08/30/2014 11:20AM

Saratoga Day 38: 8/30/2014


12:10 pm: And so it begins: Closing Weekend at the Spa, a three-day, 34-race farewell to Saratoga 2014. Today's card is above, and here are the lineups for the final two days of the meet:

The weather could become a factor tomorrow and Monday, with thunderstorms in the forecast. 

Today's 12-race marathon includes four graded stakes, two of them Grade 1's, and of just as much interest as the G1 Woodward and G1 Forego is the return of Wise Dan in the G2 Bernard Baruch earlier on the card.

Much earlier, as in the 5th race around 3 pm. NYRA could have had a spectacular all-stakes pick-4 today but is running the Baruch early to keep it out of the late-day multirace exotics -- the same misguided logic that has put the Hopeful as the 4th race on closing day instead of its usual position of honor later on the card.

Who mistakenly told racing offices that they must at all costs keep races with an overwhelming favorite out of their pick-6's? It's absolute nonsense promulgated by people who don't bet. Having a singleable favorite in the sequence actually encourages more play, not less, because borderline players are more likely to jump into a pool if they perceive that they're getting a free bingo square. It actually increases rather than decreases the required strategy: How much of your pick-6 investment would you want to spend trying to beat Wise Dan today?

There's no carryover into today's card despite NYRA's best efforts to create one -- or so it would seem from the otherwise illogical placement of firster-filled maiden races as yesterday's 9th and 11th races instead of friendlier spots (and there were plenty available) for such races at the beginning and not the end of multirace sequences. It was a recipe for a carryover but there was exactly one live ticket to the favorite in the finale and he came through.

There are four early scratches from the stakes: Main-track-onlies Lea and Red Rifle from the Baruch, Falling Sky from the Forego and Micromanage from the Woodward.

Pace yourself: it's going to be a long weekend. I'll post my stakes thoughts a bit later.

1:40 pm: A $15 for $2 all-juvenile, all-favorite, all-second-timer early double. In the turf-route opener it was Maker-trained Firestrike ($5.30), who looked buried with no room at the furlong pole, finally found a seam and surged at the wire to beat 11-1 Congrats to Ken. The runner-up, last around the turn, finished strongly up the rail. In the dirt-sprint 2nd, Pletcher sent out Two Weeks Off ($5.90), second to Hopeful entrant Requite in his debut, who wore down 16-1 Motion second-timer Easy Comparison in 1:23.50 for 7f.

2:15 pm: Mshawish, G2 winner at Meydan last winter making his second start for Pletcher after bombing at 2-1 in G3 Oceanport last month, bulled his way through a bumpy stretch drive to win a blanket photo in the N3x 3rd -- but was disqualified and placed third for interfering with third finisher Sinatra. That made a winner of Set the Sail ($18.80), moved up to 1st with Sinatra placed 2nd and Mshawish knocked down to 3rd.

Something went awry with the timers during the race. Fractions as originally posted would have been world records -- 1:05.33 for six furlongs and 1:28.81 for the mile, but these were corrected to 1:11.63 and 1:34.69.

Here's my cheat-sheet on today's four stakes races: 

3:00 pm: A scintillating performance in the 4th by a fast and telented 2-year-old: El Kabeir ($7.50), Scat Daddy colt from Zayat/Terranova. went to the front in 22.74 and 44.98 and then rocketed away from the field, going 6f in 1:09.81 and tacking on a final furlong of 12.35 to win by 10 3/4 lengths in 1:22.16 (By comparison, the first division of the race, won by Two Weeks Off in the 2nd, went in 1:23.50.)

El Kabeir was third in his debut, a quick (Beyer 88) Aug. 14 5f dash won by Blofeld with Hopeful entrant Signature Cat second. 

Wise Dan opened at 3-5 for the upcoming Baruch.

3:35 pm: Wise Dan ($3.60) made a successful return to the races in the Baruch, holding off 29-1 Optimizer by a nose in a performance in which both his supporters and detractors could find encouragement. This was not one of his vintage performances but a fine one for a multiple champion who had been sidelined and was coming back from surgery.

