09/04/2010 11:23AM

Trainer-Speak, Convocation, Big Drama


Many sociologists believe that the Khoisan, or click, languages of southern and eastern Africa are the most difficult to understand.

I whole-heartedly disagree.  There's no doubt in my mind that the most difficult language to decipher is "Trainer-Speak."

Last week, Trappe Shot's conditioner, Kiaran McLaughlin, waffled back-and-forth about whether he was going to run his best three-year-old in the King's Bishop at seven furlongs, or the more prestigious Travers at 1 1/4 miles.  He chose the Travers.  Trappe Shot stunk up the joint. 

The lesson?  If a trainer has any doubt in his mind concerning a specific race, it may be wise to downgrade that horse. 

This dummy didn't.  He picked Trappe Shot on top and paid the financial price.

Lesson #2.  If a trainer originally plans one thing for a horse and then suddenly switches gears, it may be wise to downgrade that horse. 

There are two examples of that in today's major stakes races at Saratoga. 

This dummy is picking both horses. 

You have been warned.

Forego - Race 9 - Saratoga:
After BIG DRAMA chased Majesticperfection, the top sprinter in the country, in vain throughout the Grade 1, six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga on August 8, David Fawkes told DRF's Mike Welsch that the Montbrook colt was due for a rest.

From Welsch's article published on August 13:

"He came back in good order,” Fawkes said of Big Drama. “We were very pleased with his race on Sunday. He caught a monster – that winner is a very nice horse – and I thought he turned in a very gallant effort to be second.”

Fawkes said he’ll now wait six to eight weeks before looking for another race for Big Drama, who earlier this summer captured Calder’s Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap.

“It’s a long, hot summer and he’s had three hard races, so I think he deserves some time off right now,” said Fawkes. “We’re pointing him for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and he’ll have one more start before then.”

Fawkes even shipped Big Drama back to his home base of Calder and it looked like the Forego, run 27 days after the Vanderbilt, was out of the question. 

But, here he is.

From David Grening's article published on September 2:

“The horse worked very, very well in Miami and we made kind of a last-minute decision to come here,” Fawkes said. “It’s a competitive race, but I think he fits in well.”

All of my instincts are saying to toss Big Drama, but I'm a big dope so I'll play him on top.  First, I've become a Big Drama fan.  His Smile Sprint Handicap win at Calder on July 10 was a powerful display of speed and professionalism.  Second, I thought he ran well in the Vanderbilt considering Majesticperfection, a speed freak, got away with an opening quarter-mile in 22 4/5.  Big Drama looked to gallop out nicely after the race and has finished first in his last two starts at seven furlongs over dry footing.  He has very strong natural speed, but may take a back seat to VINEYARD HAVEN and CHECKLIST in the opening furlong.  I'm expecting Big Drama to move on the turn, getting the jump on the late-runners.
I'm not using WARRIOR'S REWARD, but I won't be surprised if this classy late-runner gets it done.  He moved ridiculously early in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap against Quality Road so you can draw a line through that race.  His previous efforts are good and he has been freshened up with this race in mind.
Selections:  Big Drama, Vineyard Haven, Bribon

Saratoga - Race 10 - Woodward:
On paper, QUALITY ROAD shouldn't lose this race.  Of course, on paper, Rachel Alexandra wasn't supposed to lose last week's Personal Ensign.  They don't run the races on paper, they run them on the track. 
Quality Road should be used on 95% of Pick 4 Tickets, but I'm going to use CONVOCATION on the other 5% despite the dreaded "Trainer-Speak."

From David Grening's article posted on July 14:

"Convocation, the Suburban runner-up, could be pointed to the Fourstardave on turf, according to Stephen Carr, manager of horse operations for Centennial Farms. Carr said Convocation would be nominated to the Whitney on Aug. 7, but that he didn’t want to face Quality Road."

Convocation didn't face Quality Road in the Whitney.  Instead, he was life-and-death to win an 'n2x' optional claimer here on August 4. 

Now, all of a sudden, Convocation wants a piece of Quality Road. 

From David Grening's article posted on September 2:

“It’s a big pot, Grade 1, you got a horse in shape you might as well take a shot then,” said Jimmy Jerkens, who trained Quality Road until midway through his 3-year-old season. “Quality Road, as great as he is, is coming off for him a dismal effort. Knowing him I’m sure he’ll bounce back, but if not maybe we’ll be there to pick up the pieces.”

Perhaps longshot ARCODARO, fresh of an entry-level allowance win at 44-1 odds, can push Quality Road early.  Convocation may have been racing against the grain of the track when wide on August 4, and can sit a good pace-tracking, ground-saving trip under Javier Castellano.   There's probably no beating Quality Road, but I'd give Convocation a smidge of a chance.
Selections:  Convocation, Quality Road, Indian Dance

Washington Park Handicap - Arlington - Race 8:
Thankfully, at least to my knowledge, there is no "Trainer-Speak" here.  MAD FLATTER was once cut out to be a good horse.  He won two of his first three starts, and then finished third in the Grade 3 LeComte before fracturing his right front knee.  Understandably, he never returned to his best form, but the now five-year-old has shown true grit by making 11 subsequent starts despite nagging injuries.  Offered for $40,000 last time out in a 'n2x' optinal claimer, Mad Flatter, well, looked like the Mad Flatter of old.  He went right to the top in that one-turn mile, set legitimate fractions, and charged home as much the best.  He earned a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure, and looms the controlling speed in the Washington Park Handicap.  Whether he'll get this 9 1/2 furlong distance is questionable, but Mad Flatter seems to be back in form and he'll attempt to take these as far as he can go.
Selections:  Mad Flatter, Country Flavor, Giant Oak

Del Mar Derby - Del Mar (Sunday) - Race 5:
TWIRLING CANDY looms the main speed in Sunday's Del Mar Derby.  He proved he could rate off the pace in the Oceanside on Opening Day and it wouldn't be surprising to see him back down the fractions and have plenty left for the stretch drive.  Still, Twirling Candy has had three starts with three layoff lines indicating that he's had his share of physical problems.  Plus, he's never gone nine furlongs in his life.  While he's certainly bred to get the distance, horseplayers will lose money in the long-term playing short-priced favorites doing something they've never done before (Harvey Pack Rule #1).  Can Twirling Candy win on Sunday?  Absolutely, he can.  In fact, he's the most likely winner by far.  Is he a good bet?  Not for me. 
If anyone can take him down, it may be SUMMER MOVIE, a horse that was only beaten a half-length at this distance two starts back over cushion track in the Grade 2 Swaps.  Draw a line through his most recent race, please.  In the La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar on August 14, he hopped at the start and found himself 20 lengths off the lead after a half-mile.  Add in the fact that Sidney's Candy ran an unbelievably awesome race on the lead, and Summer Movie had no shot.  He did pass some horses in the stretch, but I'd like to see him in closest attendance to Twirling Candy tomorrow.  If that one doesn't stay, perhaps Summer Movie can grind him down late.
Selections:  Summer Movie, Twirling Candy, Kid Edward

More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I want to know.

Congrats to Alan for finishing first in last week's HandiGambling.  He'll get to pick next week's race.  I'd also like to thank cayman01 for being the official scorekeeper for the first 99 HandiGambling excercises.  He went above and beyond the call of duty. 

If anyone would like to give me a hand with keeping score of the weekly HandiGambling excercises, please e-mail me at dillman@drf.com.  I could use all the help I can get.