09/10/2008 3:03PM

Out at First


Why couldn't I have woken up with a toothache and required emergency dental work instead of playing the carryover and the early pick-4 at Belmont today? Even without novocaine, it would have been less painful.

4:00 pm: I didn't even last the 1:10.67 it took Valid Threat ($13.60) to win the first leg of the pick-6, a race in which I ran second(by a head) and third with probably-best Annies Wheel at 10-1 and Five Cases at 33-1 among my five that did not include the winner. This proved extremely unfortunate for pick-4 purposes, since I would have had a $3 pick-4 through Annies Wheel to Kettle Two($19.80), the winner of the next, and it would have paid better than the $1649 it did.

It made no difference in the pick-6, because I would have been singled to Tobruk, the favorite in the 5th, who got off in a tangle behind the field. While a refund would have made no difference for pick-6 purposes, those who bet on him straight up probably deserved the courtesy of a stewards' inquiry into the start: the one full-screen head-on I saw, and repeated viewings of the tiny-screen head-on at racereplays.com, make it look like a starter at least had a hand on the horse as the gate opened. I'm in no position to say whether Tobruk should have been declared a non-starter, but it was well worth an official look.

The Valid Threat race intrigued me because the four favorites were lifetime veterans of this statebred maiden-claiming condition, a combined 0-for-45, making it seem a ripe spot for strangers such as Annies Wheel (two races against much better nine months ago/good works for return) and Five Cases (third off layoff/improving/nearly as fast at 2 as the faves are at 3,4 and 5.) Annies Wheel gave it a gallant try, winning an early duel with Mr. Destiny and then fighting back bravely after being collared by Valid Threat, but came up just short at the rail on the rerally. Arggggh.

As for Valid Threat, I thought he was the slowest of the four career maidens, and have no idea why he was 5-1 instead of 12-1. But congratulations to trainer Tim Wickline, 0-for-11 the last five years, and jockey Cruz Berrios, 3-for-144 in 2008.

Favored Dr. Decter ($5.60) just won the third leg to complete a $497.50 pick-three. Feels like we're about 50-50 for a double carry into Thursday.

5:00 pm: Get to work. We're now 100-0 for the first NYRA double-carry since July after Catch Up Chris ($25.20) wired the field in the 8th. Catch Up Chris looks like he was a lot better than 11-1 in the multirace bets, as he capped a $758 pick-three where the parlay was just $285, and the pick-4 will-pays are similarly generous. I used a little Catch Up Chris (as a B) to get alive in the pick-4 to 6 of the 9 in the finale, and the way today's been going I think I'll hedge it out and bet the other three to win.

Catch Up Chris had made all six of his previous starts on grass or poly, running the same mid-70's Beyers as the rest of this N2L field has been on dirt, and while it's sometimes dicey to equate those figures, the fact that he'd been showing speed and tiring in those generally closer-friendly races raised the possibility he could wire the field. He did, lasting by a whisker over 9-1 Estimator in a closer photo than the one I lost in the 4th.

5:30 pm: Phew. War Echo ($18.40) ran like she was expected to when she was hammered to 3-1 against stakes-caliber Miss Ocean City in her Saratoga debut, leading all the way to complete a $5374 pick-4. There were three main-track-onlies in this off-the-turf field and two of them ran 1-2 for a $379 exacta as 34-1 Stone Legacy ran second. The third MTO, State Treasure, faded badly at 6-5.

The carryover's $202,044. Here's the lineup, which begins and ends with a statebred turf sprint:

Race 4: 2FNY MdSpWt -- 6f-IT -- Field of 10 (4 firsters)
Race 5: 3+FNY AlwN1x -- 8.5f-WT -- Field of 10+6 AE's
Race 6: 3+ MdSpWt -- 8.0f -- Field of 10
Race 7: 3+ Clm35000N2L -- 8.5f-WT -- Field of 10+1 MTO
Race 8: 3+FNY AlwN2x/OC25k -- 6f -- Field of 10
Race 9: 3+NY MdSpWt -- 6f-IT -- field of 11+1 MTO

The forecast is clear and sunny for the next 24 hours, so I'm assuming all four grass races are staying put. Rain or shine, I'll be getting involved.