A Requiem for a Different Saratoga Meet

Every once in a while, maybe every few years, I go out to dinner and have a weird internal dialogue with my subconscious. The last time I can remember this happening before Monday night was the week of the 2015 Breeders’ Cup. In addition to being the lone social media person for TVG at the time, the company was rebranding HRTV into TVG2, which meant redesigning what was then HRTV.com to fit the new brand, all while staying on top of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube during one of the four busiest weeks of the year.

That Thursday, I came into work at 6 a.m. and watched the sun rise on one side of the Howard Hughes Center. I left at about 8 p.m. after watching it set on the other side, and the first place of repute open on my way back to my then-apartment in Pasadena was a Denny’s in Culver City. I was running on fumes at that point, and it’s a miracle I didn’t pass out during that weekend’s TVG Extra broadcast (visions of overtime money danced in my head!).

My present-day corner of the world has a dimly lit dive bar next door. It’s called Vinnie’s, and after two long days of work Sunday and Monday, I wound up there as a local band was doing a sound check for a 10 p.m. set. The food isn’t fantastic, but it’s solid, cheap, and, most importantly to me on this particular evening, someone other than me was preparing it.

The best way I can describe Vinnie’s is this: Picture Sister Margaret’s, the bar in the “Deadpool” movies. It’s dark, to the point of being gloomy, and there’s sometimes strange stuff going on (on this particular evening, several people were shooting dice on the bar and sending the same $1 bill back and forth). It’s popular with bikers, but not the ones you need to be afraid of (think of the One-Eyed Snakes from “Bob’s Burgers,” in that they look menacing but are mostly harmless).

You may be thinking to yourself, “Self, I thought this was a horse racing column.” I’m getting there. The reason I was so winded tonight is because the 2018 Saratoga meet has come to a close after 40 cards of racing in upstate New York. It took me a little while to realize it, but I wound up at Vinnie’s for a reason. It’s a different kind of place, and this year’s Saratoga stand was a different sort of meet.

Sure, at its peak, it had the great racing Saratoga is known for. The meet hosted slam-dunk Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Monomoy Girl, who cruised to victory in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks. Top sprinter Imperial Hint ran roughshod over the field in the Grade 1 A.G. Vanderbilt. Fast-rising Marley’s Freedom galloped home much the best in the Grade 1 Ballerina for Red Jacket honoree Bob Baffert. Fans saw Saratoga County native Chad Brown set a single-season record for wins by a trainer, and were treated to a rousing rendition of the Travers, which found a way to stand out even without Triple Crown winner Justify (thanks, Catholic Boy).

There were certainly highlights, ones Saratoga produces every single year, and by the numbers, the track saw its second-highest all-sources handle in history. However, there were some bumps along the way. The first 20 days of the meet saw nearly 10 inches of rain drench the Saratoga area, and 50 races were rained off the turf. From a handicapping perspective, that often meant having to look at races twice, just in case the skies happened to open up.

There was also the infamous race run at the wrong distance. When Somelikeithotbrown waltzed home to break his maiden, it was going a mile and an eighth, not the race’s intended route of a mile and a sixteenth. Additionally, there were a few late scratches of horses entered as parts of entries, which meant that the remaining horses in those entries ran for purse money only and were not eligible betting interests. The worst-case scenario in that instance happened in one day’s opener, when half of a Joe Sharp-trained entry was ruled out and the other half won as much the best. Bettors who liked that part of the entry and bet accordingly got nothing for having a correct opinion, which is a situation that must be avoided at all possible times.

For me, this meet was weird in other ways, too. I started writing for The Saratogian in 2012, and stayed on as a seasonal freelancer after leaving for California in late-2013. In that time, I’ve seen a lot of changes at the newspaper. My two primary supervisors, managing editor Barbara Lombardo and sports editor Kevin Moran, took buyouts in 2015. David Johnson, who assumed Kevin’s post after his departure, left following the 2017 meet. This summer, the paper’s full-time sports staff consisted of two people: Editor Joe Boyle, whose primary job was to produce regular sports sections for both The Saratogian and The Troy Record, and Stan Hudy, who took the lead on producing The Pink Sheet. Compare that with the staff I walked into in 2012, which boasted a sports editor (Kevin), several full-time reporters (myself, David, Stan, Alex Ventre, and eventually Mike Cignoli), a few freelancers (Jeff Scott, who still contributes, and the great Mike Veitch, who retired last year), two clerks (Chris Maley and Tyler Michaud), and a dedicated sports paginator/copy editor (first Matt Donato, and then Ryan Hayner).

