08/19/2007 12:37AM

Night of 100 Penguins


Readers of this blog have doubtless figured out by now that my Saratoga evenings are generally spent eating Cheese Waffies and trying to handicap statebred turf sprints rather than attending charity galas with the polo swells. But for one night each August, I happily put on the penguin suit to attend a gracious private dinner given on the eve of the annual Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing. The chow is superb, the mood sublime, and the best part is that none of the 100 or so owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys or journalists in attendance can bring a guest or spouse, so there's no civilian smalltalk and nothing but racing chatter.

Two nice moments:

*Two seats away from me was trainer Christophe Clement, and it occurred to me as we sat down that he was running Rutherienne in the Del Mar Oaks right about the time that the appetizer would be served. A few minutes later he looked at his watch, and excused himself to find a television set.

He reappeared five minutes later and said nothing. Since he wasn't celebrating, no one at the table had the heart to ask him what had happened until I caught his eye and said, "So?" He finally cracked a smile:

"We won."

After going four years since his last Grade 1 in the United States (Voodoo Dancer's 2003 Diana), Clement has now won three in the last three weeks: the Bing Crosby at Del Mar with In Summation July 27, the Beverly D. at Arlington with Royal Highness August 11, and now the Del Mar Oaks with Rutherienne, a little dynamo who is 7-for-8 with five straight stakes victories.

*Angel Cordero Jr., who used to own Saratoga as a jockey and now handles John Velazquez's engagements, was still smarting from his rider's third-place finish on Octave in the Alabama after being put in tight quarters at the rail by Calvin Borel aboard Lady Joanne. It was exactly the kind of race-riding at which Cordero himself used to excel, often invoking the stewards' wrath.

"But today you can do anything and not get taken down," he said.

Then Cordero got a faraway, wistful look in his eyes, and added:

"Man, I wish I was still riding."

--Thanks to Latitude Forty's 23-1 upset victory in the Yaddo, there's a $100,595 carryover into Sunday's challenging card, which includes five maiden races. In an almost sadistic twist, the last race of the day and the last leg of the pick six is a statebred maiden grass race in which the morning-line favorite and DRF consensus-box choice is the infamous Dubliner, who has finished second as the favorite six times in a row after running third in his debut. Just like the last six times, on paper he looks like he's supposed to win.

Perhaps the seventh time will be the charm. But is there a pick-six player alive brave enough to to work his way through the sequence only to end up singled to Dubliner for all the marbles?