08/15/2008 4:29PM

Day 21: 8/15/08


2:15 pm: Drove past Belmont at 9:30 a.m., and the spires of Saratoga came into view precisely three hours later, though it took another 15 minutes to crawl the next two blocks up Union Avenue. If you're arriving by car, duck the 12:30-to-1 arrival zone.

So I missed the opener. a starter handicap for old warriors who have raced for a $14k tag any time since 1/1/2006. Casual ($7.30) hadn't run that cheaply since Scott Lake took him for $12,500 on 5/13/07. The 6-year-old Larrupin' gelding has now won 7 of 22 two starts since then and 12 of 62 overall. The field of eight came into the race with a combined career record of 59 for 333 with $1.95 million in earnings. They still make a few horses like they used to.

See that single tiny square of green in the chart above? Yes, we're having a grass race without fences today, the first since Banrock won the West Point six days ago. Today's other three lawn parties, however, have been moved to the dirt. The forecast is for "scattered" or "isolated" thunderstorms between 3 p.m. and midnight today, allegedly clearing out in time for tomorrow's five bravely-scheduled grass races.

Due to that silly law about not handicapping while you drive, I've got some qwik-capping to do. Back later.

6:15 pm: No thunderstorms yet, isolated or scattered or otherwise, and Saratoga could sure use a clear Saturday to right the business ship. Today's attendance and handle were down nearly 20 percent from last year, which is becoming a regular occurrence on these off-the-turf days. There's just not much left to bet on. Today's second through fifth races featured four heavy favorites in short fields, three of whom won to produce a whopping $63 for $2 early pick-4. The middle of the card consisted of four straight races at 5 or 5 1/2 furlongs, two of them off-the-turfers.

I played only a token late pick-4, a 2x2x5x2 caveman that included Asmussen firster Trinity Magic ($8.10) in the 6th, favorite Fancy Diamond ($5.10) in the 7th and overlaid Backseat Rhythm ($14.40) in the 9th off her strange pace-pressing effort against better in the American Oaks last time out. The Lake Placid was a very playable race and gave us a taste of what we've been missing with all the grass cancellations, but I neglected to get involved since my pick-4 was still going. Bad decision, as shaky favorite I Lost My Choo failed to fire and Backseat Rhythm topped a pretty haveable $1k tri and $4k super.

Backseat Rhythm, a 3-year-old El Corredor filly from the same Pompa/Reynolds connections that debuted Big Brown, suggested she might be something special on the grass when she won her turf debut last September over subsequent graded-stakes-winners Country Star and Mushka. She moved to dirt after that chasing G1 type and big purses, running creditably against Indian Blessing and Proud Spell. She was only 1 for 3 back on grass this year, but one was her seasonal debut and the other was her unexpected chasing of Raw Silk's hot pace in the Oaks.

Today she returned to her one-run tactics and was much the best, stumbling and falling back early and then blowing away the field with a six-wide move to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Rosa Grace, a British import, was up for second at 12-1, with Raw Silk fading to third after opening a two-length lead at the furlong pole.

The final time for the race was 1:50.69, nearly five full seconds faster than Latitude Forty's Yaddo victory over the same course and distance last Saturday, raising the question of whether the course might have been used since then.

Backseat Rhythm's victory left me alive to only two in the finale, favorites Take the Points and Toby The Coal Man, and while the record will show that they ran 2nd and 3rd in that order with Tar Beach beating Take the Points by just a neck, this was the antithesis of a tough beat. Tar Beach was a ton the best, repeatedly steadied while boxed in and eventually jerked outside for running room. Tar Beach ($12.60) completed a $1598 pick-4, and a $5776 pick-six cashed by 5 on-track and 6 off-track winners.

Enough with the traveling. I'm back to stay through the Travers, will immerse myself in the Alabama card tonight, and promise to be full of opinions by 10:45 tomorrow morning at Siro's.

