08/03/2008 11:54AM

Day 11: 8/3/08

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12:55 pm: Sunny and pleasant, fast and firm for Day 11, but let's start the day by expanding our horizons here a little. It's easy to get provincial while Saratoga's in session, but there's important racing being conducted elsewhere, like today's Haskell at Momouth and of course that little race meet they've got going just outside San Diego, where Zenyatta remained undefeated in yesterday's
G2 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap.

Zenyatta, now 7 for 7, is just plain fun to watch. The massive daughter of Street Sense Cry looked like a Clydesdale running down ponies yesterday as she trailed early and kicked in when it mattered:

As for the Haskell (Live tv coverage from 6 to 6:30 Eastern on ESPN News, ESPN Classic and TVG), Big Brown is supposed to trounce his six second- and third-tier opponents if he's anywhere close to where he was in May. He wouldn't be running at all if his connections and investors thought there was still anything amiss with him, and I'm going to root for him to return in the pink with a gigantic performance for both sporting (makes the fall more interesting) and selfish (sets him up for a bet-against if they have the fortitude to run against Curlin) reasons.

Finally, I'm feeling a little guilty that I never handicapped or paid any attention to yesterday's Claiming Crown, a worthy and always-entertaining card that returned to its proper home at the very likeable Canterbury Park. I think the event would draw more national visibility (and handle) if it were run in July before Del Mar and Saratoga open, and if more tracks would get behind it. And I'll repeat my annual suggestion that it be made the focus of a national day of education, fundraising, and honoring popular old claimers.

1:15 pm: Cable, a 3-year-old grass filly with a boundless future, made it 2-for-2 in her first start against winners in today's Spa opener.

The daughter of Dynaformer and half-sister to Exchange Rate made a spectacular debut at Belmont July 13, winning with an explosive late run after twice checking and altering course during the race. She wasn't quite as flashy against today's strong N1x allowance field, and found a seam right up the rail, but still rallied from dead last into tepid fractions to get there. She trailed after six furlongs in 1:12.72 and went last to first into a strongly-run final five-sixteenths in 28.87, probably shading 28 flat herself. That's some serious acceleration.

Tough call in the upcoming second: Baffert second-timer Miss Bodine has opened at 2-5 in the filly baby race, an unconscionable price on a filly who lost her debut despite a perfect trip and set-up while earning a lowly Beyer of 58. I understand she's supposed to be better than that, but still. Question: Does the fact that the three firsters among her four opponents are sitting on the board like icebergs at 5-1, 5-1 and 8-1 a sign of her morning glory or their lack thereof?

1:45 pm: Answer: More of the latter. After Outside was scratched at the gate, Miss Bodine comfortably outran the three firsters. 10-1 Tapitha (Wilkes)made a menacing move at her on the turn but then dropped back suddenly as if something went wrong; 5-1 Abigail's Gold (Pletcher) ran evenly for second; and Wickedly Spicey (Asmussen), who got bet to 5-2 late, trailed while showing nothing. Too soon to know if Miss Bodine's pokey-looking winning time of 1:19.06 says more about her or the racetrack, but I don't think we just saw the Spinaway winner.

2:15 pm: Today's 3rd race a N2x allowance at 9f, offered a purse of $70k, while the 5th, a maiden race at the same distance, is going for $78k -- purely because of field size. The purse bonus for betting interests in excess of six in 9f+ races kicked in for the maiden race, which drew nine and thus increased by (3x$6k) from $60k to $78k, while the N2x only drew six. A full field would have sent the purse over $100k.

In any case, even-money Sightseeing found another way to lose, or at least a variation on his usual too-little-too-late routine: Alan Garcia tried to get him into the game earlier and hold position inside horses on the first turn, but had to check back when Sightseeing wasn't quick enough to get through despite a slow opening quarter of 25.11. Past the Point (Dave Litfin's Best Bet of the day at $8.60) was an easy winner and Sightseeing settled for third. Another disappointment was Ketchikan, so promising a 3-year-old last year, who has now returned from a year's absence with three dismal efforts.

Gumbo
Lunch Break: Thumbs (claws?) up on the Seafood Gumbo ($6.25) from the One Caroline Street/Mouzon House booth in the backyard Restaurant Row. Billed as "shrimp and crabmeat in a lobster stock over rice," it's even better than that: It's more of a mildly spicy lobster bisque, and there's also genuine lobster meat sprinkled on top. Unlike some gumbos that load up on the rice and okra, this one is chock full of fish and has no more than five grains of rice per spoonful.

