Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 8/17/17

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $789.75

I wish I could use this space to talk about something witty, or amusing, or easy to digest. Having said that, the events of the past few days have made that impossible for me to do. I posted a piece to AndrewChampagne.com Wednesday morning about the events in Charlottesville, Va., and there are some things that are just plain more important than who I like in the fourth race.

If you’re interested, it’s here. If you aren’t, I get that, too. Having said that, my great-uncle, who still resides in upstate New York, fought similar evils in 1944 when wounded at the Battle of Saipan. We shouldn’t be fighting the same battle more than 70 years later.

WEDNESDAY’S RESULTS: My Mr. Wonderful was dueled into defeat in the fifth, and as such, all of our plays fizzled. We dropped $30.

THURSDAY’S PLAY: I’ll gamble that #5 CLIPTHECOUPONANNIE bounces back after a dud last time out over a very sloppy track at Belmont. My play is a $10 win/place bet on the Todd Pletcher trainee, and I’m hoping we get her 6-1 morning line price.

TOTAL WAGERED: $20

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Dreamy Margarita, Race 4
Longshot: Clipthecouponannie, Race 8

R1

Honor Way
Friend of Liberty
Easy Way Out

HONOR WAY: Was an incredibly hard-luck loser earlier in the meet (trust me, I know, I bet her). She was claimed out of that race by an outfit that excels with new acquisitions; FRIEND OF LIBERTY: Was second Sunday and is wheeled back quickly by the new connections. Her best race is certainly good enough to win; EASY WAY OUT: Has not run a bad race to this point in her career. She faces winners for the first time, and these connections must be respected.

R2

Brooklyn Speights
Heat Check
Saratoga Colonel

BROOKLYN SPEIGHTS: Stretches back out to two turns, and he’s run fairly well at such routes in the past. This is a very confusing race, and this one’s past races at similar routes appear best; HEAT CHECK: May have simply detested sprinting at Belmont. He stretches back out here, and note that his two best races came going long; SARATOGA COLONEL: Comes back to the turf and tries two turns for the first time. The pedigree seems to indicate that the distance shouldn’t be a problem, but I hesitate to take a short price on a horse trying something new.

R3

Thebigfundamental
Sail Ahoy
Securitiz

THEBIGFUNDAMENTAL: Was a beaten favorite earlier in the meet over a tiring track that was not kind to his running style. The surface has been a bit more speed-favoring of late, and that should help him; SAIL AHOY: Was a promising 2-year-old back in 2015, and while he hasn’t moved forward a ton from that form, he’s run well in tough spots and should be going the right way late; SECURITIZ: Has plenty of ability, and his best race could win this, but he’s run second a lot, and I don’t like endorsing such horses on top.

R4

Dreamy Margarita
Mojo’s Queen
Veil Dance

DREAMY MARGARITA: Ran a puzzling clunker last time out after breaking her maiden impressively two back. I’m drawing a line through the most recent race, and she should appreciate the drop in class; MOJO’S QUEEN: Woke up when switched to the Ralph Nicks barn earlier this year. She led briefly at this level downstate, and Irad Ortiz returns to ride; VEIL DANCE: Just missed last time out in a race that did not set up for her late-running style. There should be more pace signed on here.

R5

Smokin Platinum
Dark Ops
Sea Foam

SMOKIN PLATINUM: Did everything but win in his debut, when he set the early pace and was reeled in late. Rosario rides back, and a repeat of that effort would make this one tough to beat; DARK OPS: Has worked very well ahead of his debut, and Rudy Rodriguez and Irad Ortiz must be respected. If there’s any hesitation here, it’s that he may want to go longer; SEA FOAM: Is bred to be a good one. He’s by Medaglia d’Oro and out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, and he’s another that may be worth watching as races get longer.

R6

Hard Scramble
Beasley
Grumpelstiltskin

HARD SCRAMBLE: Was third behind a well-meant horse last time out at this level. This race seems to set up for a closer, so this colt’s flexibility could be a big, big plus; BEASLEY: Returns off a long layoff after tackling heavy hitters in Florida earlier this season. He merits plenty of respect, but this seems shorter than he wants to go, the rail is a concern, and there won’t be any value here; GRUMPELSTILTSKIN: Is another coming off the bench, and he does so making his first start for Jeremiah Englehart. The recent works are very sharp, and he figures to be a major player if he’s ready to run.

