SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (8/14/21)

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $1,067.90

This week’s episode of “Champagne and J.D.” featured special guest Laffit Pincay, who’s spent his summer anchoring the tremendous “Saratoga Live” shows on the FOX Sports family of networks. I’ve known Laffit since our time at the dearly-departed HRTV, and it was awesome having him on to discuss the first half of the 2021 Saratoga meet. That conversation’s on YouTube if you’d like to check it out.

The show also featured me holding back tears of joy as I announced that I’ll be in attendance for the Saturday program at the Spa. My girlfriend and I are supposed to land in Hartford at about 8:30 am, and we’ll hopefully be at the track with my parents right around when the gates open at 11. Red-eyes and I don’t usually get along, but I’m welcoming this one with open arms. If you see me, come say hello!

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: Doc Doc Rock was up the track in the sixth, so my exotics plays fizzled. I dropped $25 after scratches. As an aside, if you needed fourth race runner-up Air Show in anything, you have my sympathies, as that was one of the most brutal beats we’ll see this summer.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’ll focus on the early Pick Five, where I’ll be playing the following 50-cent ticket beginning in the opener: 2,7 with 1,7,9 with 1,5,9 with 3,5 with 3,6. Here’s hoping I’ll have something to celebrate on my one day in attendance!

TOTAL WAGERED: $36.

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Palamos, Race 4
Longshot: Soar, Race 2

R1

War Smoke
Suit of Armor
King Angelo

#7 WAR SMOKE: Did everything but win last time out after breaking last, putting forth a desperate rally, and coming up just a neck short. Everything about that effort says he’ll get better at second asking, and such improvement would make him strictly the one to beat; #2 SUIT OF ARMOR: Debuts for Brad Cox, whose barn is going as well as any at this stand. He’s got several good workouts ahead of his unveiling, and while Cox’s overall first-out numbers are just so-so, he’s considerably better with firsters on the grass; #5 KING ANGELO: Has shown an abundance of early zip and will likely be out front early. Figures-wise, he more than fits, but there are certainly stamina questions here and it’ll be interesting to see how much gas he has left turning for home.

R2

Askin for a Baskin
Laughing Boy
Soar

#7 ASKIN FOR A BASKIN: Has run well in a pair of dirt starts and most recently finished second behind the well-meant Ducale, who’ll be one of the favorites in a loaded allowance race later in the card. He was more than six lengths clear of that day’s third-place finisher, and it sure looks like they’ll have him to catch; #9 LAUGHING BOY: Dueled through a legitimate pace when third going a bit longer at Churchill. A repeat of the last-out effort would make him a contender here, and the cushy outside draw should give Jose Ortiz some options; #1 SOAR: Makes his second career start here, and the debut over yielding turf at Belmont is a total throw-out. It’s safe to assume the Bill Mott trainee needed that race, and several recent bullet drills indicate he’s sitting on an improved effort at a big price.

R3

Three Diamonds entry
Klickitat
Cold Hard Cash

THREE DIAMONDS ENTRY: I most prefer #1X ATONE, who makes his first start for Mike Maker and showed enough back class to run in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay back in February. He’s shown plenty of talent going two turns on the lawn, and the presence of Tyler Gaffalione is a plus; #5 KLICKITAT: Has run some of the best races of his career at the Spa and won here twice last summer. He’s got plenty of tactical speed and can either make the lead or sit just off the pace beneath Eric Cancel; #9 COLD HARD CASH: Broke through last time out over going that was listed as good but was probably far softer. This is a step up in class, to be sure, but Linda Rice’s horses are running well this summer and three of his four lifetime wins have come in upstate New York.

R4

Palamos
Baby Blythe
Empress Theodora

#3 PALAMOS: Ran well when third downstate going a mile and a quarter, so we know this distance shouldn’t be an issue. She may have moved a bit early that day, and I think she looms very large in this spot against many horses either stretching out or trying turf for the first time; #5 BABY BLYTHE: Was one-paced in her return to the races last month but is bred to want this trip. Add in that she’s in the hands of patient Hall of Fame horseman Shug McGaughey and that Joel Rosario rides back, and there’s reason for some optimism here; #8 EMPRESS THEODORA: Was second all the way around in an off-the-turf event last month. It’s not easy to go two turns at first asking, but she acquitted herself well and gets the surface her connections wanted to run on last time.

R5

Win With Pride
Baby I’m Perfect
Wagon Boss

#3 WIN WITH PRIDE: Takes a slight drop in class after showing some zip for a $25,000 tag earlier this summer. He’s got five top-three finishes in seven starts going seven furlongs and generally runs the same race every time, which gives him a tepid nod in a wide-open claimer; #6 BABY I’M PERFECT: Was claimed last time out by Rudy Rodriguez and probably faced better horses last time out when fifth downstate. He got quite good in the fall and winter, and he’ll have every chance to win this if the new surroundings wake him up; #9 WAGON BOSS: Tired to finish a distant third in the first race of the meet and was claimed out of that event by an astute barn that doesn’t claim too many runners. His two-back win at Churchill Downs was very good, and while I think he may be better going two turns, I also think his last-out clunker was an exception rather than the rule.

