09/21/2007 10:18PM

Ducking the Turf Sprints

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It was tough for a multirace player who tries to stay out of the turf sprints (that would be me) to find much action during the first half of Belmont Fall Week 3. There were 7 turf sprints among the 27 races, and at least one such race fell in five of the week's first six pick-four's. So I've been playing lightly but trying to pay attention. Some notes:

Wednesday, Sept. 19

*Race 2: Barclay Tagg won for the fifth time in a 16-race span when his 2-year-old statebred filly firster Anita Rosita ($7.00) held off Contessa second-timer Like a Rose by a head.

*Race 3: Owner-breeder Al Fried and trainer Rick Schosberg have a very nice statebred filly in 3-year-old Light Tactic, who won her debut at Saratoga with a Beyer of 90 and ran another 90 here beating open-company N1xers by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:09.70. The gray Tactical Cat filly, entered and scratched from Oprah Winney's Schenectady Sept. 9, had to jump her statebred condition because those races weren't filling.

*Race 7: Last time out in the Weekend Madness on closing day at Saratoga, Unspoken Word led almost every step but the last, dropping a heartbreaker by a neck at 21-1 to Classic Neel. Here, cutting back to seven furlongs in the $78k Wild Applause for filly turf sprinters, she opened a five-length lead at the furlong pole and just held on by a neck over 14-1 Stormy West. Unspoken Word, claimed by Pompa/Reynolds out of her winning debut at Gulfstream in March, is a 3-year-old Catienus filly who had the misfortune of running into Rutherienne, Makderah and Lear's Princess in consecutive starts earlier this year.

*Race 8: Rick Dutrow won his second on the card in this N3x with City Attraction, who beat Noonmark last time out at Saratoga and here edged favored Grand Champion by a neck in 1:09.38.

Thursday, Sept. 20

*Race 2: This maiden race came up as the biggest-figure 2-year-old filly turf race so far this year in New York, and the winner came from the same Pompa/Reynolds outfit that sent out the biggest-figure turf victory by a 2-year-old colt (Big Brown's Saratoga debut). Here they scored with third-time starter/first-time turfer
Backseat Rhythm, an El Corredor filly who was fourth in Spinaway winner Irish Smoke's debut. Backseat Rhythm rallied from last while wide under confident handling and ran the 1 1/6 miles on the Widener in 1:41.32, which translated to a strong Beyer of 91. Running second and third in the potential key race were a pair of Empire Maker firsters, Country Star and Mushka, the latter a $1.6 million yearling out of Sluice.

*Race 3: Everyone seemed to enjoy the two-mile race at Saratoga Aug. 18 this year and wondered why there aren't more dirt marathons. The answer was provided here, when a field of just four went to the post for this mile-and-a-half race for the same N1x group. Nite Light, the runner-up in the 16-furlong race after leading for the first 15 1/2 furlongs, ceded the early lead to stretching-out Angelic Aura here and the leader never backed up. The field ran 1-2-3-4 without changing positions for the entire 2:30.89 it took Angelic Aura to score by five lengths.

*Race 8: Another day at Belmont, another overnight stakes race for filly turf sprinters. This time it was the $76k Valorlady, and Godolphin got its first winner of the meet with Astronomia, the 5-year-old New Zealand-bred mare who took unusually strong tote action stretching out in a much tougher spot just five days earlier in the G3 Noble Damsel. Here, at the right distance and against much weaker rivals than Dance Away Capote and Magnificent Shirl, Astronomia ($12.20) was up late to edge Stormy Kiss by a head in a race where it was just 1 1/2 lengths from 1st to 6th.

Friday, Sept. 21

*Race 2: It was Godolphin Junior's (Zabeel Racing) turn to win with a Southern Hemisphere 5-year-old when South African-bred National Captain won this N3x turfer, wearing down Thorn Song late to score by a neck.

*Race 3: Contessa got his meet-high 11th winner with a breakthrough performance from Brown Eyed Belle, a chronic stopper who forgot to stop this time and looked like a diferent horse firing a Beyer 90 after failing to exceed a 76 in her prior six starts. Brown Eyed Belle, a 3-year-old Storm Boot filly, opened a six-length lead in 44.92 but had plenty left by score by 1 3/4 lengths over 1-2 favorite Cammy's choice in 1:09.88.

*Race 4: Cannonball ($37.40), a Catienus gelding beaten a combined 28 lengths in two dirt sprints, apparently found turf sprinting more to his liking and trounced these statebred maidens by four lengths in 1:08.77. The all-shiny-metal trifecta of 17-1 Cannonball, 15-1 Burnished Copper and 18-1 Iron Curtain paid $4,457.

*Race 6: Thunder Buddy ($15.40) joined Cannonball as next-out winners to emerge from what had looked like a nothing-special $50k statebred maiden-claimer won by Friendslikethese at Saratoga Aug. 31. Thunder Buddy was third in that race with Cannonball fourth. Fighter Ace, second in that Friendslikethese race, returned to run third here. And later Friday evening, Starship Dancer, seventh in the Friendslikethese race, came back to win at The Meadowlands.

*Race 9: Todd Pletcher got just his second winner of the meet, on Day 11, when Sibley was up late to win this statebred turf sprint by a neck.

Thanks mostly to Cannonball, the pick six went unhit for the first time this week, and there's a $47k carryover into Saturday's Brooklyn Handicap card. Even with Any Given Saturday being everyone's single at 2-5 in the Brooklyn, the sequence is far from easy, with a mess of firsters in the first leg, three other fields of 12 or more, and a tricky five-horse field in the G2 Gallant Bloom. At least there's only one turf sprint.

--Thanks to the idiotic Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, I can't play online poker any more and my interest in the game has waned. Still, I can't resist watching the World Series of Poker telecasts on ESPN. Horse racing got a few rare mentions on this week's coverage.

One of the players in the No Limit Hold'Em Main Event, Michael Rosenthal of Las Vegas, was decribed by announcer Lon MacEachern as a "professional horseplayer." Color commentator Norman Chad began riffing on how hard a profession that is.

Normanchad
"You can not win at horses," said Chad (right). "Maybe this guy does and 37 others nationwide. If you think poker's tough, try playing the horses. I don't know how anyone wins at the horses. It's like drawing to an inside straight all day long."

Later, Chad noted that Rosenthal might have made too small a bet and returned to the topic.

"Of course he's going to play cheap," he said of Rosenthal the horseplayer. "Do you know how much Racing Forms and parking cost?"