Even with a full staff, producing two sections a day for seven weeks is not easy (DRF colleague and former Saratogian sports editor Nicole Russo can back me up on that!). The realities of journalism are such that editors and reporters must do more with less on a constant basis. Joe and Stan put forth herculean efforts to get the paper(s) out as scheduled, and while I thanked Stan in my final bankroll blurb of the season, it’s worth doing so again here, in an area where I’ve got a bit more room to express myself. Thanks, Stan. Hopefully, I never held anything up!

From a handicapping standpoint, the meet was its own kind of difficult. Saratoga is always hard. The rule of thumb I’ve always used is that three wins per day is an admirable pace, and that 120 winners (three a day for 40 days) will yield a solid placing amongst other handicappers of that ilk. When I somehow came out on top amongst all print handicappers in 2017, I did so with 128 top-pick winners. John Shapazian, who won the crown this year, had 123. As I recall, one or two others were in the 115-120 range.

This year, Shapazian had 116 winners. Liam Durbin, who regained the Pink Sheet title, had 109. I had 108, and as far as I can tell, that was good for a clear third (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). These are incredibly low numbers compared to the ones that are usually needed to win, but that’s how hard this year’s meet was.

Put in other ways, consider a few of these facts: Talented but little-known trainers Chuck Lawrence, Gary Contessa, and Greg Sacco all won more Grade 1 races (one apiece) than longtime Saratoga maestro/future Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher (zero). Mark Casse, one of North America’s most respected horsemen, suffered through an ugly 0 for 48 streak at the Spa that ended when Fly Away Birdie came running late in the Labor Day opener. Gary Sciacca saw Casse’s streak and raised it 21 more, to 0 for 69 (special thanks to DRF’s David Grening for his note on the specific number). He hadn’t won a race at the Spa since 2016, but the drought ended when Sicilia Mike romped in Monday’s seventh race. Paraphrasing an Andy Serling remark from early in the meet, you’re nobody until you get crushed at Saratoga, and this year, the bakeries making humble pie did incredible business.

I look forward to Saratoga every year. I grew up going there every summer, getting autographs from jockeys, listening to Tom Durkin, and learning how to read the publication I’d eventually work for. There are changes every summer. More people I’ve rubbed shoulders with leave the business, for one reason or another. Durkin retired after the 2014 meet. Many people that populated the press box in 2012 and 2013 no longer work for those employers, and a few, unfortunately, have passed away (Paul Moran, Mike Jarboe, Matt Graves, and John Mazzie are all missed). We’re already preparing for one additional change that’s coming sooner rather than later, as longtime NYRA bugler Sam Grossman’s last day of work came and went Monday afternoon.

Saratoga provides a rush to be able to test my skills against other handicappers (for my money, some of the best ones around). As an incredibly competitive person drawn to horse racing not by fashion or Instagram photos, but by the very nature of pari-mutuel wagering (my money against yours), that’s always been something I value. Having said that, it’s also an incredible honor to produce content others can use as a tool to make some money, and that’s the primary reason I love doing what I’m privileged to do for seven weeks out of the year.

Personally, there are years where the Saratoga meet means something bigger. 2013’s meet was my way of burying myself in work to keep my mind off of other things in my life. 2017’s meet was about me proving several high-level doubters dead wrong, and I remain proud to say that that’s what I did (you can blame those doubters for me going into wrestling promo mode at times over the past year; if you find me, ask and I’ll tell you the story).

This summer wasn’t quite like that. It was an endurance test, handicapping’s version of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where hitting the wire brought with it its own special sense of relief (and, for a privileged few, some sense of accomplishment). It was a summer where a lot of creatures, both human and equine, had to navigate around situations that were far from ideal. To those that did: Congratulations. You made it.

God willing, I’ll see you all next year. I’ve got a title to get back!

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 9/3/18 (Labor Day)


BANKROLL: $1,178.20

Closing day is upon us, and there are plenty of people I need to acknowledge. First on that list (whether he likes it or not) is Stan Hudy, who took it upon himself to spearhead production of The Pink Sheet while also helping to produce content for the paper’s conventional sports section. This is not an easy thing for one person to do, especially when it’s tougher than ever to be a journalist at a smaller newspaper.

I also need to acknowledge my fellow Pink Sheet handicappers. Handicapping every race, every day, is a grind, especially when the horses you really like count the same as reluctant top picks. Heading into Sunday’s action, Liam Durbin and I were tied with 104 winners. It’s been a thrill to compete with him, as well as with Sam Hollingsworth, Dan Feiss, and our avian friend, and I hope we all get the chance to do it again next summer.