R7

Summer Luck
Taperge
Initiate

SUMMER LUCK: Was third in a Grade 3 two back, and that day’s runner-up won a graded stakes here earlier in the meet. She’s got some tactical speed, which could come in handy given the relative lack of early zip in here; TAPERGE: Was beaten less than a length in a stakes race back in April and has been rested since that effort. She’d benefit from a quick early pace, and these connections are formidable; INITIATE: Just missed last time out when setting the early fractions, and she figures to be the main speed. If she’s left alone, she could be tough to run down.

R8

Clipthecouponannie
Quezon
Court Dancer

CLIPTHECOUPONANNIE: Was a big disappointment last time out at 2/5, but I’m willing to draw a line through that race, which came over a very sloppy track. She was also coming off a career-best effort, and a return to that form would make her morning line odds very appealing; QUEZON: Was second in this race last year and once again is worth a look. She may be at her best on a wet track, but her most recent effort was solid and she should be going well late; COURT DANCER: Hasn’t won in a while but figures to be a main pace player. She was second in a stakes race last time out, and this barn has had a tremendous meet to date.

R9

Tayler’s the Boss (MTO)
Carrera Cat
Centr of the Stage

CARRERA CAT: Needs some luck to draw in off the AE list, but seems to be the one to beat if she does. She was fourth in her debut behind a well-meant Todd Pletcher charge, and improvement is logical at second asking; CENTR OF THE STAGE: Adds blinkers in her second turf start and is eligible to improve with a better trip. She’s had no trip luck in either of her first two starts; SCATBACK: Was bet heavily in her debut, where she ran fourth while racing greenly. She should improve in her second start, but the rail draw is a concern.

INTERLUDE: Charlottesville

WRITER’S NOTE: I grappled with the decision of whether or not to write this for most of Tuesday evening. I know, for a fact, that I’m going to get my fair share of “stick to sports” or “stick to horse racing” replies, and I’m at peace with that. However, after giving this an incredible amount of thought, there was no way I couldn’t say something. If you’re not interested in my thoughts on this matter, I completely respect and understand that. To make a long story short, though: This article is written because there’s a lot going on right now that’s more important than who I like in the third at Saratoga.

– – – – –

My great-uncle fought in World War II. He served in the Pacific and was wounded in the Battle of Saipan. Only lately has he been able to open up about it publicly (The Associated Press did an excellent piece on this in 2014 that you can read here if you’re so inclined).

Wilfred “Spike” Mailloux, who married my grandmother’s sister, is one of the greatest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and certainly a true American hero. He’s pushing 100 years old, and he’s recently been honored as the last surviving member of Company B, 105th Regiment, 27th Division. I’ve never asked him about his service, and I’ve learned much of what I know through the articles that were written about him within the past few years.

I feel it safe to assume, though, that Uncle Spike didn’t think we’d be fighting the same battles he fought in 1944 in 2017.

Of course, I’m referring to the incidents of domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend. By now, you all know that in the midst of battles between white supremacists and counter-protesters, a 32-year-old woman died after she was mowed down by a car that also injured scores of others.

I won’t pretend to understand the ideologies of hate groups at home and abroad. I’m a digital media expert that doubles as a semi-professional horse racing handicapper, and I’ll leave those discussions and theories to people who are much, much more well-versed in that sort of thing than I am. I’m also not going to turn this into a political matter, which seems to be all the rage nowadays (for whatever it’s worth, since I’m well aware that people may speculate, I’m a political centrist who registered as a Republican back when that meant something MUCH different than what it means now, and I’ve got ideas that will scare people on both sides of the political spectrum to death).

Instead of all of that, which I believe would do zero good and make the horrible “signal-to-noise” ratio in this country even worse, I’m simply going to ask one question: When, in the name of everything holy, did it become OK for the President of the United States to defend Nazis in any way, shape, or form?

We’ve all seen the speeches, and I’m going to remove all emotion from this analysis for the sake of reporting the facts as they happened. Saturday night, after Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist, President Trump gave a vague statement criticizing hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides. If you thought he misspoke while uttering those last three words, he removed all doubt by saying them again, firmly and with so much conviction that a neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, praised his comments.

