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Saratoga Good Things
Horsemen trying to cash a bet at Saratoga with very, very well meant horses is probably as old as the track itself. Nowhere is winning, and cashing a bet, more special than it is at Saratoga. And Saratoga’s pools are large enough to withstand a wager of some size without moving the board to the point of undercutting the well-meant wager.
Every year, there are at least a handful of especially well meant horses during the Saratoga meet. I hesitate to call them put over jobs, because usually the signs are there beforehand if you’re aware enough to be looking for them, which isn’t always the case even for the best horseplayers. And to be sure, not all of these Saratoga good things win. That’s why when they do, you are supposed to tip your hat to the winning connections in admiration of a job well done, whether or not you cashed along with them. And then you are supposed to file their names away as people to be respected in future encounters.
For me, the big Saratoga good thing last year was P J’s Magical Wink. P J’s Magical Wink had three starts before his Saratoga debut. He made his career debut in a straight maiden race at Calder in November of 2011, went off at 31-1, and after a poor start, he finished last in a field of nine, beaten 26 ½ lengths. He made his second start in early February of last year in a maiden $25,000 claimer at Gulfstream and went off at 34-1. He showed brief early foot before quickly backing up and finished 11th and last, beaten 46 ¼ lengths, eased. P J’s Magical Wink made his third start later in February, 2012, in a maiden $8,000 claimer at Tampa Bay Downs, and went off at 16-1. He showed more speed this time to contest an unremarkable pace, and he went on to finish second, beaten a half-length, earning an unremarkable Beyer Speed Figure of 55.
Then, P J’s Magical Wink disappeared for six months before resurfacing at Saratoga in a $20,000 maiden claimer. Although he sported a good workout line, that P J’s Magical Wink couldn’t win for $8,000 at Tampa, hadn’t run in half a year, and was up against 12 opponents, suggested that he should have been, conservatively speaking, around 25-1 in this Saratoga race. And he should have only been as low as that because he had a touch of speed (although he was not the only speed in the race), and he caught a sloppy track that was speed-favoring. But he wasn’t around 25-1. His odds were much lower.
I stood there in the Belmont Park Café, where I was that particular day, and I could see what was going on. And yet, I still couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to pull the trigger and bet along with this good thing, which is only my fault. Instead, I stood and watched as P J’s Magical Wink pressed the early pace, took over in the stretch, and ran away to score by 8 ¼ lengths for owner Dan Hurtak and trainer Donna Green, paying a drastically underlayed $21.20. Clearly, the $12,000 class jump from Tampa wasn’t as big as it was supposed to be, and P J’s Magical Wink earned a 70 Beyer. But P J’s Magical Wink wasn’t just a one score wonder. Although he has clearly been compromised by physical issues, he did post back-to-back romps last fall at Belmont and Aqueduct, earning healthy 98 Beyers for each victory.
I thought there was another good thing this past opening weekend at Saratoga. It wasn’t on the order of P J’s Magical Wink, but the score by Joy Seeker in Sunday’s seventh race was a job well done by trainer John Terranova 2nd and owner Sovereign Stables. Joy Seeker was making her turf debut in this one mile straight maiden race for New York breds, and being a daughter of the Giant’s Causeway sire Heatseeker, from a Smart Strike mare, she had the lineage for it. She also had a very nice recent workout line. However, Joy Seeker had not raced in six months, and although she finished third in all three of her career starts at Aqueduct, they were frankly mediocre races, as evidenced by Joy Seeker’s Beyers of 47, 46, and 37.
Joy Seeker was 12-1 on the morning line in Sunday’s 12 horse field, which seemed on the slightly short side of being right considering that while there were no killers in the field, competition did run deep. But Joy Seeker was bet strongly all the way until the bell rang, there for all the betting public to see if they were paying attention, finally going off the 4-1 second choice. And after favored Atlantic’s Smile, the expected pacesetter, got left, Joy Seeker fell out on the lead, drew off to win by almost five, paid $10.40, and earned a Beyer of 76.
The lesson here is, it’s a good idea for all of us to lift our heads out of the past performances once in a while and take a real look at the tote board. There are times, at Saratoga in particular, when the board has something interesting to tell us.
