08/23/2014 10:48AM

Saratoga Day 32: 8/23/2014


11:35 am: They're off at Saratoga on a Travers Day that begins with the main track and turf courses labelled "good." After no grass racing Thursday and Friday, all eight of today's scheduled grass races will stay there. There have been two course switches: Race 8, an N2x allowance, has been moved from the Mellon to the inner, and race 9, the G2 Ballston Spa, has been moved from the inner to the Mellon. Both remain at a mile and a sixteenth.

Only two scratches so far from the four graded stakes that will be run as the 9th through 12th and comprise an all-stakes pick-4 with a guranteed pool of $1 million: Dayatthespa is out of the Ballston Spa, and Voodoo Tales is out of the Grade 1 Ballerina.

No changes in the $1.25 million G1 Travers, which concludes a $200k guaranteed pick-6 on races 7-12. In the Travers, the G1 winners Tonalist (Belmont Stakes), Bayern (Haskell) and Wicked Strong (Wood Memorial) appear significantly ahead of their seven challengers. It's a dandy matchup but not quite the division-settling showdown it has been billed as: NYRA put out a press release earlier this week calling the race a showdown among "the nation's top 3-year-olds," which should have said "the nation's top 3-year-olds excluding California Chrome and Shared Belief."

California Chrome, the Derby and Preakness winner (and the last 16 to do that have all been named champion 3-year-old) is scheduled to resume racing next month. Shared Belief, last year's champion 2-year-old, takes on older horses tomorrow at Del Mar in the Pacific Classic.

In the opener, for older maidens, West Point/Albertrani second-timer Three Alarm Fire ($5.10) ran down 2-1 Pletcher firsterLiam's Map, an $800k yearling two years ago. The time was 1:24.08, suggesting that the track is not particularly fast today -- yet.

12:15 pm: Race 2 for 2-year-old grass maidens went to Phipps/Mcgaughey second-timer Face the Music (Stormy Atlantic), who held off a sharp late run from Darley firster Imperia (Medaglia d'Oro.)

Hard to know what to make of the turf course. It seemed firm as the winner led through an opening quarter in 23.86, less so through a slow half in 49.96 and six furlongs in 1:15.94. Was it boggy and tiring? Hard to believe as Face the Music allegedly ran a final five-sixteenths in 29.37 with Imperia gaining several lengths.

1:15 pm: Dirt sprint for 2-year-olds marred by fatal mishap involving $770k Chad Brown firster Ludicrous (Medaglia d'Oro-Victory Ride), who was coming up the inside behind drawing-away Bayerd ($19.00) when he seemed to take a bad step. Irad Ortiz Jr. jumped off and several other horses near the incident were pulled up or checked.

Bayerd, Asmussen second-timer, was third in his debut beaten 11 lengths by Competitive Edge, Pletcher colt who will be among favorites in Hopeful.

2:15 pm: One race after scary fall from Ludicrous, Ortiz got back up and steered 4-year-old Dynaformer-Verbal filly Chat ($12.60) to victory for Augustin/Sheppard.

The stakes action isn't scheduled to begin until almost 4 p.m., but here is my cheat with thoughts on the four graded stakes. I'll be playing that all-stakes pick-4, and will post the play by 3:30.


2:49 pm: Two scratches with 1 MTP for the 7th: the #1 Dear Mama and the #6 Eddy Gourmet, both in the 6-1/7-1 neighborhood at the time. If you used them in the pick-6 or Grand Slam, you're getting moved to the surprisingly strong 6-5 favorite, #10 Divided Attention.

3:00 pm: Divided Attention, 3-2 at the bell, made her first start since November a winning one with a dominant victory over 5-2 Shay Jolie and 3-1 Pretty Fancy. The 3-year-old Darley homebred (A.P. Indy-Contrive), adding Lasix today, had not been out since running a distant second to Stopchargingmaria in the G3 Tempted Nov. 2. She also was 4th in the G1 Frizette.

Divided Attention's time of 1:22.70 makes it appear that the track, upgraded to fast, may be quickening up.

3:35 pm: On to the stakes racing. Here's the pick-4 play:

3:51 pm: With 8 MTP for the Ballston Spa, pick-4 pool has already surpassed $1 million guarantee. Earlier, pick-6 pool, guaranteed at $200k, was at $376k as horses went into the gate for the 7th.


4:15 pm: Abaco ($10.80) outfinished Strathnaver to win the G2 Ballston Spa, a race in which Filimbi was surprisngly bet down to 3-5 and even more surprisingly finished last of 6.