R6

Power Agenda
Major General
General Strike

#2 POWER AGENDA: Sold for $120,000 last year at Keeneland and comes in off of two straight impressive gate works for Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher. His dam ran well in several big spots, sire Nyquist is off to a great start at stud, and all indications are that this one can run; #12 MAJOR GENERAL: Needs some luck to draw in off the AE list but will merit respect if he does. This son of Constitution hammered for $420,000 last September, also boasts a strong work tab, and will have the benefit of an outside draw that tends to help inexperienced horses get comfortable; #8 GENERAL STRIKE: Is another promising 2-year-old trained by Steve Asmussen and owned (in part, in this case) by Winchell Thoroughbreds. This Union Rags colt is out of multiple stakes winner Danzatrice, who herself is a half-sister to champion filly Jaywalk.

R7

Restored Order
Assiduously
Amistad

#4 RESTORED ORDER: Clearly didn’t take to the sloppy dirt track last time out and goes back to the turf here. He also drops in for a tag, which is sometimes a red flag, but these owners can be very aggressive, and I simply think it’s a case of trying to find an easier spot than a loaded allowance; #3 ASSIDUOUSLY: Will take money simply because he’s trained by Chad Brown, and his speed figures are competitive enough to make him a threat. However, he’s spent time at Monmouth with Chad’s second-stringers, and as anyone who’s read my stuff so far this meet knows, I see that as a big red flag; #5 AMISTAD: Was a longshot pick for me earlier this meet but was well behind a slow pace and had too much to do. I think he’ll get a friendlier setup here, and that he’ll have every chance to come running late for a piece of it at a price.

R8

Shadwell entry
Speaker’s Corner
Ducale

SHADWELL ENTRY: I prefer #1 MAHAAMEL, who was third in one of the toughest non-winners-of-one events you’ll ever see last month. He earned a 94 Beyer Speed Figure that day, and as competitive as this field is, one can argue it’s actually a softer group than the one he ran against earlier in the meet; #4 SPEAKER’S CORNER: Looked like a promising horse last year when he broke his maiden at Belmont, but he hasn’t run since October and is just getting going again. He’ll get Lasix for the first time, and the last two works over the Oklahoma track hint that he may be ready to run off the 10-month break; #5 DUCALE: Pulled away late to graduate at second asking last month, and the 97 Beyer Speed Figure is certainly a plus. Pay attention to how Askin for a Baskin runs in the second race. If that one runs well, this one moves up.

R9

Double Thunder
Nakatomi
Glacial

#7 DOUBLE THUNDER: Has done nothing wrong to this point and rallied from last to first to win the Grade 3 Bashford Manor at Churchill in June. I’m expecting him to be more forwardly-placed with a cleaner break, and I think he’s got a big shot in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special; #1 NAKATOMI: Won his debut race at Keeneland (as many Wesley Ward trainees are prone to do) before finishing eighth in the Group 2 Norfolk at Royal Ascot. If the workouts are any indication, he’s come back in good form, and it really helps his cause that first-out runner-up Happy Soul has crushed a pair of fields since that effort; #10 GLACIAL: Was part of a fast pace in the Bashford Manor, but had enough stamina to hold on for third that day. The blinkers come off, and I don’t think he’ll need to go quite so quickly out of the gate here.

R10

Blowout
Set Piece
Raging Bull

#8 BLOWOUT: Will likely attempt to wire the field in the Grade 1 Fourstardave and has more than enough talent to do so. She’s never finished off the board in 12 career starts, and if she’s able to get comfortable up front early beneath Joel Rosario, I think she could be tough to catch; #5 SET PIECE: Has won three in a row for Brad Cox and was much the best in the Grade 2 Wise Dan. The running line says he prevailed by just a half-length, but he altered course late while rallying in a race with a slow early pace. The faster they go early, the better his chances figure to be; #1 RAGING BULL: Is a monster when he’s right and is a deserving favorite as he looks for his third Grade 1 score. If there’s hesitation here, it’s because he’s a closer on the rail in a race on the inner turf. He’s going to be tough if he gets an ideal trip, but he may need a lot to go his way in order to make that happen.

R11

Dr. Duke
Neuro
Luna’s in Charge

#9 DR. DUKE: Looks like the controlling speed in the Saturday finale and returns to his preferred surface second off the bench. He wanted no part of a muddy dirt track last time out, and I think he’s a threat to lead this group every step of the way; #2 NEURO: Broke through in his 14th career start last time out and tries winners for the first time. That day’s runner-up, War Smoke, looms large in the opener, and if he runs as expected, that win looks far better; #7 LUNA’S IN CHARGE: Seems to have an aversion to winning, but if you’re playing vertical exotics, ignore him at your own peril. He’s run some of the best races of his career at the Spa, and he goes out for a trainer that’s won or run second with half of his 12 runners so far this summer.