Sunday, Donald Trump was quiet on Twitter while those around him condemned the attacks. Finally, on Monday, Trump broke his silence, but not until after several of the most influential figures in American business resigned from his American Manufacturing Council. While he had yet to make a clearer statement on the Charlottesville saga, he did not hesitate in calling out one of those businessmen, Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma, for what he called, in all-caps, “LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

Finally, at 1 p.m. Monday afternoon, nearly 48 hours after Heather Heyer was killed, Trump denounced white supremacists and Nazi organizations by name. It took 48 hours for the leader of the free world, one whose country dispatched a similar evil ideology seven decades earlier on the battlefields of Europe, to publicly condemn said ideology. Trump’s critics complained that it should not have taken this long for those remarks to be delivered and that those close to the president had already delivered comments in the same vein, while Team Trump complained about a lack of respect in the media (son Donald, Jr., complained about “moving goalposts”).

24 hours later, Trump’s comments took yet another turn, and more clearly resembled what he said Saturday. When behind the microphone at Trump Tower, he uttered the following statement.

“I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides. You had a group on one side that was bad and a group on the other side that was very violent.”

And with that, here we are. Once again, please let me stress that none of what I have written in the previous five paragraphs was opinion-based. None of it is speculation. This is an actual timeline of an actual leader’s handling of an actual, national crisis. There was no spin, simply facts that we can all agree happened and that are backed up by videos and archived tweets.

Hate is not okay. This is a concept that we all learned in elementary school. Every American, regardless of race, creed, or color, has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not every white American, not every Catholic American, and not every American that was born here, but every single resident of this country. This isn’t a high-brow political concept where there are many viewpoints that would be acceptable or valid. This is stuff we all learned in kindergarten, and it’s stuff that’s driven home as we grow up and realize that there’s a great, big world out there.

This leads to another fact, one that is damning and inescapably true: The man that was elected to lead the United States of America, and the man whose job it is to get us through times of crisis with a steady hand, attributed part of the blame for the situation in Charlottesville to people who were protesting white supremacists, possibly including the woman whose life was taken by a white supremacist who drove a car into a crowd of people with the intent to kill or injure.

This isn’t a partisan issue. This is a situation where the only acceptable response is that the belief of white supremacy is universally condemned, as is violence unleashed in the name of that cause. There are no sides, and there are no moral dilemmas involved, as evidenced by the considerable number of high-ranking Republican politicians (including Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, among others) who didn’t feel the need to wait to say or do the right things.

Now is when emotion comes into play.

President Trump, was Heather Heyer to blame for the situation that took her life? Would you knowingly approach her parents and talk about the “very nice people” who enabled the acts of violence we saw this past weekend? Do you sleep easier at night knowing that a portion of the people who assembled in Charlottesville to broadcast the perceived superiority of their race did so, and I’m quoting former KKK leader David Duke here, “to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump?”

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. Like a surprising number of fellow registered Republicans, I cast a reluctant vote for Hillary Clinton. Despite many reservations, I believed that she was much better-suited to handle leading the country through crises, which had become exceedingly more common in the past few years given the world’s unstable political climate. When Donald Trump won the election nine months ago, I hoped that he was ready to handle an issue like the one that popped up a few days ago in Charlottesville. I hoped I was wrong about him.

I wasn’t wrong.

In closing, I present this take on the matter put forth by a former college roommate of mine. This is Chris Barriere, a sports reporter based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and if I’ve addressed this situation half as eloquently as he did when opening one of his sportscasts, then I’ve done a heck of a job.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fchrisbarrieresports%2Fvideos%2F1921596241461509%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 8/16/17

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $819.75

I got in an interesting discussion online the other day about the current 3-year-old picture and the potential for an unconventional winner of the Champion 3-Year-Old Male Eclipse Award. Long story short, if Always Dreaming wins the Travers, he likely clinches the trophy, while Cloud Computing or Tapwrit would certainly have a significant (but not insurmountable) edge if one of them won the Midsummer Derby.

However, what if a non-winner of a Triple Crown race won the Travers? That opens the door for a horse like Oscar Performance, provided he steps up and beats older horses at the Grade 1 level. Additionally, what happens if a horse like American Anthem or Coal Front wins the Allen Jerkens and follows it up with a win in either the Breeders’ Cup Sprint or the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile? It’s a fascinating scenario, and the next domino falls in a week and a half at Saratoga.

MONDAY’S RESULTS: In short, ugh. Everything Magic lost a photo for second in the opener to a 45-1 shot, and one of the horses we keyed her with in exactas won. It was a painful way to drop $22.

WEDNESDAY’S PLAY: I’ll focus on the fifth race. #4 MY MR. WONDERFUL ran a big race in his debut last month, which was rained off the turf. I’ll key him in $4 exactas above and below #2 SICILIA SAL, #6 JOE’S SMOKIN GUN, and #10 TEN EYCK, as well as in $3 doubles that use #4 PADEN and #6 ROCKFORD in the sixth.

