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With a record of 8-5-1 from 32 starters heading into the final week of the fall meet, Bush-trained runners had averaged a $10.90 mutuel and produced a positive return on investment of $2.73, even taking into account a chalky win from Banrock ($4.60) in the Ashley T. Cole opening weekend. Banrock has won the Kingston, West Point, and A.T. Cole each of the last two years and will try for a sweep of the four major grass stakes for New York-breds Saturday in the Mohawk, which he lost by one length last year.
"He is special," Bush said of Banrock, a 6-year-old Go for Gin gelding. "You're never nervous that he's not going to show up, you just hope he gets a good trip and is good enough that day. That's what makes it so exciting when he wins. We feel like it's a reward for him, too, because trying to win is what it's all about for him."
Bush, who has five other turf winners at the meet, also sent Get Stormy ($13) to win last Sunday's Bryan Station Stakes at Keeneland. It was the third straight win for Get Stormy, a 3-year-old who also has wins at Saratoga in a first-level allowance and the $84,000 Lure overnight stakes.
The 39-year-old trainer's last two winners at the meet, Singing My Song ($7.50) and Daily Star ($8.80), upped his record with turf-to-dirt runners to 12 for 23 since the start of 2008 and put him at 5-3-2 from 19 starters at the fall meet.
Additionally, 2-year-old fillies Franny Freud and Negligee have been making hay out of town. Franny Freud, a New York-bred, captured the Ontario Debutante at Woodbine and the Lady Finger at Finger Lakes in back-to-back starts and has already banked over $236,000.
Negligee, formerly trained by Mark Casse, ran a close second to Franny Freud in the Ontario Debutante, then returned from a 55-day layoff to upset the Grade 1 Alcibiades ($27.40) in her first start for Terranova two weeks ago. Interestingly, Negligee had worked twice on turf at Belmont as part of her preparation for the Alcibiades.
The jockeys race
In sharp contrast to last year, when four riders won the six NYRA meets, Ramon Dominguez is trying to sweep them all. Like Saratoga, however, this one's going down to the wire. Dominguez gained command by winning seven races during the abbreviated racing week of Oct. 15-18 and came into the homestretch with 31 wins, two ahead of John Velazquez and Rajiv Maragh and four ahead of Alan Garcia.
There wasn't much to keep track of in turf racing through the penultimate week of the stand. There were two races each on the Widener and inner courses when racing resumed Oct. 15 following a two-day break, and that was it. All scheduled turf races were rained off Oct. 16-18, and the Athenia and Knickerbocker were postponed four days. Through last Sunday, a total of 159 turf races had been lost in New York this year, including five stakes.
On the main track, Oct. 15 was a figure maker's nightmare, with the surface downgraded from fast to good to muddy through five races - three of them for 2-year-olds and another for 3-year-old claimers, hardly the most reliable types for making accurate projections.
Through the muck and mire Oct. 16, favorites (seven of them won) and strung-out fields were the consistent themes over a sealed surface that played several ticks faster than par. No fewer than six winners already had the lead at the pace call. The only winners to make up any meaningful ground were Run to Grand Ave. ($5.80), a main track only in an off-the-turf maiden claiming sprint, and Lemon Punch ($4), a strong favorite from the hot Tom Bush, also in an off-the-turfer.
The track was harrowed and upgraded from muddy to good midway through the Oct. 17 program and played honestly. A couple of winners led throughout, but Colors Flying ($5.10) steamrolled his rivals in a one-mile maiden race after languishing 14 lengths behind down the backstretch, and Dream Again ($6.70) trailed through the opening stages before rallying widest down the stretch to win a starter allowance going away.
After more rain overnight, the track was a sea of slop to conclude the week Oct. 18, and closers dominated the second half of the card. Comic Marvel ($43.40), a Juddmonte Farms homebred, came from 11 lengths behind to win her debut - something you rarely see from a 2-year-old filly going 5 1/2 furlongs; a race later, McVictory ($43.80) lit up the toteboard after trailing through the opening half-mile.
New York Showcase Day on Saturday is the last hurrah, with seven stakes for New York-breds totaling $1 million in purses.
The anchor is the $250,000 Empire Classic, which is shaping up as a clash between Future Prospect, who has won 6 of his last 8 starts, and Ruffino, who has won 7 of his 11 career starts.
In last year's $150,000 Mohawk, Banrock fell a length short of sweeping the four major statebred turf stakes, and he loves some cut in the ground and figures to benefit from the recent unseasonably cool and damp weather. Banrock's chief opposition may be Pennington, who ran him to a photo in the West Point at Saratoga.
"He's a neat horse," said trainer Rick Violette of Pennington. "Banrock is a very nice horse, but [Pennington] tries as hard as he can every time we lead him over there."
Also on tap are the $150,000 Ticonderoga, the $125,000 Hudson, the $125,000 Iroquois, the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow, and the $100,000 Maid of the Mist.
Showcase Day is routinely one of the most wide-open betting days of the year. Should you feel the need to become further confused about things, yours truly and Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker will be part of a DRF-sponsored handicapping seminar on the third floor of the clubhouse from 11:15 to 11:45 Saturday morning.
BET OF THE WEEK
Last Saturday's $350,000-guaranteed late pick four handled barely half that amount ($196,087), partly because of the miserable weather but primarily because a 2-year-old maiden race with 50 percent first-time starters was carded as the anchor leg.
Hitting multi-race exotics is tough enough without having to fly on instruments through a race in which nothing is known about half the field except for trainer patterns, pedigree and workouts. That Drover ($4.90) won as the favorite is beside the point.
There were no other races with first-timers in the sequence, and it could easily have been carded as the leadoff leg to at least give prospective bettors a look at the wagering and what the new shooters actually looked like all saddled up and ready.
Those that stepped in regardless made out like bandits, catching a $391 payoff (for $2), better than twice the parlay, in a rare instance where the track was obligated to pay out more - $259,000 after the takeout - than it took in.
Those who played the pick six didn't make out nearly as well: The payoff of $892 was only slightly more than half the $2 parlay of $1,542.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Shug McGaughey
Last race: Oct. 17, 2nd
Finish: 1st by 6 3/4
Regally bred Phipps Stable colt by A.P. Indy and out of champion filly Storm Flag Flying put it all together for a last-to-first maiden victory, coming from 14 lengths behind to rapidly draw off after striking the front just inside the eighth pole.
Trainer: Angel Penna Jr.
Last race: Oct. 17, 9th
Finish: 1st by 5 1/4
Rolled by the leaders on the outside to win a starter allowance powerfully, recording his third consecutive Beyer top (93) since coming back from a three-month freshening. He wore an aluminum pad, but so have a number of talented runners from this barn over the years.
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin
Last race: Oct. 12, 8th
Finish: 2nd by neck
Raced close to the pace, was shuffled back considerably along the inside around the far turn, and then closed steadily to fall just short in the $110,000 Pebbles Stakes. Versatile filly has won from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, on Polytrack as well as firm and yielding turf.