg but would have had trouble including Vladimira at $33.40 in leg 2. Things don't get a lot easier with two unwieldy madien races still to go, so there's a good chance we'll be looking at a double carry into Thursday.

Today's Belmont and OSA cards start a racing week that builds to Saturday, when the two tracks combine to present 11 Grade 1 races, quite possibly a record for a single day of American racing.

Okay, half an hour to the beginning of the Pro-Ride era. Top-fig Costa Marta's 6-5 with a 15-point Beyer edge on the five who have run, and Baffert firster Mark Up Tiny's 3-1. Back in a bit.

(Off topic: Classic rendition of "Autumn Leaves" here. Update: And here. And here.)

4:45 pm: Safe to say there's a $185k double-carry tomorrow at Belmont after Quasicobra ($28.00) and Gold record ($23.60) won the third and fourth legs. The rain that's supposed to hit New York and possibly drench Saturdy's Gold Cup card is currently predicted not to hit until late Thursday afternoon.

The Pro-Ride era began logically enough when Costa Marta ($3.40) took the Oak Tree opener. The 2-year-old Cal-bred maiden filly sat just off fractions of 22.27 and 45.34, was clear after six furlongs in 1:10.09 and broke the beam in 1:16.59 for 6 1/2 furlongs. In the second, for open 3-year-old $16k claimers, wide sweepers dominated the finish with 8-1 Benchmark Kid getting up in 1:22.91 for seven furlongs from well behind early fractions of 23.02 and 45.83. A double-dq of the first two finishers, however, made an official winner of third-place Lardog ($29.20).

The entries are out for Saturday's 11-race Oak Tree card. The Grade 1 lineup:

Race 4: G1 Clement Hirsch -- field of 7 including Red Giant, Spring House
Race 5: G1 Lady's Secret -- field of 5 including Zenyatta, Hystericalady
Race 6: G1 Ancient Title -- field of 8 including Idiot Proof, In Summation, Street Boss
Race 8: G1 Oak Leaf -- field of 12 including Stardom Bound
Race 9: G1 Yellow Ribbon -- field of 10 including Wait a While, Black Mamba, Vacare
Race 10: G1 Goodwood -- Field of 11 including Spirit One, Surf Cat, Tiago, Well Armed

6:15 pm: It's official: The two-day carry at Belmont tomorrow is $185,987. Even with a pair of $7.70 winners closing out the card, 5 of 6 was worth $10,869. The Thursday sequence is messy:

Race 4: 2F MdSpWt, 7f-T -- Field of 11 (6 firsters)
Race 5: 3+F Clm35kN2L, 6f-T -- Field of 12 + 4 AE's
Race 6: 3+ Clm22500B, 6f -- Field of 11
Race 7: 3+NYB AlwN2x/OC25k, 1m -- Field of 11
Race 8: 3+F AlwN3x/OC75k, 1m -- Field of 6
Race 9: 2F MdClm75k, 1m-T -- Field of 11 (4 firsters) + 1 MTO