TOTAL WAGERED: $30

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Claiborne entry, Race 7
Longshot: Paden, Race 6

R1

Mutasaawy
Kremlin
Bishop’s Castle

MUTASAAWY: Cruised home last time out when crushing maidens at Parx and seems to have taken to hurdles like a duck to water. This seems like a fairly soft spot to try winners for the first time; KREMLIN: Figures to be the main speed in here. He set the pace earlier this meet against better horses and could be dangerous if he gets loose early on; BISHOP’S CASTLE: Lost the jock last time out at Parx but has run several solid races of late, including a win two back.

R2

Spieth
Powerful Ally
D’ambrosio

SPIETH: Tries two turns for the first time in his second start off the layoff, and the pedigree indicates that this is exactly what he wants. He’s worked well and should be prominent early; POWERFUL ALLY: Was an OK third earlier in the meet in his first start off a freshening. Jose Ortiz riding back is a big plus; D’AMBROSIO: Is another stretching out to two turns with the pedigree to embrace such a route. The rider switch to Castellano is notable, but he finished behind my top pick last time out when that one probably needed the race.

R3

Motion entry
Muqtaser
Fire Away

MOTION ENTRY: Both HOLIDAY STAR and STREET FASHION can win this turf marathon. The former is a multiple graded stakes winner, while the latter exits a stakes race at Delaware Park; MUQTASER: Was brilliantly-ridden last time out by Joe Bravo in a win at this route. Don’t be surprised if Jersey Joe sends him again, especially in such a small field; FIRE AWAY: Loves this distance and may have needed his race earlier this month off a freshening. He was beaten less than two lengths in stakes company that day and merits respect here.

R4

Lady Constance
Jump for Joy
Dubb entry

LADY CONSTANCE: Has not won in a while, but that can be said of many in here, and this filly drops way down in class in this spot. Her lone try at anywhere close to this level was a tough-luck second two back; JUMP FOR JOY: Was a runaway winner last time out at Aqueduct, but that was almost a year and a half ago. Pletcher can get horses ready to run, though, and the fact that she is ineligible to be claimed today could speak volumes about the barn’s intentions; DUBB ENTRY: I prefer EASY WAY OUT, who graduated last time out after burning money twice at Aqueduct. The rider switch is a concern, but her usual effort puts her right there.

R5

My Mr. Wonderful
Ten Eyck
Joe’s Smokin Gun

MY MR. WONDERFUL: Ran well in his debut last month despite the race being rained off the turf. The connections should get the desired route today, and improvement is logical at second asking; TEN EYCK: Doesn’t draw a great post, but is bred up and down to be a very strong turf horse. He’s by Freud and out of a City Zip mare, and he’ll likely be a square price; JOE’S SMOKIN GUN: Was a solid second two back on turf before running in the same race my top pick exits. The connections are cold, but a repeat of the two-back effort could easily get him a piece of this. DIRT SELECTIONS: MY MR. WONDERFUL, STOLEN PISTOL, JOE’S SMOKIN GUN.

R6

Paden
Rockford
Players Group entry

PADEN: Has run well against better horses going longer, one-turn route distances and ships in for a high-percentage barn. There doesn’t appear to be much early speed signed on, so don’t be surprised if he’s forwardly-placed; ROCKFORD: Generally runs the same race every time out and was a solid second earlier this month in his first start for David Jacobson. He’s another with tactical speed, and his best puts him right there; PLAYERS GROUP ENTRY: I prefer FULL SALUTE, who comes back to the dirt after a failed experiment on turf last time out. He won at this distance two back beneath Jose Ortiz, and that pilot returns here.

R7

Claiborne entry
End Play
Fear

CLAIBORNE ENTRY: COMMEND is clearly the horse to beat here. He exits the Grade 2 Highlander at Woodbine, which was won by world-class turf sprinter Green Mask, and this spot represents significant class relief; END PLAY: Was beaten less than a length in a strong race for the level earlier this meet. He’s run well here in the past and generally runs the same race every time out; FEAR: Has won three of his last four and merits a longshot look. The lone defeat in that stretch was in a dirt race, and turf is clearly what he wants.

