08/20/2008 11:00PM

Steroids, stakes picks, and a heartfelt goodbye


DEL MAR, Calif. - The summer notebook is full again, with stuff like this . . .

* Steroids are back in the news. The California Horse Racing Board announced this week that 38 horses recently tested positive. Bettors, unfortunately, will be kept in the dark regarding their identity. Names will not be named until after split-sample positives are returned from tests in August. Credit to good people trying to clean up the game, but it sure is tough to make a wager without knowing whether a horse is, or was, on the stuff.

* For those who missed track announcer Michael Wrona's heartfelt race call of the Last Dance Stakes on Sunday at Bay Meadows, the race can be viewed and heard online at Calracing.com. A sample: ". . . in the backstretch, and it's a surreal scene as three-quarters of a century of tradition is evaporating before our eyes . . ." Good stuff. Too bad Bay Meadows's closure represents a nail in the coffin of California racing.

* Just because Bob Baffert is 0 for 13 this meet with favorites (through Wednesday) does not mean one should bet against Midnight Lute in the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Handicap on Sunday. If he runs like he trains, Midnight Lute cannot lose the seven-furlong race.

* But there may be no bigger cinch on the Pacific Classic card than Magnificience in the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo on Sunday. That assumes, of course, that she breaks with her field this time. And by the way, the 6-1 third favorite Lethal Heat is expected to scratch.

* Beware, ye fans of Go Between - favorites in the Pacific Classic have lost 14 of 17.

* Speaking of favorites, the 6-for-8 chalk festival on Wednesday brought the win rate of Del Mar favorites up to 31.5 percent. The past seven racing days (through Wednesday), favorites won 30 of 65.

* Bettors will love the outstanding 11-race card Del Mar assembled for Pacific Classic Day, and there isn't a single maiden-claiming race on the program. It is unusual, because maiden claimers are the backbone of California. Through Wednesday, 41 percent of Del Mar sprints this meet were for maiden claimers (57 of 139).

* Awesome Gem, a legitimate contender in the Pacific Classic, has a habit of cutting it very close at the wire. He is owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, whose spokesman Jeff Bloom cracked Wednesday: "We're expecting a photo finish." The problem is Awesome Gem has been involved in six photos in his career - one win and five seconds.

* Without looking at past performances, can you name the only horse Awesome Gem ever defeated in a photo? He just so happens to be the best horse Awesome Gem ever shared a photo with. The answer: Sunday's eighth race, post 3.

* Anyone impressed with the 2-year-old colt Midshipman last Sunday must consider the 2-year-old filly Internallyflawless this Sunday. According to the "Handicapper's Report" clocker, Internallyflawless toyed with Midshipman in an Aug. 10 workout. Midshipman won his debut with a 91 Beyer and is expected to return Sept. 3 in the Del Mar Futurity; Internallyflawless runs Sunday in race 2. Baffert trains both.

* Want to back a first-time starter sired by Empire Maker? May as well donate to charity; his firsters are 4 for 68. But here's the kicker - Empire Maker's second-start maidens have won a whopping 11 of 40. That's a 27 percent strike rate, with no handicapping. It makes the Chosen Empire-Major General entry look good Saturday in race 4 at Saratoga.

* A 40th anniversary on Sunday is worthy to recall. It was Aug. 24, 1968, at Arlington when Dr. Fager ripped a mile on dirt in 1:32.20, his fifth win in a 7-for-8 campaign that might be the greatest season in Thoroughbred history. Four decades later, Dr. Fager's memorable mile remains the fastest ever run on dirt in North America. (Najran "equaled" the mark at 1:32.24 in 2003.)

* How do you turn weekend novices into lifelong fans? Turn them on to an $87 winner. It happened last Saturday, when Del Mar handicapper-hostess Debra Giglio talked a group of neophytes into wagering on a Del Mar Oaks longshot. The cheers for Magical Fantasy became spontaneous shouts of glee when the bettors cashed: $2 across paid $126.80.

* Because I am so intimately familiar with the nuances of New York racing (ha-ha), I'll take Harlem Rocker on Saturday in the Travers Stakes. After all, he is 4 for 4 on dirt, and shouldn't that count for something? Readers who prefer a more sophisticated selection may wish to consult ace handicapper Dave Liftin elsewhere in this publication.

* If the Grade 1 Eddie Read on July 20 was genuine, then fourth-place finisher Spring House should bury the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap on Saturday, and Read runner-up Whatsthescript should destroy the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile on Sunday. But that will only happen if the Read was genuine, and there are serious doubts that it was. Stay tuned.

* If Hyperbaric is a fit in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile, shouldn't he have run in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile rather than winning the non-graded $86,360 Harry F. Brubaker Handicap on Wednesday? Hyperbaric is the second gelding that trainer Julio Canani has won with since he advised not to bet geldings. Really swell advice.

* The 2008 Fairplex Park condition book is out, and can you believe it? No races on turf or synthetic. Just 16 racing days on dirt - the only dirt meet left in Southern California. Soon after the meet starts Sept. 5, Fairplex all-time leader Martin Pedroza will become the 141st jockey to win 3,000 Thoroughbred races. As of Wednesday, Pedroza had 2,992.