07/29/2009 1:51PM

Day 1: 7/29/09

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2:30 pm: The first four races, and the first Hattie's fried-chicken sandwich, of Saratoga 2009 are in the books. So far, so good, especially the sandwich.

It's a steamy Opening Day at Saratoga with just enough gray in the sky and uncertainty in the forecast to think we could still have one of those Adirondack typhoonettes before day's end. So far, though, everyone's in that giddy back-at-the-Spa mood, even if they haven't cashed a ticket yet.

The opener, which looked impossibly tight on paper, was a 4 1/2-length blowout for 7-1 Good Prospect. The second, a two-horse race on paper that became a seeming one-horse race when Mythical Yarn was scratched a few minutes to post, was a squeaker at the wire, with 3-5 Freedom Rings prevailing by a whisker over 12-1 Cap The Thunder.

The first important race of the meeting was the 3rd, the $80k James Marvin Stakes, because it featured the return of Pyro. You remember Pyro, don't you -- the 2007 BC Juvenile runner-up who was sold to the Maktoums for a reported $20 million and finished 8th as the third choice in Big Brown's Kentucky Derby? The 7f Marvin (run on last year's third Saturday at 6f) was his first start since running 6th in the BC Dirt [sic] Mile last October, and since then he's been switched from Steve Asmussen to Saeed bin Suroor and officially joined the Godolphin racing string. In an attempt to salvage his value as a stallion, he's been returned to racing with stated goals of winning a Grade 1 race such as the Forego or Cigar Mile.

Chilly in the betting at 4-1, Pyro had an eventful return. He trailed early, ran into trouble trying to get through between the leaders in upper stretch, eventually made the lead but was run down late by the solid but undistinguished Gold Trippi ($18.00). It was a respectable effort off a 10-month layoff but still hard to gauge.

Played the early pick-4 just because, and fortunately Gold Trippi was my other A besides 4-5 Riley Tucker, who stopped badly. I should be alive for $1 to "all" in the finale but I now have $4 tickets because I put in my play before the late scratch of Mythical Yarn and while under the misimpression that Titan of Industry was still running in the 4th, and scratched into the winning favorite in both legs. So, let's Go Longshots in the upcoming 5th:


EARLY PICK-4, SARATOGA 7/29/09

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3:30 pm: The skies are darkening and they're sealing the main track.

Got Come From Behind (#8) home at $17.20 to complete an $875 for $2 pick-4. Thank goodness for my fairly boneheaded play and a rare use of the "all" button in the C slot: If you'd arbitrarily given me five horses, Come from Behind wouldn't have been among them -- he got a perfect trip behind a fast pace in his debut and did nothing but back up gamely. Today he improved mightily and had one of those angles-you're-supposed-to- ignore going for him: Trainer Bill Mott's birthday is July 29, and he always seems to win a race up here on his birthday. (Update: Turns out it's "only" his ninth birthday victory since 1994.)

Here comes the rain.....

Something looks wrong with the fractional and/or final time posted for the fourth race -- 6f in 1:13.42 and a mile in 1:35.36? That would mean that the victorious Get Stormy ran his fourth and final quarter in 21.94, and anyone who gained ground ran even faster.


4:30 pm: Steady showers, nothing torrential yet. On to the late pick-4:


LATE PICK-4, Saratoga 7/29/09

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4:45 pm: They just announced that the 10th race at Saratoga is off the grass.


5:05 pm: It took over 20 minutes for NYRA to clarify what happens to multirace bettors when a surface switch is made after those bets begin. After announcing three times that the switched 10th race would now be an "all" race for pick-6 purposes only, Tom Durkin just now announced that the same goes for the pick-4. This sort of thing keeps happening at NYRA, which really needs to get everyone on the same page about exactly what happens when there are gate scratches and surface changes in the midst of these sequences, and announce all of the implications to the public clearly and immediately.

The 7th race, the traditional opening-day baby race for open 2-year-olds, went to second-timer Westover Wildcat, who was second in his debut at Philadelphia Park to El Rocco, who returned to run second in the Tyro last Saturday. The firster who took serious money against him -- Trappe Shot, an $850k 2yo buy in May for Mill House and McLaughlin -- had a horrorshow trip, stumbling at the start and getting repeatedly shuffled between horses after recovering. Expect a short price and an improved effort when he returns.

The 8th, a talent-jammed open N1x allowance, marked a winning return for beaten 2008 Gotham favorite Saratoga Russell, making his second start after a 15-month layoff. The 4-year-old Trippi colt wired a good field in 1:10.58.


5:50 pm: There's a spectacularly fast 2-year-old filly on the loose: Hot Dixie Chick, who set a Churchill Downs track record of 56.48 for five furlongs winning a maiden race last time, just won the G3 Schuylerville by 6 1/4 lengths in 1:10.18, which is 0.40 faster than the 4-year-old male Saratoga Russell ran half an hour earlier. The Dixie Union filly, owned by Mrs. Jess Jackson's Grace Stables, broke from the rail, was denied the early lead, but powered away from the field on the turn. Beautician was second, 6 3/4 lengths clear of Cowgirl Mally. Decelerator, the Debutante winner who edged Hot Dixie Chick when both made their debuts at Churchill May 14, ran fifth.

t's a bit unfair to compare her final time to Saratoga Russell's because the latter went nearly a full second faster to the half mile -- 44.65 vs. 45.50 -- but it was a sensational performance. Hot Dixie Chick earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 last time out and may well have cracked the triple-digit plateau again today, extremely rare for a juvenile filly.

And remember, if you're still alive in the pick-4 or the pick-6, you've already won: The upcoming 10th is an "all" race in those wagers because of the surface switch. No free bingo square in the final pick-3 because the switch was announced half an hour before the 8th race was run.


8:30 pm: Epilogue: It has been raining hard and without respite for the last two and half hours. I wouldn't spend a lot of time handicapping the six (including a steeplechase) grass races scheduled for the turf tomorrow.