08/22/2014 12:12PM

Saratoga Day 31: 8/22/14


1:15 pm: Muddy and off the turf for a Travers Eve card featuring as good a race as we've seen all meet: The G1 Personal Ensign, which drew a stellar field of seven including the four stakes-winners who ran 1-2-3-5 in the Ogden Phipps on Belmont Day: Close Hatches, Princess of Sylmar, Antipathy and Belle Gallantey. I'm a Princess of Sylmar fan and would love to see her reapture her top form of last year heading into the fall, but Close Hatches beat her fair and square in the Phipps and at the moment has to be considered the nation's leading older filly.

There's a one-day $36k carryover in the pick-6, which is why you're not hearing anything about today being a "15 percent Friday," because Fridays (and every other day) are only 15-percent pick-6 takeout days when there's no carryover. I haven't decided whether to play or just root for a double-carry into Travers Day. Today's fields aren't big -- the sequence has scratched down to a 7 x 10 x7 x 7 x 8  x 6 -- but they're tricky.

In case you haven't looked, here are the conditions for tomorrow's 14-race card, which begins at 11:35 a.m. and ends around Thanksgiving:


It'a weird card in one respect -- there are only three types of races: Graded stakes (4), N1x or N2x allowance races (7) and maiden-specials (3). I have nothing against N1x allowance races, and tomorrow's look entertaining, but I'm pretty sure I've never seen six of them on one card.

2:15 pm Bern Identity, who won the Sanford at Saratoga two summers ago but was sidelined most of the last two years, was an easy winner of the $100k Tale of the Cat Stakes in the 3rd. The 4-year-old Bernstein colt, who also was third in Shanghai Bobby's Hopeful and 2nd in Goldencents's Delta Jackpot, cruised right to the lead and won off while being geared down late through 6f in 1:10.05. Bern Identity, owned by George and Lori Hall, and trained by Kelly Breen, won an off-the-turf stakes at Monmouth last time out while making his first start in 18 months.

Bern Identity was the third straight wire-to-wire six-furlong winner over the muddy track. The veteran Bernie the Maestro ($8.00) won for the 19th time in 65 career starts in 1:10.67, and Know It All Anna took the 2nd to give owner Michael Dubb his meet-high 11th victory at the stand, two more than Repole Stable.

2:45 pm: Dead heat in the 4th between 3-2 Running Wild and 6-1 Savvy Star. After splitting the net win pool, their win payoffs were knocked down to $3.10 on Running Wild and $6.00 on Savvy Star.

In addition, there were two different exacta payoffs, two different trifecta payoffs, and two different pick-3 payoffs but in the pick-4 and pick-5, there's just one willpay for each runner and it doesn't matter which one you used in the 4th. This is entirely illogical but no one ever does anything about it. The argument usually goes "Gee, but if there were two dead heats in a pick-4, pick-5 or pick-6 sequence, there would have to be four different payoffs posted." Never mind that this happens once every 14 blue moons. And so what if it did? If you can have two different pick-3 payoffs, there's no reason you can't have two of everything pick-else. 

3:15 pm: Cigar Street, unraced since a victory in the G3 SKip Away made him look like he would be a force in the handicap division last year, was 4-5 for his first start in nearly 17 months and almost did it. Setting a reasonable pace under Velazquez, he turned for home with the lead, shook off one challenge from Pick of the Litter ($13.80), but then tired a bit in the final furlong to finish second. 

I'm not getting involved in this pick-6. Someone here go get it, or let's play a double-carry tomorrow.

4:20 pm: Tough beat in the 7th if you liked Kenneally third-timer Skipalute, 5-1 ML but 15-1 at flagfall. Two-year-old filly was leading by daylight at the sixteenth pole, but was bobbed in the final stride by Nevin second-timer Paulassilverlining. Darley/Mclaughlin/Bernardini firster Gap Year, bet to 9-5, took a while to handle the muddy track but finished strongly to be a close third. Tippany, $500k Tapit yearling making debut, middle-moved and flattened out at 4-1.

Z Lucky ($11.00) and Paulassilverlining ($8.70) took the first two legs of a pick-6 that had a pool posted as $221k on top of the $35k carryover as the horses were going into the gate. Even better: Why not announce the final pool after the 7th arce, perhaps adding that "If there is one winner today, the payoff will be x"?

I remain mystified by the 8th and 10th races, but that didn't stop me. Here's the late pick-4 play:

4:55 pm: Weird race on the toteboard and the track. As you can see from my play, I thought the #8 Ragtime and the #5 Gotham news were virtual tosses, but they somehow went off as the 3-1 and 7-2 second and third choices, both taking big and steady pops as if someone thought he knew something. Both ran to their uncompetitive figures, and fifth choice Away Game ($12.20) caught favored Sinistra in the stretch to win. The strongest race, however, was run by 13-1 Perfect Title, who trailed the field by a county and a half early and then launched an incredible looping run to make up 20 lengths and just miss finishing second.

Princess of Sylmar opened 1-1 with Close Hatches 7-2 for the Personal Ensign, but the multirace willpays suggest the two will be very close in price by post time. 

5:30 pm: No question who's the top older filly or mare in the country: Close Hatches, who went right to the front and smoked the field in the G1 Personal Ensign. She went off as the narrow 9-5 favorite over 2-1 Princess of Sylmar, who was closer than usual today with the addition of blinkers but sputtered in the mud and ran 5th.

Longshots Fiftyshadesofhay at 15-1 and Stanwyck at 8-1 were second and third, with 3-1 third choice Antipathy fourth.

Close Hatches has won three of her division's most prestigious Grade 1 races in her last three starts, taking the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn and the Ogden Phipps at Belmont before today. The 4-year-old by First Defence, owned by Juddmonte and trained by Bill Mott, has now won 9 of 12 career starts including 6 of her last 7. Her lone loss during that stretch was a second to Beholder on that filly's home court in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Princess of Sylmar has now lost three straight and the question is whether today's performance can be blamed on the muddy track. She had never raced on a surface rated wetter than "good" and clearly did not run her race, but this was her third loss in a row after winning 9 of her first 12 starts.

6:00 pm: Doing a fine imitation of Perfect Title in the 7th, Unbridled Logic ($12.20) came from the clouds after trailing badly, took aim at 17-1 I'm Wide Awake and got there by a fraction of a nose in the 10th.

Four of the sextet in the nightcap are covered in the pick-6 and the other two look hopeless but you never know:

Don't forget: If you want to play the pick-5 tomorrow, get your tickets in by 11:34 a.m. See you then or thereabouts.