09/03/2013 10:26AM

Hopeful, Spinaway, and Other Notes

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I know I have a lot of company on this, but it bears repeating: Its often good handicapping policy to be skeptical of big-margin wins on wet tracks.

Most of us realize that when a horse wins by a ton in the slop or mud, it usually means he or she was less affected by the conditions than those who struggled home behind the winner. When these big wet-track winners run back on dry surfaces, their flashy superficial recent form often will cause them to be well bet even though they no longer hold the advantage of their competition being compromised by the footing. And that makes for good wagering opportunities.

But there was a different sense after the huge wet-track scores by Strong Mandate in Monday's Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes on closing day at Saratoga, and by Sweet Reason in Sunday's Grade 1 Spinaway, also at Saratoga. After some reflection, I suspect these big victories might not have been purely a function of off tracks.

Strong Mandate could not have been more impressive winning the Hopeful. He stalked the pace from close range - a pace strong enough that Corfu, narrowly favored off a win in the Saratoga Special, backed up after making the fractions to finish ninth of 10 - and blew the race apart with a big run into the stretch. Strong Mandate won by almost 10, but it could have been more as he was well in hand in the late running.

In any case, the reason why Strong Mandate's performance might not have entirely been a product of the muddy, sealed surface is he ran big breaking his maiden in fast time on a fast track in his prior start. Blinkers on, and experience, are what turned Strong Mandate around, not necessarily the wet track he caught Monday. And if he doesnt follow up his Hopeful win, it will be for reasons other than the footing.

Sweet Reason, sensational winning the Spinaway with an attention-demanding wide sweep late on the far turn that carried her to a near six length score, is a little tougher call. And that is because, unlike Strong Mandate, Sweet Reason's impressive maiden victory in her debut earlier in the Saratoga meet came on the same sort of sloppy, sealed track she caught on Sunday.

What makes me think Sweet Reason might legitimately be something special is the way Stopchargingmaria performed finishing second in the Spinaway. Stopchargingmaria was without question among the most impressive 2-year-old filly debut winners at the Saratoga meet, and she was clear for second Sunday by almost five lengths, with another 5 1/2 length gap between the third and fourth finishers. In other words, wet track or not, I believe Stopchargingmaria ran her race Sunday (in fact, I think she ran well enough to win a lot of Spinaways). And yet she was still no match whatsoever for Sweet Reason. Now, that doesnt automatically mean Sweet Reason would be nearly six lengths better than Stopchargingmaria on a dry track, but it does strongly suggest that Sweet Reason is very, very good, and truly good horses are almost always more than one-dimensional.

A few other weekend thoughts:

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas might have gone only 3 for 54 at Saratoga, but with two of those wins coming in the Grade 1 Travers (with Will Take Charge), and the Hopeful (Strong Mandates maiden victory was Lukas's other Saratoga win), its impossible to call his meet anything other than big.

Alpha's upset of Saturday's Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga is one sloppy track result I will take a wait-and-see approach on. Alpha's strategy to make the front was made easier when Paynter missed his break. As a result, Alpha was able to set a slow pace on a surface I thought became increasingly speed favoring as the afternoon went on. Alpha gets credit for gamely resisting Flat Out late, but under the circumstances, Flat Out ran the better race. For the record, I thought Sunday and Monday's wet tracks at Saratoga were unbiased.

Speaking of easy leads, Beholder, last years champion 2-year-old filly, certainly got one in Saturdays Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar, as if she needed any other advantages as the 1-10 favorite against four seriously overmatched opponents. Beholder walked her beat, as she should have. But more importantly, the Torrey Pines was an ideal prep that sets her up perfectly for a potentially profitable fall. And before anyone cracks on Beholder being lucky with easy early leads, lets not forget how well she ran when a narrowly beaten second in the Kentucky Oaks after being right with a strong early pace.

Mitch McMahon More than 1 year ago
How could it be unbiased last weekend. It seemed nearly 90 percent of the horses that led after one furlong either won or got 2nd. Corfu was the only horse that stopped all weekend.
Ronald Dodgen More than 1 year ago
Strong Mandate's race came back with only an 85 Beyer so i will take a wait and see with him. Sweet Reason no price no matter what the conditions of the track still really impressive.
tim blake More than 1 year ago
i agree with most of what you say but i don't think you have to wait and see with Alpha. I am pretty sure that will be his peak. just like last year's unremarkable Travers was. The Woodward was gifted to him i'm sure to try to add to his stallion potential and make him appear better than he is. not sure if the scratches followed or if they came first and served it up on a platter for the connections. they have wanted this horse to be better than he is for a long time and they have managed to secure some wins that might make it appear that way if you didn't know any better. now he has that rare Travers-Woodward double. Reminds you of horses like Easy Goer, Holy Bull, Lemon Drop Kid, Damascus and Arts and Letters, doesn't he?
Sidman More than 1 year ago
...."if you didn't know better'. Funny how most handicappers hate to admit being wrong. I didn't think Alpha would win that race either ... but have no problem giving the horse (and his connections) some props. They .... obviously knew better than us that he did belong. Just beat a field with a combined 13 graded wins (including 5 G1s), and now has 2 G1 wins to go with his G2 and G3 scores .... AND ... has a better G1 career record than all he just defeated. I imagine the connections are happy with their $1.7 million earned with this horse .... even though some of us seem to 'know better'.
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
Jockey and trainer I'm sure like the winnings but Godolphin could care less how much money he's made.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
Like your analysis this week. Like others you've given Honor Code credit I believe he deserves. I honestly hope after the Champagne, which he has every chance to win, Shug puts him on the shelf until Derby points races come around. BREEDERS Cup win would be nice. But No lasix could set him back. Win or lose. Their are health risks. And I feel running Orb from last Saratoga meet through Triple Crown with little rest weakened him a bit. Would like to see this impeccably bred colt bring Shug and company back to triple crown trail. Fresher than Orb was.
Ronald Dodgen More than 1 year ago
Honor Code is a monster i have him running his 3rd quarter in a tremendous 22.09 and 3 furlongs after dipping to the rail for the last 1/8th in 33.89. I wouldn't bet against him with stolen money.
richard cowles More than 1 year ago
You bounce around alot but make a great deal of sense as well.Waiting on the state police to make there call.
jttf More than 1 year ago
union rags won the saratoga special on a sloppy track by more than 7 lengths. then he won the champagne by more than 5 lengths. cuvee won the sloppy 2003 saratoga special by 7 and then won the belmont futurity by 8 wrapped up lengths. chapel royal won the sloppy sanford by 6 and then lost to silver wagon in the hopeful. any more sloppy track examples for saratoga graded stakes horses at the age of 2 ?
Marco Antonio Guerrero More than 1 year ago
mike whats your take on eric gulliot allegation on irad ortiz about cheating on will take charge?
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
Irad Ortiz didn't ride Will Take Charge, Luis Saez did. And since I don't have anything close to the tools the investigators have at their disposal, I think I'll wait to see what they have to say.
tim blake More than 1 year ago
i couldn't agree more.
Bryan Langlois More than 1 year ago
Mike, what was your opinion of Honor Codes blowout maiden win on Saturday? He looks like the real deal after that amazing run. I don't think it was just a slop enhanced performance. Time was more than legitimate and Especially for a Shug is no known for winning with firsters. They normally need a race or two.
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
Like everyone else, I was very impressed. You can tell that from where I put him on the Watchmaker Watch.
Albert More than 1 year ago
Agree with all of this.