R8

Mobridge
Damage Control
No Texting

MOBRIDGE: Beat a number of these rivals last time out and comes back at the level here. If there’s a concern, it’s that all three visible wins in the form were at Belmont, but note that he ran fairly well going two turns at Gulfstream earlier this year; DAMAGE CONTROL: Was beaten a length by my top pick last time out and didn’t have much pace to close into that day. If someone goes with that horse early, it could set up for this one; NO TEXTING: Was fourth in that common race, but was inexplicably rated that day after showing ample early speed in his previous six starts. Given that fact, the rider switch is no shock.

R9

Sly Beauty
March X Press
Fairyland

SLY BEAUTY: Ran into runaway Schuylerville winner Dream It Is in her debut and jogged last time out. This barn is starting to turn strong efforts into wins, and this one could have plenty of talent; MARCH X PRESS: Closed like a freight train to win her debut earlier in the meet at this route. There should certainly be plenty of early speed in front of her; FAIRYLAND: Exits a Group 3 at Royal Ascot, and the blinkers come back on. If there’s a concern here, it’s the rail draw, which has not been kind in turf sprints this meet.

R10

Borsa Vento
Irst
Britain

BORSA VENTO: Drops way down in class, and given the horrible trip, his last race is a throwout. He’s run well at this distance against better in the past, and I’ll give him another shot; IRST: Looked like a promising horse when second here last summer behind an eventual Grade 3 winner, but he hasn’t moved forward since then. The class drop should certainly help, as would a pace battle up front; BRITAIN: Has shown some zip since dropping to the maiden claiming ranks, but was a distant fourth at this level earlier in the meet. Still, he merits respect given the powerful trainer/jockey combination.

THE DARK DAY FILES: War Stories

The idea for this installment of “The Dark Day Files,” admittedly, came partially from the world of professional wrestling. Often, when a wrestler of considerable renown isn’t contracted to a particular company, he or she will do what’s known as a “shoot interview” and provide some background on his or her experiences, as well as tell stories and shed some light on stuff fans and followers may not be aware of.

It first occurred to me Sunday that I had enough material to start telling stories. I was working from The Daily Racing Form’s newest temporary bureau, a Starbucks in Santa Monica, ahead of an attempt at the Los Angeles trivia championships, where the winning team splits $1,000 (spoiler alert: we didn’t win, but we led at the halfway point and finished a respectable 11th of 32 finalists). In and of itself, this coffee shop just off the beach could provide the setting for the 2017 answer to Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” given the eclectic mix of people coming and going (the great Hunter S. Thompson would have had a field day psychoanalyzing some of these people!).

However, my epiphany came when an older woman asked if she could sit down at my table so as to plug her laptop in to charge. I obliged, and we started talking. She asked what company I worked for, I answered honestly…and it turned out that this woman, who I had never met or heard of before, had freelanced for my current employer many years prior.

I was floored. What are the odds of such a chance encounter happening in a random coffee shop 3,000 miles away from the company’s headquarters? Seriously, if there’s a mathematician out there that has nothing better to do, I’d love for someone to try to calculate it.

Ultimately, I realized that I’ve been lucky enough to do way more cool stuff that can be claimed as “work” than any person should be allowed to experience. Of course, spending multiple summers at Saratoga is near the top of that list, but I was on-site at the 2010 Winter Olympics in what doubled as my first taste of post-college employment. I did a radio broadcast of an NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament game at the Carrier Dome, one of the best venues for the sport anywhere in the world. I shared a press box with fellow Ithaca College alum Karl Ravech during regional play of the 2010 Little League World Series. I’ve gotten to meet world-renowned members of the sports world like Warren Moon and Jim Boeheim, as well as a lot of athletes you’ve never heard of, but would do well to know.

This column tells a few fun stories that I think you’ll like. If the reaction is there, I’d be happy to try to do it again in a few weeks. Got a question? Got something you think I should tackle? Write it in. I see everything that comes in, and if I can make this stuff more enjoyable for you to read, that’s a win for me.

With that said, here we go!

– – – – –

ERROR-GATE

Back in the spring of 2013, a colleague of mine at The Saratogian went to cover a high school baseball game featuring the paper’s hometown team. The Saratoga Springs Blue Streaks’ best player was Alex Chandler, who went on to play for four years at St. Rose, a Division II college, following his graduation. This particular game, though, was not Alex’s finest hour. He committed four errors, and my colleague did his job by writing about it in a truthful, honest fashion. The writer didn’t go out of his way to humiliate the kid, but he did note the facts, since these misplays were pivotal points in the game.