THE DARK DAY FILES: A Struggle with Perceived Irrelevance

Sean Clancy’s a better writer than I am. I take no shame in saying that, nor do I feel a sense of defeat, because he’s better than just about everyone. My name is on the extensive list of former interns at The Saratoga Special that went on to long careers in the racing business, and as I half-joked on Twitter a few weeks ago, I sincerely hope I’m not the Eric Mangini to the Clancys’ Bill Belichick.

Sean’s annual “I’ll miss/won’t miss” column is a must-read, and it was published Sunday. There’s a line in there that hit me like a ton of bricks, though, as good writing is prone to do.

“I’ll miss the enthusiastic interns, their futures ahead of them,” he wrote. “I won’t miss the jaded veterans, their irrelevance grinding away at them.”

I’m not taking this as a shot against me. I haven’t been to Saratoga yet this year, so I’m not in a position where I could be someone Sean would mention in that regard. However, that one line made me think more than just about anything else I’ve read in a long time, and this column spawns from that train of thought.

– – – – –

Those who followed me last year may remember a column I filed upon the completion of the 2018 Saratoga meet. It came hours after I fell one win short of Liam Durbin, largely due to three lost photo finishes in the last two days, and was written following a soul-searching meal eaten at a local dive bar.

Two days later, after working 36 hours over the course of Labor Day weekend (largely thanks to a situation involving gunfire at Del Mar), I was informed that my full-time position at The Daily Racing Form was being transitioned to part-time. This came a few weeks after a satisfactory evaluation, and was a continuation of layoffs at the publication that came earlier in the summer. When I left that part-time position for a full-time role at a non-racing company in November (the less said about my four months at that job, the better), that position was not filled.

Over the past year, racing has done a tremendous job of scaring off passionate people. The Stronach Group laid off a bunch of them late last year, and DRF had a widely-publicized round of cuts earlier this summer that claimed a number of visible writers and content contributors (several of whom I consider friends).

It’s brought about a real identity crisis for me, one that I wrote about back in November. If we’re mostly in agreement that racing needs knowledgeable handicappers who can make the sport more fun for novices, which in turn drives handle and adds repeat customers, why are such people being forced out?

I grew up reading the New York City papers and spending the lion’s share of drives to Saratoga pulling out the racing sections of The New York Daily News and The New York Post. This was a time when major newspapers had racing writers and full-time handicappers, as well as space for content contributors to expound on what was going on. Like many other racing enthusiasts, I worshipped Russ Harris, laughed at the antics of the participants in the annual “Battle of Saratoga,” and strained my eyes to read the small, blocky text that was found in the Post’s racing section at the time.

I’d wind up sharing press boxes with those folks, and many of them became my friends. Now, it’s an effort to see where they’re at. I sat behind Paul Moran, John Pricci, and Jerry Bossert (among others) for two summers at Saratoga. Paul is dead, John spends most of the year in Florida, and Jerry was laid off by the Daily News not long after I left for California. The Post laid off its racing team as well, indirectly sparking one of the weirdest sagas of my life involving a $70 Kentucky Derby future bet (P.S.: John paid up).

HRTV, the network I moved 3,000 miles west to work for, is long gone, having been purchased by TVG in early-2015. I was hired over as part of the acquisition. The first two years of my tenure there were some of the most enjoyable times I’ve had at any job (those close to me know why). The last two months were some of the least enjoyable times I’d had up to that point (again, those close to me know why), and that experience prompted a move over to DRF.

It’s 2019 now, a year after I was informed of my change in employment status at The Daily Racing Form, and Saratoga is the one time where I get to test my skills against some of the best handicappers in the game on a daily basis. For 10 months out of the year, I’m a semi-professional handicapper who uses racing as a side hustle. For the other two, I go 15 rounds with some of the smartest, sharpest horseplayers I’ve ever known, and every once in a while, magic happens (as it did in 2017, when I topped all public handicappers with 128 top-pick winners). That’s why it means so much to me to be a part of The Pink Sheet’s pick box, as I have been for seven seasons, and it’s also why I take what I do incredibly seriously.

I know that I’m fortunate to have had my experiences, and it’s not like I’m detached from the racing industry. I still freelance for DRF with two Formulator videos per week, and I’ve been able to pick up writing assignments for Horse Racing Nation, Trainer Magazine, Granite Media, and a few other outlets. I maintain my ballots for both Eclipse Awards and racing’s Hall of Fame, and I consider both of those to be tremendous honors.

Having said that, Sean’s words hit me hard. I’m 30 years old, passionate about horse racing, and eager to teach people who want to know more about it. However, I don’t care about the social side of racing. As a goofy guy with no patience for those who are blind to the necessity of gambling money in this sport, I’m never going to be the focus of one of those “I Am Horse Racing” videos. I don’t bet enough to be considered a big player, and my emergence as a handicapper/content producer wasn’t necessarily anyone’s idea. I know that doesn’t sit well with at least one person in power at a major company, and I’m sure there are some in the sport who would like nothing more than for me to sit down, shut up, and do something else.

Does that make me irrelevant? Does that make those similar to me irrelevant? Are people like me simply shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic as foal crops decline, field sizes shrink, and handfuls of trainers get most of the top-tier horses? All of these are really tough questions, and they’re ones I’m now pondering a lot as I prepare to venture east later this week.