Last, but certainly not least, I need to thank you, the reader. Whether you bought a copy of The Pink Sheet or visited AndrewChampagne.com, it means the world to me that you read the content I’ve created. That’s a big reason why I look forward to doing this every year, and I sincerely hope I’ve helped you cash a few tickets this meet. We’ve got one more day of racing. Let’s make it a good one!

SUNDAY’S RESULTS: Our win bets went 0 for 2, as Beach Front just missed in the second and Bella’s Game wanted no part of two turns in the fifth. We dropped $40.

MONDAY’S PLAY: Since I don’t have a deadline to worry about, I’m focusing on the late Pick Four and looking to go out with a bang. My 50-cent ticket starts in the eighth race and is as follows: ALL with 1 with 1,3,7 with 2,14. #14 SPRING DRAMA is an also-eligible in the last race, so the ticket cost could easily be halved from $33 to $16.50. Additionally, based on her last-out journey, I must bet #2 LADY CAMILLE in the 11th on her own. I’ll put $20 on her to win and hope we get the 5-1 morning line price. For the final bankroll total, check @AndrewChampagne on Twitter at the conclusion of Monday’s card!



Best Bet: Voodoo Song, Race 9
Longshot: Princesa Carolina, Race 6


Catch Me If U Can
Fly Away Birdie

#7 CATCH ME IF U CAN: Is one of several contenders exiting a race on July 30th, and this one impressed me the most. He was very green that day, but was gaining ground late after sputtering on the turn. He goes to Steve Asmussen and should improve at second asking; #5 GUMP: Was a one-paced third in that race, but did take a step forward off of his downstate efforts. Irad Ortiz sees fit to ride back, and getting off the rail could help him; #2 FLY AWAY BIRDIE: Drops in for a tag after shipping in from Woodbine. He was a prospect for this barn and was bet to 6/5 in his debut, so it wouldn’t be a huge shock if the drop wakes him up, but this barn’s been ice-cold for the past few weeks.


Class Won (MTO)
All Clear
Fast Getaway

#3 ALL CLEAR: Was a competitive second behind a next-out winner in his turf debut back in May and gets Joel Rosario. He’s 8-1 on the morning line, but I’m guessing he’ll drop a bit by the time they load into the gate; #9 FAST GETAWAY: Showed speed against better earlier in the meet before fading to fifth. The yielding turf may not have helped him, and if he channels his two-back form, he’ll certainly be a major player; #11 LA MAQUINA GRIS: Hasn’t won on turf and doesn’t draw particularly well, but his lone recent one-turn turf sprint was a solid second at this level. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him run on late for a piece of it. DIRT SELECTIONS: CLASS WON, COMEONCOMEONCAT, WEGOTTOLDYOUGOTSOLD.


King for a Day
Calumet entry

#2 COMPLEXITY: Fetched $375,000 last year at Keeneland and has been working very well ahead of his unveiling. The inside draw isn’t ideal, but he’s a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Valadorna and has been working to the pedigree; #7 KING FOR A DAY: Is a half-brother to a stakes winner and is another with some flashy local drills ahead of his debut. The outside draw helps, and the Velazquez/Pletcher tandem certainly merits respect; CALUMET ENTRY: I prefer #1 SOUTHERN PHANTOM, who’s run two OK races to this point. He’ll get plenty of support at the windows for reasons that have nothing to do with his form, but he could certainly run well enough to be a factor.


Deep Sea
Full Salute

#4 DEEP SEA: Has won three of five starts since being claimed by Jason Servis, who’s enjoyed a stellar summer. He actually drops in class off of his win at Monmouth, and if he carries that form up I-87, he’ll be the one to beat; #6 FULL SALUTE: Was claimed out of a race against higher-level claimers earlier in the meet by Gary Gullo, who connects at a high rate with new acquisitions. He won’t be alone on the front end, but he should appreciate the class relief; #1 ROCKFORD: Is a stalwart of the NYRA claiming scene and will make his 54th career start in this race. He was a close-up second against similar foes last time out, and Joel Rosario sees fit to ride him back.


Kulin Rock
Honey Dont
Dominant Strategy

#9 KULIN ROCK: Drops in for a tag after chasing allowance foes for most of the year. He’s a one-run closer, and that could benefit him given the abundance of early speed that appears to be signed on; #5 HONEY DONT: Bounced last time out in his first start against winners, but ran a big race two back in his lone effort against claimers. He will likely sit a stalking trip and could get first run on the pace-setters turning for home; #4 DOMINANT STRATEGY: Wired a field of maiden claimers earlier in the meet in a race that doubled as his turf debut. He may be coming around as a runner, but the chances of him sitting a perfect trip and setting a slow early pace aren’t great.


