08/11/2008 3:59PM

Day 18: 8/11/08


3:30 pm: Another dark and rainy day at Saratoga, with four races off the grass, a few dozen late scratches, and more 4-5 shots than a night at the jugheads. I haven't figured out precisely which track official is responsible for this run of terrible weather, but there will be hell to pay when I do. It rained all night here again, and while some surface switches at the meet may have been premature or cautious, today's were not. The puddles have puddles today, and we're probably not done yet.

I don't hate these cards quite as much as most people do, because all the chaos and confusion create the occasional parimutuel opportunity. Not that I've found one yet today. The early pick-4 consisted of four short fields, each with a favorite likely to be odds-on or less. I didn't trust any of them and two of them did get beat, but I was unable to come up with last-leg winner Remarkable Storm, who ran down the 20-points-faster Smokin Hero after the latter chased fast fractions. Remarable Storm, making his fourth career start, was second by 13 1/2 lengths last time out behind fellow juvenile statebred Cribnote, who earned a 90 Beyer winning that race.

One favorite who didn't get beat was Ferocious Fires in the 4th, the off-the-turf Troy Stakes. Ferocious Fires, a 5-year-old Lite the Fuse horse who won the John Morrissey Stakes here July 31, became the first two-time winner at the meet.

Why was he the only main-track-only entered for a completely unrestricted $80k stakes race that you knew two days ago was 4-to-5 to be washed off? (Nominations were not necessary; you could be "supplemented" to the Troy for all of $200 at entry time.) Good for trainer Tony Dutrow for putting in Ferocious Fires, who is now technically 8-for-8 on dirt tracks (one via dq) and 8-for-9 overall.

Depending on the weather, I may be cutting out on you early today to head down the Thruway to the Isle of Long for a few days; if so, we'll get caught up on any other noteworthy racing tomorrow. Before I head south, though, some unanswered questions and unfinished business:

--A few of you wrote to complain about the pick-3 payoff on the Secretariat, Beverly D and Arlington Million, which came back $701.40 for $2 when the parlay was $849.60. While I wish I could say I personally lowered the price, I completely missed post time for the Secretariat and didn't get down. But I think this was a case where the whole was less than the sum of its parts because people who favored the Euros used both Winchester ($17.00) and Spirit One ($29.40) more heavily than their win-pool odds would suggest. It's sort of like when an exacta comes back short involving two horses coming out of the same race. If you liked one, you probably liked the other.

---In the continuing saga of inconsistencies in the rules governing multirace bets, someone asked why a late surface switch made one leg of yesterday's early pick-4 an "all" but not in the pick-3. Good question with no good answer. In general, the pick-4 and pick-6 are governed by different rules than the pick-3, such as the ones about refunds instead of switches to post-time favorites, and separate vs. blended payouts for dead-heat results. This is yet another thing to add to the list of overdue rule changes at the bottom of this post that regulators need to address.

Speaking of which, the NY State Racing and Wagering Board is about to have a new chairman, John Sabini (right), apparently chosen less for his racing expertise than for political expedience. At state Senate hearings where Sabini's nomination was confirmed last Friday, the incoming chairman said he believes the job is as much about the promotion and marketing of racing as the regulation of it. Here's hoping he has some time left over for rule changes.

--Plug alert: DRF Press is having a midsummer sale with prices slashed 40 to 70 percent on all original titles. Even if I didn't work here, I would strongly encourage you to consider buying a copy of Champions, usually $50 but only $25 while supplies last through August 15. I'm on my second copy, having broken the spine on the first through constant reference. Special offer to anyone who has ever posted a comment on this blog: If you buy it, and do not agree that this is excellent value for a big glossy book containing the lifetime past performances of virtually every American champion and Eclipse Award winner from 1900 through 2006, I will personally refund your money.

--Most tips at Saratoga are as rotten as the bubbly at the Big Red Spring, but those who have been touting me on the new Max London's restaurant knew whereof they spoke. It's outstanding. This is not the place to go for a plate of fried chicken or a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, but if you like sharing a bunch of fussy and creative tapas-like dishes, make a reservation. The menu changes frequently, but we started out with an exotic meat and cheese platter and then moved on to things like dates wrapped in Serrano ham and stuffed with blue cheese and almonds; croquettes of riccotta, honey and truffle oil; garlic Rock shrimp with smoked paprika, and chickpea polenta French fries. The damage for two, including cocktails, coffee and dessert, was a relatively reasonable $112 before gratuities.