Dan MacKenzie More than 1 year ago
Saturday. Linda's Kisses had a bad start and was wide most of the race on July 31. Interesting.
Green Mtn Punter More than 1 year ago
Thanks, alhattab, for the "tip" on the Richard Stone Reeves collection of racetrack paintings. I would imagine that Lyrical Ballad Bookstore, corner of Browadway and Phila, would have a copy- they have a great collection of racing books, books on the Spa, and many other unexpected gems tucked away in a quirky, subterranean warren of narrow corridors, small spaces, and even an old bank vault, lending it that "treasure hunt" feel. The Spa place to be for bibliophiles.
hz hackenbush More than 1 year ago
For the billions and billions of whining people complaining here and elsewhere (that means you, Thoro-graph posters), there is a very simple reason for the lack of quality horses at the Spa: SLOTS. A trainer with a good horse now only goes to Saratoga by choice, not by necessity. Excellent money can now be made at Delaware, Philadelphia, Woodbine and elsewhere, without facing brutal fields and without incurring hefty shipping charges and aggravations. If and when Saratoga can up the ante with its own slots-inflated purses, this may - MAY - change. But until then . . . nope.
mark More than 1 year ago
I too am asking, this is the big Saturday Alabama card? What happened to the best horses in the county running. Another bad card at Saratoga. Rain or no rain this is the worse Saratoga racing (quality) I have ever seen. Somebody needs to be replaced!
bochalls More than 1 year ago
Steve...when DRF lists MTO entrants for turf races carded at 1m or 1 1/16m (which will run at 7f if switched to dirt) why are the trainer's route stats listed? Look at Turn Away in R10 today. If this race comes off turf it will go at 7f but Frankel's route stats are listed below the pps. I know it may be nitpickin' but whazzup with that?....hurts badly when I have Rosa Grace over Backseat Rhythm and Rosinka for a NICE tri score and it just doesn't work out...same thing happened in the Dixie at Pim when I had Pays To Dream underneath only.
alhattab More than 1 year ago
hz hackenbush: In full agreement. Slots have turned Saratoga into Del Mar with thunderstorms, and in my view are the worst development this sport has seen for some time. As a result, currently the "Saratoga vs. Del Mar" argument is no contest. They would've stopped the fight already, with Del Mar taking the belt. For years the Spa ruled with an unmatched quality of racing that was clearly superior to the downstate product, while Del Mar was nothing more than a venue change. Well, now the Spa is nothing more than a venue change.
Dave Schabell More than 1 year ago
Just a quick comment on bobby_vegas' thoughts on a botique meeting at Hialeah. Only if they can get a crane and hoist it out of the war zone in which it now resides, will it ever succeed. The City of Hialeah is despicably dirty and dangerous. Patrons will not drive there, and buses discontinued service long before the demise of the track. I love Hialeah and am privileged to have spent some quality seasons there prior to its closing, but I fear that the Hialeah we knew and loved is gone forever.
richiebee More than 1 year ago
Hackenbush: Wrong, but your post gave me a chuckle. By filling the Saratoga condition books with races for New York bred runners, and by filling the stable area with NY bred runners, trainers who used to ship to Saratoga from all over the US and Canada(for the entire meet and for specific races) no longer have any reason (or have less reasons)to do so. If you really want to change the face of Saratoga racing (and NYRA racing), get the "billions and billions" of whining people together and stop wagering on the NY bred events. Write a letter to Charlie Hayward and say "Me and the 'billions and billions' of whiny horseplayers out here are no longer going to wager our money on NY bred races. We are going to take all of the money we used to bet on NYBs and bet it on the high quality slots fueled racing at Delaware and Philly Park" You have my express consent to sign the letter: Richiebee Whiny Thorograph Poster and Concerned New York Racing Fan
mark c More than 1 year ago
My car has a homemade bumpersticker that reads " NY bred races= welfare for bad horses" NY breds have brought the racing game in New York to the a level slightly above maryland racing....
buffalo joe More than 1 year ago
SamG, is that 5/2 a bargin knowing Casual was Vet Scratch when last entered? Perhaps thats is the reason for the generous price.