Seek and Destroy
Princesa Carolina
Toy Moon

#8 SEEK AND DESTROY: Is bred to be a turf horse, but debuted with a solid effort going seven furlongs on dirt. She’s a half to graded stakes winner Tammy the Torpedo, and she should improve with a start under her belt; #4 PRINCESA CAROLINA: Didn’t do much running in her debut on the main track, but she’s bred up and down for grass. Her dam is multiple Grade 1 winner Pure Clan, who did her best work going long on turf, and there are no quibbles with top sire Tapit; #7 TOY MOON: Has gotten plenty of seasoning, and this will be her sixth start of the season. Her lone turf route race wasn’t bad, and that experience could help her.


Barely Impazible
Charlie McCoy
Discreet Mission

#7 BARELY IMPAZIBLE: Was impressive in his debut here last year, but went to the sidelines after that victory. He’s been working well at Monmouth and may have taken a step forward from age two to age three; #6 CHARLIE MCCOY: Exits a live race earlier in the meet, one where he ran second behind a next-out winner and directly ahead of another next-out winner. Manuel Franco returns to the saddle, and getting off the rail could help; #1 DISCREET MISSION: Responded to the sharp drop in class with a romp over a suspect group of claimers. He returns to a level he’s struggled at in the past, but there’s a chance he got some confidence from the recent victory.


Saratoga Colonel
Major Attitude
Four Knights

#1 SARATOGA COLONEL: Gets a tepid top pick in a wide-open turf route. He exits a decent state-bred allowance race, and his efforts two and three back were both pretty sharp; #3 MAJOR ATTITUDE: Comes back to turf in his first start for Marcus Vitali, whose recent numbers with new acquisitions aren’t the best. However, his numbers over the years have been quite good in that regard, and it’s not like this is the strongest race for the level; #9 FOUR KNIGHTS: Put it all together last time out in his first start off the claim for Joe Sharp. He faces winners for the first time, but this barn may have him going in the right direction.


Voodoo Song
Inspector Lynley

#1 VOODOO SONG: Is 5 for 5 at Saratoga and became a Grade 1 winner in this year’s Fourstardave. He seems like the lone speed in this race, and between the pace scenario and his back class, he’ll be very tough to beat; #5 INSPECTOR LYNLEY: Hadn’t won in more than a year before he took the Lure Stakes earlier this summer. He’s 2 for 2 at Saratoga and would be the chief beneficiary if another runner in here challenged my top pick early; #2 PROJECTED: Is a consistent sort and runs for the always-dangerous Chad Brown barn. He’s run second behind each of my top two picks in his last two outings.



#7 MUCHO: Put forth one of the most impressive efforts by a 2-year-old this summer when winning by nearly 10 lengths. This barn isn’t necessarily known for his success with young runners, but a repeat of his last-out effort would make him the one to beat; #3 NITROUS: Won a maiden race last time out that featured a pretty solid group. He’s worked well leading up to this race for an outfit that must be respected; #1 SOMBEYAY: Overcame some adversity to take the Grade 3 Sanford in the opening stages of the meet. The rail draw isn’t great given his running style, but he’s yet to run a bad race and should be moving in the right direction late.


Spring Drama
Lady Camille
Grand Banks

#14 SPRING DRAMA: Is strictly the one to beat if she draws in off the AE list. She’s run well against maiden special weight foes in the past, and this certainly seems like a much softer group; #2 LADY CAMILLE: Was third when favored at this level, but she did not have a great trip that day. The added distance is a bit of a concern, but I’m betting that she sits a cleaner trip beneath new rider Manuel Franco; #10 GRAND BANKS: Is 0 for 21 lifetime and has run second in three of her last four outings. She’s impossible to endorse on top, but her usual race likely gets her a piece of the meet finale.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 9/2/18


BANKROLL: $1,218.20

Heads up, everyone: Due to the 12-race program, post time today has been inched up to 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. The early start and long card both make for a pretty long day, but on the plus side, today’s program is excellent, with a really fun feature (the Grade 2 Prioress) that anchors the late Pick Four.

Out of respect for my editor’s deadline, and given that I like two horses that figure to offer value earlier in the day, I won’t give out a late Pick Four ticket as an official play (the last race goes off at almost 7 p.m., and that’s pushing it). Having said that, if you want a 50-cent ticket to play starting in the ninth race, the one I’d propose (assuming, of course, that races carded for turf stay there) would cost $20. That ticket is as follows: 8 with 4,5 with 2,4,5,6,7 with 1,4,7,10.

