07/26/2008 12:11PM

Day 4: 7/26/08

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1:10 pm: Happy Whitney Day, unless you've ingested the Kool Aid and want to call it Breeders' Cup Challenge Day.

Three early scratches in the stakes races. As expected, Spring Waltz is out of the Go For Wand, as is Inside Passage, who would have been 30-1. The other defection is Bustin Stones from the Vanderbilt, after the undefeated 4-year-old came up with a stone bruise.

His defection seriously alters the complexion of the race. Whether you liked him or not (I was against), his defection reduces the likelihhod of a kamikaze speed duel with Black Seventeen, who has run sub-22 opening quarters in his last four starts. There still could be an early scramble if E Z Warrior guns from the outside and if Sammarco can keep up early, but Black Seventeen's prospects of dominating the pace and the race are now much stronger.

In the opener, Benny the Waiter ($9.90) blasted clear of 7-10 Rollers early to gain an uncontested lead through a moderate half-mile and had enough left to hold him off when the favorite tried to come through on the rail. Coa, riding the winner, kept things tight but legal on the favorite, who was making his first start since October. Rollers didn't look comfortable trying to come through on the inside, but should have been able to reel him in with his best effort.

The track looks pretty quick, as Benny the Waiter stopped the timer in 1:09.74.

3:00 pm: Seemed like old times as a big-ticket Coolmore/Pletcher/Velazquez firster made a splashy debut. Munnings ($4.10), a $1.7 million 2-year-old-in-training purchase "looked like a million...maybe a million-seven!" as Tom Durking put it in his call, shooting to the lead and turning back an intense challenge from well-meant (3-1) Zito firster Just a Coincidence to score by 4 1/4 lengths in 1:09.94. Just a Coincidence had another 5 1/4 on Sean Avery. Munnings is by first-crop sire (and former Pletcher trainee) Speightstown from the unraced Holy Bull mare La Comete.

In the 3rd, a turf race for older maidens, Baronial (Kingmambo-Personal Ensign) was a solid winnner for Phipps/McGaughey. Baronial is the final foal of the pensioned Personal Ensign, who also produced Miner's Mark, Our Emblem and My Flag.

In the 4th, Unbridled Heart, the $1 million Godolphon colt who won his debut by 10 lengths on the Peter Pan undercard, suffered his second odds-on defeat since then when he fell a neck short of catching Acai ($26.20).

3:45 pm: I wrote the following at the bottom of the Saturday newspaper column:

The New York State Racing and Wagering Board took one small step toward allowing New York to join the 21st Century world of wagering this week when it granted Saratoga the right to offer superfecta wagering on any “qualifying” race instead of the previous limit of three per day. Now it’s time to get rid of those qualifications, ancient and indefensible restrictions which could be said to have outlived their usefulness had there ever been anything useful about them.
First is the requirement that a race must have eight starters for the track to offer a superfecta. This was the face-saving fruit ofa 30-year-old harness race-fixing investigation, and it made no sense then or now. The second is a prohibition on coupled entries in superfecta races, instituted because some ill-informed and long-departed board functionary thought that horseplayers would be confused if both #1 and #1a finished in the top four in a race. There is not a horseplayer alive who does not understand that you go to the fifth-place finisher to complete the winning super combo in such cases, just as you go to the fourth-place finisher to complete a trifecta combination when two parts of an entry in the top three.

If the Board needs any further proof of the idiocy of this rule, look at what happened in today's 6th race. It was one of the juiciest races on many a card, with a field of 14 older maidens and plenty of live-looking longshots. A perfect candidate for superfecta wagering, and one was scheduled. Then, when there was an early scratch from the body of the race, an also-eligible drew in -- but because he was coupled with another horse in the race, meaning there was now both a 1 and 1a in the field, track officials had to cancel the superfecta

In addition to needlessly depriving fans of the bet, the rule puts the track in the bad position where it would have been to their advantage to scratch the also-eligible horse in order to have a superfecta. Just a bad deal all around.

0-for-20 Joppa Flat's lit up the tote board at $70.00 in the 6th, and if it's possible for an 0-for-20 winner to be an overlay, he was it. Unlike, say, Worth a Shot here on Thursday, Joppa Flat's had run very competitively at the level time and again and his eight second-place finishes included runner-up performances behind decent horses such as Winstrella, Communicator and Merchant Marine. He ran in a nearly identical version of this race here last summer, finishing second at 5-2.

5:00 pm:In my book, Forever Together was way too big a price winning the Diana at 9-1 while Abraaj was no bargain taking the Vanderbilt at 8-5.

Forever Together was coming off a fast-closing third to Ventura and Lady of Venice in the Just a Game last time out, a race with a relatively slow pace (46.55) considering the blistering final time (1:32.75). Forever Together came flying late into the fast final fractions. Seven of the 10 fillies in the Diana were under 10-1 and Forever Together somehow got lost in the shuffle.

The Vanderbilt had a "formful" result but seemed like an oddly-run race all around. Black Seventeen was outrun early by Sammarco, then he prompted the leader into a 44.57 half, setting the stage for the closers. Abraaj looked like he wasn't kicking in, then finally lumbered up on the outside and won by 2 1/4 lengths, but his winning time of 1:10.23 was shockingly slow -- given that the day's first two races (a statebred allowance and a 2-year-old maiden race) both broke 1:10.

The skies are darkening here, a bit earlier than the weathermen had predicted, and we could still have a different track by the time the Whitney rolls around.


5:30 pm: Ginger Punch ($2.40) was so much better than her five opponents in the Go For Wand that she managed to win despite being bottled up and repeatedly shut off before finally finding a seam with a furlong to go and winning far more impressively than her slow time of 1:53.43 and 1 1/4-length margin would suggest. It's not going to be a picnic making figs for this card.

The track took a few minutes of showers before the race, but now the sun's back out with 18 minutes to post for the Whitney.

6:45 pm:I'm an unabashed Commentator fan of long standing, so forgive me for beaming. That was pretty cool. The 7-year-old gelding, who held off eventual Horse of the Year Saint Liam to win this race three years ago, was in good position after getting clear through an opening quarter in 24.18, as an expected early challenge from Tasteyville never materialized, and he just kept going. He opened up each time anyone got near him and drew away through the stretch to win by 4 3/4 over Student Council, who had another 8 1/4 on Grasshopper.

Commentator, the first horse since Kelso to win the Whitney twice and the oldest since Kelso won it for a third time as an 8-year-old in 1965, has a 2008 resume that's looking pretty impressive. He won two Gulfstream sprints by a combined 27 3/4 lengths, was a gallant second in the Met Mile and now won the Whitney by daylight. He's the only horse in at least a decade besides Ghostzapper to have run three Beyers of 119 or higher. With all due respect to win and Funny Cide, Commentator is probably the best New York-bred ever.

The $442.50 all-stakes pick-4 payoff was pretty generous considering it was a virtual pick-3, that Abraaj was favored and Commentator was the ML favorite and second actual betting choice.

And thanks to Lyke a Hurricane's victory at 12-1 in the nightcap, we finally have a carryover at Saratoga 2008! There's $120,938 waiting for us tomorrow, and it doesn't look easy. I'll try to make some sense of it by 10:45 a.m. tomorrow, when I'll be doing the Siro's seminar with Harvey Pack and "Cajun Racing" author Ed McNamara.