08/26/2007 2:59AM

Starforaday and a Day of Stars


Notes from a sweltering Saturday at Saratoga, where this year's Kentucky Derby winner and runner-up took the afternoon's two Grade 1 events:

Race 1: Bill Mott got his meet-high 19th winner when Got The Last Laugh ($8.30) scored his first victory since last summer's Arlington-Washington Futurity -- a race in which the third-place finisher was some colt named Street Sense.

Race 2: The afternoon's baby race had fancy-looking firsters from Zito, Frankel and Pletcher, and you'd think one of them was a goodie being unveiled on Travers Day, but the board said they were nothing special as all were 5-1 or higher against some unexciting colts with experience. The board was right. Third-timer Mythical Pegasus ($9.70 and D. Wayne Lukas's second winner of the meet from 41 starts) was up in the last stride to nip second-timer Grand Minstrel, the 5-2 favorite off a distant third to Maimonides in his debut.

Race 3: The ugly coupled-entry/purse-money-only rule reared its head when Borobudur, half of a Frankel entry, was a gate scratch, leaving firster Fast Thought to run for purse money only. Pick-four players who had liked the entry got to watch Fast Thought wire the field to win the race but lost their money because they were dumped onto post-time favorite Virginia Minstrel, who finished third behind Fast Thought and parimutuel winner Peace Mon ($8.60). The rule is well-intentioned but needs to be changed to provide refunds instead of a Kafkaesque outcome for people who bet on a winner yet lose their money.

Three Travers Day races, three victories by Hall of Fame trainers (Mott, Lukas, Frankel.)

Race 5: Life Is a Cabernet was 1-5 when she won her debut at Suffolk Downs June 20 and 3-5 when she lost her second start at Monmouth Aug. 3, but was overlooked at 21-1 here despite being sent out by the rouge-hot Christophe Clement to wire this turf sprint. Favored La Presse, a Group 1 performer in England last year, was outrun early and rallied belatedly for fourth in her American debut; should improve quickly.

Ticket time: The pick six began with the 7th race, the G2 Bernard Baruch, and since several commenters have asked how I played the sequence, here's the rundown. (Apologies to those about to glaze over amid technical ticket-talk.)

I play the pick-six with a muli-ticket approach where I designate the horses I want to use in A, B and C tiers in delcining order of preference. I then play the various permutations of those tiers so that I will hit it if I can get home either 6 A's; 5 A's and one B or C; or four A's and two B's. Here was today's array:

Race 7: A: 1-6 B: 4-9-12 C: 3-10-11
Race 8: A: 3 B: 1-11 C:5-7-8-9
Race 9: A: 4 C: 5-7
Race 10: A: 8 B: 4-6 C:5-7-13
Race 11: A: 1-4 C: 2-7-8-9
Race 12: A: 3-7-13 C: 1-6-8-11

Using all 36 horses on a single "caveman" ticket would have been a 7x7x3x6x6x7 proposition costing $74,088, at least $73,000 more than I wanted to spend. The ABC methodology knocked the cost down to $728 and necessitated making out 10 tickets, as follows:

1. A/A/A/A/A/A = $24
2. BC/A/A/A/A/A = $72
3. A/BC/A/A/A/A = $144
4. A/A/C/A/A/A = $48
5. A/A/A/BC/A/A = $120
6. A/A/A/A/C/A = $48
7. A/A/A/A/A/C = $32
8. B/B/A/A/A/A = $72
9. B/A/A/B/A/A = $72
10. A/B/A/B/A/A = $96

Translated into horse: I "singled" three horses (Hard Spun, Street Sense, La Traviata) but any one of them could lose and I'd still have a shot. Street Sense was the closest to a pure single, as $680 of the $728 went through him alone (all but ticket #4.) I could have beaten either Hard Spun (tickets #3 and 8) or La Traviata
(tickets #5 and 9) and still been in the hunt; beaten them both (ticket #10) and still gotten there with all A's in the other four races; or, if all three won(tickets # 1,2,6,7), been able to go to C's somewhere else.

Race 7: Shakis ($12.60) was 6-5 against a decent field (Sunriver, Trippi's Gold) in the Bowling Green last month but floundered going 11 furlongs, one beyond his best distance. Here, cutting back to 9f, he enjoyed a perfect ride from Alan Garcia, slipping inside Ballast in the stretch, driving clear, and then holding off 22-1 Big Prairie by three-quarters in a finish where only four lengths separated the first seven under the wire. Shakis's time of 1:45.33 on a rock-hard course broke one of the Spa's oldest grass records, Tentam's 1973 mark of 1:45 2/5.

