10/24/2008 12:53PM

BC Friday Live


1:53 pm: I still haven't handicapped the first two and last two at OSA today, but otherwise I'm set for BC Friday. Just got back from a quick run over to Belmont to a)fund my account for tomorrow's Ultra Pick-6 and b)get in the mood for a BC-from-home with a quick look at an actual racetrack and one (1) Furlong Frank.

The only scratches in the five BC races so far are Indyanne (#2) in the F&M Sprint and the two also-eligibles, Internallyflawless (#13) and Atka (#14) in the JF Turf. You can also take out Surfer Girl (#2) in the 2nd, America's Friend (#14) in the 8th and Hewitts (#12) in the 9th.

The ESPN2 coverage begins at 3:30 p.m ET and the first BC race, the F&M Sprint, goes as the third five minutes later at 3:35 pm ET. Seems like a short lead-in but apparently the very important "UEFA Champions League Highlights" program from 2:30 to 3:30 couldn't be moved or truncated. As a result, there's a wait of nearly an hour between scheduled post times for the 2nd and 3rd races.

I'll update the results charts above and the handle-tracker below as the day goes on. It's going to be very difficult to gauge the success of this year's new BC format. Obviously today's and tomorrow's handle should exceed last year's dismal Monmouth figures on both days, given sunshine vs. slop and 5 vs. 3 Friday BC races and 9 vs. 8 Saturday BC races. The question is whether Saturday's business will return to the 2006 level established at Churchill Downs -- there's one more BC race, but four of the traditional real championship races have now been moved to Friday, replaced by new and less appealing events.

The comparison below for the filly races is as close to an apples-to-apples one as I can think of. I'll be tracking only the intrarace bets -- straight, exacta, trifecta and superfecta -- because the pick-4's and pick-6's start and end in different places and involve non-BC races on the card. The question is whether the Juvenile Fillies, F&M Turf and Distaff/Ladies' classic will do as well as the featured events on a Friday as they did when woven into the traditional Saturday program.

2:27 pm: Favored Guns on The Table ($8.00) won the 14-horse N1x opener at OSA for Baffert/Velazquez in a blistering 1:14.26 for 6.5f. on the Pro-Ride main track off a 43.75 opening half. What's the over/under for track records the next couple of days?

3:00 pm: Another chalky outcome as She's Cheeky ($7.20) took the distaff version of the N1x in 1:14.88. On the opening board for the F&M Sprint, it's Indian Blessing and Ventura co-favored at 2-1, followed by Zaftig at 5-1 and Intangaroo at 6-1. It's a long way back to Dearest Trickski, fifth choice at 14-1. I know Miraculous Miss hasn't won a race in over two years but 42-1 seems a little fat on a filly who was beaten half a length (at 43-1) in this race last year.

3:50 pm: One BC race, almost one track record, one synthetic specialist. Ventura ran to her recent OSA works and her big performance on Polytrack at Keeneland last spring to run down Indian Blessing, winning by four lengths in 1:19.90 for seven furlongs. The time just missed eclipsing Indian Blessing's 1:19.89 record set on Cushion Track last winter.

Ventura broke slowly and awkwardly and favored Indian Blessing appeared relaxed as she sat just off Dearest Trickski's early pace. The favorite might have done better had a more contested pace developed but only Dearest Trickski was intent on the lead, and Indian Blessing went after her around the turn. She won that battle, forging clear as Zaftig continued evenly behind her, but Indian Blessing had no resistance once Ventura came flying at her in midstretch.

So who's the champion filly sprinter? Ventura, off only one Grade 1 victory on a synthetic track but a victory over Indian Blessing and Intangaroo today? Indian Blessing, who won the G1 Test and G1 Prioress for 3-year-olds and the G2 Gallant Bloom against older? Intangaroo, who won the year's other three G1 races for older fillies at seven furlongs? Not an easy call.

4:23 pm: Arggh. Needed either Laragh, who looked home free at the eighth pole, or Heart Shaped, closing fastest of all, but the excruciating photo in the Juvenile Fillies Turf went to 11-1 Maram by a nose over Heart Shaped, giving the first two BC races to Frankel and then his former assistant,Chad Brown.

Maram won her Saratoga debut with a $75k maiden-claiming tag. She then won her second start, the G3 Miss Grillo, by a neck over the maiden Freedom Rings,and now is 3 for 3. The daughter of the Mr. Prospector stallion Sahm is the only horse owned by Karen Woods.

It's hard to know how good Maram is. Heart Shaped, a Magnier/O'Brien production from England, came into the race 1 for 5 and finished 4th,5th and 14th in three group-stakes tries in England. Last time out she was 5th, beaten 4 1/2 lengths, in the G1 Chevely Park, a race in which Pursuit of Glory, who's in the upcoming Juvenile Fillies, was third.

Ventura's no cinch for an Eclipse Award and Maram won't be considered for one, but an ESPN analyst just proclaimed that we "already have two world champions in the books."

Intrarace handle on the F&M Sprint was almost dead-even with last year's Monmouth slopfest, which has to be considered a major disappointment. The combined straight, exacta, tri and super pools totalled $5.69 million compared to $5.65 million a year ago. Straight and exacta betting were both down slightly, while tri and super handle was up by a little bit more.

