07/25/2008 2:28PM

Day 3: 7/25/08


3:28 pm: Now this is more like it: Nothing but blue skies and a fast track for Day 3, the first twilight card of the meet.

The apron was packed for the 2:45 pm opener; maybe some of those 12,000 fewer who showed up on Opening Day this year were making their belated debuts. The race, a conditioned claimer went to favored Clemens ($6.40) in 1:10.82. Perhaps The New York Times can launch an investigation into whether Clemens was on anabolic steroids.

The second, an off-the-turf baby race, saw the return of Todd Pletcher to the Saratoga winners' circle with Join in the Dance ($8.80), a 2-year-old who's as nutty as he is fast. He dumped jockey John Velazquez before the start, beat the gate and won box-to-wire in 1:04.29, then tried to jump the rail while being pulled up. The Sky Mesa-Dance Darling (Devil's Bag) colt was privately purchased after a pair of seconds at Churchill and Arlington.

5:45 pm: If Hamsa and Mushka were prepping for the Alabama in today's third race, Music Note and Proud Spell probably don't have much to worry about. The two stakes runners ran 2nd and 3rd behind an undistinguished 4-year-old So Glitzy in a slow nin-furlong allowance race, though neither was helped by a very slow pace.

Hamsa looked like she had the race won after drawing even in midstretch with So Glitzy, who had stalked Iron Butterfly's pokey 25.00, 49.81 and 1:14.47. But So Glitzy rerallied at the rail to prevail by a nose. Mushka, the Empire Maker-Sluice filly making her first start since winning the Demoiselle Nov. 24, was a close fourth early, bottled up behind the slow leaders, but came up empty late. At least Mushka can be expected to improve, given the difficulty of winning at nine furlongs on the dirt off a nine-month layoff.

So Glitzy ($38.40) prompted another big early pick-4, combining with 3-1, 4-1 and 2-1 winners in the surrounding races for a $9,348 payoff.

The late pick-four kicked off with the most contested stretch run of the meeting, with 8-5 Real Estate, 11-1 Aquino and 2-1 Visible Truth slugging it out to the wire before finishing noses apart in that order. Real Estate, a 4-year-old High Yield colt who won his last start after surrendering the lead in the stretch, did it again today after an impressive burst of early speed that carried him through fractions of 21.98 and 44.76, and a final time of 1:09.38.

7:45 pm: My Princess Jess ($6.10) came up the rail to collar Alwajeeha to win the G2 Lake George, the first grass race of the meeting. If you're looking for clues about how soft the turf might be for tomorrow's Diana and three other scheduled grass races, the results were ambiguous: While the final time of 1:44.00 was nearly four full seconds slower than Rutherienne's 1:40.34 on a hard course last year, the final five-sixteenths were actually faster this year -- 29.41 vs. 29.69. So was the course itself all that slower or was this year's running just super-slow paced?

There were two inquiries after the Lake George, and in my opinion the stewards were correct in leaving My Princess Jess up instead of disqualifying her for undeniable but insignificant contact with the tiring early leader, Stealin' Kisses. They also looked at possibly taking down Receipt from 4th after Alan Garcia steered her into the path of favored Mousse au Chocolat, forcing the latter to clip heels, but left it alone.

Mousse au Chocolat was ruined at the start, when the French filly lingered in the gate and spotted the field half a dozen lengths. She got herself back into the race and made a menacing move into contention around the turn, but began to sputter and was backing up even before the incident with Receipt.

Got myself alive in the late pick-4 to some vastly overlaid potential payoffs but was far too clever to use the obvious favorite Sashay Renee, a $7.10 winner of the finale who completed a $705 sequence. The serious wagering begins tomorrow, and I'll be handicapping the 11-race card at Siro's with Andy Serling starting at 10:45 a.m.