07/26/2009 4:17PM

Spa Minus 3

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There was plenty of good racing and enticing wagering opportunities the last two weekends, but I forced myself only to glance and dabble lightly as part of a pre-Saratoga freshening program. The plan is to head north solo on Tuesday, dive into the first week of the last venue in American racing capable of sustaining a six-day-a-week schedule, drive back downstate on the first dark Tuesday for the Aug. 4 Steely Dan concert at the Beacon, then return the next day with the rest of the hound and human family.

The pp's are up for the first two days of the Saratoga meeting, and it looks like a strong start. Only two of the first 20 races of the meet drew as few as nine entries, and both of those are contentious stakes races (Wednesday's James Marvin, featuring the return of Pyro, and Thursday's Sanford for 2-year-olds.) Eleven of those first 20 are scheduled for the grass, which seems like a bit of a gamble given that the long-range forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms and a 40 percent chance of rain both Wednesday and Thursday, but the one thing we've got plenty of in New York these days are grass horses itching to run after so many rainouts at the Belmont spring-summer meet.

Here's the recap on the graded-stakes action the last two weekends. There were 11 graded stakes last weekend, none of them Grade 1's, and only two this weekend, both of them Grade 1's:

Yesterday's two Grade 1's were both a little on the light and strange side. The field for the CCA Oaks included just three graded winners, none above the G3 level. It seemed on paper an unappealing betting proposition -- the two favorites, Funny Moon at 5-2 ML and Livin Lovin at 3-1 looked the like right ones -- but demanded a token play when the race was bet quite differently: Livin Lovin was pounded to even money, while Funny Moon somehow drifted up to be the fifth choice at 7-1. Livin Lovin probably should have been favored on the line, and I would probably have "picked" her on top had I been forced to make 1-2-3 selections, but she was a drastic underlay by post time while Funny Moon was a nutty price.

She ran a pretty nutty race, too, falling back to last and then launching an erratic, wide move into the stretch during which she looked more likely to bolt to the outside fence than win.

"She didn’t want to make the turn, she wanted to keep going straight," said jockey Alan Garcia.

Funny Moon eventually straightened out and wore down the struggling leaders. Only 1 3/4 lengths separated the first five under the wire, but Funny Moon looks like she should improve with experience. The Alabama Aug. 22 seems like the most logical next start unless Rachel Alexandra heads that way.

In the Eddie Read, where the eight starters had a combined record of just 4-for-39 in Grade 1 company, Monterey Jazz was 11-10 off two wire jobs at Hollywood, and the question of the race seemed to be whether he would zoom to the front as usual or perhaps be pushed early by Thorn Song. Thorn Song somewhat suprisingly was loose on the lead into the first turn with Monterey Jazz a seemingly relaxed second, then Thorn Song bolted to the outside fence for no apparent reason. Monterey Jazz inherited the lead, seemingly in complete control through moderate fractions with only the one-paced Global Hunter in mild pursuit. Monterey Jazz, however, began to fade in upper stretch, Global Hunter took over by default, and made it to the wire in front as the closers came too late to catch him.

Global Hunter was one of several tricky winners in a pick-six sequence where a two-day carryover of $382,172 drew Saturday investments totalling $1.67 million and yielded a 6-of-6 payoff of $328,271 for winners returning $16.40, $12.60, $5.20, $30.20 (Global Hunter), $10.00 and $6.80 -- nearly five times the $68,957 parlay.


--Pedantic Pet Peeve of the Day: The word "champion" has a very specific meaning in Thoroughbred racing: The winner of a year-end divisional championship. The Breeders' Cup has done its best to devalue the word by referring to any winner of a Breeders' Cup race as a "Breeders' Cup champion" whether or not that horse also wins a championship. Now Monmouth Park is also misusing the word in promoting the principals in the Aug. 2 Haskell as "Preakness Champion Rachel Alexandra" and "Belmont Stakes Champion Summer Bird." 

Rachel Alexandra is 1-to-100 to be the champion 3-year-old filly of 2009, and Summer Bird is a possible contender for the male version of that award, but until the Eclipse Awards are announced next January, neither should be called a champion.