08/09/2008 12:46PM

Day 16: 8/9/08


12:45 pm: Happy Ma-No-Ju-Ma Day, where the James Marvin. Solomon Northup, Madame Jumel and Duke of Magenta Stakes share top billing on a rare Saratoga Saturday without a graded stakes or a race richer than $110,000-added. On the other hand, these races came up highly competitive and bettable and it's a tricky and intriguing card.

It's clear and sunny and the grass races are still on the grass. The main track is dry and rated fast, and while the turf courses are being called yielding as the day begins, I'm expecting them to be closer to good. Violent as yesterday's cancellation-prompting storms were, they lasted only half an hour. There was a lot more rain than this opening week, and the course was good-to-firm when turf racing resumed.

In the first, Pletcher dropdown Big Wig is the 2-1 favorite going for a $35k tag. You would think a son of A. P. Indy and half-brother to G1 winner Rutherienne would be worth at least that much as a stallion prospect in Turkey or Ecuador or Wyoming but don't claim him for that reason: He was just announced as a new gelding.

Dining and Shopping News: I am compelled to retract last year's recommendation of the Beekman Street Cafe after revisiting it Thursday evening. There has been a change of chefs and not for the better. Five of six diners at my table voted thumbs-down on one or both of their courses, and the acoustics of the place have become so hideous that you had to shout to be heard. I am reliably informed that last summer's chef is now slinging hash at the new Max London's, which has been highly recommended by Mrs. Blog. I'll see for myself and report back.

On the retail front, a stop at the Mobil Station ($4.09/gallon) mini-mart on Broadway turned up the item at the right. How could I resist? This was certainly a happier shopping experience than my trip to the Radio Shack at the local Wilton Mall to pick up a new mouse for the laptop. With batteries, my purchase came to $30.01. Running late and not wanting to wait for a credit-card transaction, I asked the salesman if he could break a hundred. No problem, he said, then added "Got the penny?" A pocket search uncovered no change. Rather than let it go, he slowly counted out my change:

--Two twenties
--Two tens
--A five
--Four ones
--Three quarters
--Two dimes
--And four pennies

Exactly $69.99. Profit margins must be tight in the consumer-electronics business these days.

Or maybe the guy was punishing me for breaking a hundred, though he could have said so. In any case, I took it as a sign to get some smaller bills, so I used the ATM at the track here yesterday to get some twenties. NYRA announced a big sponsorship deal with the Dime Savings Bank earlier this year and said it would be great for the customers because there would be new ATM's all over the place. There are, but it turns out that unless you have a Dime account, there's a usurious $3.50 transaction fee for a cash withdrawal.

1:45 pm: Not a great start to the day for the leading trainer at Saratoga. Pletcher's Big Wig managed only a flat third in the opener and nobody took him. The lone claim in the race was for Great Emperor ($7.80), who came back after being passed by Moore Miles to score by a head. The time of 1:45.53 for the mile and a sixteenth suggests the course is less than firm, though the pace was slow and the N2L claimers came home in a respectable 30.69.

In the 2nd, Ryan's Comet was the only firster who took serious money, going off at 7-5 but neglecting to beat a horse as Lukas third-timer Flying Private ($18.00), bet heavily last time out, gutted it out on the lead to beat slow-breaking Zito firster Rocketing Returns.

3:00 pm: Howls of "Speed Bias!" and "Gold Rail!" are rising from the stands after three straight front-running winners from post 2 or 3, but the latter two were perfectly logical first or second choices who narrowly lasted.

In the 3rd, for $20k claimers, 3-2 R Fast Favorite showed the same strong speed that almost made him a winner here July 27, blasting off stakes-class 9see race 4) fractions of 21.87 and 44.47, then holding off Big Brian T in 1:16.12.

The 4th, the James Marvin for older sprinters and a prep for the Forego here Aug. 30, went slower earlier, not entirely shocking since never-been-on-the-lead Eternal Star went to the front, in 22.51 and 44.79. Eternal Star, a 4-year-old coming off pace-stalking stakes victories at Delaware and Philadelphia, had plenty left for a final quarter in 24 flat, holding off Ellis Park shipper Bold Start. Eternal Star carried the colors of Harry and Tom Meyerhoff, who campaigned Spectacular Bid.

Speaking of olden times, Saratoga appears to be presenting some sort of "Salute to Tradition" today that includes guys in tri-corner hats playing fifes and drums and children singing songs like "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in the winner's circle. The four overnight stakes are all named for 19th Century figures with a connection to Saratoga: James Marvin managed the United States Hotel and was a track president; (Madame) Eliza Jumel was the Marylou Whitney of her era and was married briefly to Aaron Burr; Duke of Magenta, a son of Lexington, won the Preakness, Belmont and Travers of 1878.

The most significant historical figure being invoked today was Solomon Northup, namesake of the upcoming race for older statebreds. A black resident of Saratoga and a violinist, he was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana in 1841 and was not rescued until 1853. He subsequently co-authored "Twelve Years a Slave," an account of the brutality he suffered, and the book became an important anti-slavery manifesto.

4:05 pmThe inaugural Solomon Northup Stakes went to 8-1 Dr. D.F.C. but not until after a long stewards' inquiry into whether he bothered anyone while making a last-to-first charge on the stretch turn and then bearing out through the stretch. Dr. D.F.C. made a similar huge middle-move before flattening out to third behind Travers possibility Acai in a July 26 allowance race here. Trainer Rodrigo Ubile left the 5-year-old by personal Flag in the hands of rarely-used jockey Aldo Arboleda, and the rider survived the inquiry to give himself and Ubile their first winners of the meeting.

