07/18/2014 11:14AM

Saratoga Day 1: 7/18/2014



12:15 pm: They’ll be off at Saratoga in less than an hour and for only the third time in the last 34 years, they’ll be starting the meeting without me. The docs are not keen on my travelling, driving or climbing stairs just yet after April’s cardiac incident, so until further notice I’ll be blogging the meet from the Home OTB (a/k/a my desk on Long Island). I’m still hoping to get up there in August.

It’s a lovely day here in the home of Belmont Park, currently 77 degrees, and reportedly a similarly delightful 72 (going up to 82) at The Venerable Spa, with zero chance of rain and fast/firm course conditions. (“Zero chance of rain” at Saratoga, of course, means that it might be smart to pack an umbrella.)

My plan for the meet is about the same as if I were there, without the daily Hattie’s fried-chicken sandwich. I’ll be focusing on the stakes racing, the late pick-4, and the inevitable pick-6 carryovers. You can check back here during the day for updates, dyspeptic remarks, and occasional multirace plays.

The meet is not starting well for that vanishing breed known as The Working Press. Yesterday, the New York Daily News ceased daily racing coverage and laid off its hard-working racing writer, Jerry Bossert, leaving the Greatest City in the World without a general-interest newspaper reporting on racing on a daily basis. Also yesterday, the NYRA got into an 11th-hour tussle with The Saratoga Special, the seasonal local paper devoted exclusively to racing, over distribution. It was belatedly resolved via a compromise where it will still be available at three on-track locations.

The Opening Day card is a decent one other than the low-turnout G3 Schuylerville, which was moved all the way up to the 3rd race of 10 after drawing a field of just five with a legit 3-to-5 favorite in Fashion Alert.

Win or lose, it's always nice to make it to another Opening Day. Good luck.


1:10 pm: "Let's light this candle," said Tom Durkin, calling his final Saraoga meet, and suddenly it was time for "And they're off at Saratoga." Winter Games went to the lead from post 2, and 1:51.25 later, was still in front, turning back a long challenge from Grandpa Len and then from 3-1 Goodnewsisnonews. Those two looked certain to go by the early leader in upper stretch, but Winter Games ($31.00) held on with resolution.

Before declaring this a super-duper inside-speed-biased track, you might want to note that Winter Games got away with pretty soft fractions of 49.71 and 1:14.31, leaving him with enough to come home in under 37 seconds for his final three furlongs.

Winter Games, trained by Jeremiah Englehart, is a former blue-chip Darley homebred (A.P. Indy-Folk) who was running for a career-low $25k tag today.


1:45 pm: 6-1 By The Moon completed an all-Jose Ortiz $242.50 daily double (all prices in this blog and its charts are based on $2 payoffs) by running down 24-1 West Point firster Ring Knocker in the meet's first baby race, for 2-year-old fillies. Ring Knocker made an enormous and possibly premature middle move while wide to open a two-length lead in upper stretch but tired late from that effort. By the Moon, a Jay Em Ess homebred by Indian Charlie, trained by Michelle Nevin, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.68.

Fashion Alert opened 1-9 for the upcoming Schuylerville. That's less surprising than the 9-1 (with 12 MTP) price on 5-2 ML Tulira's Star, with Take Charge Brandi the 5-1 second choice.


1:55 pm: Bridgejumper alert: With five minutes to post, Fashion Alert is 2-5 and is responsible for $123k of the $144k in the show pool.


2:15 pm: Fashion Alert ($2.40) won the G3 Schuylerville as the 1-to-5 favorite but got a tougher fight both early and late than most expected from runner-up Take Charge Brandi. The latter shot right to the lead coming out of the gate, then Fashion Alert joined her on the outside and the two went at it tooth and nail through testing fractions of 22.41, 45.21 and 57.86. Fashion Alert finally edged away in the final furlong but required 13.92 seconds to complete it, as 5-1 Take Charge Brandi held second to complete a $5.20 exacta, with 6-1 Tulira's Star a distant third. Todd Pletcher trains the winner and his mentor, D. Wayne Lukas, trains the runner-up.

Fashion Alert, a $125k September yearling purchase owned by George Bolton and Barry Hall, is a daughter of Old Fashioned (Unbridled's Song) and the Tiznow mare Titan Queen. 