Wise Dan enjoyed a perfect trip at the inside and might well have been caught in another stride after taking the lead in deep stretch. His margin over Optimizer, a horse that wants more distance and had not been out since April, was not impressive. On the other hand, he carried 127 pounds, 11 more than the runner-up. It was the two-time Horse of the Year's 22nd career victory in 30 starts, including 15 of his last 17, and he had not been out since winning at Churchill Downs on Derby Day and subsequently underwent colic surgery. Also, he reared in the gate and dumped John Velazquez and had to be backed out, settled down and reloaded.

Optimizer was second in his first start for trainer Jose Fernanzez, with early leader Five Iron third. Wise Dan completed a $654 pick-4 and a $1,592 pick-5.

4:00 pm: Six down, six to go. Finale scheduled for 7:19 pm. Take the over. Prosecution won the 6th, a starter allowance for $25k claimers, in 1:23.07, underlining just how good El Kabeir's 1:22.16 was in the 4th.

4:50 pm: Here's the late pick-4 play, which I'm posting before they run the Prioress. (And why isn't the Prioress, rather than a meaningless turf sprint, the first leg of the late pick-4?)

Yes, those are the right A's in the Woodward, goofy as they look. I'm trying to beat Moreno and Itsmyluckyday.

5:10 pm: Stonetastic ($13.00), whose previous claim to fame was running a close 2nd to Tapable in the Pocahantas last fall, showed she's a superior sprinter by scoring a runaway victory in the Prioress, stopping the timer in 1:08.88 for six furlongs. She went to the front in 22.27 and 44.75 and just kept going.

Stonetastic, a 3-year-old filly by Mizzen Mast, races for Stoneway farm and is trained by Kelly Breen. She is now 0 for 4 in routes and 3 for 3 -- all by runaway margins -- in sprints.

5:45 pm: Retracting my complaint about starting the pick-4 with that turf sprint after 25-1 Zamquick held on by a nostril over 2-1 fave Ballerina Belle to win the 9th. First winner of the meet for trainer Eddie Kenneally.

6:20 pm: So much for Palace ($10.60) "bouncing" off his last or not liking seven furlongs. The former claimer, fresh off a victory in the G1 Vanderbilt, won his second Grade 1 stakes of the meeting with an up-the-rail 3 1/2-length victory in the Forego. Longshots Big Business (20-1), Vyjack (16-1) and Capo Bastone (16-1) chased him home in that order, while 3-5 favorite Clearly Now never fired and finished 8th of 9, beaten 12 1/4 lengths..

Palace, a 5-year-old by City Zip, ran the seven furlongs in 1:21.95. Claimed for $20k two years ago, he has since won 10 of 17 starts for owner Antonino Miuccio and trainer Linda Rice.

6:55 pm: Itsmyluckyday and Moreno turned the Woodward into a two-horse race from start to finish, with Itsmyluckyday prevailing late by half a length to reverse their 1-2 order of finish in the Whitney four weeks ago.

The question now is whether either will be able to get the 10th furlong of the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup and/or Breeders' Cup Classic, races they will probably need to win to secure any year-end awards.

A claim of foul by Junior Alvarado, who rode Moreno, against Itsmyluckyday and Paco Lopez, was not allowed. Both were tiring through the stretch but 24-1 Prayerforrelief could gain only mildly to finish third, with Suburban winner Zivo fourth. The winner's final time was 1:48.84 after Moreno set a pace of 24.01, 47.41 and 1:10.94.

Itsmyluckyday, blinkers on today, was winning for the 9th time in 19 career starts and has won stakes races all three years he has been in training. He took the ungraded Foolish Pleasure at 2, the G3 Holy Bull at 3 and the G3 Salvator Mile two starts ago. The 4-year-old by Lawyer Ron, owned by Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa, is trained by Eddie Plesa Jr.

7:15 pm: Looks like 3 of the 11 in the finale are covered in the pick-6 for a one-winner payoff of$151k; otherwise, that's where the pool starts tomorrow.

7:30 pm: That didn't end as well as it might have, espevcially for whoever needed Iron Power for $151k. After Iron Power did all the dirty work up front, dueling with Special Agent before p[utting him away, along came Protection ($51.50) to nose him out, completing a $28,203 pick-4 and giving us a $151k carryover to tomorrow.

I'll be playing.