SATURDAY’S RESULTS: I got bounced out of the early Pick Four right away, when Dowse’s Beach found his old form at a short price and turned my $36 ticket into confetti.

SUNDAY’S PLAY: I’ll have a pair of $20 win bets on the card, and they both come in turf races. #3 BEACH FRONT looks like an overlay at 7/2 in the second race given his turf pedigree and recent workouts, while #4 BELLA’S GAME doesn’t catch the strongest group in the fifth following a strong maiden win downstate and could provide some value given the presence of likely favorite Sweet Connie Girl. If one of them wins, it’s a profitable day. If both win, we’ll have a lot more to play with on closing day.



Best Bet: It’s a Lovely Day, Race 6
Longshot: Miko, Race 11


Take It to Scale
Merger of Banks
Ruler of the Nile

#8 TAKE IT TO SCALE: Drops considerably in class, but does so for aggressive connections, and the drop isn’t quite as alarming as that of this race’s other likely favorite. He sports a recent bullet work and got a cushy outside draw; #2 MERGER OF BANKS: Took a step forward in his first start for Rudy Rodriguez, which was a win against a much weaker field. There’s a chance these waters are a bit deep, but there’s also a chance he’s finally starting to figure things out following a positive trainer switch; #4 RULER OF THE NILE: Was a million-dollar baby last year but hasn’t panned out, hence the sharp drop in class. If he channels the form he showed in his debut, he’ll be tough, but that was nearly six months ago.


Beach Front
Quick Charge

#3 BEACH FRONT: Is bred up and down for turf and has been working well for a barn that’s had success with debuting runners. His 319 turf Tomlinson is the second-highest number in the field; #12 PIPES: Was a close-up third less than two weeks ago and will be tough if he draws in off the AE list. He’ll need to work out a trip from an outside post, but a repeat of the most recent race may be good enough to win; #5 QUICK CHARGE: May not necessarily be bred for turf, but he’s worked very well ahead of his unveiling and is a half-brother to seven winners. It wouldn’t be a shock if he’s ready to run right away.


Fully Vested
Mac Jagger

#5 ALMITHMAAR: Was up close to a very fast pace earlier in the meet going slightly longer. The cutback to six furlongs should help him, and he may prove tough to catch with a clean break; #2 FULLY VESTED: Led all the way last time out and makes his first start against winners. He may have been moved up by the muddy track, but that situation could present itself again here; #1 MAC JAGGER: Won first time out for a barn that isn’t necessarily known for success with those runners. He hasn’t been seen since April, and the rail draw isn’t ideal, but he’s worked well ahead of his first start in more than four months.


Off Topic
Dance Club
Graceful Princess

#7 OFF TOPIC: Boasts a series of very strong workouts ahead of her unveiling. She’s not exactly bred in the purple, but she is a half to two winners, and these connections merit respect even in what could be considered a “down meet” for them; #1 DANCE CLUB: Had every reason to quit first time out following a lousy break, but rallied a bit and salvaged third. This barn’s horses tend to improve with experience, and the most recent work indicates that she’s taken a step forward; #4 GRACEFUL PRINCESS: Is by Tapit and out of Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, which alone ensures that she’ll take money. Her recent five-furlong drills are sharp, and this barn unveiled eventual champion Caledonia Road around this time last year.


Solitary Gem (MTO)
Bella’s Game
Sweet Connie Girl

#4 BELLA’S GAME: May not have beaten a ton last time out, but did so in visually impressive fashion and seems to have come up against a very light group. The pedigree says she may get this trip, and she could still be improving given her relative inexperience; #12 SWEET CONNIE GIRL: Drops in for a tag after running third here earlier in the meet. Her closing kick may have been dulled by the yielding surface, and her best race may win this, but she’ll need to work out a trip from an undesirable post; #8 SHE DOESN’T MIND: Merits respect given her recent form, but while she’s collected plenty of minor awards, she hasn’t won in nearly three years. Her most recent race at this level was OK, but I can’t endorse her on top. DIRT SELECTIONS: SOLITARY GEM, TIZ PRICELESS, HAVANA AFFAIR.


It’s a Lovely Day
Take Me to Hardoon
Girl of Tosconova

#9 IT’S A LOVELY DAY: Brought $185,000 at auction here last year and has every right to be a runner. Her dam was a stakes winner, and also a full sister to two other stakes winners; #6 TAKE ME TO HARDOON: Has been working well ahead of her unveiling, and the two most recent works really stand out. The full field will likely ensure a square price; #7 GIRL OF TOSCONOVA: May have hinted at some ability with her August 23rd workout, which was the second-fastest of 63 at the distance. She’s kin to five winners, and a full sister of stakes-placed runner Our Super Nova.


