09/27/2011 12:43PM

Back to Work: International Week



I'm usually about as cosmopolitan as an International House of Pancakes, but getting back to work this week finds me a relative globetrotter, with a visit to Woodbine this past weekend and a flight to Paris coming up Saturday night a few hours after the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

The annual Canadian jaunt was more successful than last year's, when a (human) road race through the streets of Toronto stranded me in hellacious traffic and I missed a seminar at Greenwood, which I made up with a visit on Sunday. First, though, was a Woodbine outing Saturday, where a nice crowd turned out at 11 a.m. to talk racing with me and Bill Tallon, DRF's Canadian editor. Woodbine continues to impress as a facility, a racino that still feels like a racetrack instead of a house of slots with the racing hidden out back, and racing that usually merits the enhanced purse structure. On Saturday, older maidens were running for $67,100, and first-level allowance races were worth $70,300. (These are Canadian dollars but those are worth a tad more than ours ($1.02) these days  -- not that you can actually get 98 cents for a U.S. dollar anywhere. The practical conversion rate remains Always Less -- my U.S. dollars were worth 85 cents at the hotel and 90 cents at the convenience store across the street.)

That same day, NYRA announced the purse structure for the 2012 Aqueduct winter meeting, where the first splash of racino money will boost purses an average of 36 percent: Starting Jan. 1, maidens will be running for $65,000 (routes) and $60,000 (sprints), up from $45k and $42k last winter. It's going to be interesting to see how that announcement affects a lot of stables' winter plans and how many horses will still skip town for the nicer weather but now significantly lower purses at Gulfstream.

The Woodbine feature was the Ontario Derby for local 3-year-olds but there was just as much interest in the Pennsylvania Derby, where Pender Harbour, probably Canada's top 3-year-old male this year (two-thirds of the Canadian triple crown) was a longshot and a wacky morning line had Ruler on Ice the 5-2 favorite and To Honor and Serve was 3-1. Nobody could believe the race would really be bet that way and it wasn't -- To Honor and Serve won impressively at 8-5 with Ruler on Ice an unthreatening second at 4.80-1.

On Sunday, Greenwood OTB was having a handicapping tournament and they asked me to designate three races -- one each from Belmont, Monmouth and Woodbine -- as mandatory contest races. Rain washed away the turf racing at all three tracks and I came up with the largest main-track fields with shaky-looking favorites I could find. I settled on dirt sprints at Belmont and Monmouth, won by 4-1 and 9-1 shots, and an impossible-looking Polytrack route at Woodbine proved impossible indeed: The winner of the designated 6th race, for N2L $12.5k claimers, was Trajectory's Dream, who paid $109.40 to win and $35.00 to place. (For contest purposes, the payoffs were reduced to the cap prices of $42 and $22.)

No traffic jams (the road race has been moved to October) but getting through Customs coming home was more excruciating than ever. Anything you may have heard (as I had) about an easing of restrictions on shoes and laptops is still in the proposal stage, and they seem to be hauling aside more passengers than ever for "secondary screening." A Customs agent asked me in all seriousness if I'd been "up to any shenanigans" during my visit. Then I got a choice between the fullblown patdown or a trip to the body-scan machine. "Which one's quicker?" I asked, and they led me into the huge glass cylinder.

Has anyone been to France lately and should I expect more of the same? The plan Saturday is to go from Belmont to JFK and take a flight that's supposed to get me to Paris before noon Sunday and, if all goes well, in time to get out to Longchamp for the Arc card. The nominal purpose of the trip is to make a speech at an International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities conference in Paris Monday, but it would be nice to squeeze in a trip to Longchamp for the Arc and Goldikova.

First though, it's home for a few days and time to gear up for an incredible U.S. 19 Grade 1 races in eight days beginning Saturday with five at Belmont (Jockey Club Gold Cup, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Beldame, Flower Bowl, Vosburgh) and three at Santa Anita (Lady's Secret, Goodwood, Norfolk).


*The Breeders' Cup last week announced the tentative race lineup and wagering menu for the Nov. 4 and 5 races at Churchill Downs. The new Juvenile Sprint will be one of six Cup races on Friday (and the only one open to males as well as females), with the Marathon moved to Saturday as the first of nine Cup races. The biggest chjange on the betting menu is the addition fo 50-cent pick-5's both days. These will not be Cup-heavy sequences as they will be held on the first five races each day. The Saturday pick-5 replaces what had been the first of three pick-4's (now two) on the Saturday card. Here's what it looks like:


The Breeders' Cup has reserved the right to make changes after the pre-entry stages. There's some concern about the Breeders' Cup Turf coming up light as it has several times in recent years, and it's possible that a fuller and more competitive BC Sprint might be moved into the Turf's traditional slot before the Classic, but otherwise the order above should hold.

If you're getting involved in all the pick-4's, -5's, and -6's, note that the newest race is the only one involved in three of those wagers: The Juvenile Sprint on Friday is the third leg of the early pick-4, the last leg of the pick-5, and the first leg of the all-Cup pick-6.