08/20/2008 2:02PM

Day 25: 8/20/08


3:00 p.m.: There must be a big race here this weekend or something. Gentlemen from The New York Times and Washington Post have made their first appearances of the meet in the press box, and there was a post-position draw in the paddock this morning. The Woodward, starring Curlin, is not for another 10 days, and Big Brown's handlers are still trying to strike a deal for something like a $1 million Philadelphia Park Sophomore Turf Mile Presented by UPS! -- so what could all the fuss be about?

Ah yes, it's the 139th Travers, starring nobody, but with 12 3-year-olds entered this morning, the most since 1990. Everyone's taking a shot. Two surprise entrants were from veterans Allen Jerkens and Nick Zito: Jerkens dropped in Tizbig, a pace-pressing Tiznow colt who ran second in an allowance race here Sunday, and Zito added Amped, a come-from-the-clouds type who was third in the Henry Walton prep July 27. These two Hall of Fame trainers have seen enough Travers to know that this is a good year to take a shot with any 3-year-old who's eating well.

We'll start digging into the Travers card much later in the week. In the meantime, there should be plenty of competitive weekday racing as Week 5 begins with clear skies, optimistic forecasts, and a lot of belated grass racing on tap.

My week got off to an annoying start in Wednesday's opener, as I took a position against a bad favorite and still screwed things up. I have no idea why Flibberjibit was 3-5. I can understand picking her if you had to make a selection at gunpoint in a confusing field of 20k N2L filly claimers, but the only race that gave her any kind of edge on the field came four starts ago on Polytrack. It seemed like a good spot to fool around in contrary fashion, so I made a 1-3-5 exacta box and even a little 135/135/all tri partwheel. Flibberjibit never made the lead and began backing up at the top of the stretch as #5 Crafty N P began to draw away from the field at 19-1. The #1 got through inside and looked home free for second. Then just before the wire, a 30-1 shot who would have completed a very nice 5-1-9 trifecta just got up for second to make it a 5-9-1, producing a $714 exacta and $2704 tri. I know, I know, for another $36 I couldashoulda made a 135/all/135 tri but I didn't. Next.

The 2nd and 5th today were the first 2-year-old maiden grass races we've seen in eons, and I usually duck these races whenever possible. I know some people love poring over reams of data on these races but I find them to be unappealing lotteries. But I was sufficiently steaming about the first, and sufficiently convinced that only two horses could possibly win either the 3rd or the 4th, that I made an unusual and more than slightly embarassing early pick-4 play: Allx2x2xAll for $288.

Got a sort of neutral result when Relatively Ready ($14.40) -- a Donk second-timer beaten 22 lengths in the slop in his debut -- won the first all-button race, then got through the 3rd and 4th with Awesome I Am ($7.70) and Ardnavagh ($4.90). So I'm looking at something between losing money if the hot George Weaver firster ($195.50 for $1) wins, to getting 20-1 on the whole mess if Peace Baby Peace, a Joe Aquilino firster ($6600 for $1) comes in. I don't think I'll be including this wager in any future handicapping books unless I write one on not betting when you're annoyed. Even so, let's go Peace Baby Peace!

3:20 pm: Peace Baby Peace, dispatched at 47-1, broke sharply and chased 7-1 Such Flash from second for half a mile, but wilted when the real running began. Such Flash opened a three lengths in upper stretch, but Phipps/McGaughey firster Consequence ran her down late in a good-looking debut. Consequence, an El Prado filly out of dirt millionairess Educated Risk, might have a future beyond turf sprints, and may have been pointed for this spot because the same outfit had the promising Persistently ready for last Sunday's seven-furlong 2F maiden race on the dirt. In the last five years, McGaughey had run only seven first-time starters in turf sprints, and all of them finished off the board.

Consequence, 5-2 on the morning line, paid $14.80 and completed a $342 for $1 pick-4, well below the parlay, and giving me a return of just under 1-to-5 on my brilliant $288 play.

5:20 pm: More steam. Went five deep in the first leg of the late pick-4 and didn't play the race separately. My quintet included both 5-1 Tomlinson Hill and 45-1 Safari Kid, and the latter were dead even in upper stretch before Tomlinson Hill edged clear to win by a length and a half. I'm not going to pretend that I liked those two any better than the other three, but I guess you're supposed to do a little something besides rooting with a 45-1 shot, or at least make a five-horse exacta box since it came back $557.

Zada Belle was an easy winner of the 8th, the $80k Bennington Stakes for older fillies. Considering she was just 5-2 finishing second in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss, it's unclear why oddsmakers set her price at 2-1 instead of 1-2 and even $3.40 seemed a little generous. Zada Belle, an Indian charlie filly bought by Godolphin out of a 9-length (Beyer 98) debut victory as a 2-year-old at Santa Anita two years ago, is now 4 for 6.

6:00 pm: Big Who? We have a Triple Crown winner this year after all: Tin Cup Chalice, who ran his record to 7 for 7 with a gutsy victory in the Albany Stakes, completing a sweep of the storied Mike Lee-New York Derby-Albany OTB Big Apple Triple Crown Challenge for New York-bred 3-year-olds.

Tin Cup Chalice is a pretty neat horse, being a grandson of Damascus (through Crusader Sword) on one side and Spectacular Bid (through his dam Twice Forbidden) on the other, and being based at Finger Lakes. Bred, owned and trained by Mickael Lecesse, Tin Cup Chalice won the Finger Lakes Juvenile in his second start, is 5-for-5 at his home track, and now has won at belmont and Saratoga as well.

His prospects were greatly improved when Writingonthewall, the only other speed in the race, was scratched this morning, leaving TCC as the only thing resembling a frontrunner in the field. He was able to walk to the lead through fractions of 25.66, 50.88 and 1:15.33, allowing him to sprint home in 36 flat for a final time of 1:51.33. Big Truck was rated behind him early while making his first start since the Kentucky Derby. Ichabad Crane made a menacing move on the turn before flattening out in his first start since the Belmont, and the late challenge came from That'srightofficer, who was fourth in the Mike Lee and third in the NY Derby. He seemed to have Tin Cup Chalice collared in the final 100 yards, but Tin Cup Chalice held on gamely by a head to win a $250,000 bonus in addition to the $90k front end of the purse.

Much as his victory was a stirring and well-deserved one, these bonus arrangements -- when one horse is racing for significantly more money than the other entrants in a race -- raise uncomfortable questions. There is no particular reason to suspect that the scratch of Writingonthewall was anything but legitimate, but it left more than a few patrons wondering -- if only purely hypothetically -- whether some private arrangement to keep the only likely early challenger out of the race wouldn't have been a tempting notion.

And it's not at all clear why OTB, which claims to be so cash-strapped that the takeout is going up next month, needs to be sponsoring a $250,000 bonus to encourage a statebred who wins at Belmont and Finger Lakes to race at Saratoga.

Bella Atrice won the finale to complete a $2808 pick-6 that was way below the $13,701 parlay, but so were all the pick-6 will-pays, including just $564 and $827 to the two favorites in the finale when the parlay was already up to $1,802. Consequence may have been closer to her ML 5-2 in the pick-6 than her $14.80 mutuel, and Zada Belle was probably a universal single for small players, but the payouts were still bizarrely out of line.

Just looked at the complete Travers day entries for the first time: Twelve races, 152 entries, four graded stakes....and not a single N2L claimer or turf sprint on the card!