Stand for the Flag
Takecharge Mirella

#9 STAND FOR THE FLAG: Has been putting forth big efforts in the mornings ahead of her debut, and she’s bred to be a nice one. Her second dam is My Flag, making her dam a half to champion Storm Flag Flying; #6 UTIKI: Hammered for $175,000 earlier this year despite a very modest pedigree, which hints that she worked extremely well. Her recent gate drills have gotten stronger, which is always encouraging; #4 TAKECHARGE MIRELLA: Was second behind the very impressive Feedback in her debut and finished five lengths clear of the third-place finisher. She could improve at second asking, but given the well-meant firsters in this event, she may have to.


Year of the Kitten
Phone Funky Munky

#7 KILLEEN: Drops in class for this event after finishing third against higher-level runners here last month. Javier Castellano hops aboard, and he could sit a perfect stalking trip behind several that figure to battle for the lead; #8 YEAR OF THE KITTEN: Hasn’t won since a successful debut in November, but has had bad luck by rating in paceless races. He could get a much more favorable race shape here at a square price; #5 PHONE FUNKY MUNKY: Is another that’s been compromised by slow paces of late. He’s won over this surface before and could benefit from a switch back to the turf.


Indy Union (MTO)
Mighty Scarlett
Too Cool to Dance

#8 MIGHTY SCARLETT: Drops down in class after chasing graded stakes foes in her last two starts. She’s shown she can get this distance, and her usual race would make her very tough to beat; #3 TOO COOL TO DANCE: Is the other half of a strong 1-2 punch for trainer Chad Brown. She’ll likely go early, and her two-back win downstate shows that she can get this distance; #7 FAST TRACK KATHERN: Is a “feast or famine” type that throws in clunkers sometimes, but when she runs well, she runs really well. This is a class test for her, but she’d benefit from an early speed duel, which could happen given the fair amount of zip some of these runners have shown. DIRT SELECTIONS: INDY UNION, GOODBYE BROCKLEY, FAST TRACK KATHERN.


Mia Mischief
Dream Pauline
Dream Tree

#4 MIA MISCHIEF: Did everything but win in the Grade 1 Test, when she helped set a fast pace and was beaten a neck by a multiple Grade 1 winner. She cuts back to six furlongs, and it helps that she doesn’t necessarily need the lead in order to run well; #5 DREAM PAULINE: Came off the bench running with a win in a swift allowance race earlier in the meet. Javier Castellano rides back, and she figures to be running well late; #8 DREAM TREE: Went 4 for 4 over the fall and winter before an injury sidelined her. This barn must obviously be respected, but it’s worth noting her two most recent wins came over suspect fields.


Out of Trouble
Transaction Tax

#2 OUT OF TROUBLE: Hasn’t run a bad race since going to the Brad Cox barn last fall. She’s got three wins and three seconds in six starts since then, and her tactical speed is a big plus on the inner turf; #5 TRANSACTION TAX: Was third in a similar spot early in the meet after setting a very fast pace, but she’s won going two turns in the past. If my top pick doesn’t fire, this is the one that could benefit from an easy early lead; #7 MIKO: Prevailed over a weaker group a few weeks ago and has won twice in three local outings. She’s shown improved tactical speed of late, and this barn’s beginning to heat up as the meet draws to a close.


Turco Bravo (MTO)
Master Plan
Sycamore Lane

#10 MASTER PLAN: Ended a long drought with a win at this route last month, when he prevailed by a nose over soft going. He’s probably better over firmer ground, and this may actually be a lesser group than what he beat in that aforementioned race; #1 SYCAMORE LANE: Takes a gigantic class drop after chasing a pair of Grade 1 winners in each of his last two outings. These waters are much shallower, and the recent bullet workout is a big plus; #4 NEOCLASSIC: Has won two of his last three races and makes his first start for Patrick Reynolds, who doesn’t claim many runners but reached in for this one back in June. He’ll do his best running late, most likely, beneath solid turf rider Luis Saez. DIRT SELECTIONS: TURCO BRAVO, MASTER PLAN, EXTINCT CHARM.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 9/1/18 (Woodward Day)


BANKROLL: $1,254.20

In any industry, one is prone to bonding with colleagues. Horse racing is no different, and I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by some extraordinary people over the course of my career. One of them is making his maiden voyage to Saratoga for Woodward Day, so it’s appropriate that I dedicate this section to him.

