08/17/2008 1:50PM

Day 23: 8/17/08


2:15 pm: Not much to report from last night's very pleasant Jockey Club dinner where my tux-clad table of owners, breeders, track and industry officials discussed pretty much the same things a post-race PJ's picnic table of horseplayers would: (in alphabetical order) Big Brown and Curlin, cobra venom, Hialeah, Lasix, Magna, past-posting, steroids, stupid tax-withholding rules, stupid wagering rules, toegrabs, the usual. The after-dinner speaker was Rob Murphy, the former Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher who's a huge racing fan and enthusiastic owner/breeder. His nom de course is "M375," which is SLEW spelled upside-down. (Go ahead, rotate your computer monitor 180 degrees. See?) He's a part-owner of Golden Spikes, who's coming up for the King's Bishop Saturday. Murphy told some good stories like the one about running bets on the Arlington Million for manager Pete Rose during a game. His more serious message was that baseball was prospering despite its own labor/management and medication crises and that racing can do the same.

The centerpiece of this morning's Jockey Club Round Table was four new recommendations from the JC's Safety and Welfare Committee, but perhaps the most interesting portion was a presentation by Dr. Larry Bramlage addressing some of the "theories" about horses raised in the aftermath of the Eight Belles breakdown this spring. Bramlage cited large statistical studies performed since then which should put to rest irresponsible statements, often presented as fact, that the breed has been weakenened by the Native Dancer sire line; that horses (outside of a handful of prominent bluechip stallions) are being retired earlier than they used to be; or that 2-year-old racing harms them. The data contradict every one of these assertions.

As a crowd of over 200 exited the Round Table, they were greeted by a lone woman in a bloody butcher's apron screeching about the mistreatment of horses. It was a reminder of the level to which reasonable discourse about racing sank after the Derby earlier this year.

--Today's 2nd race began with the single strangest betting move of the meeting: Second-time starter Amanwella, no better than a tepid consensus choice of public handicappers and only a smidge high at 6-1 on the morning line, opened as the 3-5 favorite with half of the $40k win pool on her nose. No other pool reflected any such support, and it was an incomprehensible price for a 2-year-old filly who was switching to dirt after finishing 7th (albeit with some trouble) in a turf sprint at 4-1 in her debut. I started checking the program to see if there was a heavily-favored #9 somewhere else on the card -- maybe someone dumped $10k on this one by accident? -- but couldn't find one. It's not as if Amanwalla's connections, Hickory Tree Stable and Graham Motion, are renowned as big bettors, and the filly showed only a mild 3f breeze at Fair Hill since her July 28 debut. Who in the world was betting $10k to win on her?

Amanwella attracted only about a quarter of the remaining win betting on the race and went off as the 9-5 favorite. This was very good news for those of us who liked Persistently, the Phipps filly who, as noted on July 27th, made a spectacular run from another county to get third in the fast Miss Ocean County race. Things looked a little dicey early as Amanwalla got an easy lead and no one could stay with her as Persistently trailed, but then Persistently swung out and began gobbling up ground late again, nailing Amanwella in the final 50 yards for a clear victory at a fat $9.90 mutuel. Persistently could be a serious and interesting racehorse.

4:45 pm: Despite Persistently's probably being lower than $9.90 in the early pick-4, it paid $667, more than triple the $210 parlay. With the third and fourth legs being blind firster-fests, winners Troy G. ($4.80) and Anjorie ($5.00) were clearly much bigger prices in the multirace pool.

Got off to a decent start in the late pick-4 by using just two A's, off-the-board Mr. Wenzel and the victorious Ridge Royale ($13.40). That leaves me 3x2x7 with a 4,8,11/2,3/2,3,4,5,6,9,10 with a press on 4/2,3/3,4,10.

This is officially the start of Travers Week, which I'm guessing is going to feel less like a Travers Week than usual this year. It's probably going to be a better betting race than in most years, with a full field that's going to look about an inch and a half apart on paper, but without a Big Brown or a Big Anything Else, there's little sense of history in the making. The undercard stakes are eligible to come up strong, though, and if the weather keeps holding, there should be full fields on the turf every day from here to September given all the horses rained out of their first scheduled starts at the meeting.

--Before I forget: Huge congrats to "saratoga_mike" for hitting Saturday's $10k pick-6 using the ABC method, and to "AndyScoggin" for making it as far as he has in the ShowDown contest, where it looks like there were 37 people left going into today. So far, only the five people who used Prince of Peace in the 1st have been knocked out. Everyone else seems to have survived, not including the single votes for Just as Well and Summer Patriot in the upcoming John's Call.

Was all set to go to the Washington County Fair tonight until finding out it doesn't start till tomorrow night. But tonight's the last night of the Altamont County Fair, which looks like it's not too far away, somewhere southwest of beautiful downtown Schenectady. So good luck the rest of the way today. Now that I've seen 17-year-old John's Call leading the post parade for the John's Call Stakes, I'm cutting out early to go look at farm animals, eat fried food, and lose my money at rigged carney games.