– – – – –

This Wednesday, I’ll be spending lots of time in the air en route to upstate New York. Over the course of a week or so, I’ll be seeing my family (including my two adorable nieces), mooching lots of free food, and, of course, making several trips to Saratoga to watch horses turn left.

I’ll be at the track Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, and if you see me walking around, don’t be afraid to say hello. I greatly appreciate anyone who takes the time to read my stuff (either in print or online), and I see that as validation for the effort I put into trying to solve 10 or so handicapping puzzles each day. Each puzzle, by the way, has become incredibly important. I’m locked in a three-way battle for top honors in The Pink Sheet, and have two wins to make up on Liam Durbin with six cards left in the meet.

I don’t know if I’m irrelevant. Maybe I always have been. Maybe we all are (we certainly will be if protestors have their way). Here’s what I know: I enjoy the hell out of this game. I love reading the past performances and trying to find things others don’t see. I’m going to keep doing this for as long as racing’s media outlets will have me, and for as long as people keep reading my stuff. Want to reach out? Tweet me at @AndrewChampagne, or email me using my site’s “contact” section. I try to respond to everything I get (just don’t use the term Runhappy on Twitter; I’ve muted it, so I won’t see your tweet if you do that).

The people who don’t like me aren’t going to change their minds. I’ve been at peace with that for a pretty long time (it’s sort of a family curse). Maybe I’m irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s not for a lack of trying to grow the game. I’m going to be around for as long as people will have me, and I’m always going to believe I’m one of the better ones at what I do.

As far as writing, though…yeah, Sean’s better than me.

SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (8/10/19)

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $907.10

Like many in the racing business, I keep count of how many tracks I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. That number is growing to 21 Saturday afternoon, as I’ll be in attendance at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa.

As some of my followers know, I’ve become quite enamored with the Northern California fair circuit, and I’m looking forward to the trip. If you’re on social media, follow me on Twitter at @AndrewChampagne, as I’ll likely have several photos from the fair (and maybe a selection or two, too!). Fair warning, though: Chances are this barrage will include several pictures of food that is both delicious and terrible for you. I assume no responsibility for any cravings that may result.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: We got knocked out of the Pick Four early after 9-1 shot Bolita Boyz took the seventh. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that a scratch cut our losses to $18.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: My action focuses on a horse that may provide some value in the sixth race. I like #4 TURF WAR, who may have been best last time out off of a layoff and was compromised by a wide trip. I’ll play $4 doubles singling her that start with #1 IRISH FRONT, #2 KITTANSETT, and #7 TUMBLING SKY in the fifth, as well as $4 doubles starting with her in the sixth and ending with #2 OPTION VALUE, #7 GOZILLA, and #8 CARDIAC KID in the seventh. Finally, I’ll play a $1 Pick Three starting in the fifth that uses all of these runners.

TOTAL WAGERED: $33

– – – – –

BEST BET: Uni, Race 9
LONGSHOT: Seven Is Heaven, Race 2

R1

Englehart entry (MTO)
Wicked Freud
Startup Nation

#5 WICKED FREUD: Drops down in class for a strong barn and has run pretty well in all four of his starts this season. He’s certainly taken steps forward since being claimed in December, and he looks like the one to beat; #2 STARTUP NATION: Has not won in nearly five years and has not raced since late-2017. He comes back at the lowest level he’s ever run at, which hits me as a gigantic red flag; #7 CLOONTIA: Hasn’t won in a while, but likes Saratoga and stretches back out to a two-turn route of ground. He ran into a tough field for the level last time out, and that race was almost certainly shorter than he wants to go.

R2

Quiet Out East
Seven Is Heaven
Bassman Dave

#9 QUIET OUT EASY: Has run second in three straight starts and is one of only a few in here that’s shown he can pass horses late. The faster they go early, the better his chances figure to be; #5 SEVEN IS HEAVEN: Cuts back in distance after being wrapped up in the lane last time out. His effort two back off of a layoff wasn’t bad, and a repeat of that race gives him a shot at a price; #6 BASSMAN DAVE: Was second against similar foes last time out at Belmont and figures to be stalking the pace. He owns the top last-out Beyer Speed Figure in this race, and a similar effort would make him a contender.

R3

Lucky Curlin (MTO)
Decorated Invader
Summer to Remember

#7 DECORATED INVADER: Came flying late to be second in his debut at this route earlier in the meet. Improvement is certainly logical at second asking, though the rider change is a bit curious off of the strong effort; #1 SUMMER TO REMEMBER: Fetched $200,000 at auction in 2017 and is bred to love the lawn. He’s worked steadily for Todd Pletcher and may very well be good enough to win in his unveiling; #8 FAME TO FAMOUS: Ran fourth at a big price in his debut and attracts Luis Saez for his second career start. He’ll be a much shorter price than the 51-1 he was in that event, and for good reason.