Danny Kovoloff is one of the kindest, most good-hearted people you’d ever hope to meet. He kept me sane for several years at a prior stop in my career, and was one of a few people I leaned on during a particularly rough situation about a year and a half ago. I owe him a lot, so here’s my request: If any of you readers out there run into him today, please ask him many questions about the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, which doubles as his favorite race of all-time.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: We were alive to OK will-pays in our doubles, but could do no better than third in the second leg and dropped $20.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: I think today’s Pick Four sequences are pretty attractive, and I’ll focus on the early one starting in the second race. My 50-cent ticket is as follows: 7,9 with 4,8,9 with 2,4,5,8 with 1,4,7. I’m trying to beat morning line favorite Weather Wiz in the payoff leg, and if that one fails to win, this could pay pretty well.



Best Bet: Raging Bull, Race 9
Longshot: Hence, Race 11


Frolic More
Fed Fever

#6 SIGNALMAN: Ran on late to be second behind an eventual graded stakes winner in his debut. He’s coming off a bit of a layoff, but he’s been working very well here for a barn that’s done well at the meet; #5 FROLIC MORE: Has been working lights-out here for a trainer that won with a debuting runner on Travers Day. If he runs to the work tab, he’s got a big shot to win first time out; #8 FED FEVER: Was bet a bit at first asking and finished well behind the promising Nitrous. He’s worked well since that race, and improvement seems logical at second asking.


Platinum Prince
Zoot Suit
Natural Order

#9 PLATINUM PRINCE: Was claimed last time out by Robertino Diodoro, who has strong numbers with new acquisitions. He hasn’t won in a while, but he drops to run here for aggressive connections; #7 ZOOT SUIT: Hasn’t run in a while and drops in class, but he could be tough if he channels some of his back turf form. He’s got plenty of early zip and should be prominent early; #8 NATURAL ORDER: Cuts way back in distance, but has some back turf sprints that aren’t bad. This barn has done well with a limited number of runners this meet, and Franco sees fit to ride back.


Business Cycle
House Limit

#4 BUSINESS CYCLE: Has run well in both of his career starts and looms large in this spot. His most recent race was his first outing since November, and any movement forward off of that race would make him incredibly tough to beat; #9 HOUSE LIMIT: Has been working very well ahead of his debut and draws well towards the outside. This isn’t the easiest spot in the world, but this barn’s gotten hot lately and must be respected; #8 BRASSTOWN: Makes his first start for Jorge Navarro after several outings at Woodbine. His lone dirt effort saw him check right out of the gate, which makes it an easy throw-out, and his recent works are sharp.


Team Colors
Night Prowler

#5 TEAM COLORS: Came flying late to miss by just a half-length last time out. He was claimed by Robertino Diodoro, and he could benefit from a race shape that figures to be kind to closers; #8 ATTRIBUTE: Certainly seems like the main speed in here, especially given the presence of aggressive rider Kendrick Carmouche. He chased a very talented horse home last time out, and he could overcome a pace that will likely be swift; #4 NIGHT PROWLER: Hasn’t won in nearly two years, but drops in class and adds blinkers for Chad Brown. He’ll likely get a pace to close into, and these are shallower waters than he’s used to.


Uncle Sigh

#7 PLAINSMAN: Makes his first start following a trainer switch to Brad Cox. This is a pace play, as while he hasn’t won in a while, every other horse wants to be on or near the lead, which could set things up for this one to pick up the pieces; #1 UNCLE SIGH: Was second against similar foes earlier in the meet and generally runs the same race every time out. He may need to go early to secure position from the rail, but his best could certainly win this; #4 WOODERSON: Graduated earlier in the meet, and while he sat a perfect trip, he came home very quickly. Rachel Alexandra’s younger half-brother may be coming into his own, but he’ll likely need to go much faster early on.


Noble Spirit
Noble Nebraskan
Spirit Animal

#2 NOBLE SPIRIT: Was a solid third in his debut going two turns, which is never an easy route to travel first time out. George Weaver saddles a pair of contenders in this race, and this one’s worked well since his unveiling; #7 NOBLE NEBRASKAN: May finally get a chance to run for Weaver after scratching several times earlier in the meet. He’s bred up and down to be a strong turf horse, and I’ve been waiting for him to debut for weeks; #3 SPIRIT ANIMAL: Was a distant fourth in an off-the-turf event, and every bit of his pedigree says he’s a grass horse, so I can draw a line through that race. This seems like the trip he wants, and these connections merit respect.


