08/24/2008 3:49PM

Day 29: 8/24/08

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3:15 pm: BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Made it back from Spa City in 3:15:00.01 or so, and after some misadventures with greyhound-unloading and faulty smoke alarms at the homestead, qwik-capped the card just enough to play this very difficult carryover that's starting in 20 minutes or so. The opening leg is a board-watcher's delight, so let me do some tote-gazing and ticket-punching and I'll be back after the 6th, dead or alive.

4:00 pm: Phew. Made it through the first leg with a B+, Baffert firster Heavenly Vision ($9.40) in a race with a tricky board and an all-firster finish at 7-2, 25-1, 32-1 and 14-1.

Nan, who I didn't use at all, opened the 2-1 favorite off a fast-closing second in a turf sprint, where she finished well enough to inspire a private purchase by J. Paul Reddam, the Cashcall guy. But that was in a turf sprint, which I totally discount when it comes to dirt ability. Nan ended up the co-second choice with the winner behind 2-1 Pumpkin Shell, who I liked best off her debut second between Spinaway-bound Miss Ocean City and Matron-bound Persistently.

Heavenly Vision was tough to read on paper, having worked very well over Del Mar Polytrack and less well over Saratoga dirt, and 7-2 on a Baffert firster isn't exactly Indian Blessing/Maimonides kind of action. But she took a big whack in the races 5-6 double -- actually favored over Pumpkin Shell in that pool -- and was half the price of any other firster. So I singled Pumpkin Shell as an A and made Heavenly Vision a "B+," the plus meaning I can have all 3 rather than the usual 2 B's today:

I know, it's sort of a goofy play. I'm completely guessing on firsters with two of my three in race 8; I just wasn't crazy about most of the ones who have run.

In any case, the C's are now dead and I effectively have one live caveman ticket that goes:

1,2,4,7,8/1,4,11/1,2,6/2,5/2,6

At least no singles. But with the exception of the Ballerina, it's all-turf the rest of the way. And you remember how predictable that was yesterday.


Theempress
4:30 pm: Another statebred turf sprint, another 1-2 finish by The Empress. (She only had two in the race.)How could Linda Rice top her superfecta sweep of the Mechanicville stakes? How about by sending out Lady Rizzi ($9.30) to set a new course record of 1:00.66 for 5.5f on the Mellon Asphalt Course?

Sort of Tricky, making her first start since January, shot to the lead with a quarter in 21.09, with Rice's duo in hot pursuit. Myaka got to the leader first after a half in 43.24 -- I'm not making these fractions up -- and then Lady Rizzi took over. Rice aside, Lady Rizzi had a little bit of an edge on these statebreds, having won an open N1x turf sprint at Gulfstream and run credibly in a $200k turf sprint at Calder earlier this year.

Hmmm, my two guess-firsters in leg 3, for older maiden grass fillies, just opened as the fourth and sixth choices at 6-1 (Pletcher) and 8-1 (Sheppard) in the win pool, 5th and 7th choices in the pick-3 and 2nd and 7th choices in the 7-8 double. I guess neither one is the second coming of Pebbles, but here's hoping they don't have to be.


5:13 (or 5:06) pm: My sincere apologies to the NYRA Rewards phone operator I was just yelling at, telling her that betting for the 8th race couldn't possibly be closed because I was watching live on TV and it was 3 minutes to post. She insisted the race had been run. Then I looked at the clock an it turns out she was right. Guess I'd used the DVR to go backwards and check some payouts and never fast-forwarded back. Oops. But it saved me money, since I was trying to make saver pick-4's against my pick-6 horses, and it turned out that Sandstorm Cat, one of my three in the 8th (the non-firster) had already won and paid $15.20.

Halfway home.

5:45 pm: Two-thirds of the way home as Kapanga ($9.80) wins leg 4. Even if this chalks out it's got to be okay.

6:15 pm: Arrrrrg. Maybe I'm prejudiced since it just knocked me out, but what in the world was Javier Castellano doing prematurely sending Sugar Swirl after Mystical Plan in 44.88, exhausting both fillies by the time they hit the furlong pole together? You'd have thought he'd learned his lesson in the Humana Distaff, when he sent her after Hystericalady into a four-horse duel after she'd won her two previous seven-furlong stakes starts by stalking and pouncing.

In any case, the Ballerina ended the same way as the Humana, with Intangaroo in the winner's circle, and it's hard not to be happy for her and her connections even while tearing tickets. She's the best horse ever trained by veteran Gary Sherlock, who was making his first trip ever to Saratoga this weekend, and she's now upset three Grade 1 races this year -- the Santa Monica at 26-1, the Humana at 14-1 and the Ballerina at 5-1. All of those races are at 7f, the same distance as this year's BC F&M Sprint, where she could wrap up the filly sprinter title if she hasn't already.

Five of the eight in the finale are covered in the pick-6, all paying $96k or better. Time for a cocktail.

In better news, it's 6:17 and I'm still watching Saratoga on Nassau OTB instead of Cooking With Sergio on RAI Italiano. Thanks to whoever finally figured out that Saratoga runs past 6 p.m.


6:40 pm: Would have gotten blown out by the shortest price in the sequence anyway as Exonerated ($7.00) wired the field in the statebred finale, running a strong 8.5f in 1:41.70 on the inner, significantly faster than the two open-company maiden races today at the same course and distance. The Johannesburg filly actually looks worth the $105k that former NYRA trustee Earle Mack paid her breeder, former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, for her at public auction two years ago.

As for me: Bid, loomed, hung. But tomorrow is another day.