The issue with Wednesday’s ruling involving exiled trainer Bob Baffert goes far deeper than, “will Baffert be allowed to run at Saratoga?” That’s the catchy, eyes-grabbing talking point. However, my question is this: After that ruling, what effectiveness will racing’s governing bodies have in handing down punishments with teeth?
The Baffert saga is far from over, and we don’t know how it’ll end. One thing that’s for sure is that racing has a major problem appropriately punishing trainers for violations. Rulings like this one could make that even more difficult. If there’s no incentive to not test the rules, and if whatever sanctions exist don’t fit the crimes associated with them, why wouldn’t win-hungry trainers go as far as they can?
Make no mistake, this doesn’t apply to all trainers, or even most of them. New York is home to some world-class horsemen and horsewomen who care deeply about the equines in their barns. However, at a time where optics matter more than ever before, I think I have a right to be more than a bit concerned.
THURSDAY’S RESULTS: Alba’s Star got exactly the trip I wanted her to get, but she dropped anchor fast when Kitten by the Sea ranged up outside. I was right in thinking that one wouldn’t win (she got reeled in by Five Alarm Robin), but I dropped $25.
FRIDAY’S PLAY: I’ll turn to the eighth race, where I’ll take a small stand. I think it’s possible likely favorites #6 EASY TO BLESS and #8 PATTY H duel each other into defeat. I’ll lean on #3 POLISHED GEM with a $5 win/place bet, and I’ll also key her in $3 exactas above the two favorites and $2 exactas below them.
TOTAL WAGERED: $20
Best Bet: Quick Return, Race 2
Longshot: Polished Gem, Race 8
LC Racing entry
#5 SHASHASHAKEMEUP: Was less than 12-1 in a Grade 1 two starts ago and hasn’t done much wrong since being claimed by Peter Miller late last year. He’s got a bit more early zip than he’s shown in his last few starts, and a clean stalking trip would make him tough to beat; LC RACING ENTRY: I prefer #1A SMOOTH B, who prevailed against weaker at Parx last time out. The outside draw should help him, and he may have enough early speed to clear the field going down the backstretch; #2 MIHOS: Makes his first start for new trainer Brad Cox and showed plenty of promise earlier in his career. He was fourth in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler last fall, and perhaps a change of scenery will allow him to recapture that form.
Far Away Look
#8 QUICK RETURN: Did everything but win last time out in his first start since August and looms large from the outside draw. In theory, this is a class jump, but this is far from the strongest race for the level, and a repeat of his last-out effort almost certainly beats these; #6 CLEAR HUMOR: Drops in for a tag at second asking for a barn whose horses tend to improve with experience. Both the winner and runner-up from his debut came right back to win, so at least he chased solid competition; #5 FAR AWAY LOOK: Hasn’t raced since December, and the drop in class is a concern, but he’s worked very well ahead of his 2021 debut. Jose Ortiz sees fit to ride for Ken McPeek, and maturation from two to three would give him a shot at a piece of this.
Courageous Girl (MTO)
Light in the Sky
#2 GIACOSA: Has been competitive in a pair of starts against similar downstate and could relish a return to this turf course. One of her best career efforts came here last summer going two turns, and she’s got enough speed to work out a dream trip; #4 LIGHT IN THE SKY: Has recorded both of her wins (and two seconds) over this turf course and actually ran pretty well in the off-the-turf Mount Vernon last time out. If she gets a faster-than-expected pace to run at, she could be a handful turning for home; #6 CHOCOLATE COOKIE: Will probably go favored given her connections and solid 2020 campaign, but I have my doubts, especially at her likely price. She hasn’t run since October, this field came up pretty salty for the condition, and it’s not like her figures dwarf those of her rivals.
#7 ANGELOU: Ran well in her seasonal debut, when she was second after stalking a very slow pace downstate. Sire Curlin has no problem throwing horses who can run marathon-type distances, and she sure looks like one of the few forwardly-placed horses in this group; #5 FLAMING ROUGE: Stretched out to a mile and a quarter and was beaten less than a length last time out. The tag team of Clement and Rosario must be respected, but given that she’s now 0-for-7, it may be time to question if she wants to win; #3 FORTUNA: Ran well going very long a few times last season and may have needed the race last time out at Belmont. A repeat of either of her efforts from last summer would give her a chance at a square price.