The inaugural Juvenile Fillies Turf proved less popular at the windows, attracting only $5.01 million in those pools.

5:30 pm: There's going to be at least one unanimous Eclipse winner this year: Stardom Bound sewed up the title as the nation's champion 2-year-old filly, with a wide, sweeping victory in the Juvenile Fillies, with the Alcibiades winner Dream Empress second and Frizette winner Sky Diva third. Not that she was en route to victory, but check out just how wide Persistently was on the stretch turn before lumbering up for fifth.

Stardom Bound, a gray daughter of Tapit who is scheduled to be sold at auction next month, was squeezed at the start, had only Persistently beaten early, but made a sustained wide run to mow down down the leaders just as she did winning the Del Mar Debutante and Oak Leaf. The 1-2-3 finish by the three G1 winners in the field was a formful result in the most formful BC race: Stardom Bound was the 12th favorite to win the JF in 25 runnings.

5:55 pm: Not much doubt about the Eclipse for champion turf filly either after Forever Together won her third Grade 1 of the year with her usual electrifying late run to give Jonathan Sheppard an overdue first BC victory.

Forever Together burst into prominence when she finished best of anyone to get third at 46-1 in the Just a Game on the Belmont Stakes undercard, running third to Ventura and Lady of Venice in her graded stakes debut. She then won the G1 Diana at Saratoga, ran third on a yielding course at Woodbine in the Canadian, then ran down Precious Kitten to win the G1 First Lady at Keeneland last month.

Moving the Juvenile Fillies to Friday resulted in a major falloff in intrarace handle on the race. It totalled just $6.2 million, compared to Saturday handles of $8.2 million at Monmouth last year, $9.0 million at Churchill in 2006 and $8.5 million at Belmont in 2005.

The comparisons were even uglier for the F&M Turf and Distaff. The F&M Turf handled just $6.08 million in those pools this year compared to $9.7 million at Monmouth, $12.0 million at Churchill and $10.8 million at Belmont. The Ladies' Classic totals were $6.5 million today vs. Saturday Distaff totals of $9.7 million at Monmouth, $12.9 million at Churchill and $11.7 million at Belmont.

Adding a Super High Five to the Ladies' Classic was little help. It was outhandled nearly 5-1 by the superfecta -- $652k to $132k  -- and even if you add those pools together, they are well under the $992k wagered on last year's Distaff superfecta.

In total, intrarace betting on the three races moved from Saturday to Friday was $18.8 million, down 31 percent from Monmouth in 2007 ($27.6 million) and down 44 percent from Churchill Downs in 2006 ($34.0 million.)

Here was the official statement on the day:

"The horse racing fans of Southern California and sports fans around the world responded enthusiastically to the new format for Championship Friday," said Greg Avioli, president and CEO of the Breeders' Cup. 

7:00 pm: What can you say except "Wow" when it comes to Zenyatta? Still loping along behind five G1 winners turning for home, she swallowed an excellent Distaff field through the stretch and probably ran straight into the Hall of Fame. And the plan is to bring her back next year. Wow indeed.

Having said that, I'm not sure I buy the emerging storyline being promoted on the television broadcast that now Curlin has to win the Classic tomorrow or else Zenyatta is the Horse of the Year. She was compared to Azeri, the last filly to win that honor, but there were no Curlins around in 2002. Volponi won the Classic but hadn't done enough to dislodge Left Bank as the champion older male. War Emblem was probably the most plausible alternative but a weak one. I voted for Azeri over War Emblem, just as I'd vote for Zenyatta over Big Brown, but Curlin is another story.

Even if Curlin runs 9th tomorrow, he's established himself as the best dirt horse in the world and will be unbeaten on that surface this year, with G1 victories in the Dubai World Cup, Stephen Foster, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup. Wonderful as Zenyatta is, that's simply a stronger portfolio than Apple Blossom, Vanity, Lady's Secret and Ladies' Classic.

Zenyatta obviously will be the unanimous choice as champion older filly, but the result raised another Eclipse question: Was Music Note's decent third-place finish enough to edge her past Proud Spell in the tight race for the 3-year-old filly championship? That one could be a squeaker.

Speaking of squeakers, that Maram(11.10-1)-Heart Shaped(10.80-1) photo ended up costing me the BC Friday pick-6, which came back a fat $16,800.60 despite victories by singles Stardom Bound and Zenyatta. A couple of dimes of the F&M Turf super (thank you, 48-1 Sealy Hill on the all-button) made it a profitable day but nothing spectacular. I'll be diving into the Saturday pick-6 after agreeing again to construct a $5,000 ticket that Capital OTB will purchase for its Albany Teletheatre customers and that I'll buy for myself as well -- what I ended up doing last year after agonizing about how to proceed.

My plan is to run about 80 percent of the play through Curlin, partly because I don't have a clear alternative to him. Take him out of the race and you can make some sort of a case for most of the others. I'd never go bet Curlin at even-money, but if I can get alive to him for a $25k pick-6, I'm getting 4-1, more than a square price despite the doubts about how he'll handle the surface.