R4

Running Violence
Wicked Trick
Elios Milos

#5 RUNNING VIOLENCE: Has been gelded since his last start and drops down from an open $25,000 claimer to a $16,000 claimer for non-winners of two. He’s got plenty of speed and is a threat to wire this group; #8 WICKED TRICK: Put it all together after 15 straight winless starts earlier this meet and tries winners for the first time. It’s entirely possible he was a dirt horse all along; #1 ELIOS MILOS: Was one-paced when fourth against slightly better earlier in the meet. That effort came when the track was playing very kindly to early speed, though, and he figures to be going well late.

R5

Kittansett
Tumbling Sky
Irish Front

#2 KITTANSETT: Hammered for $1.4 million last September at Keeneland, and for good reason. He’s by American Pharoah and out of a multiple Grade 2-winning mare, and he’s worked incredibly well ahead of his debut; #7 TUMBLING SKY: Debuts for Steve Asmussen, whose first-time starters here have been ready to run. Offspring of young sire Competitive Edge have looked impressive to this point; #1 IRISH FRONT: Draws the rail, which is often a concern with first-time starters, but comes in with a steady work tab of solid drills for Todd Pletcher. What concerns me more than the post, actually, is that he may be better-bred for turf than dirt.

R6

Turf War
Saint Moon
Catch a Thrill

#4 TURF WAR: May have been best earlier this meet, when she was caught very wide off of a long layoff and rallied to be beaten just a length. She should step forward in her second stateside start, and it’s not a shock she gets a new rider here; #7 SAINT MOON: Was most recently second in a minor stakes at Monmouth and will likely be on or near the lead here. She’s taken a big step forward off of a freshening she got earlier this year; #5 CATCH A THRILL: Was second in the race my top pick exits and will likely be doing her best running late. Her only poor effort to date came in the Grade 2 Appalachian, which was likely further than she wants to go.

R7

Gozilla
Option Value
Cardiac Kid

#7 GOZILLA: Has turned heads in the mornings for the Steve Asmussen barn ahead of his unveiling. The bullet work on July 28th jumps off the page, and if he runs to that, he hits me as the horse to beat; #2 OPTION VALUE: Sold for $210,000 as a weanling and is another with a strong recent gate work. Offspring of Into Mischief are usually precocious; #8 CARDIAC KID: Debuted going two turns, which is never an easy thing to do. He cuts back in distance for a trainer whose second-time starters are usually well-meant.

R8

Green Light Go
Zyramid
Noose

#3 GREEN LIGHT GO: Earned an 84 Beyer Speed Figure in his debut and has been working lights-out for a trainer not known for pushing his 2-year-olds very hard. That race’s runner-up has since come back to win, which only serves to flatter him; #2 ZYRAMID: Improved to graduate at second asking earlier this meet and showed some maturity that day rating just off of the front-runner down the backstretch. His pedigree says the added furlong won’t be an issue; #1 NOOSE: Romped in a 12-horse field at Churchill back in June and comes in off of a bullet work there on August 2nd. The rail draw isn’t ideal for a closer, but this barn has quietly emerged as one of the better 2-year-old outfits in the country of late.

R9

Uni
March to the Arch
Raging Bull

#3 UNI: Goes up against the boys here and certainly deserves the shot. She’s won five races in a row dating back to April of last year, and there’s more than enough pace here to set up for her late kick; #1 MARCH TO THE ARCH: Was a fast-closing fifth over yielding going in the Grade 3 Forbidden Apple. He’s far better over firm going, and a repeat of his two-back effort in the Grade 2 Wise Dan would give him a big shot; #4 RAGING BULL: Has been chasing better horses of late and cuts back in distance for this event. He won two graded stakes races here a season ago, and he may appreciate a return to his favorite track.

R10

La Chancla
Slimey
Alisio

#4 LA CHANCLA: Graduated when favored at second asking last month at Belmont and seems to be coming to hand for Rodolphe Brisset. She’ll be doing her best running late and seems like a logical favorite; #7 SLIMEY: Has won twice already this meet, although it’s unclear how much two muddy tracks helped her. She’s won over a fast track before, though, and she may just be peaking in the summer of her 3-year-old year; #3 ALISIO: Splashed home clear by more than seven lengths when last seen in December. She merits respect, although with her pedigree, I’m more inclined to think this may be a prep for a longer race down the line.

R11

Alphalfa
Magnesite
Wicked Grin

#5 ALPHALFA: Cuts back to a sprint distance and drops back into the maiden claiming ranks after a clunker going long against straight maidens back in June. His debut against similar foes was solid, and I’m inclined to think he’s the one to beat; #3 MAGNESITE: Will be running well late and has back form that makes him a contender. This barn is due to get rolling, and a repeat of his two-back effort may be good enough; #14 WICKED GRIN: Needs some luck to draw in off the AE list, but may be favored if he does. He’ll be dropping in class and would certainly be a threat to wire the field if he gets led over.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 8/12/18

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $602.50

Saturday was a pretty horrible day for those in charge of determining both which races would stay on the turf and when to make those decisions. Two races in the middle of the card were taken off the turf just 40 minutes before post time of the day’s first race, while the 11th was taken off the turf after the eighth race was run. The latter decision meant that several multi-race wagers ending in that race ended with an “ALL” payout, which is far from ideal.

