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New York's leading rider in 2005 and an Eclipse Award winner the following year, Edgar Prado surpassed the 6,000-win mark in 2008, but things had been rather quiet for him lately.
That all changed last Saturday, when Prado won five races for five trainers, including a pair of Grade 1 stakes: the Jamaica on Take the Points ($7.40) and the Champagne on Homeboykris ($13.20).
He also won aboard Middle of the Nite ($22.40), a second-time starter who on Saturday made his first start for Tom Albertrani after breaking slowly from the rail at Saratoga; Structural Change ($24.60), who switched to turf for Tom Bush; and Livin Large ($11.60), who came off a succession of troubled trips for Bruce Brown.
Take the Points snapped Todd Pletcher's string of 50 losses in New York Grade 1 stakes, which dated back to English Channel's win in the 2007 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. A 3-year-old, Take the Points has won 3 of 4 starts with Prado and is 1 for 7 otherwise.
What was the common thread with the other four? They were first-time Prado.
Prado narrowly missed a six-win day: French Song was second, beaten a half-length at 6-1 in the third race.
There have been 15 six-win days in New York, but no one has ever won more than six on a card here - Prado was close to winning eight Saturday. Find the Wire, the only Prado mount selected by yours truly, finished fourth at 2.60-1, his shortest-priced mount on the card. Winloc's Saint Ray was on the lead to midstretch at 27-1 in the opener before finishing fourth.
Louis Lazzinnaro was part of a group that purchased Vineyard Haven following his debut win at Calder last year, and Vineyard Haven won the Hopeful and Champagne before being sold again to Godolphin Stables.
Lazzinnaro was part of another group that stepped in to purchase Homeboykris following the gelding's maiden win second time out at Calder. He won the Champagne off a three-month layoff and became the fourth next-out winner out of an exceptionally key race at Calder.
Earlier this season, D' Funnybone, purchased and brought up from Calder, won the Saratoga Special and Futurity.
Blind Luck, who won a $40,000 maiden claimer at Calder in her June 21 debut, has since changed hands and won 2 of 3 in Southern California, including the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes.
Come to think of it, Calder stock has been wreaking havoc at other circuits regardless of age. Recall that Calder-based Icon Project, bred in Argentina and raced on turf in Europe last year, was third in the La Prevoyante Handicap before coming north to win the off-the-turf New York and the Personal Ensign. Her 114 Beyer in the Personal Ensign is eclipsed by only Rachel Alexandra this year.
The main track played exceptionally fast Oct. 9-11, so much so that Devil May Care's 1:35.07 time in the Frizette and Homeboykris's 1:35.12 in the Champagne received Beyers of 89. By way of comparison, Vineyard Haven's 1:36 in last year's Champagne earned a 99.
Unadjusted by a track variant, a one-turn mile in 1:35 equates to 113 on the Beyer scale, so they had the track playing over two seconds faster than par.
Pace handicappers need to make adjustments for the Oct. 7 program, when a flagpole-bending headwind blew against the fields down the backstretch and blasted them home through the lane. Off-the-pace horses covered up from the wind early fared exceptionally well in the four dirt races that day, with three winners last or next-to-last at the first call.
Closers also fared exceptionally well Oct. 10-12. Mark down the aforementioned Middle of the Nite, who dueled with odds-on Fayoum and prevailed as the only wire-to-wire winner from 15 dirt races those three days.
During the six-day race week Oct. 7-12, six-furlong sprints on the inner turf continued to be a haven for horses with tactical speed: Three of five winners led past every pole; the other two stalked from close range.
Early speed and stalkers won the two 1 1/16-mile routes on the inner.
The trio of 1 1/8-mile winners on the inner were anywhere from two to six lengths off the early pace.
The two 10-furlong winners were eight and 12 lengths behind after the opening half-mile.
