10/04/2008 1:26PM

First Saturday in October

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The final Saturday of Breeders' Cup preps includes nine Win And You're In Races, four of them Grade 1's. Two of those, the Champagne at Belmont and the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, will strongly influence the lineup for the BC Juvenile three weeks hence. Both look like excellent betting races, for different reasons. The Champagne is the best and deepest field of 2-year-olds assembled this year, including the first four finishers from the Hopeful and the impressive debut winner Hello Broadway. The Breeders' Futurity is a scramble of shaky quality, including three undistinguished Europeans and three horses emerging from a slow and bumpy Arlington-Washington Futurity.

It's interesting that the Alcibiades and Breeders' Futurity came up relatively weak races compared to the Champagne and Frizette, given the theory that some trainers would want to try a synthetic surface before the BC races this year. But no one knows yet if Santa Anita's new Pro-Ride surface plays more like dirt or Keeneland's Polytrack, and it's also no cinch that today's dirt winners will head west to try it.

Today's wagering enticements include a $150k guaranteed pick-6 at Keeneland, which includes five stakes races starting with the Phoenix, and an intriguing all-stakes pick-4 on Woodbine's four WAYI races. In Belmont's late pick-4, the Frizette and champagne are bookended by turf routes, one for $35k claimers and one for maidens. Today's Belmont card includes five turf routes, while yesterday's had five turf sprints.


--Speaking of horses who do or don't like synthetic surfaces, Arson Squad is exhibit A for the latter category. Nothing tells the story more concisely than his past performances:

Download ArsonSquad.pdf

Back when California raced on dirt, Arson Squad won 5 of his first 11 starts, including the G2 Swaps at 3 and the G2 Strub at 4, and ran six triple-digit Beyers. After the Strub, though, the synthetic switch began, and Arson Squad failed to run 1-2-3 in his next seven starts, showing equal disdain for Del Mar's 2007 and 2008 versions of Polytrack, Hollywood's Cushion Track, and Santa Anita's old Cushion surface.

His connections had seen enough and finally sent him east to return to the dirt in last night's Meadowlands Cup, where he snapped back to top form, taking advantage of a hotly-contested pace to win by 2 1/2 lengths over the last two Pennsylvania Derby winners, Anak Nakal and Timber Reserve. Here is Arson Squad's career record on the two types of surfaces:

True Dirt: 11: 6-0-3 $765,450
Synthetic: 7: 0-0-0 $ 72,400

Not surprisingly, Arson Squad will skip the Breeders' Cup and point for the Clark Handicap on dirt at Churchill Nov. 28.

It does make you wonder: How many of the horses trying a synthetic surface for the first time in the Breeders' Cup, including Big Brown and possibly Curlin, will dislike the footing as much as Arson Squad clearly did?


--Having chronicled a week of my dismal carryover failures, honesty compels me to report that I got well, if not entirely even for October, on the Meadowlands Cup card last night. The Cup was the third leg of a pick-4 that began with two other stakes, the Eillo for sprinters and the Princeton for 3-year-old turf routers, and concluded with a wide-open field of turf claimers. I made a caveman 2x2x4x5 pick-four partwheel, and then went back and pressed it 2x2x1x5 through Arson Squad.

When Roi Maudit ($4.20) and Picou ($3.60) won the first two legs, it didn't seem like a worthy payoff was possible, so I bet Arson Squad ($10.80) to win as well. That was nice enough but then I got lucky in the finale when A Nice Splash won a five-way photo at $32.60. That made the four-race parlay $665 but the $2 pick-4 somehow came back better than twice as fat at $1,382.80.

A Nice Splash is a pretty cool horse, an 8-year-old gelding who has now won 17 of 69 career starts while racing at 18 different tracks, winning at 11 of them:

Download ANiceSplash.pdf

He's won at Med, Lrl, FG, CD, Kee, Bel, Mth (5 times), FE (3 times) WO, Haw and PrM, while also racing at Pha, GP, TP, AP, OP, Tam and Cby.