We can’t control the weather. I understand that. With that being said, it’s not like those in charge didn’t know about the condition of the turf course and incoming threats to it. If you had a strong opinion in yesterday’s finale on the grass and played it as such in the Pick Six or late Pick Four, you got hosed, as your “ALL” tickets were worth less than others who used multiple horses (and as such hit for multiple combinations). Simply put, there has to be a better way to do this moving forward.

SATURDAY’S RESULTS: I can’t complain with the trip Mr Cub got in the Lure Stakes, but he folded turning for home. The losing streak continues, as we dropped $20.

SUNDAY’S PLAY: I’ll take a shot at the late Pick Four (assuming races carded for turf stay there). It looks like a fun sequence, and I’ll try to extract some value out of #3 SANTA MONICA in the Waya. My 50-cent ticket is as follows: 4,7 with ALL with 3 with 1,2,6,7,9,10.

TOTAL WAGERED: $36

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Malibu Stacy, Race 4
Longshot: Liora, Race 5

R1

Slot
Diodoro entry
Take Notice

#5 SLOT: Drops in for a tag for the first time after a failed turf experiment last time out. The Pletcher barn has been unusually aggressive of late, so the drop isn’t necessarily a red flag, and his usual dirt race would make him tough; DIODORO ENTRY: I prefer #2B YOU’RE KILLIN ME, who drops back in for a tag after a pair of OK races against starter allowance foes. Having said that, Cohen’s listed aboard both parts of the entry, meaning one part of it is likely to scratch, and I can’t pick it on top with that uncertainty in mind; #4 TAKE NOTICE: Gets a positive rider switch to Joel Rosario after fading at this route earlier in the meet. That was against a better group, and the lone work since hints that he bounced out of it well.

R2

Singapore Trader
Joe’s Smokin Gun
Sir Frost

#9 SINGAPORE TRADER: Drops into the maiden claiming ranks after several failed tries against special weight foes. He was second behind an eventual stakes winner here last year, and two turns could be the route he wants; #5 JOE’S SMOKIN GUN: Is 0 for 12 with three straight second-place finishes coming into this event. He’s shown improvement of late, though, and Ricardo Santana, Jr., hops aboard; #7 SIR FROST: Merits a look at a price. He likely needed the race last time out off the long layoff, and he showed significant improvement in his first start for Barclay Tagg, whose runners have been firing this meet.

R3

Data Driven
Yourdreamsormine
Big Guy Ian

#6 DATA DRIVEN: Was claimed by Robertino Diodoro following a second-place finish against similar foes last time out. His dirt sprints have been solid, and he’d benefit from a wet track if one was to present itself; #1 YOURDREAMSORMINE: Hasn’t won in more than a year, but drops in for a tag for one of the highest-percentage barns in the country. He has back races that would win this if repeated, although those races took place over Gulfstream Park’s surface (which is very different from Saratoga); #2 BIG GUY IAN: Has ample early speed and was claimed back by Rudy Rodriguez. He’ll likely set the early fractions, but the winless local mark is a major concern.

R4

Malibu Stacy
Fire Key
Rumble Doll

#2 MALIBU STACY: Seems like the lone true early speed horse in this turf sprint. She hasn’t won in a while, but she’s run against stakes-quality horses all year and will likely relish the class relief; #3 FIRE KEY: Was 2 for 2 at this route last summer and caught a very wet turf course a few weeks ago, rendering that race irrelevant. She could sit a great stalking trip beneath the rider that piloted her to both of those 2017 victories; #7 RUMBLE DOLL: Is a late-running closer that likes this route and would benefit from a speed duel. There’s a chance she’s past her prime, but this is a high-percentage barn that can’t be ignored.

R5

Multi Strategy
Liora
Speedy Solution

#6 MULTI STRATEGY: Fetched $240,000 at auction as a weanling and is bred to be a very good turf horse. Her turf Tomlinson rating of 341 is the highest in the field, and trainer Chad Brown must be respected; #8 LIORA: Closed powerfully in her debut, which was rained off the turf. She’s bred up and down for grass and could improve at second asking; #1 SPEEDY SOLUTION: Didn’t have the easiest of trips in her debut downstate, but was beaten just two lengths despite a pedigree that suggests she wants to go long. A cleaner trip could be enough to put her right there.

R6

Winandyourin Gin
Kiska
Feedback

#1 WINANDYOURIN GIN: Gets a tepid nod in an incredibly competitive 2-year-old race. She raced evenly going shorter and should improve with experience and added distance; #8 KISKA: Has worked well ahead of her debut for Todd Pletcher. Her local drills are solid, and progeny of Into Mischief are usually precocious; #3 FEEDBACK: Has been working steadily ahead of her unveiling, and the recent five-furlong drills are telling. She’s hinted at talent, but may want to go even longer than today’s distance.

