08/29/2007 2:49AM

Dark Day #5...

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Stopwatch2
...was largely devoted to catching up on replays and figures for the second half of Week 5. It wasn't easy but it rarely is these days for students of time in New York: Even for those of us who have been doing it for more than 20 years, making sense of the times of races at the NYRA tracks has never been tougher.

There are three ongoing issues making life difficult for figuremakers:
1)There are so many grass races being run, thanks to perfect weather and the popularity (at least at the entry box, if not in the grandstand) of turf sprints, that there are fewer dirt races in general and fewer run at the same distance on one card, providing fewer data points and easy comparisons.
2)While the current track-maintenance group has worked hard and successfully to eliminate many pronounced and prolonged track biases from NYRA racing, there is often aggressive maintenance being performed on the track during the day, especially after the opener and before the stakes. This means there are frequent split variants (as there were again this past Saturday and Monday) within a card, and that sometimes an individual race has to be treated separately from everything preceding it, as happened with Lawyer Ron's Whitney and again Monday with Cherokee Jewel's Classy Mirage.
3)Pace analysts have the additional problem that some days' early fractions come up unusually fast or slow relative to otherwise consistent final times, requiring further projection-based adjustments for those making pace figures. This was true this past Saturday through Monday, where there was a spate of extremely fast opening half-miles, especially in chute races at 6 1/2 or 7 furlongs.

These may be technical issues of little interest to most handicappers and of no interest at all to the Flat Earthers who believe time is of no consequence or "only matters when you're in jail." My favorite rejoinder to that hoary expression came from Woody Stephens: "If you think time don't matter, try going downtown at 10 o'clock for the 9 o'clock train."

As for Sunday's and Monday's notable performers:

Sunday Race 3: The meeting's first allowance race for juveniles was an N1x whose conditions could have been "for 2-year-olds whose trainers do not want to throw them to the wolves in the Hopeful Stakes." Back in the day, by now there would have been several allowance races for 2-year-olds that would yield starters for the Hopeful. Half of this six-horse field, including favorites War Pass and Pyro, were Hopeful nominees but none will be coming back eight days hence to face Ready's Image and Maimonides.

War Pass ($4.70), the Zito-trained Cherokee Run colt who won his debut here July 28 after a prolonged early duel, had a much easier time of it here. In his debut he dueled through a half in 45.02 before pulling clear late. This time, he was two lengths clear after a half in 45.91., allowing him to draw off by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:10.61. That was good for a Beyer of 93, 10 points better than his debut, a combination of second-time-out improvement and the easier early pace. His cause was aided by second-choice Pyro lunging and stumbling at the start. Pyro, a Pulpit colt trained by Asmussen, was also off poorly in his winning debut at Churchill, breaking last of 10 but getting up to win by a nose. Here he made a middle move after his poor start, then flattened out late, settling for third behind War Pass and Stronach/Frankel second-timer Fidelio.

Sunday Race 4: Daaher, a Canadian-bred Shadwell/Mclaughlin 3-year-old by Awesome Again, showed high promise winning a maiden route at Belmont in May over Uncle Indy, then set off for the Canadian Triple Crown races. He was a bland third in the Queen's Plate and fourth in the Prince of Wales in his third and fourth career starts, but established himself as a major 3-year-old here in his stateside return. Daaher sprinted to the front, opened a six-length lead after six furlongs in 1:11.82, then widened his margin at every call, winning by 13 3/4 lengths in 1:49.56. The performance earned a Beyer of 106 and made you wonder what might have happened if Daaher had run in the Travers. He's for real.

Sunday Race 9: Maryfield ($35.00), who flew in from California to upset the G2 Distaff at Aqueduct March 24, made another cross-country trip for trainer Doug O'Neill and this time came away with the G1 Ballerina, winning a long stretch duel from 11-1 Baroness Thatcher by a nose in 1:22.78. Baroness Thatcher ran a huge race, tangling with the ill-fated Indian Flare through a half in 44.57 and led until the final stride. Indian Flare had to be euthanized after the race, reportedly because of a broken pelvis.

Previously unbeaten Burmilla was a bad sixth as a bad 13-10 favorite. The Storm Cat-Nannerl filly earned a promotion from the Darley to Godolphin silks after winning the G2 Honorable Miss Aug. 3, but stole that race with a slow first quarter and never even reached contention here.