Seeds of Time
Yes I’m Evil
#5 ABSOLUTE LOVE: Routed an overmatched field last month in Indiana and drops back into the claiming ranks here. He’s shown he does his best work going two turns, and trainer Joe Sharp has quietly enjoyed a strong year to this point, hitting at a 19% clip; #6 SEEDS OF TIME: Was claimed by the high-percentage Danny Gargan outfit last time and has worked well ahead of his local debut. He won twice going long at Oaklawn this past winter/spring, and that type of form plus a lively early pace would make him a contender; #2 YES I’M EVIL: Takes a curious drop all the way to the $12,500 ranks after running third for a $40,000 tag last time out at Keeneland. Her last two wins both came in off-the-turf races at Fair Grounds, but perhaps the class drop is enough to put her right there.
Let Her Inspire U
#2 LET HER INSPIRE U: Hammered for $500,000 earlier this year and has plenty of pedigree. She’s by promising young sire Practical Joke, the Pletcher/Velazquez tag team merits respect, and the most recent workout on July 10th was a head-turner; #7 NOVEMBER REIN: Did everything but win in her debut downstate, when she was second beaten a neck after setting the pace. Only one published work since then is a bit of a red flag, but if she steps forward off of that race, look out; #5 TOUGH STREET: Has been working consistently for Chad Brown ahead of her unveiling, but in a race with several promising young fillies, I’m going to try to beat her. Her works don’t tower over her competition, and while it won’t be a shock if she’s well-meant, her likely odds hit me as an underlay.
Amendment Nineteen (MTO)
#2 TOO SEXY: Hasn’t run a bad race since being shortened up to turf sprints last summer by Clement, and she exits a good second downstate where she rated a bit behind a slow pace. This trip should suit her better, and the faster they go early, the better her chances figure to be; #10 RIVENDELL: Draws an unfavorable outside post but was a decent second last time out after being much closer to the pace. John Velazquez gets the mount, and if the recent works at Belmont are any indication, she’s coming into this event in very good form; #3 MUMBAI: Is the “other” Clement in this race and ships up after running second at Monmouth. Prior to that, she broke her maiden at Gulfstream and topped a next-out winner in the process.
Easy to Bless
#3 POLISHED GEM: Merits a long look at a nice price. She won a similar race at Churchill two back before running second for a slightly higher tag, and I love that she’s shown an ability to stalk and pass others late. Not needing the lead could help her in a race with lots of early zip; #6 EASY TO BLESS: Has won four in a row and drops in off a victory against starter allowance foes at Belmont. She’s got plenty of early speed, and it’s encouraging to see Rosario ride back when he probably had some options; #8 PATTY H: Has won three times in her last four starts and thumped a weaker bunch in Indiana last month, but I’ve got some questions. She’s in career-best form and sold for $125,000 in 2019, so why is top-class horseman Brad Cox dropping her in for $40,000 after she’s gotten on track?
#3 VALUE PROPOSITION: Is one of three runners from the Chad Brown barn in the Grade 3 Forbidden Apple, and he hits me as the most likely winner. His most recent effort at Belmont was very strong, and logical improvement in his third start of the form cycle would make him the one to beat; #7 DELAWARE: Got zero pace to run at in the Seek Again last time out but rallied to take a similar race two back at Aqueduct. He may be somewhat pace-dependent, but there is some speed signed on, and that could set things up for him; #1 RINALDI: Draws the rail and sure looks like the one they’ll all be chasing into the first turn. He’s never won outside of the state-bred ranks, so perhaps he’s a bit outclassed, but if he’s able to dictate terms, he could hang on for a share.
U Should B Dancing
#4 U SHOULD B DANCING: Hits me as the one to beat in a “now or never” situation. She gets Lasix second off the bench, she’s run second in three turf sprints at this level, and quite frankly, there just isn’t much other proven form signed on; #9 FANCY FELINE: Rallied from last to be third in her debut, which was rained off the turf. This barn’s runners usually improve with experience, and if turf was the plan all along, she’s got a big shot to relish the new footing at second asking; #1 BAUDI MOOVAN: Makes her debut two years after selling for $260,000 as a yearling. She’s worked fairly well and is a daughter of top turf sire Twirling Candy, and in this sort of a field, that’s enough to give her a big chance if she’s ready to run.