07/26/2012 11:27AM

Saratoga Day 6: 7/26/12



12:25 pm: Post times are being accelerated Thursday at Saratoga in an attempt to squeeze in a 10-race card with six grass races before predicted thunderstorms hit later today.

Races will go off 28 rather than 33 minutes apart and the last race will now be run 45 minutes earlier than originally scheduled, at 5:19 instead of 6:04. Here's the new lineup:

The card starts at 1 pm with the first steeplechase of the meeting, the Jonathan Kiser Novice, a restrcted stakes that is basically an  N3x allowance also open to anyone who had not won over fences before March 10, 2011.


1:55 pm: A $378.50 early double as a pair of 15-1 shots triumphed in the first two races on the Thursday card and St. John's RIver was soundly beaten at 2-to-5.

In the opener, Demonstrative ($32.20) collared leader Baltic Star over the last fence and pulled away over Wanganui with Baltic Star holding third. The 5-year-old ELusive Quality gelding, 1 for 11 on the flat in England, has now won 5 of 14 steeplechase tries over here.

In the 2nd, St. John's River -- the 2011 Delaware Oaks winner and Kentucky Oaks runner-up -- opened at 1-9 and went off at 2-5 in an N2x allowance she appeared to have at her mercy if she showed her top form. She didn't. She was bottled up a bit leaving the backstretch and on the turn, but found a wide seam to run through in upper stretch and then was simply outrun. Phipps/McGaughey Sea Island ($33.60), half-sister to Sightseeing, really took to two turns and rallied to win by 3 1/2 lengths as the favorite barely held second.

Maybe SJR doesn't like Saratoga -- she ran a distant 5th in the Alabama last year. In any case, today's performance doesn't bode well for her planned return in the Personal Ensign against Royal Delta.


2:25 pm: Main-track-only scratches just announced in later races, so it looks like there's growing confidence that they'll get the card in on the turf before any storms.


2:45 pm: As you might expect with a $33.60 winner in Leg 1 and a $50.00 winner in leg #3, the early pick-4 payoffs are all in five digits, ranging from $12k to $71k for $2:

The $50 winner was The Party's Here, a second-time starter from owner-trainer Matthew Peebles. The 2-year-old Black Mambo filly had not raced since a 15-length defeat in her debut at Aqueduct April 19.


3:45 pm: The upcoming final four on the turf strikes me as a baffling and wide-open sequence, so I'm putting in a spready play for action, using the 50-cent option liberally, and hoping to catch a couple of prices:


4:05 pm: Ninth time the charm for Abaco ($7.10), dead last as various longshots took the field into the stretch before working her way through to give Phipps/McGaughey their second winner of the day. Winner named for resort islands in Northern Bahamas -- other siblings, produced by Cat Cay, include Treasure Cay, Bimini, Coasting and Islamorada. 


4:35 pm: Artest ($12.00), who couldn't have been less impressive finishing 7th in an allowance race here opening day, returned six days later to win the $100k QUick Call Stakes under a perfectly-timed ride from John Velazquez. Drago's Best, put perhaps prematurely into a full drive to collar Gentlemans Code through a half in 44.56, won that battle but had nothing left to hold off the more patiently-ridden winner.

Artest, a 3-year-old Hard Spun colt owned by Dennis Narlinger and trained by Michelle Nihei, was making his second start off a seven-month layoff. Unlike his presumed namesake, the NBA player formerly known as Ron Artest, his name was not changed to Metta World Peace last year.


5:15 pm: Pretty fat pick-4 willpays for a sequence that began with $7.10, $12.00 and $7.50 winners. Wish I hadn't messed it up:


Eight of the 10 in the finale are covered in the pick-6.

Remember: First post tomorrow is 2:30 pm, so sleep in an extra 90 minutes while I'm driving up the Thruway. It's the first of two such later starts, the other coming on August 31, the Friday of the final weekend.