When the athletic department at the school saw the story, certain officials went ballistic. They claimed that the story should have said the team made four errors, not one particular player. Everyone at the paper thought that rationale was ridiculous, as it’s the job of a sportswriter to accurately tell the story of a game’s events. Eventually, all parties involved got over it, or, more accurately, got tired of screaming at one another and agreed to stop. The truce put an end to that matter…or so I thought.

A few months later, I covered a summer league game featuring the Saratoga Stampede, a local American Legion team that featured many of the same kids that were on the Saratoga Springs High School team. Their coach that year was Eric Thompson, an assistant at Skidmore College that I had a great relationship with thanks to many basketball games spent with him working the table and me not being willing or able to shut up (shout out to Skidmore SID Bill Jones, who will gladly verify that fact if asked!).

I got to the field, shook Eric’s hand, and talked with him for several minutes, all the while noticing several teenagers giving me the dreaded stink-eye (important note: Alex Chandler was not in attendance that night). I thought it was curious, but I hadn’t done anything to those kids. After all, I was the lacrosse writer that spring and didn’t cover a single inning of high school baseball. For that reason, I didn’t sweat it as I walked to the visitor’s dugout to get their lineup.

As I walked back the other way to my seat in the bleachers, though, I heard Eric lay into several of his players, and I will never forget what he said or how he said it.

“IF DEREK JETER COMMITTED FOUR ERRORS IN A GAME, DO YOU REALLY THINK THE NEW YORK POST WOULD SAY THE YANKEES COMMITTED FOUR ERRORS?!?!?!”

It was all I could do to not burst out laughing as the kids stood there, positively shell-shocked by what they were hearing. I don’t even know if Eric knew how much delight I took in hearing that, but he certainly knows now. Eric: Find some way to get Skidmore a West Coast swing!

– – – – –

THE BEST HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL GAME I’VE EVER SEEN, AND THE BEST DEADLINE-DRIVEN WRITING I’VE EVER DONE

Two very small towns between the New York State Northway and the New York-Vermont border each house high school football teams that were competitive at a state-wide level when I wrote for The Saratogian. In 2012, they came together for a night I’ll never forget.

Cambridge was one of the top-ranked Class D football teams in the state. They were experienced, had tons of athleticism for a school that small, and had an aggressive coach that didn’t hesitate to use said athleticism against overmatched foes. Their rival, Greenwich, didn’t necessarily have the speed or quickness to contend with them, but what they did have was running back John Barnes.

You know the old football adage about certain coaches having three plays: Run left, run right, run up the middle? This game was that mantra, come to life. John Barnes carried the football 46 times for 377 yards that night, an average of more than eight yards per carry (as if that wasn’t enough, he also added one catch for 30 yards). However, Cambridge, which played from behind for most of the night, tied the game in the fourth quarter, stuffed Barnes at the goal line on the last play of regulation, and won in overtime on the fourth touchdown run of the contest by that team’s own star running back, Matt Parmenter. Side note: Only later did I find out that Barnes had lost his grandmother shortly before the game, which added to the stream of tears he talked to me through. To his everlasting credit, when an assistant coach saw him crying and tried to end the interview early, Barnes waved him off and finished talking to me.

The game started at 7 p.m., and it was over at around 10. By the time I had gotten my interviews and moved to a place where I could write the recap, it was shortly after 10:30. The Saratogian’s hard deadline was 11, and the closest thing I had to an office was the front seat of my 2007 Chevy Impala.

I wrote like a madman, trying to convey the emotions of what had happened along with the enormity of the performance John Barnes put together in the loss and how this one game sent both programs on opposite paths for the rest of the season. Twenty minutes later (at about 10:53), I wound up with what I still consider to be the best piece of deadline-driven journalism I’ve ever written. If you’re so inclined, you can read it here.

Oh, and if any of you know John Barnes, thank him for me, would you?

– – – – –

BREAKING UP A ROAD TRIP LIKE A DEGENERATE

Back in 2010, I, like every other college student who graduated that year, was beating the pavement looking for work relevant to the field I was in. The economy was a mess, and amidst many stories I could tell about my time looking for a job (there’s no shortage of them, and they’ll pop up whenever I write this stuff), I’ll focus on one a lot of you will get a kick out of.

I had secured an in-person interview for a news reporter position at a radio station in Charleston, West Virginia. This may not be tops on your list of vacation destinations, but for a recently-graduated Television-Radio major at Ithaca College, this was a big deal. According to recent Nielsen data, it’s the 70th-biggest media market in the United States, and it’s not often that a new college graduate breaks in, on the air, in a top-100 market.