Race 8: We already knew Hard Spun was fast, and we learned in the G1 King's Bishop he's a fighter too. Turning back to a sprint for the first time this year, Hard Spun dueled with speedball (and eventual last-place finisher) Spin Master through quick fractions of 21.94 and 44.20, making him vulnerable to a challenge from First Defence, who tracked the leaders from third. First Defence caught up and put a head in front after six furlongs in 1:08.70, but Hard Spun responded to the challenge, surged and spurted clear from the inside, and won going away by a length and a half. The final furlong was an understandably slow 13.63 for a final time of 1:22.38 but nobody except E Z Warrior, surprisingly outrun early, gained any real ground despite the slow come-home.

The question now is whether Hard Spun's handlers stick to their plan of stretching him back out for the BC Classic or go on with him as a sprinter-miler in races like the BC Dirt Mile or BC Sprint and Cigar Mile. The latter course seems far more realistic and appropriate. What more proof than the Derby, Preakness, Belmont and Haskell do they need that Hard Spun is not beating Lawyer Ron, Street Sense, Any Given Saturday and Curlin at 10 furlongs?

Race 9: Street Sense had a closer call than most expected winning the 138th Travers at 35 cents on the dollar over a stubborn and exciting colt in Grasshopper, who he wore down by half a length in 2:02.69. It wasn't as dynamic a victory as his Derby or Juvenile but it was a different kind of race, with Street Sense staying much closer to the pace and grinding his way to victory rather than making a snazzy run from far back. Grasshopper, making just his sixth career start and coming off a solid victory over his elders earlier at the meet, has made tremendous progress very quickly and still has plenty of upside. It was 10 1/4 lengths back to 49-1 Helsinki, who edged the disappointing Sightseeing at the wire for third.

Preliminary Beyer figs for the Travers and King's Bishop: Street Sense-108, Grasshopper-107, Hard Spun-106, First Defence-103.

Race 10: La Traviata, making her graded-stakes debut off a pair of blowout 5 1/2-furlong romps at Churchill and Monmouth, destroyed the field in the G2 Victory Ride for 3-year-old fillies, winning by 9 1/4 in 1:09.78. The $1.1 million Biancone/Magnier/Smith/Tabor filly, now 3-for-3 by a combined 27 1/2 lengths, was flattered by an easy (45.20) lead and by no one running a step behind her, but is clearly something special. The filly-sprint division, which is getting its own BC race and its own Eclipse Award this year, has two outstanding 3-year-olds in La Traviata and Prioress-Test winner Dream Rush.

Race 11: The pick-4 on races 7-10 paid a paltry $83.50 for $2, hardly fueling dreams of a healthy pick-six payoff, but with four A's in the bag I could go to column C in one of the day's last two races. I hedged with an insanity-insurance C/C late-double part-wheel since I had to go either A/C or C/A in the pick-six. I'm not going to pretend I "picked" Starforaday ($57.50) or that he was any better than my fifth or sixth choice in the race, but I wasn't at all unhappy to see him storm from last place on a newly-sealed track being pelted by late-day thunderstorms. I had tossed him in as a C because a)I wanted another closer in the speed-heavy field besides the undependable Vicarian and b)he had run a competitive Beyer of 91 last year when breaking his maiden in a non-parimutuel restricted stakes race. That was owner Donna Wormser's only previous victory as a trainer in the last five years but she is now undefeated at Saratoga and my new favorite trainer.

Race 12: I had lost my C's but was alive to three horses for five-digit payoffs and was perfectly happy to get the cheapest of them home in a romp when Zipperoo ($6.20) took the nightcap by 3 1/2 to give trainer H. James Bond his first winner at the meet in his 19th start. I don't recall ever seeing as big a discrepancy between a pick-six payoff ($13,708) and the so-called "consolation" 5-of-6 ($33.20), the result of five easy pieces and one bomb.

It was a day when the results just happened to fit with the way I play and could have been disastrous otherwise. I have to think that most exacta and triple players had trouble coming up with tough-to-like runners-up such as 22-1 Big Prairie in the Baruch, 69-1 Half-Time Crown in the Victory Ride or 22-1 Executive Search in the 11th, none of whom I had used even as C's. Nor would I have ever made win bets on Hard Spun at $4.60, Street Sense at $2.70 or La Traviata at $3.80. Sometimes things just fall into place, and it's nice when it happens on your last day in town.

Not that you're getting rid of me that easily. I won't be handicapping or playing Sunday's card, as I'll be spending the afternoon driving two homesick greyhounds back down the Thruway, but this blog and I will be back in action starting Monday to play the final eight seven cards of the meeting from Long Island.