08/05/2010 12:49PM

Day 12: 8/5/10


SARATOGA SPRINGS -- A dark, stormy, steeplechasey start to Day 12, an unlovely day for a card where 6 of 10 are still scheduled for the grass. Nothing's been moved off yet, but they also haven't scratched all the main-track-onlies. So don't bet extra-early if you're a multirace player.

There's that new $100k guarantee on Thursdays for today's pick-6 pool, meaning NYRA will put up the difference if less than $100k is bet today. Yesterday's no-carryover pool, for example, was $76k. Maybe more people will play today because of the guarantee, but the uncertain weather may hold things down, as well as the lack of a free bingo square on the order of Convocation at 3-to-10 yesterday.

The rain was really pounding down for the opener, the $70k A. P. Smithwick Memorial, where uncoupled Jonathan Sheppard trainees Divine Fortune ($7.40) and Arcadius both caught even-money Slip Away in deep stretch after 16.5 furlongs in 3:58.98.

My favorite moment of the race was when Tom Durkin described a midpack runner showing no signs of eagerness to accelerate as "enjoying the comity of the herd."

In the second, a six-horse, all-firsters baby race, WinStar/Pletcher unveiled Skylord, a $515k February 2-year-old purchase. The Sky Mesa colt was bet to 8-5 and splashed home an easy 5 3/4-length winner in 58.03.


1:48 pm: The 4th and 6th were just taken off the grass even though the early pick-4 had already started with the 2nd. The third leg of the bet now becomes an "all" race.


2:20 pm: That "all" thing, not announced until 15 minutes after the 4th was taken off the turf, is moot if you singled 2-to-5 Driven By Success in the second leg, the $70k Morrissey for statebred sprinters. Second choice Endless Circle ($9.40) gave trainer Rudy Rodriguez his first New York stakes victory with a four-length front-running upset in 1:16.66 over a track belatedly labelled "sloppy".

Rodriguez, formerly the "house" jockey at NYRA who would fill in when no riders were available, has now won with 29 of his 84 starters (34 %) since beginning his training career in February. Last month he won his first stakes in the $100k Turf Sprint at Calder with Tahoe Warrior, who he had claimed for $20k in his previous start. Endless Circle, a 6-year-old by Precise End, was claimed for $14k on April 16 and has won three of four starts for his new trainer.


2:40 pm: If you don't like the weather in Saratoga, wait a few minutes. Moments before the off-the-turf 4th, the sun is out, the sky is blue and the Dixieland band is playing its dried-off horns.

Guarantee or no, I can't muster a Pick-6 play. Just look at the (needlessly) off-the-turf 6th: The six remaining starters have made a combined 29 career starts -- 19 on grass, 9 on synthetics, and 1 -- a 25-length defeat -- on dirt.


3:40 pm: Pletcher completed a sweep of the day's baby races by sending out uncoupled 9-1 Maple Forest and 9-2 Elusive Raven to run 1-2 in the distaff version of race 2. The time was 58.47 vs. Skylord's 58.03.

I know some people are going to squawk about the new mostly-uncoupled-entries rule after races like this, just like Californians do every time a longer-priced Baffert firster finishes in front of a shorter-priced one. If I had gotten involved in this race and had to pick between the two Pletcher entrants I might well have leaned toward the more-heavily-bet and seemingly better-bred Elusive Raven, who had Velazquez named, over Maple Forest and David Cohen.  But I also believe that these are largely random outcomes and a reflection of why betting first-time starters is a problemmatic guessing-game, not a matter of trainers running around misrepresenting their horses' abilities.


4:10 pm: The $100k guarantee worked: Pick-6 handle today was $112k.


5:10 pm: I swear I'm not being a redboarding wiseacre, but can anyone explain to me why Pulpit Point was the 2-1 favorite instead of a 10-1 outsider in today's 8th at Saratoga?

I suppose one need look no further than the Godolphin blue silks on his back for the first time, but this was incredible. Pulpit Point, off since last August, had won three straight races in France last summer, but they consisted of two cheap grass races at "La Teste de Buch" and a polytrack triumph at Deauville, following losses at Le Bouscat and Marseille-Borely.

I claim no expertise about French racing, but I've read enough Shuback to know that La Teste de Buch and Marseille-Borely ain't exactly Longchamps. This strikes me as the equivalent of a horse with grass victories at Penn National or Wyoming Downs going off the favorite in a tough N3x race at Saratoga. What am I missing?

Pulpit Point ran 8th of 9.


6:30 pm: Weird pick-6 willpays: Of the nine in the finale, four were covered twice for $35k, three were covered once for $70k, two were uncovered. It was as if one player was alive to seven of them and another was alive to four of those and that was it. In any case, it was Settling Seas ($9.10) who revered his recent lead-and-get-caught form by rallying from far back to take the nightcap, rewarding two winners at the $35k level.