3:30 pm: The first pick-5 in Saratoga history (the bet was not approved until the 2013 Belmont fall meeting) paid less than $10k only because 7-5 fave Can'thelpbelieving got off the rail late in the 5th race to run down 7-1 My Afleet for a mere $7,420 payoff.

If you believe the timers for the first grass race of the meeting, the fractions for the 11-furlong race were 25.67, 50.95, 1:16.96, 1:41.64, 2:04.98 and a final time of 2:16.14 -- which would mean a final three furlongs in 34.48 after an opening mile in 1:41.64. I choose not to believe. 

In the 4th, off-since-November 6-5 fave Mumtaazah barely lifted a hoof while 11-1 Kimmel firster Street Blush surged late to win a maiden race for older fillies. The time of 1:11.60 was a length faster than the Schuylerville but after easier fractions -- 46.34 and 58.68 as opposed to the Schuylerville's 45.21 and 57.86. 


3:50 pm: Another strong finish and another winner for Jose Ortiz as Graeme Crackers ($11.40)stubbornly held off 14-1 The Lewis Dinner in a baby race for NY-bred 2-year-old fillies. Rick Violette trains the Ralph Evans homebred by Graeme Hall.

Saluda, the 2-1 co-fave, dumped Bridgmohan coming out of the gate, but horse arier were okay.

Okay, time to make some bets. Here's the late pick-4 play:

4:08 pm: Tiz Sardonic Joe, second choice in betting, threw a shoe and will run for purse money only. You get moved to Joe's Blazing Aaron in the pick-4 and pick-6.


4:20 pm: No parimuutel harm done as Joes Blazing Aaron, 9-to-10 after PMO decision on Tiz Sardonic Joe, held off that rival and 3-1 Monument Hill in a chalky finish to the 7th. If you used TSJ in pick-4 or pick-6, you were moved to the winning favorite and thus probably now have it twice.

Joes Blazing Aaron, who led from gate to wire, allegedly accelerated throughout the race, running a mile in 1:35.20 after quarters of 24.85, 23.93, 23.74 and 22.68. One shudders to think how fast the horses closing ground on him must have been running at the end.

Joes Blazing Aaron was the second winner on the card for sire Graeme Hall. Also, the 6-year-old winner and the 5-year-old runner-up are half-brothers, both produced by the Distorted Humor mare Distorted Blaze. Joes Blazing Aaron, who ran for Ramsey/Maker today, was claimed by Gary Contessa for $50k.


5:30 pm: Popular victories by Aventure Love ($7.80) and Tourist ($5.40) mean no carryover to Day 2: Everyone's covered in the finale, at Pick-6 payoffs ranging from $864 on favored Winter Wish to $28k on ML 50-1 La Dama de Hierro.

Tourist was impressive winning the Sir Cat Stakes for non-winners of a graded stakes on the turf. The 3-year-old by Tiznow confirmed in his stakes debut today that his runaway victory in a June 8 allowance at Belmont -- when he ran a mile in 1:33.30 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 98 -- was no fluke. Today he sizzled a mile in 1:33.54 and the race is going to come back a big one since the steady Joes Blazing Aaron needed 1:35.20 to cover the same distance.

Ring Weekend turned in a career-best effort to be a strong second, and the Tampa Bay Derby winner's future appars to be on grass.


5:40 pm: Favored #8 Winter Wish a late scratch from the 10th. If you used her in the pick-4 or pick-6, you'll get moved to the post-time favorite, likely to be #9 Jet Majesty.


6:05 pm: Second winner on the card for the visiting Frankie Dettori, who re-roused Jet Majesty to win the finale with the (post-scratch) 9-5 favorite. Just as he did with Aventure Love in the 8th, Dettori looked like he was going to get caught but his mount found a second gear and pulled away from the threatening Chasing Paradise.

The late scratch of Winter Wish and the victory by the favorite slashed the multirace payoffs. The pick-6 paid $453.50 and the pick-4 was $89.00.

All five of today's grass winners paid $7.80 or less. Four of the five dirt winners paid $11.80 or more. Just saying.

Good to be back; see you tomorrow.