5:00 pm: Drive south postponed till morn due to inclement weather and exhaustion. So, plenty of time to get involved in the late pick-4.

The interesting part of the sequence to me was the first leg, a juvenile statebred maiden claimer in which the two favorites looked awful on paper, running Beyers of 46 and 25 in their no-excuse debuts. I pitched the two of them, went five deep and appeared to take the worst of an excruciatingly close photo between 6-1 Early Response and 17-1 Scooty the Pro. Then somehow, Scooty was posted as the winner, having bobbed at the precise millisecond needed to get his nose down first. If this play works out, remind me of this one the next time I whine about losing a close one.

Scooty the Pro was timed in 1:08.16. Unfortunately for his connections, this was for 5 1/2 rather than 6 furlongs.

Then Wishful Tomcat cruised to victory at 2-1 in the off-the-turf 8th, leaving me alive 3x5 with a 4,5,6/1,2,8,9,10. Even if it chalks out, how bad can it be with a $37.20 winner in the first leg?

The 10th is a spin of the roulette wheel among nine 2-year-old fillies, six of them firsters, all but one entered to run on grass. Based on the late-double probables, I seem to have smoked out the three favorites, though I'm nervous about having omitted Vegas Wedding, a Lisa Lewis firster who's taking some money. Vegas Wedding shows an unusual workout of 1 (one) furlong in 10 1/5 seconds at Fairplex March 4, presumably a pre-sale exhibition before she went for for $90k at the Barretts March 2-year-old sale. If I get that far, I can always hedge.

5:30 pm: Argggh. Even-money Winning Point didn't fire at all in the ninth but still thought I was okay as 5-2 Boca Grande, '06 Demoiselle and '07 Comely winner, took dead aim on 7-1 Are We Dreamin with a furlong to go. A painful 13.45 seconds later, Boca Grande was still only aiming and Are We Dreamin ($16.20) was still in front.

Interesting opening tote board regarding the aforementioned Vegas Wedding. She's opened the third choice in the betting but as the favorite in the place pool and a heavy favorite in the show pool, sometimes a sign with a firster that someone connected to the stable has made an early across-the-board bet.

The good news: Regardless of who wins the nightcap, there's a carryover into Wednesday.

6:05 pm: Well THAT took the sting out: Vegas Wedding, whom I wouldn't have had in the pick-4, closed resolutely to get up and pay $16.20, $5.40 and $4.00 to whoever made that early across-the-board bet. I felt compelled, having writen the above, to make a little superfecta play around her, and that worked out to the tune of $4809 for $2 -- not as good as the $16,861 pick-4 but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Nobody picked six. Nobody picked five. Four outta six paid $835, and there's $55k waiting for us Wednesday.

