07/31/2011 1:10PM

Spa Day 9: 7/31/11


2:10 pm: Didn't last long in the Saturday night poker tournament at Saratoga and even though there were no entry fees or real money involved, I managed to get hustled out of $100.

The tournament was a well-meaning little promotion by Saratoga and the Foxwoods casino to introduce some poker players and their friends to Saratoga and horse racing. They put a so-called VIP racetracker at each table, and I drew in off the also-eligibles when Kiaran McLaughlin was a late scratch. 

It was free to sign up and play, with the top finishers winning some free nights at the casino hotel and everyone getting at least a Foxwoods sweatshirt and a Saratoga umbrella. But that wasn't enough action for the racetrackers, so just before play began I was approached by jockey Rajiv Maragh for some side betting.

"Hey Steve, you'll bet on anything, right?" he said, with the broad smile of a man who has met a mark. The prop was that six or seven of us would each put up $100 and whichever racetracker lasted the longest would get the pot. Why not? It wouldn't be insignificant bragging rights to outlast a few jockeys and trainers and uphold the honor of the press box. Okay, I'm in.

Each player started with $2,000 in fake chips, and the blinds started out at $25 and $50, increasing every 10 or 15 minutes. each table was a weird combination of serious poker players and people who didn't know an ace from a deuce. I sat next to a woman who hit four 9's and didn't bet them. "Was that a good hand?" she asked when she turned over her cards.

I nursed my stack and watched a few of my racetracker opponents get up and leave from other tables, and after about 45 minutes it looked like it was down to me, Rajiv and trainer Scott Schwartz for our little pool. By now the blinds were up to $300/600, and when I picked up a pair of 6's I shoved by last $1600 in hoping everyone would fold. Someone called and outdrew me, and that was that and now Rajiv has my $100.

I would say it's not the first time he's taken my money but I think I've actually done pretty well with him over the years.


2:30 pm: As for the Sunday racing on a weird card that's stronger on wide-open gambling action than quality early on:

1st: An open $14k claimer with a field of 11 ended in a dead-heat after a little bit of confusion. After a long wait for a tight photo between the #3 Marquet Rebel and the #5 Stud Muffin, the results were posted as 3-5 and Tom Durkin announced it that way...but then it turned out the dead-heat graphic hadn't turned on properly and that Stud Muffin had indeed shared in the victory. I'm sure some pople will claim they tore their winning tickets into shreds but a)that's why you're never supposed to do that until the result is declared official and b) does anyone ever really do that except in silly old racetrack movies?

2nd: Second-timer Bellacourt, beaten by five of today's opponents in her debut, romped with a cleaner trip, precisely as predicted by Andy Serling on Talking Horses, who knocked her price all the way down from 6-1 ML to $29.60. Seriously, it was an inspired selection, and he also picked Marquet Rebel in the first, a $109.50 double. I also picked horses who ran identically in the first two races -- both finished 6th.

4th: Redeemed myself with a lucky guess on Professor Fate ($14.60) in a field consisting of 10 first-timers and Enrico Pallazzo, who was made the 3-1 ML favorite off a distant fifth-place finisher in the Overdriven/J C's Pride maiden race July 1. Enrico went off at 5-1 and fared even worse against maiden claimers than he did against the two fastest juveniles to come out this year.

I mention this out of no rancor for Enrico but because I think handicappers are sometimes too quick to like horses who do little to no running in double-digit defeats against good horses, solely because they are supposedly imbued with the magic of having run in a "key race."


3:20 pm: Yay...Argggh. Had to bet a little on Unknown Wonder ($67.00) since I did pick him second on TH (http://www.nyra.com/Talkinghorses/index.html) , but my unwillingness to use Andy's goofy horse in the 2nd meant no $26k early pick-4 for me.

And let's not even think about what a way it would have been to start the pick-6 had there been a $188k double-carry into today instead of six winners yesterday...


4:10 pm: On to the late pick-4:

Spreading in the first leg because I just don't trust Emma's Posse plunging from $50k to $15k off a nine-month layoff. If he wins at 8-5, so be it. Sidney's Candy figures to get as loose as he pleases in an otherwise undistinguished Fourstardave field, but I'm backing up a little just in case. I prefer Super Espresso to the others in the Ruffian, but there's not that much between her and Peyton d'Oro, and Absinthe Minded will be dangerous if she gets away from Dynazapper early.

What did I like about Unknown Wonder in the 5th? Well, you know me and turnbacks (8f to 5.5f), but it wasn't just the fact of the turnback, it was that Unknown Wonder made a wild premature middle move in that mile race and was actually right there after 5.5f though beaten 11 at the finish. This kind of horse often gets ignored because people look only at the final margin and figure rather than the relevant portion of the race as it applies to today's distance.


4:30 pm: Emma's Posse hung late to run 4th at 3-2 while second choice Never Right Joey ($8.70), in off the AE list and bet down from 6-1 to 3-1 for Repole/Pletcher, desperately outbobbed 40-1 Fiery Rebel. Never Right Joey now 3 for 3 at Saratoga: A year ago, the $100k NY-bred won his debut and then the High Rock Springs Stakes at 1-to-5. Today's victory came for a $15k claiming tag.


5:15 pm: Sidney's Candy has shown plenty of brilliance during his career, but today's cakewalk in the Fourstardave was no dazzler. After walking to the lead under a hold in 25.83 and 50.49, he might have been expected to kick into a different gear and rocket away from an overmatched field. Instead, despite lots of urging from John Velazquez for him to do more, he merely maintained his advantage while hitting the mile in 1:37.40 while two lengths in front en route to a final time of 1:43.25 and a 1 1/4-length victory.


5:45 pm: Congrats if you liked Ask the Moon at 18-1 in the Ruffian but I have no idea what I just watched. Ask the Moon, who had never run in a graded stakes race of any kind, and who had lost 13 straight minor races since an allowance victory in the Meadowlands slop almost two years ago, just blew the doors of the G1 Ruffian Handicap. She was making her first start for trainer Martin Wolfson after being claimed two starts back by Gary Contessa from Ned Allard.

Ask The Moon sprinted to the front from the gate, set sharp fractions while outrunning expected leader Absinthe Minded, then drew off in the stretch despite running her final furlong in 14.02 seconds. Super Espresso was along for second with Tiz Miz Sue third, but the latter was placed fourth behind Payton d'Oro for impeding that rival at the 3/16ths pole.

You knew going in that this was an unusually weak Ruffian, lacking a G1 winner and with all the divisional leaders headed elsewhere or sidelined, but this was an even more surprising result, at least to me, than 18-1 would suggest.

No live tickets in the pick-6: Looks like about a $60k carryover into Monday.


6:20 pm: Repole/Pletcher again as Writingonthewall ($5.80) dropped to $25k and ran his Saratoga record to 4 for 4 winning the nightcap. Late pick-4 paid $1,748 for $2, the pick-6 conso was $2,515, and the carryover for tomorrow is $59,728.

Writingonthewall was Pletcher's 14th winner at the meeting. Chad Brown is next in the trainer standings with 5, followed by Rudy Rodriguez with 4.