09/03/2013 11:26AM

Hopeful, Spinaway, and Other Notes


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.