08/24/2007 8:55PM

Travers Eve



What am I doing sitting in front of the computer on that festive occasion known as Travers Eve? Being a responsible horseplayer, that's what. Let the amateurs wait in hour-long lines for dinner on the bustling sidewalks of Broadway and carouse till dawn amid the vomitoria of Caroline Street. The rest of us have 150 horses to scrutinize by 12:45 p.m., when the first race goes off and we start systematically transferring money from the pockets of the hungover tourists into our own. At least in theory.

After finishing the weekend columns -- Saturday's on why Street Sense is a single for me in the Travers and Sunday's on that excellent Hennegan Brothers documentary I mentioned here earlier in the week -- and playing the second half of Friday's card, I finally got through the entire Travers card for the first time. Wow. It's going to take two more passes between now and the Siro's seminar at 10:45 a.m. to feel properly prepared. The card is a beauty but also a skullbuster, with full and competitive fields all day long (other than the main event). So get to work already.

There's a $73k carryover that should attract something like $400k more in the pick six (races 7-12), but commenter Upstate Joe made an interesting point: Because there's a carryover, the takeout will be 25 percent rather than the 15 percent on non-carryover days. Joe is absolutely right, that does almost neutralize the "free" $73k on the front end. On the other hand, the fact of a carryover will probably attract more than it would have otherwise. (Here's the benchmark: Last year's Travers day pick six, with no carryover and also with a 2-5 shot in the Travers, drew $329k.) But let's not lose sleep over the higher takeout. There will be more than enough big-day money in the pool to counteract the takeout rate that counteracts the carryover. I think it looks tough enough that if you hit, you won't be complaining about the payoff.

I think everyone's key decision in both the pick six and the $1 million guaranteed all-stakes pick-four on races 7-10 is going to come in the King's Bishop: Do you think Hard Spun is a single, a strong lean, one of several you have to use, or a bet-against? My gut is saying "mild lean" at the moment. Much as I think he's been a bit overrated as a router, he could well be a world-class dirt miler. His opening mile in the Kentucky Derby might well have won the Met Mile against Corinthian. Still, I would have vastly preferred to see him get an outside draw instead of post 3 in a field of 11. Decisions, decisions.

As for Friday's fare:

*Race 3: The $80k Marriott Courtyard Stakes for older fillies at a mile and an eighth was a weird event even before the gates opened. Originally scheduled as the Heavenly Prize Stakes for fillies which had not won an open stakes this year, when it failed to fill the conditions were changed from "this year" to "since February 1." This allowed A True Pussycat, winner of an open overnight stakes at Aqueduct on precisely Jan. 31, to join the crew -- a crew that numbered only four by post time. In any case, Altesse ($3.80), runner-up to Lady Joanne in her four-horse prep for the Alabama, ran down second-choice A True Pussycat on the turn and scored by 2 1/4 lengths. It was another 7 1/4 back to Soul Search and Leo's Pegasus, both trained by Neil Howard. Hey, black type is black type.

Race 5: Mike Luzzi was beaten a nose aboard Forget the Judge in the very first race on Opening Day, and that was the closest he got to the winner's circle until now, 60 mounts later. His 4 1/2-week nightmare finally ended when George Weaver put him on well-meant $75k maiden-claiming firster Philharmonic, an 8 1/4-length winner at 7-1. Luzzi took no chances, driving to the wire despite his huge margin. Luzzi is a very capable veteran, a top-3 rider at Aqueduct and a top-10 rider at Belmont, but a victim of the influx of out-of-town riders during Saratoga. He was doing nothing wrong up here; it's just that his mounts were going to the likes of Dominguez, Bejarano and Leparoux, the visitors now rounding out the bottom of the top 10 here.

Race 6: Another statebred maiden turf sprint, another wacky winner: Autumn of My Years, beaten 52 1/2 lenths in his three prior starts, was today's surprise wire-to-wire winner, paying $75.50 and causing that carryover. I actually took a flyer on Autumn of My Years at 40-1 last time out because he's a full brother to a horse named Apollo Jones who once ran well in a turf sprint up here. (I know, it's a stretch.) When he chucked it after dueling for the lead that day, I signed the divorce papers -- one race too early.

Race 9: When I gave Allen Jerkens that award at the Turf Writers' banquet Monday night, I mentioned that he had won the Suburban Handicap last month with Political Force and that there would surely be more Grade 1 victories in his future. Only took four days. Miss Shop ($11.20), second to Ginger Punch in the Go For Wand back on Whitney Day, disliked the 10 furlongs of the G1 Personal Ensign less than her five rivals, lumbering past the favored Pletcher duo of Indian Vale and Unbridled Belle through a slow final quarter to win by three lengths in 2:03.48. I didn't play the race separately, being alive in pick-4's through the first three finishers, but wished I had when the intrarace payoffs were posted: a $37 exacta and $105.50 trifecta for the three favorites in a six-horse field where the other three could be eliminated with confidence -- Sugar Shake and Teammate weren't getting 10 furlongs without an outboard motor and Lila Paige was in way over her head. Sometimes there's value in these short fields, maybe because people are wheeling at a low cost.

Race 10: Trainer Rick Schosberg is quietly having an excellent Saratoga. Champchu won the finale for him, running Schosberg's record to 18: 4-8-3, meaning he's been 1-2-3 with 15 of his 18 starters. His only starter who has run wose than 5th was Champchu, who faded to 8th in his first start at the meet going 9 furlongs before cutting back here to a friendlier 6 1/2.

Okay, back to work. See you at Siro's.