Stud Muffin, favored while making his first start since May 30, steadied behind the winner, altered course, and got going a little late to be up for second, a length behind the winner and a head in front of Tommasi. It was another dozen lengths back to Stunt Man.

Race 6 began the pick-six with that $39k carryover from Thursday, and it began poorly for me when Volponi Dragon rerallied in deep stretch to nose out Burnished Copper. Volponi Dragon was only 4-1 but I'm already thinned down to a CAAAAA 4x2x1x2x1 the rest of the way:


5:45 pm: Ariege and Closeout were clearly best running 1-2 in the $100k Madame Jumel. Ariege ($6.70), a Grade 1 winner in a field where no one else had won a graded race this year, waited midpack behind Sea Chanter's very slow pace, rallied wide, and scored by 2 1/4 lengths. Closeout, who somehow had to carry 4 pounds more than the Santa Anita Oaks winner by virtue of a victory in the Audubon Oaks at Ellis Park, might well have had 2 1/4 lengths worth of excuses: She broke slow, steadied despite trailing into the first turn, and had to rally from dead last behind fractions of 25.42, 50.35 and 1:15.14. Ariege, an oddly-bred daughter of Doneraile Court and turf millionairess Kostromo, races for a partnership led by IEAH Stables and is trained by Bobby Frankel.

Nautical Storm, the only runner in the 10-horse 8th race for older maidens to have raced in the last six months (five firsters and four long-layoff opponents), improved off his sneaky-good debut here July 26 and blasted clear early through fractions of 21.48 and 44.20 before finishing up in 1:10 flat. Second winner of the day for D. Wayne Lukas, who trains the Overbrook Farm homebred by Storm Cat. Before anyone starts howling about some international betting coup on a 15-1 ML horse paying $9.50, it was simply a bad ML price in a race where it was difficult to predict the betting, and there turned out to be little support for any of the well-bred firsters making belated debuts as 3-year-olds.

Remember our recent discussion about betting 7f-to-6f turnbacks and projecting a 6f figure on horses who tired late going 7f? Nautical Storm earned a Beyer of 75 being beaten 11 lengths at 7f in his debut. But he was only three lengths behind the winner after the first 6f of that race, which would translate to a 6f figure between 90 and 95 -- plenty good to win the vast majority of sprints for older maidens.

In the 9th, stakes prospect Forest Command took the next step, dusting off a N1x field in steady and controlled fashion, taking over on the turn and drawing away in 1:21.89 for seven furlongs. Nice seasonal debut for 13-1 runner-up Tend, making his first start since running third to future Derby-prep winners Cool Coal Man and Recapturetheglory in a N1x at Churchill last November. Forest Command, a 3-year-old Monarchos colt, races for the Monarchos team of owner John Oxley and trainer John Ward.

6:30 pm: Fairbanks finally found the same combination of factors that garnered him his last win nine starts and 16 months ago -- a weak field, a speed-friendly racetrack and a loose lead -- to end Pletcher's day on a happier note than it began, winning the Duke of Magenta by 5 3/4 lengths over Angliana and Magna Graduate. Fairbanks, a 5-year-old Giant's Causeway horse owned by Team Valor, ran the 9.5f in reakness distance in 1:55.45 under Migliore. Pletcher said after the race that he is not planning to run Fairbanks back in the Woodward against Curlin.

I don't think this is what they mean by value: My $800ish pick-6 play is alive for a $2,082 payoff if Storm Harbor wins the finale, giving me 3-2 on the whole shebang. Storm Harbor is currently 2-1, which would get me $2400 if i'd bet the same amount on him to win and not bothered with those other five winners. If Burnished Copper had won the first leg I'd be alive to five of them instead of one; on the other hand, if I'd played a caveman, I wouldn't have used Volponi Dragon at all.

6:45 pm: Never mind. Storm Harbor faded to fourth in the final furlong as $3.9 million yearling Mr. Sidney (Storm Cat-Tomisue's Delight) returned from a 16-month layoff to win his second start going away and give trainer Bill Mott just his second winner of the meet. Six paid $7,169 and I don't think I have enough $62 consos to get out for the investment.

Arlington's three Grade 1's proved more lucrative, thanks to the massive overbetting of vulnerable favorites like Tizdejavu(1-1) and Precious Kitten (9-5) and overmatched local favorite Dreaming of Anna (3-1). Backing pacesetting American grass horses racing beyond their best distances against superior Europeans is one of the worst propositions in racing. Even blindly opposing them with the longest-priced Euro in each Arlington race today would have gotten you Winchester ($17.00) in the Secretariat, Toque de Queda (third at 53-1 in the Beverly D) and Spirit One ($29.40 in the Arlington Million).

Winchester, one of two Euros in the Secretariat, blew away the field by 7 1/4 lengths with a mile and a quarter in 2:01.76 -- two-fifths faster than Spirit One's front-running Arlington Million victory.

Back at Saratoga, the attendance of 31,497 was within one percent of last year's third Saturday, which featured the Grade 1 Sword Dancer. It was a perfect day up here weatherwise, but that's not likely to last: There are ominous storm warnings for both Sunday and Monday.

Phew. Long day. Is there still time to get down on the Emerald pick-4?