08/13/2008 2:46PM

Day 19: 8/13/08


Promising opening announcement from Tom Durkin as the second half of Saratoga 2008 began: "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Saratoga, where today there is ABUNDANT sunshine!"

Still, four races off the grass and 32 late scratches. Why four grass were even carded after the weather we've been having is beyond me, but apparently the dirt-horse population is that thin halfway through the meeting.

The astounding race is the 6th, for older unrestricted $35k claimers, which drew 16 entrants and is now scheuled to go to the post with 4 (four) starters -- just 2 of the 13 from the body of the race and 2 of the 3 main-track-onlies. Only four horses at Saratoga can be rounded up to run seven furlongs on a fast main track for a $46,000 purse?

3:40 pm: First leg of the pick-6 with $55k carryover just went off, and a tough leg it was. I played on the small side today because of that race and the blind, firster-loaded 7th, and am already thinned down to a 1x3x1x3x1 backup ticket with three singles in the five remaining races:


The singles are Bill Place, the only real dirt sprinter left in the four-horse 6th; graded-stakes-place Premium Wine against N3x allowance foes in the 8th; and second-timer Little Wise Guy in the statebred-maiden finale. I didn't think the races were THAT cut and dried, but when you play small and lean against a first-leg winner like Spina ($36.60) in the first leg, that's what you're left with.

Still, I wouldacouldashoulda done a little more with Spina. I was against 2-1 favorite Gossip Gil, who came into the race with Beyers of 32 and 45 in her two starts at Belmont. Sure, she was meeting softer today, but she'd had two chances to show anything and I just didn't think another performance like her first two was going to get it done against nine firsters. As it turned out, though, it was enough to get it done against eight of them. Only Spina did any running in a dismally slow race -- 1:13.13, on a fast track where the winner of the 2nd went 5.5f in 1:03.56. (More on him anon.)

The other thing that complicated board watching was that there were two coupled entries among those nine firsters, both from outfits with low first-out strike rates, so it was hard to tell if the money that showed for them was a sign of confidence or a sign of confused bettors taking a pair of two-for-the-price-of-one entries. The two-ply Contessa entry was second choice to Gossip Gil in the double, pick-3 and pick-4 leading into the race. An Allen jerkens firster bred by his wife was 3rd or 4th choice in those pools and the two-fer Iwinski entry was in the same ballpark.

Spina was the 6th choice in all those pools, taking more money in all three than the Aquilino, Ryerson and Ritvo firsters. Her equivalent win odds based on the will-pays were 10-1, 9-1 and 12-1 respectively, though she drifted to 17-1 by post time. Maybe someone liked her a little, because handicappers relying on trainer stats sure didn't: According to Formulator, Spina's trainer, David Donk, came into the race just 1 for 40 with all firsters since 1/1/07 and just 3 for 91 with 2-year-old firsters over the last five years.

In any case, I made the Contessa entry and the Jerkens firster my A's and Gossip Gil a B and three others including Spina C's. Spina looked like a winner almost every step of the way, sitting third behind a duel between Gossip Gil and Matty Mae, took over after a half in 46.78, and no one got any closer through a final quarter of 26.25. Gossip Gil held second with the Jerkens and Contessa firsters a distant third and fourth.

4:00 pm: Never mind. In the 6th, layoff-returnees Take the Bluff and Casey's Joy went to the front as expected and Bill Place was sitting third about four lengths behind them. "They're going at it in a spirited way!" Durkin called, probably to the delight of those backing the favorite, but I knew I was in trouble when a pokey first-quarter time of just 23.14 was posted, Casey's Joy chucked it on the turn and Take the Bluff ($10.60) drew comfortably clear. Bill Place tried to close in late but was left with too much to do.

Considering that Spina was the 8th choice in the first leg and Take the Bluff was the third choice in a field of four, there can't be that many tickets going with four legs still to go. Or maybe that's wishful thinking that we might get the very first two-day carryover of the meet tomorrow. On to the late pick-4.

4:30 pm: The 7th was a race where it really helped to see the board. Guessing earlier in the pick-6, I went three deep with Sneakin Up, the best of the ones who'd run, and the two best-looking firsters on paper: Speed Dating, a $155k West Point/McLaughlin 2-year-old purchase, and Sarah Accomplished, a Sugar Maple Farm homebred from Rick Dutrow, who's 26 percent with firsters. If the carryover were bigger or I'd been more enthusiastic, you would next go to slightly lesser-looking firsters like Stormy's Smile, a homebred from Galluscio (20%); Mother Russia, a $21k weanling from Rice (17 %); or Gem For Hook, a homebred from from Kimmel (14 %).

