02/03/2008 8:35PM

Feast or Famine



This was a racing weekend where it felt like there was too much going on Saturday and not enough on Sunday -- a passel of interesting stakes races and multirace bets one day, another Santa Anita cancellation and some awfully watery black type the next.

Saturday also saw the first two Grade 1 races of 2008, and both featured inexplicably dismal off-the-board performances by legitimate odds-on favorites. First in the Donn, Daaher crumbled when confronted with tag-team early pressure through fast fractions. Spring at Last pushed him through an opening quarter of 22.95, then wisely was wrestled back, and 46-1 Kiss the Kid was at the favorite's throat through a half in 46.26 and six furlongs in 1:09.72. Daaher cracked first and was finished at the top of the stretch, then Spring at Last easily went past Kiss the Kid and held off A.P. Arrow through a tiring final furlong of 13.50 to win by half a length in 1:48.35.

The outcome may have sent the winner and favorite into different races in Dubai March 29 than had initially been planned. Daaher, if he checks out okay in the wake of his early surrender, may try the Godolphin Mile instead of the 10-furlong Dubai World Cup while Spring at Last, the '07 Mile winner, may now stretch out in the main event.

It's way too soon to write off Daaher after one race. His Jerome and Cigar Mile were legitimately fast races and he still has the right to rebound and the potential to improve with age. Still, when he regroups he'll have to prove he can handle early pressure and negotiate two turns against top company.

The Donn got a Beyer Speed Figure of 107, as did the G2 Strubt at Santa Anita later in the afternoon, where Montyerey Jazz speed-popped the field and cruised to a 4 1/2-length victory over the perpetually overbet Tiago. Given that the final time of the Strub was three seconds faster than the Donn, and how quickly Santa Anita's damaged Cushion Track is playing, Monterey Jazz actually got away with pretty moderate fractions -- 22.76, 45.89 and 1:08.10. He was 7 in front at that point, and came home in 37.55 for (another) track-record clocking of 1:45.65.

While there may have been some reasons to oppose Daaher on grounds of pace and distance, the result of the afternoon's other Grade 1 was utterly baffling. When Pussycat Doll was scratched from the Santa Monica Saturday morning with a foot abcess, Hystericalady appeared to tower over four outclassed rivals and was understandably pounded to 3-10. But she barely ran a step and faded to fourth behind the improbable 26-1 Intangaroo, who had taken five tries to win her N1x condition with a Beyer of 86, 9 to 22 points lower than any of the favorite's last seven efforts. The stunned winning connections said afterwards they were just hoping to clunk up for third in a short G1 field, but congratulations to them and to you if you found a reason to like her.

The afternoon's two Grade 2 stakes races for potential Derby candidates came up a bit on the slow side. At Santa Anita, third-time starter Crown of Thorns (by Repent) got only a 93 Beyer winning the five-horse Robert Lewis with a perfect rail trip in 1:40.76 for a mile and a sixteenth. At Gulfstream, Eaton's Gift (by Johannesburg) also got a 93 for his 3 1/2-length victory in the Swale, where he went 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.63. A marginally better figure was awarded to Barrier Reef (by Mizzen Mast), who got a 94 winning the ungraded Whirlaway at Aqueduct on a tricky, windy afternoon where the routes seemed to be playing faster than the sprints.

One of those sprints is the clubhouse leader for Most Dismal Race of the Winter in New York: The sixth, a six-furlong race for $25k statebred maiden claimers. was won by ReturntoKarakorum in 1:15.20 -- good for a winning Beyer of 37.

That race knocked me out in the first leg of the Aqueduct late pick four, so I reloaded and played the late pick three, getting alive to four horses, including 62-1 Fast Iz a Turtle, who has been good to me in the past and who I thought might just be poised for improvement second time back off a long layoff. Turned out he was but, alas, a hoped-for speed duel failed to materialize and 8-1 Strummer wired the field. F.I.A.T., however, flew home for second and my insanity-insurance exacta backwheel paid $859 for $2, neutralizing a multitude if not an entirety of parimutuel failures the rest of the day, including a dreadful 2-for-5 performance in the Magna 5.

That wager, which paid only $382 in its seasonal debut last week amid the Sunshine Millions chalkfest, failed to attract its $500,000 guaranteed pool, coming up light by about $50,000. So the $16,956.40 payoff was about 10 percent higher than it should have been, with Magna making up the shortfall. There has to be a compelling multirace wager for Magna to construct in the winter, but this isn't it. If Magna feels obliged to start the wager each week with a race from Laurel, which hubs the bet, it at least should complete the sequence with two races each from Gulfstream and Santa Anita instead of adding Golden Gate to the mix.

The bet, which also might attract a much larger pool of players with a $1 instead of $2 minimum, has not captured the public imagination and now it's not even hitting its guaranteed minimums.