08/23/2008 12:00PM

Day 28: 8/23/08


12:45 pm:: Happy Travers Day! Between the spectacularly good card and perfect weather, both of which were in short supply during much of the meeting, business should boom today. Parking lots were full by 10:30 a.m. and the place was swarmed well before the noon first post. The track appears quick and there hasn't been a drop of rain since Wait a While broke 1:40 for a mile and a sixteenth on the Mellon two days ago.

Today's my swan song, as I'm driving back for good in the morning and playing the rest of the meet from home. I know, I'll miss Curlin, but we agreed to give back the rental house the day after the Travers long ago. And I just might have to have two Hattie's fried-chicken sandwiches today, since it's going to be 11 months until my next one.

Race 1: Aquino and On Board Again, runners-up in the 7/25 (Real Estate) and 8/2 (I'm So Lucky) versions of this N2x allowance, were 2-1 and 5-2 respectively in the opener. Aquino broke sharply to the lead and Alan Garcia slowed things down perfectly from there, getting away with an opening half in 46.76, leaving him with plenty of energy to sprint home in 35.14 for a 4 1/2-length triumph in 1:21.90. Aquino, the second-best Uruguayan-bred trained by Kiaran (Invasor) McLaughlin, is a 4-year-old First American (Quiet American) colt who made his first two starts in his homeland, then was bought by Team Valor and sent to Dubai, where he flopped in three starts for Doug Watson. He returned from a five-month break in Mclaughlin's barn, lost his U.S. debut by a nose to Real Estate, and looked like a stakes horse today.

West Express, a N2L winner here August 2, was along for second up the rail and On Board Again was fourth rallying from behind the slow pace and between horses in the stretch. The 2006 Pegasus and Discovery runner-up deserves another chance in a more honestly-paced race.

Race 2: Seen enough of Spaniard? Indian Blessing's highly-touted little (half-)brother disappointed for the third time, breaking to the lead but running up the white flag yet again as the 9-5 favorite after a half in 45.06. Phipps/McGaughey second-timer Gone Astray (Dixie Union-Illicit) swept five wide under Gomez and drew off by 2 1/2 in 1:10.12. Zito second-timer Nowhere to Hide, pounded to 2-1 in his Aug. 2 debut but ignored today at 9-1, was up for second to complete a $93.50 exacta.

Gone Astray was the third 2-year-old winner at the meet for his connections, who also won with the promising fillies Persistently and Consequence.

2:00 pm: One Hattie's sandwich down.

Race 3: Got to feel bad for Tiz It, who keeps running in maiden races on major days and coming up second best. He ran second on Breeders' Cup Firday to Massive Drama, second on Belmont Day to Sixthirteen, second on Whitney Day to Joppa Flats, and now second on Travers Day to Jimmy Jerkens firster Storm Play ($26.20). Storm Play, a 3-year-old Ned Evans homebred by Smart Strike, stalked Tiz It from third and ran him down to win by three lengths in 1:22.15.

Race 4: wide-open statebred N1x turfer where I was against 3-2 favorite Woodrunner and alive in pick-4's through four other horses including 23-1 Cardiff Road and 30-1 Rodeo Hand. Rodeo Hand was scratched in the paddock, dumping me onto Woodrunner, but Cardiff Road looked like he was going to make this a gold-plated Travers day as he worked his way through the field and took the lead, then Missinglisalewis came flying late at 30-1 to run right by him and key a $1293 exacta, $19k tri and $89k super. Arrrrrgh.

3:45 pm: Races 5-6-7 were an interesting progression of conditions for grass males: A maiden-special, a N1x allowance and an N2x allowance.

Race 5: Bill Mott's rough meet continued as 3-2 Intercoastal, second to Baronial in a promising grass debut here July 26, enjoyed a perfect trip sitting just behind the early leaders but came up flat through the stretch and ran a dull fourth behind Rogue Victory ($9.50), Tizzy and perpetual rough-tripper Uncle Indy.

Race 6: Big Stick ($11.60) got the rail trip behind Hammock's moderate pace and burst through in upper stretch to give McLaughlin/Garcia a double on the day.

Race 7: In a sort of replay of the wacky 4th, the wacky 7th ended with 88-1 Slambino ($179.00) flying late to catch 20-1 Blazing Dynamo, with 37-1 Key Event third in a race that completely fell apart after a first six furlongs in 1:09.64, and in which even-money Prussian didn't run a step for Mott. The exacta was a light $2,565 (outside-post boxers playing the old 14-13?); the tri was $105,914 for $2 and the $2 superfecta price was $1,523,188 -- I'm guessing probably two dime winners at $76k apiece. [Update: One dime winner at Yavapai, one in Kentucky, according to NYRA.] Amazing what full fields of grass horses can do for the payoffs around here.

Before someone complains (and someone will) that it's misleading and fraudulent to announce a $1.5 million "payoff" when the pool is much smaller, I disagree. I don't even like the $1 payoffs announced at California and Magna tracks. I think you either announce everything in the traditional $2 payoff or you have complete chaos. Do you really want, on the same race, to have a 10-cent super, 50-cent pick-4, a $1 tri and a $2 exacta price announced? The only people "deceived" by the announcement of a $2 payoff that exceeds the pool are first-time visitors who have no idea what any of this means anyway.