But here's how the board looked for the first six choices at post time:

9-5 #9-Sneakin Up (the fig)
3-1 #7-Speed Dating (McLaughlin)
4-1 #1-Sarah Accomplished (Dutrow)
9-2 #3-Mother Russia (Rice)
9-1 #2-Gem For Hook (Kimmel)
11-1 #4-Stormy's Smile (Galluscio)
35-1 #6-Scarlet Flame (Ferraro firster)
45-1 #5-Outlier (Dickey firster)

Who's the horse really taking money? In my opinion, the correct answer is Mother Russia. Speed Dating is a shorter price, but for a West Point firster -- the ownership syndicate routinely pounds its horses at the windows -- in a race without a killer, 3-1 is practically an announcement of Not Today If Ever. Dutrow's lukewarm at best at 4-1, but Rice is the live one at 9-2. So whereas I went 1-7-9 as my A's in the pick-6, I switched to 3 and 9 as A's in the pick-4.

Mother Russia shot to the front, was briefly challenged by Gem For Hook around the turn, then drew off by five lengths despite drifting late. Gem Hook outstaggered Sarah Accomplished for second, with Speed Dating farther back in fourth, beaten 10 1/2 lengths.

The pick-3 on the first half of the Pick-6 paid $1,958 for $2. Still got a shot at a double-carryover.

In the 8th, Premium Wine came through as expected but not without anxious moments for those who took 4-5 on him. Even though the pace was brutally slow, Dominquez wrangled him back and then had no room in upper stretch, but he finally yanked him to the outside and Premium Wine won as much the best in 1:24.42. Starforaday came from way out of it with a flying finish to be second. Last time out, Premium Wine and Starforaday finished 3rd and 4th behind Lucky Island and Tasteyville in the five-horse G2 Tom Fool at Belmont on July 4th.

5:58 pm:: after Mani Bhavan took the G2 adirondack at 8-1, the four favorites are covered in the pick-6 in the seven-horse finale, which is being run sooner than post time as the skies are darkening ominously up at Saratoga. It's paying $54k with the #1 and #14, and $108k with the #5 and #9 (assuming the #1 or #14 goes off the post-time fave.) Double-carry with the #4, #11 and #12. I'm rooting for a #4 or #12 myself since I've gpt a buck of those $5k pick-fours to get out for the day.

6:00.01: I forgot where I was. RAI Italiano just came on with four minutes to post for the finale on the Nassau OTB channel. Over to TVG, if they're not too busy with Ferndale. Does anybody at Nassau OTB or Cablevision pay any attention to what goes out over Channel 74? Couldn't the soccer and cooking news be pushed back a little when NYRA runs past 6 o'clock?

6:45 pm: Long-ago single Little Wise Guy took the finale, paying a generous $7.80 due to very strong action for 2.10-1 Multidude, making his second career start off an indifferent debut 13 months ago. Sure hope nobody scratched into the wrong favorite, but I think the only horse scratched from the race later than noon was a John Candlin horse you had to have rocks in your head to use. Multidude had to work hard to open four lengths on the field early, and had little resistance once Little Wise Guy ranged up right alongside him in upper stretch. Multidude easily held second, three lengths behind Little Wise Guy and 16 1/4 lengths ahead of the rest of them in another ugly-looking statebred off-the-turfer.

But let's go back to the two best-looking performances of the day, a pair of sharp efforts by promising juveniles.

In the 2nd race, a blistering early pace (Grizzly Peak and Celestial Diamond dueled through a first quarter in 21.57) set the table for Capt. Candyman Can ($40.80), but the debuting 2-year-old colt made the most of it, coming from 6 1/2 lengths back to loop the field and draw off by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:03.56. The track may have slowed down later in the day -- Premium Wine's 1:24.42 looks impossibly slow by comparison -- but this a real runner. The son of Candy Ride -- who earned a 123 Beyer winning the 2003 Pacific Classic -- was bred by owners Joseph Rauch and David Zell and is trained by Ian Wilkes, former longtime assistant to Carl Nafzger.

In the Adirondack -- the first graded stakes run at the Spa in nine days -- Mani Bhavan followed up her 9 1/4-length debut victory at Delaware with a front-running 7-lengths score in 1:18.09 for 6.5f. The Storm Boot filly is owned by TYB Stable and trained by Steve Klesaris. Doremifasolatido was the distant runner-up, a nose in front of nightmare-trip Pretty Prolific.

Looks like there were four winning pick-6 tickets, good for $54,136 apiece. No double-carry. Rats.