07/30/2012 9:44AM

Early Travers Thoughts, and Other Stuff


It seems a bit funny now, but it was only a couple of weeks ago, right after the retirement of Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags and the announcement that a minor illness forced Bodemeister to miss training at a crucial time, when there was much anguished handwringing over how terrible this year’s Travers was going to be. It’s amazing how quickly perceptions can change.

This Travers, at Saratoga on August 25, will have a marquee name after all. That, of course, is Paynter, and I say that as one who really likes Alpha as a race horse. But a day after Alpha prepped for the Travers with a decisive score in Saratoga’s Jim Dandy, and two days after Street Life punched his Travers ticket with a victory in the Curlin at the Spa, Paynter dazzled in Sunday’s Haskell at Monmouth.

Even if you have only been around racing for two minutes, you could tell just by looking at it that Paynter’s Haskell was a large cut above the pertinent performances that immediately preceded it. I mean, Hansen could go out and win Saturday’s West Virginia Derby by 20 lengths (which he might, but I still believe he’s a much better fit for the seven furlongs of the King’s Bishop on the Travers undercard than the 10 furlongs of the Travers itself), and that would be a big boost for Travers promotion. But that wouldn’t change the fact that Paynter is the strong Travers favorite, and strictly the horse to beat.

I still haven’t bought into Street Life yet. He is improved and he is in great hands, but I think he essentially is still a grinder who got a great set up in the Curlin. Alpha is a different story. Yes, he got away with easy fractions in his front-running Jim Dandy victory. But Alpha is best as a closer, and he actually deserves points for being good enough to adapt to a paceless situation Saturday. I loved his successful, if temporary, change of running style toward speed. To me, that is an unmistakable sign of an emerging horse, just as a horse who loses his positional speed is usually a sign of decline.

Here are some other thoughts:

I couldn’t help but wonder if Winter Memories swishing her tail and swerving around in the stretch en route to her victory in Saturday’s Diana at Saratoga wasn’t a sign that she might be getting bored with this racing thing. She clearly wasn’t focused.

It is very cool that two old, professional geldings won the two big weekend races at Del Mar – Rail Trip in Saturday’s San Diego Handicap and Amazombie in Sunday’s Bing Crosby. Great stories both, but do these performances stand up to scrutiny? Amazombie, last year’s champion male sprinter, got a perfect trip in the Crosby sitting just off a contested pace and beat a favorite in The Factor who is just not himself right now.

As for Rail Trip, he is clearly at his best back in Southern California and back with trainer Ron Ellis. But what does it say about the San Diego ‘cap that when he was in New York with a trainer (Rick Dutrow) who wins with seemingly 83% of his starters, Rail Trip wasn’t even an overnight stakes horse?

A couple of older thoughts after being off last week:

The free Wi-Fi at Saratoga is a great idea, and considering every boutique coffee shop in America has offered this for years, it’s amazing this hasn’t been a standard amenity at every track in the land. I have noticed that hand held tablets are becoming more ubiquitous at tracks with each passing week. I use one, and it felt like a luxury being able to bet with it at Saratoga. I even noticed a couple of guys walking around Restaurant Row there staring at laptops. Presumably, they were using Formulator.

Unfortunately, I can’t say anything nice about the widened, heightened Mellon turf course at Saratoga. Is it really possible that, when this project was undertaken last fall, no one at NYRA considered that the heightened outside rail on the Mellon turf would make following horses on the far turn in dirt races nearly impossible? Really? Of course, nothing important happens on the far turn, anyway. Right?

I know that Silver Max is streaking, but Summer Front is my favorite 3-year-old turf horse. He has a freakish late brush in him.

Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
I'll ave Another '' INJURED'' Union Rags ''INJURED'' Bodemeister ''sick'' I think Hansen should dominate the division the rest of the year
JOHN CAPPER More than 1 year ago
Heartless, just like Bodemeister. Right now, Alpha and Paynter are far ahead of the division.
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
The Factor , one of the most overrated horses in history Lets look at the Haskell realistically....6 horse field , Gemnologist clearly not much given his abject collapse in slow fractions and Dullahan clearly did not handle the surface.
JOHN CAPPER More than 1 year ago
Yep. That was a 2 horse race from the bell. Had Alpha ran he would have split those two.
THOMAS More than 1 year ago
wi fi at saratoga doesn't work. Information booth tells me tha the nyswb said it is illegal. No press release required (NYRA)
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
According to a NYRA official Thursday afternoon, this is simply not true. The Wi Fi is working and available.
john More than 1 year ago
Say good-bye to Paynter in the Travers and maybe forever....anything that goes wrong with a top horse - it's off to the breeding shed. May be one of the worst Travers in my 40 years of attending the Spa. Hansen should give it a shot if he survives the weekend and doesn't come up injured...even though there is no way he gets a mile and a quarter - he just might hold against a bunch of allowance horses!
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
Did you already forget last years field
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Seems as soon as we begin to enjoy the view, WHAM, lightning strikes...
Jordan More than 1 year ago
I don't think Amazombie's win in the Crosby needs any qualification. Amazombie makes his own good trips. He has enough tactical speed to keep even blazing frontrunners within reach(11'Sunshine Millions Sprint, 11' Potrero Grande, 11' Ancient Title, 11' BC Sprint), has enough turn of foot to move in on leaders on the turn, then has a really solid closing kick and a ton of heart. Perhaps if he doesn't have to give Shackleford 5 pounds in the Churchill Downs Cap, Amazombie is on a 3 race winning streak. And even in races without much pace(12' San Carlos, 12' Potrero Grande, 12' Churchill Downs Cap) Amazombie always repesents himself well. He hasn't run out of the money the last 2 years. And he runs on all surfaces. Keep this stat in mind: Amazombie has crossed the wire first in 9 of his 11 career races at 6 furlongs. And going back to last year's Sunshine Millions Sprint, he's crossed the wire first in 7 of his last 8 races at 6-6.5 furlongs. And Amazombie has always been a better 6 furlong horse than The Factor.
JOHN CAPPER More than 1 year ago
Great horse, but he cost me so much money when he caught me 20 yrds from the wire on BC day to ruin a $10 P4. I rarely see a horse win run a pixture-oerfect race and get nailed like that. Zombie is truly a great sprinter. The factor is a cut below. One of those speed balls that can beat you one day and lose to you for no reason the next time. The sprinter version of Bodemeister.
Dogs Up More than 1 year ago
'Me thinks in the long run, those with Wi-Fi will be at a live track, but possibly betting through, say, an AWD, and watching the race on hand-held digital screen vs enjoying the live race or even a track monitor viewing. Also texting and communicating outside the track between races. I would have thought it a better idea to get people away from their devices (I didn't say vices) to enjoy a day at the track. Let them cash tickets at the window and feel the bills and breakage change. I do use my AWD to see all the exotics, will pays, pools etc. when not at a live track. But to go to the Spa, my computer would stay home. I use hard copy DFR.
freecharm More than 1 year ago
Hello, Mike. Good article both as food for thought and conversation, most of which will be forgotten or amended as thbe season progresses. What we will not be able to forget or amend is your bit on the miserable view for about a furlong on the turn. You're being too kind - can't the camera be repositioned, or is that just NYRA's way of being fan-friendly?
Grazyna Mianska More than 1 year ago
Alpha is the sleeper horse of the year. Please remember he washed out in the paddock in the Derby. Also the Boys In Blue have won two out of three big money races lately with the other one being a second by a neck at long odds. Just something to look at.
lovethoseknicks More than 1 year ago
It says that Rail Trip has always preferred racing on synthetics.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
And that really is it. It's that simple. He's a synth specialist. As a horse that likes to be close to the lead, Rail Trip has trouble with the quicker pace of dirt racing. On synth, like in the San Diego, he can sit up near the front going 6 furlongs in 1:12-1:14. C'mon Mike. It's not an East-West thing, it's a surface thing with Rail Trip.