04/30/2010 10:45AM

Oaks Day 2010


11:45 a.m.: Three races already in the books at Churchill, 75 MTP to the first race of the year at Belmont Park, 100 MTP to the return of Rachel Alexandra, 360 MTP to the Kentucky Oaks. Tied on yet?

Here's the first draft of my worksheet for today's all-graded-stakes pick-6 at Churchill. The sequence is bookended by heavy favorites Rachel Alexandra in the La Troienne and Blind Luck in the Oaks, and my preliminary plan is to lean heavily on both of them, try to get something more interesting to happen in a couple of the other stakes, and play some small backups allowing me to beat one or the other:

Note that there are four late scratches in the Kentucky Juvenile, leaving a field of just five, and that Alfarabi and Make Music For Me are scratched from the Crown Royal American Turf.

Favorites won the first three at Churchill, where it's fast, firm and looks like as pretty a day as it is here on Long Island for the Belmont opener. The forecast in Louisville for Derby Day, however, is still looking pretty grim: isolated and scattered thunderstorms starting at 5 a.m. and heavy thunderstorms beginning at 4 p.m.

12:40 p.m.: They're coming to the paddock for the first at Belmont, which kicks off the 59-day spring/summer meeting, which runs through July 18, after which racing moves to Saratoga for a 40-day meet beginning Friday, July 23. With the CCA Oaks having been moved to that opening weekend at Saratoga, the Belmont meet now offers just nine Grade 1 stakes races, four of them on Belmont Stakes Day June 5:

The opening-day feature is the G3 Westchester, where Bribon will try to defend his 2009 title and prep for the Met Mile. The Saturday co-features are the G3 Fort Marcy and the G3 Beaugay for fillies and mares, both at a mile and a sixteenth on the turf.

12:55 p.m.: WIth a little over $100,000 in the Derby win pool, Super Saver is the unlikely 7-1 favorite with Lookin at Lucky 8-1. That's less than 1 percent of the likely eventual pool, and the betting looks to me like a bunch of Oaks Day locals getting down early on Calvin Borel more than a groundswell of support for Super Saver.

1:15 p.m.: Here's the pick-6 play, which yes, thank you, I actually remembered to put in this time:


By the way, TicketMaker is now available as an iPhone Application at the iTunes app store. And it's free. Supports multirace bets now, trifectas and superfectas coming this summer.

1:45 pm: If it weren't for that distinctive blaze, you'd think that that was an impostor who was running under Rachel Alexandra's name just now, losing the La Troienne to Unrivaled Belle. Despite a mild pace and a perfect trip, last year's Horse of the Year was again worn down in the stretch, just as she was at the Fair Grounds last month, and it's now unclear whether she'll ever regain her top form or even continue racing at all.

It was a slightly weird race, with each of the first three quarter miles being run faster than the preceding one, and I sort of wish Calvin Borel had opened her up early instead of sitting so chilly with a long, loose rein, but in any case the Rachel Alexandra of 2009 would have exploded away from the field turning for home. Instead, she was a little slow to change leads, not doing so from the top of the stretch until nearing the furlong pole, but it didn't really make a difference once she did and while she stayed on gamely, she never looked like her old self.

Unrivaled Belle, a 4-year-old Unbridled's Song filly who has now won 5 of 8 career starts, won the Rampart at Gulfstream last time out, running nine furlongs in 1:49.36, on the same card where Derby entrants Devil May Care and Ice Box ran faster winning their final preps -- 1:49.06 for Devil May Care in the Bonnie Miss and 1:49.19 for Ice Box in the Florida Derby.

As for the pick-6, the $988 investment is down to a single $96 backup ticket that's alive 2x3x2x2x1 (7,9/3,6,7/4,7/4,6/5) the rest of the way.

3:15 pm: The G3 Kentucky Juvenile -- first chance to get graded earnings for the 2011 Derby! -- went to Dogwood's Lou Brissie, a Limehouse colt who won his debut at Keeneland 15 days ago. It was the first graded-stakes victory for trainer Neil Howard since Grasshopper won the 2008 Mineshaft.

Since Dogwood is based in Aiken, S.C., I'm guessing that the colt is named for the South Carolina native Lou Brissie, whose shinbone was shattered by artillery fire in World War II but who returned to win 44 games as a starting pitcher in the major leagues.

