07/23/2013 9:39AM

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.