I may be slitting my own throat here but the trainer I watch out for is George Weaver on the turf, he continually enters horses that are paying dividends, I think most are catching on though as yesterdays winner only paid $10 & change, he has 3 starts with 2 wins and a second, he throws out double digit odds horses that win at an alarming rate at Saratoga. My secret is now out, oh well hopefully most gamblers have short memories and you will forget this.
way back in the day at saratoga there were two trainers blue moon Odom i think and EI Kelly with the Brookfield horses who could be counted on year in and year out for one "put over" --usually a two year old they "day lighted" worked him at 4am when no one was around--those were the days
Joy Seeker had some nice turf breeding. There is more money to be made at the track by knowing which horses shouyld take to the turf and which won't take to the dirt when the race is rained off and the track is still listed at "good" or "fast". I Had Joy boxed with the #2 horse real nice, only to see my horse lose action late to get beat for the place. Good insight with that pick, Mike.
Good read today Mike. You laid it out pretty well, and accurately. As a former owner, you had some options, on how and when to bet your own horse. You had to deal with friends and family all the time, seeking inside info, about your horse, and how you thought he would race. Unfortunately, they never believed you, when you told them the truth, that the horse may need a race, or not sure how well he would perform. In my opinion, it is never a win, win situation. P.S. Our horse always went off the favorite, even when his PP, did not validate it.
Oldest trick in the book. Pull the horse while dropping down in class. When the horse is ready, ship to another track where you can bet and not crush the odds.Raise him a little to really throw off the public. The final piece of the puzzle is to put a journeyman jock up and place a bet for him. If the horse should be 30-1 but is instead 12-1 then you know you're on to something. Works best in cheap maiden races. There is one caveat... the horse.
Real nice read Mike. Agreeing totally with your thought that Saratoga is a very sweet place to put over a good thing I think it's also the most likely place for several "good things" to be in the same race. Also of the opinion that tote interpretation morphs into an art form over time and some players are just better at it than others. My own personal approach is to concentrate on connections that past experience has shown me love to win at the Spa. Not the obvious owner/trainer race leaders but more under the radar types (like the late Paul Fout Sr) who are almost always well meant and often very juicy odds wise. Thanks for the column and have a great Saratoga meet.
PJ was a first gelding that day at Spa, had speed on a speed favoring strip, if I remember correctly he also showed a bullet. Was also interesting that the connections were at Spa at all, guessing PJ was the reason for the trip as others really did not run. Thanks for the good memory
No question someone knows something when something like that happens. Now, how many times does the smart money bet and lose? There are so many angles and gut feelings to consider in handicapping. After over 50 years handicapping (the last 17 years full time) I have come to the conclusion that for me to bet a race, I need to understand all aspects. There are plenty of races to bet which have fewer unknowns.
You and I have been discussing the virtues of watching the board for nearly 30 years now, Mike. In fact, I'm sure it was part of your discussion on handicapping during those celebrated New School sessions. Glad you had a nice opportunity to show a few good examples of how important it is and how it must be included in the handicapper's arsenal of tools. As I've mentioned on several occasions, I learned early on from my Dad -- Belmont Day '65 to be exact -- that the winner is more often found up on odds board than down in the pps of the Form. Now, coming on my 50th consecutive Belmont, I still to this very day note on my program every odds change for each horse in a race I watch or cover for the media. It's an invaluable tool. Some might argue that even this year's KD winner, Orb, was revealed when made the favorite in the very last flash of the tote board. Of course, interpretation of the odds movement plays a large part but many of the key elements will always be there. Once again, a wonderful service to the readers to make them better handicappers. Pop always liked what you had to say about analyzing a race and I know he would loved this piece!
Hi Mike, Good stuff. I noticed that odds drop on Sunday and just couldn't pull the trigger as I was determined to skip the race given the topsy-turvy nature of the days results. My favorite "watch the board" result was at the 1999 Breeder's Cup (big pools) at Gulfstream Park. They had turned the special meet into a three day affair and Friday ended with a 50K purse for Maidens - that was a stakes purse - still is - in SoFla in November and Leo Azpurua ( a good Calder trainer) had Jorge Chavez ( a good jockey) on a first time starter that opened at 2-1. He drifted to 8-1, the gates sprung open, Chop-Chop jumped to a quick 4 length lead, and they never looked back to the tune of 18.00 6.60 and a 70 buck Ex to boot. Fortunately, in that case, I was pliable enough to get on board with the visual evidence. Thanks.