08/29/2007 1:49AM

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.

Tony More than 1 year ago
Hey bob a little spa advice (from someone who has been here for the whole meet ) 1st of all SUNDAY is a give away day .If you can go Sat you will get much better racing and about 20,000 less people who are there Sun for the free tote bag . Anyway if u do go on sunday do yourself a favor and sit inside the Clubhouse or grandstand . Now of course ALL the seats are sold out . But if go to the nelson ave entrance not the main entrance on union there is a guy with a green cap who sells sheets and he always has seats for sale .If you want to really appreciate the saratoga racing sit inside away from all picnicers who are there mainly for the free junk ..... You 'll love the place .
rut0h More than 1 year ago
Steve - I like the image with the horses and the ferris wheel.Where is it taken from?
C More than 1 year ago
Steve, maybe my previous post can be summed in one sentence: It seems that Beyer is using very precise measurement techniques to quantify something that is inherently not very precise, or even quantifiable, to begin with. It's like measuring the Earth's circumference (which is round, by the way) with a centimeter stick. C
steven_crist More than 1 year ago
Chisox: I don't know as it's a matter of run-ups so much as the rails being up or down. Seems to me the change in early fractions on the turf sprints correlates to the rail being set at 0 or 18 feet, which is noted in the charts. El Angelo: I LOVE the mandatory-giveaway on closing day. Look what happened losing day at belmont -- no one had 6, so 5 paid three times as much as it normally would (since 75 rather than 25 percent of the payut pool was paid to 5/6). The pool is often one-day-carry sized even without a carry. C: You make a lot of good points but I view them as exceptions or complications to a pretty good rule: Horses with faster adjusted running times usually beat horses with slower adjusted running times, and at a rate of correlation that makes dismissing or not "putting stock" in figures a dangerous path. No, an 84 doesn't automatically beat an 83, but a horse who routinely runs in the mid-80's is going to beat a horse that routinely runs in the mid-70's at least 9 times out of 10.
David More than 1 year ago
Steve - Back when I hoped that NYRA would run grass sprints, it seemed that the grass sprinter was a somewhat specialized type of horse. The grass sprints I watched from other racing circuits (mostly NJ) were fairly formful as only a few easily identifiable horses were able to succeed in this type of race. Now with NY running more and more of these races, it seems like very few of these horses are truly capable of consistently succeeding in this type of race, setting the stage for some very random outcomes and larger than expected payouts. Your thoughts? Thanks!
C More than 1 year ago
Hi Steve, The issues you mentioned: small/varying sample sizes track maintenance during the day 'unusual' fast/slow early fractions causing races to be individually evaluated are exactly why I've never put stock into figures of any kind. I know Beyer is a friend of yours, but doesn't there come a point where there's just enough uncertainty, individual interpretation, and/or subjectiveness in the computation of his figures (or anyone else's) to say, for example, that an 85 might not be much different than an 81? And why does everyone on TV make a big deal out of 'triple-digit Beyers', as if a 100 is so much better than a 98? How can they say this with any real confidence, being that there's enough uncertainty in the figures themselves? I'd love to hear what a professional statistician would say about the accuracy of these measurements. I've never understood why handicappers, even pros, squabble over a few points and use such differences to definitively say horse A is so much faster than horse B. Sometimes horse A wins, but many times he doesn't. If a group of 100 professional handicappers were asked to attach a 'confidence' number to a particular Beyer earned, you'd likely get a wide range, maybe 50%-100%. Beyer himself often doubts the accuracy of a given number. As far as the importance of time, I also don't really understand why so many horseplayers squabble over a fifth or two, considering there are 10000 things that can happen during a race that could add/subtract a few fifths. This is another reason why figures can be misleading, at least in my opinion. Horses are not machines, and every race is at least a little bit different. What about Street Sense and Grasshopper, for example? They were separated by a nose. Some people blame the narrow win on Street Sense being tired. Others attribute it to Street Sense goofing around, like he's (maybe) done in past races. There's no way we can ever know for sure, but let's assume that he was goofing around... other horses have this tendency too. Clearly, they're capable of running faster, so how does one interpret the final time or figure earned for these types? Imagine a 5f race run in 1:00 flat. That's 300 fifths. Each fifth is 1/300-th of the total race. A bad step or a few bumps can account for that. In routes, a fifth is even more insignificant. For a 10 furlong race in 2:00 flat, each fifth is only 1/600-th of the race. At that point, does it make sense to read into final times THAT much? There's enough uncertainty introduced by minor things that occur in every race to at least question whether 1:12+3 is significantly different than 1:12+1. Polytrack figures... don't even get me started. Are the SAR inner turf races still hand-timed? thanks, C
Hugh More than 1 year ago
Thursday is a terrible card, especially with a p6 carryover: Races #4-8 include 3 Maiden races and 1 steeplechase.
El Angelo More than 1 year ago
Steve, what's your feeling on playing the Pick Six on the closing day of a meet if there's no carryover? Obviously, if there is a carryover, it's probably the best-case scenario you could hope for, but even if there isn't, does the fact that it's a 15% takeout and there's a guaranteed pay-all make it worth the fact there isn't free money in the pot?
Mike More than 1 year ago
Bob: Parking - If you get to the track by 11:30 or so, you can park on any number of side streets near the track for free (locate East Ave on a map and try Fifth Ave -that's where I park when I arrive early). If you arrive after noon or so, you can still find a side street to park on, but it'll be a longer walk. There are a couple of parking lots next to the feed store on East Ave ($10 and $6) - both are within a stone's throw of the track. Seating - the last Sunday of racing will probably draw a crowd of 20,000 or so. With that size crowd (moderate for Saratoga), you may be able to get one of the hundreds of benches that are located in front of the grandstand. Alternatively, there may be a few reserved grandstand seats available (I think you can get a couple for less than $15). I suspect they'll be sold out, though (just ask someone where they're sold). If you arrive really early (no later than 10 or 11), you can get a picnic table. You may bring in a cooler with food and beverages of your choice. Lastly, you can bring in a couple of portable chairs, like hundreds of other patrons do. Betting - there are tons of automated machines and tellers available. If you bet with a teller, it's usually easiest to bet at the last minute - sounds counterintuitive, but casual betters don't bet late, so the lines are shorter as you get within 2 to 3 minutes of post. Other - Check out Congress Park and Broadway, if only for a few minutes.
chisox More than 1 year ago
Little Andy made a great point the other day about the run-up for the 5 1/2 furlong turf races, that they had to change. He was absolutely correct as the discrepancies were just too great.