R7

Frostie Anne (MTO)
Sweet Sting
Transaction Tax

#7 SWEET STING: Chased the talented La Moneda last time out and was third in a stakes race two back. If this stays on the turf, she’s strictly the one to beat based on her recent form; #4 TRANSACTION TAX: Clearly figures to be the one to catch, given her ample early speed. She was third last time out at this level, and while she may be better around one turn, she’s won going two turns in the past; #3 GONDORA: Makes her American debut and gets Lasix for the first time. Her prior connections thought enough of her to try her against some of Germany’s best fillies a season ago. DIRT SELECTIONS: FROSTIE ANNE, STAY FOND, MAXIMUS BEAUTY.

R8

Tight Ten
Call Paul
Sir Truebadour

#4 TIGHT TEN: Cruised to victory in his debut, where he easily dispatched 11 other rivals in wire-to-wire fashion. He’s bred to be very good, and it’s tough to argue with these connections given the success they’ve had this summer; #2 CALL PAUL: Earned this field’s highest last-out Beyer Speed Figure in a debut win at Delaware Park. He sold for $210,000 earlier this year despite a very modest pedigree, and there’s a chance he could be a freak; #5 SIR TRUEBADOUR: Wired the field in the Grade 3 Bashford Manor last time out and certainly has lots of early speed. They did crawl home that day, though, and Santana opts to ride the other entrant from this barn.

R9

Santa Monica
Mom’s On Strike
Lottie

#3 SANTA MONICA: Has won two of three starts since coming to America and most recently took the Grade 2 Dance Smartly at Woodbine. She beat a pretty good group that day, and a similar performance here would likely make her a formidable foe; #5 MOM’S ON STRIKE: Has won five of her last seven starts and was beaten just two lengths in the Grade 2 New York, a race whose second and third-place finishers have already come back to win. Joe Sharp has gotten off to a great start at the meet, and she’s shown she can get this distance; #1 LOTTIE: May be a cut below these, but is one of only a few that’s ever shown early speed. She was up close throughout last time out, and a similar trip here seems likely.

R10

Ayers Rock (MTO)
Girl at War
Structural Deficit

#2 GIRL AT WAR: Ran well in her debut despite being bred up and down for turf and forced to run on a wet main track. She’s by promising sire Declaration of War and out of a Galileo mare, and she should step forward at second asking in a tough-to-figure finale; #1 STRUCTURAL DEFICIT: Is one of the better-bred 2-year-olds on the grounds, being by the late Scat Daddy and out of a Tapit mare. The pedigree says she’ll take to turf, and she merits respect coming from the powerhouse Chad Brown barn; #6 TRISH THE DISH: Raced evenly in her debut after a slow break and was not helped by a very slow pace. She’s bred to want two turns, and Luis Saez sticking with her is a plus. DIRT SELECTIONS: AYERS ROCK, GIRL AT WAR, STRUCTURAL DEFICIT.

More War Stories from a Bizarre Career in Sports, Horse Racing, and Journalism

Last month, as part of “The Dark Day Files,” I wrote a few stories up from my life and career that hadn’t been chronicled anywhere. That post did pretty well, and I’ve heard that a few of those tales resonated with people in a cool way (the writer of the story chronicled in “Error-Gate” had completely forgotten about how it wound up affecting me, for instance). With that in mind, I’m doing a similar post (largely from my phone, since my computer’s keyboard is being finicky!), and I’ll throw a few stories up every once in a while for as long as people want to read them.

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THE CANOE

My father was confused as to why this story didn’t make it into the first batch of stories I told, so here we go. Every racetrack veteran has had memorable days of going to the track that have absolutely nothing to do with the horses, and some have very little to do with wagering. This is one of those times.

Before I go further, I should note that my father and I remember certain details about this ordeal a bit differently. I believe we were directly behind a hatchback that had a canoe on the top, and we were just shy of the Twin Bridges, which are between Albany and Saratoga on the Adirondack Northway. He thinks the car was in a lane alongside us near Malta, which is the last town you get to before Saratoga Springs going north.

Regardless of that, there’s no disputing what happened next. The canoe came loose of its bearings and dropped behind the car. It bounced once to where it was directly in front of us, and I remember ducking and throwing my arms up to stop myself from getting impaled.

Somehow, though, the canoe took a 90-degree bounce sideways, did not hit a single car on that bounce, and then skidded off the road and into the trees. It’s a little difficult to paint the picture of just how fortunate it was that nobody got hurt that day, but hopefully, you get some idea. My dad and I then got our respective clocks cleaned at the track that day, but we still consider ourselves winners.

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ESCAPING DRIVING DUTIES…AT THE DOG TRACK?

As some of you know, my career did not start out in horse racing. My first job out of college was in the athletic communications office at Siena College, where I did a little bit of everything. That included providing stats for some sports, putting on events, pitching story concepts to the media, and handling most of the department’s audio-visual coverage, including a segment called Siena Saints Weekly, which you can still find on YouTube to this day. In fact, here’s a “best of” compilation I did at the end of the 2011-12 school year.

Anyway, with such a small department and so many assignments to go around, I got the brunt of a lot of stuff. I did many things, and was proud to do many things, but there was an instance where I just had to draw the line.