"Venerable Connie Mack came up with one of the real finds of the year," Grantland Rice wrote in Sport magazine in 1948. "Lou Brissie, a 215-pound southpaw, has captured the hearts of baseball fans everywhere by his courageous triumph over a severe leg injury and by his performance on the mound. There have been many stories of servicemen who barely escaped death and returned to play ball again. Lou Brissie's case puts him on top. Brissie's left leg was all but torn away by shell fragments in the Italian campaign. Only his great determination to play baseball again saved Brissie from losing the the leg. With the help of a heavy protective brace, Lou returned to the mound, winning 23 and losing only 5 in the Sally League last year."

Then, Silver Timber, the 7-year-old New York-bred who was claimed for $25k a year ago, won his fifth race in seven starts (and fourth G3 stakes) since then taking the G3 Churchill Downs Turf Sprint. The Prime Timber gelding, who won Keeneland's Shakertown last time out and Belmont's Jaipur last summer, ran the five furlongs on the turf in 55.45, a record for the course where the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint will be run Nov. 5. Silver Timber ran sixth in that race at Oak Tree last year.

The first two BC Turf Sprints, both at Oak Tree, were run at 6 1/2 furlongs because of the configuration of Santa Anita's turf course but this year's edition at Churchill will be run at today's five-furlong distance.

4:15 pm: Arson Squad (3-1 ML, floated to $9.80) won the G3 Alysheba over longshots Flying Private and Enriched with Macho Again, Friesan Fire and Bullsbay bringing up the rear of the nine-horse field in that order. The winner's time of 1:43.28 was 0.31 seconds slower than Unrivaled Belle's winning time in the La Troienne three races earlier, off very similar mild early fractions.

It's too early to make figures on today's card, but if Arson Squad ran somewhere in the 101-103 range of his best recent efforts, then maybe Unrivaled Belle stepped up today and ran something like a 104 to 107, which would mean that Rachel Alexandra did at least improve off her season debut.

4:55 pm: I understand that some people think Setsuko deserved a berth in the Kentucky Derby off a second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, but that was no reason to make him the 9-5 favorite in the Crown Royal American Turf on the grass, a surface over which he showed little promise finishing second in a slow race in his only prior try.

Doubles Partner ($11.20) proved best in the G3 $175k race, with longshot Asphalt second, Guys Reward third, and Setsuko fourth as the favorite. The WinStar/Pletcher colt ran the 8.5f in 1:41.05 and is now 3 for 3 on the grass.

Time to figure out what channel "Bravo" is for the upcoming hour of Oaks coverage on the NBC-owned network.

5:15 pm: Carryover into Derby Day? Can't tell -- commenter JetFan24 says he's the lone live ticket (to Evening Jewel) but according to TVG.com's willpays, there are no live tickets into the Oaks and all payouts are listed as "5 of 6.". But a $154k conso makes no sense (the pool would have to be $600k after takeout, which seems way too high) so let's all root for JetFan24.

Me, I'm alive for three consos and a $5 (AAAA) pick-4 to Blind Luck, and $1 (AAAC) pick-4's to Beautician, Tidal Pool and Amen Hallelujah:

6:05 pm: What a horrendous beat JetFan24 just took for $154k. Evening Jewel looked home with a few strides to go, looked like she might have won the photo....but lost it by a nose to Blind Luck. Wow.

And what horrendous coverage by NBC/Bravo. The entire time the photo was in doubt, they didn't show a single replay of the dramatic photo-finish. You'd hear a burst of noise from the crowd every 30 seconds but couldn't tell if that was the collective oohs and ahhs of replay-watchers at track monitors or the posting of numbers.

So instead of going into JetFan24's account, that $154k goes back into the kitty for tomorrow and 5 out of 6 to Blind Luck paid $676 per conso.

Blind Luck's handlers didn't sound too enthusiastic about pulling a Rachel and running back in the Preakness.

This was trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's third Kentucky Oaks (Lite Light, Pike Place Dancer) and Blind Luck's fourth Grade 1 victory (Oak Leaf, Starlet, Las Virgenes.)

Producersmovie 6:30 pm: The nightcap went to Pletcher maiden Bialy. Churchill's fine track announcer, Mark Johnson, kept calling her "By-AL-lee", as if she were sired by Alydar, but she's named after the Yiddish word for a hole-less bagel-like roll, which is pronounced bee-OLL-ee. Bialy is short for the Yiddish word bialystocker; fans of "The Producers" may remember that the impressario lead character (played by Zero Mostel in the 1968 movie) was named Max Bialystock.

Sorry for the digression. That hour of food-based racing coverage on Bravo made me hungry.