08/24/2007 2:41AM

Thursday Duncery

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Wait a While's stirring victory in the Balston Spa, discussed earlier, was the kind of race that makes Saratoga so special -- a race that could have been a Grade 1 feature any Saturday of the year, practically hiding amid the statebred maidens and turf sprinters on an otherwise drab Thursday afternoon.

A few other notes on Day 26 of 36:

*Race 2: Early favorite for the '08 Big Apple Triple? Big Train, a Tagg-trained firster by hot freshman sire Hook and Ladder, made a strong debut wiring fellow statebred juveniles by 6 1/2 lengths in 1:17.65, good for a Beyer of 80. It was the most gapped-out finish of the meet: the margins between the first six finishers were 6 1/2, 4 1/2, 5, 12 3/4 and 7 lengths.

*Race 5: Don't get excited about Pizza's reported winning time of 1:23.89 winning a maiden claimer that figured to go two seconds slower: The charts are wrong and his actual time WAS two seconds slower -- 1:25.89 according to the Teletimer on the replay video.

Kitty
*Race 7: Every streak must come to an end, and the bell tolled here for Siro's-seminar handicapper Andy Serling. He had successfully designated about a dozen previous starters at the meeting as Dunce Cap Specials -- low-priced horses so contemptible in his eyes that only a dunce would pick them, and so certain of losing that he would wear a dunce cap at the next day's seminar if they won. He had deftly dodged donning the Stetson of Stupidity until now, when Dunce Cap designee Metro Meteor($8.70) got up by a neck at the wire. Serling will be back at Siro's tomorrow, presumably with hat in hand.

*Race 9: I would be curious to hear anyone, even with the result in the books, make a case for Judge's Pride, the $67.50 winner of the turf sprint finale. I know he had never tried grass before (not that he had a stitch of turf breeding) and I know the field was terrible and that these turf sprints are lotteries for chronic non-winners. Even so: Judge's Pride had been beaten a combined 165 lengths in his nine career starts against the same statebred maiden company, and had recorded his only on-the-board finish when he was third beaten 12 lengths in even weaker statebred maiden-claiming company. Congratulations to those who found something to like about him.

--Restaurant Foray (non-corndog division) #7: Travers Week is not exactly Derby Week, but town is filling up fast, as I learned when a party of three made a late decision to try to get a restaurant reservation Thursday evening. The wait at Hattie's was 45 minutes, Il Forno's said not to bother, and even the modest Hibachi Japanese joint on Route 50 said it would be an hour wait. What about Mare, that dark place on Maple Street? They said to come right in, and I'm glad they did. I'm also glad I discovered the place just three days before heading home, because otherwise I might have had an ethical dilemma about whether to spill the beans about the best-kept eating secret in town.

Mare (as in the sea, not the old grey mare) is a very cozy place on the site of the old Metro nightclub complex, with the restaurant on the first floor and the 8L Otto nightclub (a self-described "ultra-hip late night lounge with glowing walls and ostrich leather couches") in the back room. The inside of the restaurant has a low-key, blue-lit feel to it, and you can also eat outside in a courtyard and lounge on oversized red-velvet couches. A very young, black-clad waitstaff provided snappy service of excellent, reasonably-priced food. Especially notable were an extraordinary calamaretti fritti appetizer prepared with serious peppers, and a summer shellfish paella. The place reportedly fills up late on weekends but is an undiscovered gem for early-evening dining.

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--Post-time reminders:


Friday 8/24: 1 p.m.
Saturday 8/25: 12:45 p.m.
Friday 8/31: 2:45 p.m.