Abaco trailed early as the hopeless longshot Night Song set a slow pace under a hold. Centre Court and Filimbi were tracking her and made their moves on the turn, but both soon faded as first strathnaver and then Abaco charged to the front. Nellie Cashman was third.

The final time of 1:42.64 was slower than the N1x allowance winner Chat ran earlier in the day (1:42.06).

Abaco, a 6-year-old Giant's Causeway-Cat Cay mare, was the second winner on the card for Phipps Stable and trainer Shug McGaughey. She had been running well without winning lately and was beaten just 1 1/2 lengths in teh G1 Diana here opening weekend.

Something obviously went wrong with Filimbi, but her price was unexpected. This was her graded-stakes debut whereas Abaco and Strathnaver had been competing consistently at the G1/G2 level.

4:45 pm: The Big Beast ($7.x0) movied powerfully late to nip Fast Anna just before the wire and win the G1 King's Bishop in his stakes debut. The son of Yes It's True, owned by Alex and Joanne Lieblong and trained by Tony Dutrow, ran the 7f in 1:22.35 under Javier Castellano.

Fast Anna, also making his stakes debut after two easy victories in Florida, sprinted right to the lead and no one got near him early despite setting only mild fractions of 22.88 and 46.05. Wildcat Red chased but then retreated and The Big Beast moved up on the outside. When Fast Anna began to shorten stride in the final 100 yards, The Big Beast surged and just got there. Coup de Grace, the Amsterdam winner and 2-1 favorite, was third.

We'll see how Bayern does in the Travers but you have to consider him still the top 3-year-old sprinter off his Woody Stephens, a far more impressive race than this King's Bishop -- and one I think he would have won by open lengths. The Big Beast's final time of 1:22.35 was only 0.35 seconds (about two lengths) better than the 3-year-old filly Divided Attention ran three races earlier winning a N1x allowance race.

5:15 pm: New York Showcase Day began a day early when NY-bred Artemis Agrotera ($10.80) scored a runaway victory in the G1 Ballerina with My Miss Aurelia a distant second and fellow New York-bred Willet third.

The winner, bred and owned by Chester and Mary Broman and trained by Mike Hushion, zipped the seven furlongs in 1:21.89, faster than the 3-year-old colts in the King's Bishop.

Artemis Agrotera, who had won her two previous Saratoga starts by more than 10 lengths, won the G1 Frizette last fall before finishing 8th at 7-2 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Here are the willpays heading into the Travers, where Tonalist opened the 9-5 favorite with Wicked Strong at 5-2 and Bayern 7-2. It appears that 6 of the 10 in the Travers are covered; if Commanding Curve, Charge Now, Kid Cruz or Ulanbator wins, there's a $238k carryover to tomorrow:

6:00 pm: 19-1 V.E. Day ran down barnmate 5-2Wicked Strong in the final two strides to win a strangely-run Travers where the three favorites were unexpectedly running 1-2-3 around the track to the top of the stretch. Tonalist held on for 3rd and Bayern faded badly late after leading for more than a mile.

Bayern popped out to the lead but Tonalist was surprisingly just behind him as the field moved into the first turn, with Wicked Strong a close third. The others were far behind, and the pace was strong, six furlongs in 1:11.27. Turning for home, Bayern dropped out, Tonalist sputtered, and Wicked Strong took the lead and looked home free with a furlong to go. But V.E. Day just kept chugging and won a tight photo.

The first two finishers are both trained by Jimmy Jerkens. Both had a prep over the track, with V.E. Day winning the restricted Curlin Stakes a day before Wicked Strong won the Jim Dandy in a better performance against a stronger field. V.E. Day won the Curlin in a blanket finish , but none of those who were close to him at the wire in that race did any running today.

The losses by Wicked Strong and Tonalist put big dents in their chances for a divisional championship. V.E. Day will have to win another big race or two to prove he is a legit title contender.

V.E. Day, a winner of four straight after losing his first two starts, is a son of English Channel and the Deputy Minister mare California Sunset. He was purchased as a 2-year-old for $135,000 by owner Magalen O. Bryant.

V.E. Day completed a $4,614 pick-4 and a $79,619 (three winners) pick-6.

There are two more races on the card to ease traffic out of the track. You're on your own for those. I'll be back tomorrow for New York Showcase Day, where all 11 races are restricted to statebreds, including six stakes.