The 2011 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball tournament was held in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Why Bridgeport? That’s a question that baffles many within the league to this very day. At any rate, on our way to this scenic locale, my two bosses, Jason Rich and Mike Demos (both of whom, I’m proud to say, are friends of mine to this day), started making noise about plans for the evening, complete with assigning me the job of hauling them around.

Silently, I began plotting a way out of it. Yes, I was the intern, but I was also NOBODY’S driver. My exit plan materialized before my eyes when I set my stuff down in the hotel room I shared with Scott Connell, a fellow Ithaca College graduate (go Bombers!) who was then an assistant medical trainer with the basketball teams. I opened up the curtains, and my reaction would have been much more subdued had I somehow stumbled upon the lost city of El Dorado.

A few blocks from the hotel…sat a long-closed greyhound racing venue that advertised live simulcasting of thoroughbred racing.

I don’t quite remember how I did it, but I snuck out without anyone noticing and with nary a clue about what tracks were running. I arrived to a pretty desolate scene, with a handful of older Korean gentlemen huddling around televisions that wouldn’t have been out of place 25 years earlier. I quickly found out that none of them spoke a word of English, and I proceeded to spend the rest of the evening handicapping Delta Downs with that group.

I could’ve been jumping from one seedy dive bar to another in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but instead chose to watch racing from a track in Louisiana with people I could not communicate with. Who says MY life isn’t worth living?

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OTHER SIENA STORIES

Many of these stories are good, but too short for their own entries.

– On a women’s basketball bus ride to Maine (EIGHT HOURS EACH WAY IN DECEMBER!!!), I overheard part of a game of “truth or dare” being played on the back of the bus. I didn’t exactly hear the question, but given that I heard an answer of, “Andrew, he’s kind of cute,” I can fill in the blanks. What bothered me was an instantaneous reaction of, “EW!!!,” by another player. Plot twist: Even though I was 10 rows ahead of the team huddled in the back, and even though they talked quietly to make sure nobody could hear them, I’ve always known who the players in question were and who said what.

– I was the media relations contact for Siena’s water polo team. In 2011, they had their senior day, complete with speeches from juniors to graduating seniors. One of the speeches, uttered in full view of the athletic director, featured the line, “You’re like Rihanna. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but chains and whips excite you.” I got blown up at for that by one of my direct bosses (even though it was never explained to me that I was supposed to take a leadership role in pulling this off), and the next year, we got a LOT stricter with the speeches (much to the dismay of the teams involved!).

– In the fall of 2011, as they did every year, my bosses gave media training seminars to student-athletes. It included showing a series of social media posts made by current or former student-athletes that showed what not to do (typical, college-kid stuff). One team’s response, one of a certain sort of outrage, was to block every member of the athletic communications office on social media. This included me, even though I had nothing to do with that!

– One of the college teams I served as a contact for threw particular fits about the pre-game music and its volume. Namely, during warmups, a number of people on the team would stop the drills, run to the side of the field the press box was on, and yell for us to turn it up. It’s no surprise that, the year they did this, said team went winless on the season.

– Best pre-game story: Before my very first field hockey game in 2010, I went down to the field to talk to the coach of Saint Louis University. A few of the players had multiple positions listed, and I wanted to make sure I got them right. The coach’s direct quote: “Don’t worry about it. It’s pretty much a free-for-all.”

– There is no worse rule in college sports than the one in softball that reads, “no error can take place when a player’s glove does not touch the ball.” If I could’ve burned a rulebook in protest every time such a ruling had to be made, I would have.

– The commissioner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has me blocked on Twitter. I know a few people who work closely with him, so I need to ask: What did I do? I never once actually TALKED with the guy.

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THE QUIET MAN

Between years at Siena, I worked for The Saratoga Special, a seasonal publication run by Joe and Sean Clancy. Many people of considerable merit in horse racing have cut their teeth working for the Special, including Churchill Downs track announcer Travis Stone, NTRA communications maestro Jim Mulvihill, and ESPN reporter Quint Kessenich. Because this is my site, I’m gratuitously adding my name to this list, and if you don’t like it, well, tough.

Anyway, I worked for them for a few weeks in 2011 before the Siena athletic year started, mostly grabbing post-race sound bytes for undercard stories. For the most part, I had a blast, and many of the people I interviewed could not have been nicer. I still have an “interview” I did with Helen Groves, who owned an impressive filly named And Why Not. I asked one question, and she talked uninterrupted for several minutes. It’s an easy job when all you have to do is hit a “record” button!

However, there was a part-owner who shall remain nameless that did something that sticks in my craw six-plus years later. He had a 2-year-old win at first asking, which is every big-time owner’s dream. I went and talked to him…and he said next to nothing before brushing me off. It should be noted that I talked with dozens of people at the track that summer, and he was the only one to give me that treatment.

One of his friends, to his credit, tried to do damage control, insisting that he was, “a private guy.” I shrugged him off, believing then (as I do now) that if you’re at the track to watch your horse run, you’d better be prepared to say something to someone if that horse wins. That taught me something about how to deal with people, and even now, I’ve prided myself on treating people better than I was treated that day.

Necessary postscript: The horse that got him into the winner’s circle that day never won another race.