Sunday, Race 10: Godolphin got back in the winner's circle....with a New York-bred! Juror, a statebred Royal Academy colt who had been running without success in $110k races at Nad al Sheba, found the New York-bred A1x ranks to be substantially easier, circling the field from far back to win by three lengths.

Monday, Race 2: As noted earlier, Rick Schosberg has been having a quietly grand Saratoga, running 1-2-3 with 17 of his first 20 starters, and here he got his sixth winner of the meet with heavily-bet Hammock. The statebred maiden was an international good thing and was pounded to 3-2 despite sporting just one ugly finish back at Aqueduct in April, and while he got the job done it can't have been the race his backers were expecting: Hammock seemed to struggle every step of the way and eged clear late to win in a dull 1:19.25.

Monday Race 3: Ice Cool Kitty, a winner of three straight in New York this spring before stopping badly in the delaware handicap last time out, rebounded strongly against statebreds to win the $80k Saratoga Dew for older fillies in 1:51.10 for nine furlongs.

Monday, Race 4: The Jena Jena Stakes for 2-year-old statebred fillies was an illustration of how writing an overnight stakes race virtually every day in New York may be getting out of hand. This was an N1x allowance race plain and simple, with all six entrants having a single maiden win and one or two career starts. Nowadays, you win a maiden race, you're a stakes horse. The only one who ran remotely like one was the only one with non-maiden experience: Expect the End ($6.70), coming off a second to New York City Girl in the Colleen, scored by 13 1/2 lengths in 1:11.52. That completed a back-to-back statebred stakes double for trainer Rick Dutrow, who moved into a tie for second with Gary Contessa in the trainer stadings with 11 wins, eight behind Bill Mott.

Monday, Race 5: It may have been a good thing for Expect the End that Asmussen 2-year-old statebred filly firster Jet Setting ($7.60) didn't make her debut half an hour earlier in the Jena Jena. The $425k 2-year-old by Forestry had a string of very slow works but shot right to the front and beat 13-10 Contessa firster Like a Rose in 1:04.89 -- going faster earlier and late than Expect the End and earning a better Beyer (85 vs. 83).
Prado rode Jet Setting for his fourth straight winner on the card. The early pick four of Prado/Prado/Prado/Prado paid $80.50.

Monday, Race 7: Karelian ($7.60), scratched from the Bernard Baruch for this, prevailed in a bumpy four-horse finish and had to survive a foul claim from the rider of fourth-place Dreadnaught. The stewards made the right call, as there was plenty of ping-pong bumping down the stretch but Karelian was best and probably did not cost Dreadnaught a higher placing.

Monday, Race 9: Cuaba was 3-2 in the $80k Classy Mirage off a stalk-and-pounce allowance victory earlier in the meet, but for no apparent reason was rushed into an early duel with Sugar Swirl through a half in 44.59. That set the tabel for Cherokee Jewel ($8.70), who ran well in two starts here last summer and was coming off a pair of closing thirds in paceless sprints at Monmouth. Sugar Swirl was game to hold second while Cuaba faded to fifth. Cherokee Jewel earned a Beyer of 100, suggesting she might have been competitive in the G1 Ballerina a day earlier and raising the question of why the fillies and mares in this field weren't steered into the Ballerina instead of given their own race a day later.

Cornlio Velasquez's victory on Cherokee Jewel was his 41st of the meet, putting him eight head of Kent Desormeaux with a week to go. It's a very different leaderboard than it was at this stage a year ago:

2006-First Five Weeks
Prado--35
Gomez--32
CVelasquez--26
JVelazquez--25
Leparoux--24
Coa--23

2007-First Five Weeks
CVelasquez--41
Desormeaux--33
Prado--24
Gomez--23
Dominguez--23
Castellano--21

The trainer standings look a bit different too:

Steeplechase2
2006-First Five Weeks
Pletcher--22
Dutrow--10
Mott--10
Zito--9
Motion--8

2007-First Five Weeks
Mott--19
Contessa--11
Dutrow--11
Pletcher--10
Asmussen--8
Bush--8
McLaughlin--8

--There's no carryover into Wednesday and you might not want one into Thursday: As commenter paul points out, it's the one day of the meet when a steeplechase is part of the pick six. Thursday's featured 8th race is the New York Turf Writers Handicap, where a field of 11 will travel 19 furlongs and favored Mixed Up carries 162 pounds, 10 to 21 more than his 10 opponents. Good luck.