Green Mtn Punter More than 1 year ago
Even the Punter, a notorious Yankee tightwad, broke down and ordered "Champions" and "Betting With The Best-2 Longshots" how could we pass up those bargains! I recall when "Champions" was published, all the hoopla, whoop-de-do, and I thought, well, I have to own a copy but....glad ol' Steverino touted this horseplayer/fan's must own volume, no doubt a "sure thing" as opposed to most of his picks at Siro's lately, haha! Moral of story: It pays to advertise- again, and again, and again!
Ian Lozada More than 1 year ago
Now we all know how ludicrous the whole "Win And You're In" premise is, but... Doesn't it strike you as wrong that Spirit One actually won a Win And You're In race and still needs to do more-- meaning a supplemental payment? If they're serious about making those races somewhat more special, then they should at least waive the supplemental nomination fee to make sure that, barring injury, we see that horse in October.
Dan MacKenzie More than 1 year ago
larry_thiel: Are you serious ? I'm making you a fortune ? Maybe you looked at the report on shippers that I put out last week and made some wise choices based on that. My own daily selection record is 2 wins, 15 losses, 1 cancellation. A $2 ROI of minus $22.10. I hope my handicapping - and the weather - are in for a better 2nd half. I was at Saratoga on Friday and I wanted the hail to hit me off the head and knock some winners into my brain. Look at these pics I took on Friday. You can actually see the falling hail: http://home.comcast.net/~dan.mackenzie/131-3120_IMG.JPG http://home.comcast.net/~dan.mackenzie/131-3121_IMG.JPG http://home.comcast.net/~dan.mackenzie/131-3122_IMG.JPG http://home.comcast.net/~dan.mackenzie/131-3123_IMG.JPG
Groovy More than 1 year ago
Love your blog, despite being based in Singapore I'm a regular reader. One local key handicapping angle here is the weight of the horse and the change from its last race - with major changes a worry. I never see this discussed in the States, is this not info you can get or are concerned about? Also, our track shifts to a new Poly-track in Sept from a fiber-sand, any advise for how to play it?
ce73 More than 1 year ago
Thanks for the blog Steve, enjoy reading it daily during the Saratoga season and as time permits during Belmont. I too enjoy the sloppy track days - the muddy/sloppy track pedigree is just another factor that makes the challenge of handicapping that much more enchanting. I hope this post isn't too self serving but can you or possibly one of the commenters out there point me in the right direction for where it may be possible to obtain/access affordable Winners Books for past meets such as the ones that are made available in the Saratoga Players Guide? The friendly folks at DRF and Equibase have never heard of Winners Books and the prices for full charts seem pretty high. I'm trying my hand at making speed figures as a hobby and to gain some insight into the game and feel that 10 years worth of historical Saratoga and Belmont data would be great to have as a starting point to make my own pars. Any suggesstions from you or anyone else out there on how to get historical data at an affordable cost (I know this is relative)would be greatly appreciated.
Stephen Taylor More than 1 year ago
Steve- Just a quick handicapping contest question: As a general rule, what are the minimum odds you'll take on a horse in a mandatory race? How about an optional race? (These are both assuming that the contest is the standard w/p format that is used in the finals) Thanks in advance
Hammer More than 1 year ago
"than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick." That is my favorite saying at the racetrack. I say it all the time.
bobby vegas More than 1 year ago
I too, like Steve was alive to more than 1/2 the field in the 5th. for the early P4 that was won by Remarkable Storm. I have to admit that the only reason I excluded that horse was because of the "1 for 522 let's run Teuflesberg into the ground, couldn't train a tiger to eat meat" Jamie Sanders. arrgh. I should have just included him as Leperoux was aboard.
yuwipi More than 1 year ago
mike: Have to say you've hit on a real pet peeve of mine. I do not understand the business philosophy that sanctions robbing patrons, i.e. specifically refreshments. I've always been a big NYRA fan, but they are way out of line on this stuff. Hey, I work for a living. I'm out $100 on a day trip before I even make a bet. The only thing I can say about the Spa is at least the food vendors are mostly local kids who haven't lost their ability to be cordial. A big improvement over a few we have downstate who throw a dog at you and hope you choke on it right in front of them. Taking a 20oz bottle of soda buyable by you or I for $1 and charging almost $5 for it is indescribable greed. The quality of racing issue is something I hope this sport's honchos have a game plan on. It's nationwide though. Del Mar on Sunday ran 9 - 2 Mdn Claimers (bottoms), 1 Cal. Bred Mdn Special, and an "Allowance" for horses that broke their mdn for $40k or less and were NW2L. Pretty huh? Someone at NYRA with a little sense of perspective might want to take a look back in the history books and relieve themselves of the delusion that the current state of business is a birthright. Made my first trip in 1974, and fell for the place on the spot. But it was only a few years previous that calls were being made to shutter the track. Hard to believe huh? Agree with your post entirely. We all love the game and the Spa, but the people in charge seem to dance to different interests.
Mcfarren More than 1 year ago
I am from Saratoga and I have to agree with the last blogger on Chianti not being the greatest in town. I would rank my top 5 (and I have eaten at all of these places at least 5 times) 1. One Caroline Street- a little bit of everything 2. Scallions- funky menu, reasonable prices, open environment. 3. Lanci's (shame it is closing down after Labor Day but John and Kathy are hoping to start a new venture next year) 4. Ripe Tomato- great family meal south on route 9. 5) Tie between Hattie's and Sushi Thai Garden. They are right across the street from each other and very different foods and environments so I always know my wife and I can walk down phila and turn either left or right based on how we feel.