We’ll get to my tickets and analysis for Woodbine in a few minutes. However, there’s a more pressing matter that I need to address, and unfortunately, it’s not an easy one to talk about.
The press corps covering horse racing in New York has thinned out significantly in recent years. Some people have retired, others have been laid off, and a few, yes, have passed away. It’s tough to see that happen, and it’s not getting any simpler to deal with.
Mike Jarboe was a longtime copy editor for The Albany Times Union, and has been one of that paper’s featured handicappers. He retired from his full-time post last year, but still handicapped daily this past Saratoga season. That isn’t easy for anyone to do, but, without getting too far into it (out of respect for Mike and his family), he’s been battling some serious health problems of late.
Mike’s one of the most respected men in the Saratoga press box, and probably the only member of the press corps that could seriously challenge me in a Pedro the Press Box Master Chef hot dog-eating contest. In addition, he’s a world-class fiddle player and an even better human being. He’s in the club of people that had a million chances to tell me to shut up and never did, and anyone that’s ever rubbed shoulders with him came away better for the experience.
On Labor Day, Saratoga named a race after Mike, and he was in the winner’s circle with a number of family members and close friends. I wish I could’ve been there, as that was a tremendous gesture. However, there is one thing I can propose, and hopefully, it’s something Mike would appreciate.
Every year, newspaper handicappers across several publications attempt the same arduous task: Pick the most winners possible in Saratoga’s 40-day, 400-race meet. If you think it’s easy, or that luck matters more than skill, you’re wrong. It’s a mental grind, as it should be, because being the best of the best is a point of pride for whoever is able to do it.
I’m using this space to propose an idea to the leadership groups of several different papers, namely The Saratogian, The Albany Times Union, The Daily Gazette, The Saratoga Special, and any New York City papers that still have a daily handicapper picking every race on every Saratoga card. I would like all of us to come together in recognition of someone that’s done a lot of good, and for the leading handicapper across print media at all Saratoga meets going forward to be recognized with the Mike Jarboe Award.
(Quick aside: If you think this is me proposing an award so I can win it, you’re missing the point entirely. This is me attempting to appropriately honor a friend whose contributions I greatly respect.)
We can all hash out the details later as to what the award actually is. Maybe it’s a trophy, or a plaque, or a wrestling-style championship belt (my close friends and colleagues already know which one I’m voting for). In all seriousness, though, I motion that we all come together to celebrate someone who dedicated decades of service to Saratoga and the Albany print media, and I think it’s a cause we can all get behind. Who knows? Perhaps those close to Mike can recommend a charity we could all donate to in some way, shape, or form.
At any rate: Mike, if you’re reading this, thanks for everything you did, and thanks for never telling this motor-mouthed, fresh-faced kid to shut up.
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$0.20 Pick Five: Race #2
180 Bets, $36
I’ve mentioned it before, but I love Woodbine’s 20-cent minimums on multi-race exotics. It makes challenging sequences much more playable, and because everyone’s playing for 20 cents, the difference in payoffs isn’t nearly as much as one might think. This is good, because this is a VERY difficult card, one that starts with a tough early Pick Five sequence.
I don’t trust likely second race favorite Forestella, who’s 0-for-10 with six seconds. She could win, and I’m using her, but my top pick is first-time starter Crimson Ring, a filly that boasts a flashy recent workout and top local rider Eurico Da Silva. I’ll also go two-deep in the third, using likely chalk Avie’s Mineshaft and Mark Casse runner Loopety Loo, the latter of which was a good second in a stakes race last time out.
I thought the fourth race was incredibly difficult, and if you’ve got a single elsewhere in the sequence, you may want to buy this race. Hopefully, going five-deep here is enough. Finally, I’m three-deep in the last two legs. The Grade 3 Bold Venture changed significantly with the scratch of likely favorite Good Bye Greg, and I’m playing against new likely favorite Unbridled Juan, who’s never struck me as a sprinter. I’m three-deep there, and hopefully we can finish off a nice score with a price.
$0.20 Pick Four: Race #4
150 Bets, $30
The first two legs of this ticket are the same as legs three and four of my early Pick Five. I used Boreal Spirit in the Pick Five, but not here. If you want to use him and spend some extra money, feel free. However, I thought the seventh race was extremely tough, and I opted to spread there. That’s another race where, if you’ve got conviction elsewhere in the sequence, you may want to punch the “ALL” button and give yourself some security if you get to the payoff leg.
$0.20 Pick Five/$0.20 Pick Four
180 Bets, $36
The Pick Five starts in the eighth, and the Pick Four begins in the ninth. I’m singling Quidura in the eighth, the Grade 2 Canadian, and I’d venture to say that I’m not alone. She’ll be one of the shortest prices on the entire card, and if she repeats her Diana effort, where she was beaten a head by Lady Eli, she’s going to be extremely difficult to beat.
The ninth is a maiden claimer that’s been jammed into the sequence. Conquest Swagman takes a big drop in class for solid connections and may be favored, but my top pick there is Red Chill, another class-dropper whose last race on turf seems like a throw-out. The tenth race is the Grade 1 Northern Dancer, and while some might single European shipper Hawkbill, I’m going to add Messi, whose lone start on this turf course was incredibly impressive. He’s inconsistent, but if the good Messi shows up, he’s got a big shot.
That brings us to the last two legs, both of which are wide-open races with big fields. I’m six-deep in the 11th, a claiming event, and several horses I’m using are prices. Bear’sway certainly wins if he’s right, but he takes an alarming drop in class and hasn’t been the same horse we saw in 2015 and early-2016. I want coverage here, for sure, and hopefully we’ll get a price home.
The last leg is the main event. This is the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile, and it’s drawn a tremendous field with several European invaders. My top pick is Lancaster Bomber, whose only North American start was a strong second behind Oscar Performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He’s chased some of the top 3-year-olds in Europe this year, and he benefits from a huge weight break (he’ll tote just 112 pounds and get as many as 12 pounds from his rivals). I don’t love him (as evidenced by me going five-deep!), but 9/2 is a pretty square price on a horse that’s shown he can compete against some of the world’s best horses.
$0.20 Jackpot Hi 5: Race #13
288 Bets, $57.60
I don’t usually play these sorts of wagers, but Woodbine’s 20-cent Jackpot Hi 5 boasts a mandatory payout, so I’ve put a ticket together if you’re interested. This is NOT an easy race, but I was able to separate four “A” horses and three additional “B” horses from the rest of the field. This is a bit more expensive than I’d have preferred, but the pool size will certainly merit taking a swing. If you’re playing, I’d advise a syndicate ticket to maximize the covered combinations.