I've argued this point to death with plenty of people who keep saying payoffs should be announced at the minimum bet available. Well, most tracks offer $1 win, place and show bets. Do you really want your next $3.60 winner posted as paying $1.80, $1.30 and $1.05?

5:00 pm If you're a carryover player, you might want to start looking at Saratoga's Sunday card; Anyone who was still alive after Slambino at 88-1 is unlikely to have survived the defeat of Indyanne in the first of the day's four graded stakes.

Race 8: Indy Anne, a winner of her four previous starts by a combined 32 1/2 lengths, broke a bit slowly but found room to rush up the rail and wrest the lead from J Z Warrior with a half in 45.00. But she couldn't fend off the unlikely Porte Bonheur, who wore her down in the final 100 yards to score by half a length in 1:09.50 in the G3 Victory Ride.

Porte Bonheur ($24.60), a Hennessy filly trained by David Duggan, won the restricted Flanders Stakes here Aug. 2 with a perfect up-the-rail trip against a weaker field than this.

Race 8: Under happier earlier circumstances, Shakis's victory could have been part of a big day, but now that I'm dead in every multirace wager known to man, I enjoyed it only aesthetically.

Shakis defended his Bernard Baruch title, even a switch from the Mellon course last year to the inner this time around. The 8-year-old by Machiavellian had lost all four of his starts since last year's Baruch, with some possible excuses regarding trips and footing, but still required a leap of faith to return to his best form. A $12.60 winner last year, he paid $14.80 today, giving the McLaughlin/Garcia team its third of the day. (Garcia also picked up the mount on Missinglisalewis.)

The pick-3 comprising the first half of the pick-6 paid $25,732.

5:30 pm: The smallest all-stakes pick-4 will-pays are $10k to Mambo in Seattle, $11k to Pyro, $13k to Colonel John and Harlem Rocker and $15k to Macho Again. Those five are all between 4-1 and 7-1 with 15 minutes to post.

Visionnaire ($15.60) won a rodeo finish to the G1 King's Bishop, a wild race where there were eight of them across the track in midstretch with Visionnaire finishing widest and fastest of all to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Visionaire, owned by Team Valor and trained by Michael Matz, ran the seven furlongs in 1:21.94 and gave Garcia his fifth winner of the day. That makes nine straight losing favorites since the opener.

Desert Key, expected to gun for the lead, instead was taken back, and finished well along the inside to win a three-way photo for second, a nose in front of I'm So Lucky, with Lantana Mob another nose back in fourth.

6:30 pm: Congrats to Colonel John and his people for winning the 139th Travers in the narrowest photo-finish you'll ever see. You have to look really hard at the photo to see a hair's breadth of daylight between Mambo in Seattle's nose and the wire, and no one would have objected had it been called a dead heat. Pyro was up for third, 5 1/4 lengths behind the top pair, after a rough trip in a race with plenty of those (Macho Again almost went down when Gomez shot in front of him with the winning move on Colonel John.) Pyro had a neck on Harlem Rocker, who in turn had a neck on Da' Tara, who led to the furlong pole through fractions of 23.91, 48.06, 1:12.12 and 1:37.17.

The first four finishers were the four favorites (in 2-3-1-4 order), yet still accounted for a $1785 superfecta.

The winner's time of 2:03.20 on a quick track was unimpressive and will probably translate to a Beyer in the 100-104 range, the best that the 3-year-olds of 2008 outside of Big Brown seem capable of. I suppose there will now be some Breeders' Cup hype-talk that if Colonel John can win the BC Classic he could still be the 3-year-old champ or even the Horse of the Year, but he does not appear to be at the same level as Curlin or even Big Brown on his best day. Still, his triumph on a dirt track, however slow and narrow, gives him added credibility and dimension beyond his synthetic-surface achievements.

Colonel John and Pyro running 1-3 somewhat validates their form of the spring, which sent them into the Derby as the second and third choices behind Big Brown. And Mambo in Seattle's strong showing confirms that he's the best of the late-blooming sophomores.

Race 12: Back to statebred maidens on the turf for the nightcap, and Garcia got a little goofy going for his 6th of the day, opening up a huge lead down the backstretch with a first quarter in 22.70 that had evaporated by the top of the stretch as Iron Gate ($21.60), Burnished Copper and Winloc's Saint Ray swept by him.

Garcia's five winners gave him a 29-28 edge on John Velazquez in the rider standings with seven days left at the meet. McLaughlin's three gave him 12 for the meet, one behind Todd Pletcher.

Iron Gate's victory in the finale meant that the Travers managed to cost me a bunch of money even though I didn't bet a nickel on the race. Until the payouts were posted, it never occurred to me that 4 of 6 would be good for a $5480 conso at day's end, and had Mambo in Seattle won or shared the photo, I would have had one of those. Oh well.

The carry into Sunday is $147,974.48. The plan is to get the household on the road by 10, discuss the card with the greyhounds on the drive down, and be settled back into my in-home OTB parlor in plenty of time for the sequence, which starts with the 6th of 11 races at 3:41 p.m.