On the Widener turf, seven furlongs continued as the fairest distance of the New York turf sprints, giving realistic chances to sprinters stretching out and routers turning back. Of six winners at the distance Oct. 7-12, two pressed the pace, and four others erased early deficits ranging from four to 11 lengths.
In the 12 races at one mile and 1 1/16 miles on the Widener, it was possible to win on the lead but only under favorable circumstances -- that is to say, with a daylight lead through easy fractions. A Word to the Wise did it at a mile when she was allowed to get clear in 25.32 for the first quarter and continued to lope along before running the last quarter in 23.68. Zapster ($3.50) was also clear early going 1 1/16 miles, but this was an odds-on Pletcher 2-year-old who went 25.09 and 49.62 to begin, and a couple of logical threats either broke poorly or had some other early trouble.
This weekend is headed by a pair of Grade 3, $100,000 stakes scheduled for turf: Saturday's Athenia at 1 1/16 miles on the Widener and Sunday's Knickerbocker at 1 1/8 miles on the inner.
They are the last graded stakes of the fall meet and the next-to-last graded stakes on turf in New York this year.
Based on the current profile, if you fancy a front-running type in the Athenia, she will need to be unopposed through slow early fractions.
The Knickerbocker will mark the return of Proudinsky, a 6-year-old who was fourth as the favorite in last year's running for Bobby Frankel.
Proudinsky was third to the multiple Grade 1-winning speed merchant Presious Passion in the $200,000 Monmouth Stakes last time out. He will be coming off a 127-day layoff after having a couple of recently targeted races rained off the turf.
"He's been working all along," said assistant trainer Jose Cuervas. "We expect him to win; he looks like a million dollars."
Which is actually $117,953 less than his career bankroll.
BEST BET THIS (OR ANY) WEEK
Tracks across the nation trumpet "guaranteed" pick four pools, but the handle usually exceeds the specified amount, so there is no inherent edge.
Guaranteed or not, what they should be selling you about the pick four is what a great vehicle it can be for leveraging logical contenders with the more chaotic-looking surrounding races - for example the five gazillion turf sprints on this circuit since Belmont opened back in late April.
Examples from last week:
|Date||Winners||$2 parlay||$2 pick four|
|Oct. 7 (early)||$14.20, 3.50, 12.40, 5.70||$377||$672|
|Oct. 9 (early)||$16.80, 3.60, 6.30, 7.50||$357||$980|
|Oct. 11 (early)||$37.80, 5.50, 3.60, 5.60||$523||$1,623|
Of course, there's no "guarantee" of values like this, but they occur often enough.
HORSES TO WATCH
In Te Domine
Trainer: Linda Rice
Last race: Oct. 7, 6th
Finish: 2nd by neck
Juvenile New York-bred filly raced in traffic along the backstretch, split horses on the turn, steadied sharply while lacking room between horses at the eighth pole, altered course to the outside, and then ran out of ground as the favorite in maiden turf route vs. the boys.
Trainer: Faustino Ramos
Last race: Oct. 8, 7th
Finish: 3rd by 1 3/4
Against the grain of prevailing track profile favoring tactical speed at six furlongs on the inner turf, he rated early in sixth position, split horses in upper stretch, and finished willingly behind a wire-to-wire winner. Versatile 5-year-old was claimed, has good back figures on dirt.
Trainer: Bruce Brown
Last race: Oct. 8, 9th
Finish: 1st by 2
Returned from a 46-day freshening with a trainer change, pressed the early pace, caught the leader turning for home, and drew clear under confident handling vs. $10,000 restricted claimers. He was a two-time winner at Aqueduct last winter and will be back across town before you know it.
Trainer: Alan Goldberg
Last race: Oct. 9, 2nd
Finish: 6th by 5 3/4
Checked in traffic early and failed to threaten behind a front-running winner as the favorite in a $25,000 restricted claimer at a mile on the turf. Tactically speaking, the stretch-running filly had virtually no chance in a race that developed through quarter-mile splits of 25.32, 24.31, 24.43, and a come-home time of 23.68.