08/29/2012 1:43PM

Jerardi: A Saratoga score, without the bells and whistles


Dave Johnson was interviewing me for a Meadowlands TV show in 1998 when I told him my best bet of the Breeders’ Cup card was Da Hoss in the Mile. I think I said the horse could not lose. Dave asked me if I was concerned about anything. My flip answer: “Only how much money I am going to win.”

I won some money on Da Hoss, actually more than some money. But it was not enough. It is never enough.

I was not “Da Hoss confident” when I headed for the track on Aug. 15, but I was confident. Take Down Two jumped off the page of the Saratoga past performances. The ninth race had what looked like seven speedballs and Take Down Two.

It was one of those optional claimers with oddball conditions where some of the horses have hardly won and others have won often. Three of the horses, in fact, had just one win each. Take Down Two had 13 wins. The other seven totaled 15. Take Down Two tied for the best last-race Beyer with an 86. He was taking a big jump in claiming price, but I stopped paying close attention to claiming prices when I first started doing speed figures in the 1970s.

My concerns were three-fold. That 86 was a career-best Beyer for a 7-year-old. Could he do it again? Was the race far enough at 5 1/2 furlongs when I thought there was a chance Take Down Two would have to pass the entire field. How could I maximize my opinion if I turned out to be right?

I had almost no opinion about the exacta or trifecta because, if I was right, the race was going to produce a meltdown and any result was possible behind Take Down Two. So, I started looking at the pick three and pick four.

The seventh looked evenly matched to me. I did not have much of an opinion so I started a cold pick three with the Linda Rice-trained Lady Rizzi. This was not the dominating version of Linda Rice at the Spa, but the mare had just won in similar conditions and there are worse places to try to get alive than the Queen of the Grass Sprints. As I was wandering to the window, I kept thinking Eden Is Burning, who had barely lost to Lady Rizzi last out, might get loose again and be dangerous. I ended up where I started, with Lady Rizzi. Eden Is Buning went wire to wire. Lady Rizzi was nowhere.

No matter. There was money to be won.

Old friend Dave Cottle, the former Maryland lacrosse coach and fairly new horse owner, had flown up that morning from Maryland. He was there to see Parent’s Honor in the eighth, a horse he co-owned.

Parent’s Honor was dropping into a $35,000 claiming race. On one of his good days, he was better than the field, but he certainly did not have to win. What I liked about him was that this race looked a lot like the ninth – speed everywhere and one confirmed closer, Parent’s Honor. It also did not hurt that the horse was 2 for 2 at the oddball 6 1/2-furlong distance.

I played a cold double of Parent’s Honor and Take Down Two. I also played a cold pick three of those two and Lion Prince in the 10th, a maiden claimer on the grass. Lion Prince’s last three Beyers (all in the low 70s) were better than anything in field had ever done, with the exception of way-off-form Dendrite.

The eighth set up perfectly. There was a super hotly contested pace – 21.40, 44.08, 1:09.36. I was a bit concerned when Parent’s Honor was still last at the quarter pole, but as soon as he passed the first horse and began to lengthen his stride, I thought he would get there. He caught very-unlucky-to-lose Rein King (one of the duelers) in the final hundred yards. And I was alive for everything, except that other pick three I now wished I had.

The double was paying $77. The pick three that I did not have, with two favorites and 7-1 Take Down Two, was paying $407.

I thought the ninth would look like the eighth, with Take Down Two perhaps having to pass the field. I was wrong about that, right about everything else.

Immediately, Off the Jak and Seeker were in a speed duel. Take Down Two was third, a few lengths off the duel, a few lengths in front of the rest. I knew the top pair would not last and the ones behind Take Down Two were all speed horses. I was no longer confident the horse was going to win. I could not imagine how he could lose under those circumstances. Take Down Two cruised home by nearly two lengths, getting a 92 Beyer, a second consecutive career top.

I was happy to take down the double, not happy I did not have that amazing pick three. But I was thrilled to be alive to the omni fig horse and Lion Prince just happened to be ridden by Ramon Dominguez. The 1-1 shot was now paying $222 in my Pick three world. I certainly did not have to win, but I will take that spot in life anytime.

Alas, Lion Prince was a non-threatening third. The pick three I thought about was a memory. So was the pick three I played. The double money ensured a nice day. But it was not enough. It is never enough, especially when you happen to be right about your strongest opinion.

Meanwhile, Cottle could not lose. He was cashing on every race. Not only did Parent’s Honor get the $30,600 for winning the race, the horse was claimed for $35,000. Once Cottle’s share of the purse, the claim, and his gambling winnings were added up, there was only one possible next move.

“Let’s go to Siro’s.’’

How good was the day? We walked in without a reservation at 7 p.m.

“Table for four.’’

“Right this way.’’