I packed a bag, drove my car for the better part of 12 hours (it should’ve only taken 10 from New York’s Hudson Valley, but traffic was heavy through Pennsylvania), and arrived at a Best Western down the road from the station. My interview the next day went well (or so I thought), and after stopping at another motel near the West Virginia-Maryland border, I set about driving the rest of the way home.

You know the feeling you can get when you’ve been in a car for 18 hours over a three-day period? If it could be described in words, it would say, “I don’t care where I stop, BUT I NEED TO GET OUT OF THIS CAR!!!” That’s how I felt going through central Pennsylvania with no company but the car radio, so I started looking for a spot to pull over. All I was looking for was a rest stop with a picnic table and a vending machine, just a place where I could park the car for 20 minutes or so, breathe in some fresh air, stretch my legs, and clear my head.

Imagine my shock when I started seeing signs for Penn National.

I had never been to Penn National, and given that the day I rolled through was a dark day, I would not be seeing any racing there. What I did take in, in vivid detail, were the bright lights, loud sounds, and pretty colors that could only be associated with one thing: A casino.

I strolled in and found a $15 blackjack table, which at the time was the lowest-limit game they spread on the casino floor. To this day, I don’t understand why I sat down and bought $100 in chips. Even now, when I go to Vegas, I usually play $5 blackjack. I will occasionally play $10 blackjack if the structure is agreeable or I find a good “blackjack switch” game (you play two hands and can switch the top cards, and in return, blackjacks pay even-money and all dealer 22’s are pushes; at this point, my father is probably shaking his head just reading my description). That said, even in a comfortable financial state, I don’t touch $15 blackjack.

You probably think this is setting up for me to get killed, but in a plot twist, the gambling gods were kind to me. I played just one shoe, killed the 20 minutes I wanted to kill, and walked away with enough of a profit to fill my gas tank a few hours later in the middle of nowhere. Plenty of eye-rolling ensued when I told my parents about the unplanned pit stop later that night!

And no, I didn’t get the job. They were nice people, and it makes for a heck of a “what-if,” but ultimately, I firmly believe that I got to where I’m supposed to be…which seems like as good a spot as any to end this week’s column.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 8/14/17

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $841.75

I’ve been fortunate enough to work from a lot of cool places in my professional career, including Saratoga (of course), a renewal of the Winter Olympics, the Little League World Series, and several other world-renowned locales. However, some of the best stories I’ve got have come about while working from, shall we say, unconventional places. I’ll tell some of those stories, including some that feature places and people in upstate New York, in this week’s edition of “The Dark Day Files,” which will be online at AndrewChampagne.com Monday night.

SUNDAY’S RESULTS: The bane of a win-place player’s existence reared its head, as best bet Dwizard ran pretty well in the fifth but had to settle for third. We dropped $40.

MONDAY’S PLAY: I’ll take a stand in the opener with a middle-priced horse that I think is well-meant. That’s #4 EVERYTHING MAGIC, whose best effort would make her tough to beat. I’ll put $5 to win and place on her, and key her in $3 exactas above and below the two likely betting choices, #1 CHAMPAGNE RUBY and #6 NON FINISCE MAI.

TOTAL WAGERED: $22

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Literata, Race 8
Longshot: Eucalyptus, Race 9

R1

Everything Magic
Champagne Ruby
Non Finisce Mai

EVERYTHING MAGIC: Reeled off three wins in a row not too long ago and drops down in class. Her record looks much better if you toss out the off-track efforts, and we may get a price; CHAMPAGNE RUBY: Routed foes at this level earlier in the meet and certainly merits respect. A repeat effort probably wins this, but she was aided by a favorable pace setup (and possibly the track condition); NON FINISCE MAI: Drops way down in class in an effort to find her first win since March of last year. She’s run well in each of her last two starts and should be prominent early.

R2

Vigor
Spanker
Hollywood Royal

VIGOR: Is hamstrung by the rail draw but has the experience and early speed to overcome it. She was a solid third behind a well-meant Chad Brown runner when last seen, and the recent bullet workout is a plus; SPANKER: Makes her 3-year-old debut after a 2-year-old campaign that reflected the confidence of the connections. She tried stakes company twice and was second in such a spot at Presque Isle; HOLLYWOOD ROYAL: Fetched $250k at auction and debuts following a series of strong workouts. She’s a half to Grade 2-placed sprinter Laurie’s Rocket, so she’s got a right to show some zip in her unveiling. DIRT SELECTIONS: SAME.