3:00 pm: Freshman sire Read the Footnotes got his second statebred juvenile winner of the meet when West Point/McLaughlin firster Rereadthefootnotes ($5.00) took the 4th. The $75k yearling purchase put away J T Moore through a half in 46.07 and won off in 1:05.33 as firsters Aoja and Gold Prospect were up late for the minor awards. Read the Footnotes, by Smoke Glacken, is also the sire of Cribnote, who earned a outstanding Beyer Speed Figure of 90 winning by 13 1/2 lengths here July 27.

4:30 pm: The 5th, the $78k maiden race, again showed why encouragement is necessary to get horses racing longer. The race went in 1:52.05, more than two full seconds slower than the N2x, and the back two-thirds of the field appeared eased or not ridden out as they struggled home gapped out dozens of lengths behind the winner, Skills Coach ($27.00). The 4th through 9th finishers were officially beaten from 18 1/2 to 45 lengths. Runner-up Forest Echoes may have been best dueling through faster fractions than the N2x and grimly holding second while running his final furlong in over 14 seconds and still widening the gap on the rest of the field.

Just as the skies above Saratoga suddenly darkened, Dark Sky took the turf-sprint 6th at a generous $7.90, and by generous I mean I honestly thought she'd be 6-5 off a top-fig dirt debut and a strong grass pedigree. Instead the bettors made a 2-1 favorite of Phi Beta Mom, a full sister to Teufelsberg who had set a soft pace against a weaker field than this one. It rained hard during the race but the dark skies passed shortly thereafter, though black clouds continue to linger threateningly.

Mpenzi lit up the board at $38.80 in the 7th, a $40k claimer for older turf fillies, running down favored Survived in the last stride for John Pregman, previously 0-for-46 this year. Mpenzi won at 5-2 (at Laurel) the last time she was entered for a $40k tag but that was one of only three victories before today in a 38-race career.

6:00 pm: Red Giant, off since running second to Nobiz Like Showbiz in the Jamaica Oct. 6, returned running today with a strong late move to run down 16-1 Stalingrad the the wire and win the featured G2 Fourstardave Handicap. It was a length back to Thorn Song in third. Danak was pulled up and vanned off but appeared to be walking okay.

Red Giant could be an interesting addition to the top rank of American grass horses the rest of the year. He now has an 8: 5-3-0 slate on the grass, and showed promise winning the Virgina Derby and running second to Shamdinan in the G1 Secretariat. The 4-year-old Giant's Causeway colt, owned by Peachtree Stable and trained by Todd Pletcher, ran the mile and a sixteenth on a wet but firm Mellon course in 1:41.99 under John Velazquez -- who seems to be riding with a vengeance this year in Garrett Gomez's absence.

I'm going to gloat a little about race 10 because I made the speech in public this morning: Dulcet Tone was a big bet-against as the even-money favorite. She came into this N2L with a towering 96 Beyer, but earned it against a horrendous field of maidens at Belmont -- a first-time starter and five others who have yet collectively to crack a Beyer of 59. Horses who can get totally loose against such fields sometimes run giant figures that they have no chance of replicating when faced with early pressure, and Dulcet Tone was facing stakes-caliber early speed today. Dulcet Tone never got near the lead today and was off the board. If you're a Sheets adherent, I guess you would say she just "bounced," but I like my theory better.

Not that anyone was likely to beat Elope ($12.80) today. The 4-year-old Gone West filly, a winner of her lone start 10 months ago, chased Overandabeauty to the turn, zoomed by her, and drew off impressively in a quick 1:16.52 for 6.5f. The Ballerina might be asking a lot of her in her third career start, but this one is headed for stakes action.

6:45 pm: Wow that was ugly. It's hard to imagine Big Brown racing again after his desperate, bearing-out victory in the Haskell, but stranger things have happened. And at least he'd go out a winner and with just one career defeat -- in the Belmont -- just like his future fellow Three Chimneys Farm stallion, Smarty Jones.

The maiden-claimer turf finale at Saratoga, however, was a thing of beauty, at least for me. Alive to six horses in my anti-Dulcet Tone pick-four play, I had neither the 3-1 nor 7-2 shots who were well clear of the field with a furlong to go. Then along came one of the firsters I'd used on a complete guess at 54-1 to get up at the wire and complete an $11k for $2 combo; some ammo for tomorrow's $78k carryover.