08/18/2008 12:44PM

Day 24: 8/18/08


1:15 pm: There's still talk of rain here later today, but so far the last day of Week 4 has been one of those sunny postcard Saratoga days we dream of in February. Half of today's 10 are on the grass, and we're finally starting to see the kind of high-quality turf allowance races that have been absent this year amid the storms. Today's 7th, a simple little $70k N2x at a mile on the inner, marks the grass return of Alcibiades and Starlet winner Country Star, and her opponents include three who have won or placed in Group or Graded stakes.

Country Star in the 7th and By the Light in the 9th will both be heavy favorites, potentially making the late pick-4 a double and the pick-6 a pick-4. Of the two, I think By the Light is more certain: the Union Avenue is simply a mismatch. By the Light is 5 for 6, her lone defeat being a second to Indian Blessing in a G1 race. Today she faces statebreds. 'Nuff said. Country Star is also a G1 filly facing a cut below, but there's still some uncertainty about what happened to her this spring. She flopped in the Ashland despite having run well on the same Keeneland Polytrack in the Alcibiades, and wasn't much better in the Kentucky Oaks. Maybe grass -- where she ran second to subsesquent stakes-winner Backseat Rhythm in her debut last fall -- is where she was meant to be all along, but she's been a bit of a puzzlement this year.


Last night's Altamont County Fair outing was a 42-mile trek from Saratoga, but well worth it if you're a fan of corndogs and Ferris wheels. I sampled those but passed on the Fire Ball (above), since it's probably not a good idea to hang completely upside-down right after your first two corndogs. I also passed on the Demolition Derby, but those in my party who enjoy watching cars smash into each other and catch on fire thought is was a particularly good one. And of course there were many cows, sheep, goats and even a few horses to view, though I couldn't take the stench of the Poultry Barn so I can not report on the chickens and pheasants.

Sunday was Getaway Night at Altamont, and the county-fair action moves north today as the Washington County Fair in Greenwich begins a seven-night stand.

Today's opener was one of those new "Clm 20000B" races whose conditions seem to have some people confused. They're basically conditioned claiming races where the conditions apply only to older horses and any 3-year-old can run. Today's, for example, was for either older N2L horses or 3-year-olds of any sort, meaning that the three 4-year-olds were 1-for-lifers but the four 3-year-olds included two-time winner Windication and three-time winner Know the Game. Having said all that, the winner was 1-for-7 3-year-old Last Tram ($7.30), sixth winner at the meet for trainer Michael Maker.

The second winner also paid $7.30 when EIbar Coa got Tall Poppi up in the last jump to run down Benzel firster Head Heart Hoof as odds-on Aoja could manage only third. Coa's victory further tightened a very contentious jockey leaderboard which now stands:

21-Alan Garcia
21-Cornelio Velasquez
20-Ramon Dominguez
20-John Velazquez
18-Edgar Prado
17-Eibar Coa
16-Julien Leparoux

2:30 pm: Just saw that Genuine Risk died this morning at the age of 31. The 1980 Kentucky Derby winner had a career slate of 15: 10-3-2. Without peeking at "Champions," can you the name the only four colts and three fillies who finished in front of her during her career? (Answer a bit below.)

Today's 3rd started raggedly when Raffit broke slowly and 8-5 favorite Successful Affair just stood in the gates for a couple of seconds, spotting the field a dozen lengths and never recovering. A stewards' inquiry into the start showed that while it might have appeared that an assistant starter was holding him when the gate opened, he actually released him beforehand and the tardy start was entirely Successful Affair's doing, thus no refunds. Remember all the commotion about poor starts here a year ago? That seems to have been straightened out.

Someone else now gets to work on Successful Affair's gate problem: David Jacobson claimed him from Gary Contessa for $35k.

Answer to Genuine Risk question: She finished third to Plugged Nickle and Colonel Moran in the Wood Memorial; second to Codex in the Preakness; second to Temperence Hill in the Belmont; second to Bold N Determined in the Maskette; and third to Smilin' Sera and In Rhythm as a 4-year-old in an allowance race on the grass.

4:15 pm: Earlier in the meet, I'd already promoted Linda Rice from "Queen of the Turf Sprints" to "Empress of the Turf Sprints." What now -- "Lord High Intergalactic Ruler"? Rice's four entrants in the $80k Mechanicville Stakes for statebred turf sprinters just ran 1-2-3-4, three of them longshots led by 9-1 Ahvee's Destiny over Canadian Ballet, Silver Timber and Karakorum Electra. The Rice-Rice-Rice-Rice superfecta paid $3,490. Oh, and her 1-2-4 finishers were the only three fillies in the race.

I have guests here today from Buffalo who just informed me that the runner-up is not exactly named for a Montreal performance of "Swan Lake." Seems that "Canadian Ballet" is Buffalo jargon for the strip joints just across the Canadian border.

I asked a couple of days ago whether anyone remembered a lower Saratoga winning Beyer than Worth a Shot's 43 here opening week. DRF's own Dave Litfin did: Cape Cod Escape, who won the 5th race last August 30, ran five furlongs in 1:07.69 in her racing debut, earning a BSF of 30. Cape Cod Escape improved to a 67 in her second start, running a close fourth in a New York Stallion Stakes race -- to Canadian Ballet. Cape Cod Escape never exceeded a 45 after that, and is currently doing business at Finger Lakes, where she ran a 29 in her most recent start, on July 28.

4:45 pm: Country Star ($3.80) won returning to the turf in her first start since the Kentucky Oaks, but was more professional than sensational in victory. Sitting third behind moderate fractions, she quickened turning for home and forged to the front in upper stretch, but was under urging and bearing out as she held off Marie Rossa and Sweet Ransom in the drive to the wire. Dominguez on Marie Rossa claimed foul against the winner and Castellano for crossing in front of them, but after a few looks the stewards left it alone in what I'm guessing was a pretty close call.

Country Star ran the mile on the inner turf in 1:36.54, which looks poor when compared to N2L claimer Big Wig's 1:35.23 two races earlier, but the pace was 1:09.61 in Big Wig's race as opposed to 1:12.08 in Country Star's heat.

The overnights are up for Thursday's and Friday's cards. Thursday's feature, the Grade 2 $200k Ballston Spa, drew a field of five fillies going a mile and a sixteenth on the Mellon turf: Wait a While (119), Rutherienne (119), Valbenny (118), Sharp Susan (117) and Carriage Trail (115). Friday's Grade 1 Personal Ensign, for older fillies at 10f on the dirt, attracted the coupled entry of Ginger Punch (122) and Spring Waltz (118), along with Unbridled Belle (118), Golden Velvet (116), Indescribably (116), Lemon Drop Mom (116) and So Glitzy (116).

6:15 pm: The other big favorite came through when By The Light did just enough running to win the Union Avenue at $2.70, but like Country Star she didn't get the victory without a stewards' inquiry. This one wasn't even close, though. By the Light rallied from way out of it turning for home, and as she did she was moving so fast that she briefly carried out 15-1 Salt Water Reign. The latter's jockey didn't claim foul and the stewards dismissed their own inquiry pretty quickly. By the Light is a Jay Emm Ess Stable daughter of Malibu Moon trained by Rick Dutrow.

Week 4 ended with a Dutrow-Dutrow late double when favored Unity took the nightcap at $6.30; if you played supers, note there was a dead heat for 4th behind him. Unity capped a $2294 pick-6 and $69.50 pick-4 for those who took the chalky route.

Time for the New York Turf Writers' awards dinner, where the Big Brown and Curlin camps will at least be in the same room.