R3

Baby Bear’s Soup
Holding Aces
Happy Farm

BABY BEAR’S SOUP: Comes in off a win downstate and won here last year. When he’s right, he’s very good, and a repeat of his most recent effort would make him the one to beat; HOLDING ACES: Broke through earlier this month when crushing a weaker group. He dueled through fast fractions that day, and while a bounce is possible, it’s also possible that this 5-year-old is figuring things out; HAPPY FARM: Has won two in a row and steps up out of the claiming ranks to run here. I’m not sure what he beat last time out, but he looked good doing it.

R4

Pocket Book
Gidu
Paris Cruise

POCKET BOOK: Did everything but win in her debut, when she set very fast fractions and got nailed in the final strides. She could easily improve at second asking, and if she does, she could lead every step of the way; GIDU: Is the latest son of Frankel to debut here, and the bottom-side pedigree is solid as well. He’s a half to Grade 3 winner Marbre Rose, and his dam is a half to Grade 1 winner Zoftig, so there’s plenty of class in this one’s blood; PARIS CRUISE: Was a solid second in her debut at Keeneland and tries turf for the first time here. She’s worked well of late, and this barn must be respected. DIRT SELECTIONS: PARIS CRUISE, SNAPPER SINCLAIR, BLUE LUTE.

R5

Novique
She’s Stunning
Milaya

NOVIQUE: Is a perfect 2-for-2 at this seven-furlong distance and makes her second start off a long layoff. Her tactical speed is a plus, as is the switch to jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr.; SHE’S STUNNING: Drops way down in class following a strange trip at Parx where she was extremely wide throughout. She was beaten less than two lengths, and she’s certainly eligible to improve with a better trip; MILAYA: Hasn’t won in a while, but spent most of last year running against stakes company and was a good second last time out on turf. Her experience going longer than this tricky distance should help her.

R6

Win With Pride
New Jersey John
Any Questions

WIN WITH PRIDE: Was briefly on the Kentucky Derby trail and drops in for a tag for the first time. These connections are aggressive, so I don’t question the drop too much, and the recent turf efforts at Monmouth were solid; NEW JERSEY JOHN: Closed with a rush in his turf debut to finish fourth, beaten less than a length. All three runners in front of him won at next asking, and Linda Rice is extremely strong with horses stretching out in distance; ANY QUESTIONS: Makes his first start for trainer Jeremiah Englehart after a few OK runs downstate. Runhappy’s little brother certainly fits here on his best day. DIRT SELECTIONS: WIN WITH PRIDE, NEW JERSEY JOHN, SURTAP.

R7

Heavenly Score
Battlement
Bigkat and Camille

HEAVENLY SCORE: Was a close-up fourth in a stakes race earlier in the meet behind a pretty sharp sprinter. This is a much softer spot, and she could sit a perfect trip on or near the pace; BATTLEMENT: Has not won in more than a year, but ran a stellar race in defeat last time out at Belmont. The faster they go early, the better this filly figures to finish; BIGKAT AND CAMILLE: Was beaten just a neck at this level and route earlier in the meet and will almost certainly be a price. A repeat effort, though, could get her a minor award and shake up the exotics. DIRT SELECTIONS: HEAVENLY SCORE, ANNATHELA, BATTLEMENT.

R8

Literata
Jcs American Dream
Jc’s Shooting Star

LITERATA: Won a confidence-builder last time out at Finger Lakes. She went 0-for-2 here last year, but unlike many in here, she seems to be in her best form and not trending downward; JCS AMERICAN DREAM: Was third in a decent allowance race at Monmouth and generally seems to run the same race every time out. That type of effort is almost certainly good enough for a check; JC’S SHOOTING STAR: May be past her peak, but loves Saratoga. She was third in this race last year and cannot be ignored.

R9

Perro Rojo (MTO)
River of Dreams
Eucalyptus

RIVER OF DREAMS: Simply did not want to go 11 furlongs last time out, so draw a line through that race. His efforts going this kind of distance are solid, and it’s encouraging that Jose Lezcano rides back; EUCALYPTUS: Has not run in more than a year, but ran into some very good horses a year ago. This is a much softer spot, and that kind of form could be good enough to win this; MUSICAL AMERICA: Is another that didn’t want to go three turns last time out. He hasn’t won in a while, but the class drop could wake him up. DIRT SELECTIONS: PERRO ROJO, KARMA DELIGHT, HONOR THY FATHER.