Long Haul Bay
Uno Mas Modelo
Devils Halo

#6 LONG HAUL BAY: Ran terribly in a state-bred stakes race, but that was such a departure from his prior form that I’m ignoring it. I think it’s likely he bounces back to his early-season form, and if he does, he’s got a big shot in a wide-open event; #3 UNO MAS MODELO: Has won two in a row, including a swiftly-run allowance race earlier in the meet at a big price. Javier Castellano rides in this spot for a barn that’s hit with four of its 12 local runners this summer; #7 DEVILS HALO: Has won two of his three starts and has shown a lot of early zip. This is a class test, but he’s bred to get better with experience, and the outside draw could be a big help.


Strike Me Down
Vegas Kitten

#4 STRIKE ME DOWN: Made a big middle move last time out against similar-level foes, only to be beaten a neck. He always seems to fire, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he shows a bit more early speed in this spot; #10 HIZEEM: Broke his maiden earlier in the meet and tries winners for the first time. He’s worked very well since that race and has a big shot, but he must negotiate a trip from the far outside post; #2 VEGAS KITTEN: Add blinkers for the first time after an OK showing at this level in late-July. His lone win came when he was close to the pace, and the blinkers could get him involved early on.


Raging Bull
Golden Brown

#3 RAGING BULL: Had a lot going against him in the Grade 2 Hall of Fame, but rallied and got up in the last jump over yielding going. The faster they go early, the more he figures to like it, and there’s some speed signed on here; #7 THERAPIST: Has won six of eight career starts, and while he’s beaten weaker groups in his last two outings, there’s a chance he’s peaking coming into this race. His flexibility is a plus, and he may be a bit of a price given the class jump; #4 GOLDEN BROWN: Prevailed in the Grade 3 Kent two back, where he beat eventual Grade 1 Secretariat winner Carrick. A dirt experiment in the Grade 1 Haskell didn’t go well, but this seems like the right level and spot for him.


Chasing Yesterday
Restless Rider
Virginia Eloise

#7 CHASING YESTERDAY: Is the younger sister of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and ran very well in her debut at Del Mar. Baffert and Smith mean business when they come to Saratoga, and she’s been working very well ahead of this Grade 1 event; #11 RESTLESS RIDER: Has done nothing wrong to this point, as she’s gone 2 for 2 with two daylight wins. She has a recent bullet work to her credit over the training track, and the outside draw could be a boost; #3 VIRGINIA ELOISE: Made up lots of ground in the Grade 2 Adirondack, where she missed by just a half-length. There’s a ton of speed signed on, and this one’s bred to want the additional distance some of her opponents may be dreading.


Seeking the Soul

#9 GUNNEVERA: Came back running against a much weaker group at Gulfstream in a prep for this Grade 1 event. He was second in last year’s Travers and won the 2016 Saratoga Special here, so the surface isn’t a problem, and there’s a chance he’s only getting better in his 4-year-old campaign; #10 SEEKING THE SOUL: Missed by a head last time out in his first start since January, but that race was not the goal. He’s worked very well since that race, and he figures to be going the right direction late; #5 HENCE: Is inconsistent and sometimes throws in dull efforts, but when he’s right, he’s quite good. He could clunk up for a piece of it in a wide-open renewal of the Woodward.


Santa Monica
Lady Montdore

#5 SANTA MONICA: Has won two of three starts since coming to North America, including the Grade 2 Dance Smartly. She’s taken steps forward in every one of those outings, and her best race would make her very tough; #3 ONTHEMOONAGAIN: Had a rough trip in her North American debut, where she did not get through along the rail. She should improve off of that showing, and her races in France indicate that the added distance won’t be a problem; #8 LADY MONTDORE: Romped at this route earlier in the meet in a race that doubled as her first start in 11 months. A bounce is possible, but she’s another that showed potential overseas and could simply be putting things together with experience.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 8/31/18


BANKROLL: $1,274.20

Over the past few days, there’s been lots of chatter on social media about the possibility of Horse of the Year honors still being up for grabs. Some fans are backing Accelerate, probably the top older horse in training. Others are rallying behind Travers winner Catholic Boy, who has now won Grade 1 races on dirt and turf.

I respect both of those horses, but let’s get real for a moment. “Undefeated Triple Crown winner” is a resume that tops anything Accelerate or Catholic Boy could potentially put forth by the end of the year. Three and a half years ago, many of us were wondering if we’d ever see a Triple Crown again, and now we’re trying to act like it’s nothing special? Justify is Champion 3-Year-Old Male, Horse of the Year, and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. To those trying to create a debate where there shouldn’t be any room for argument: Stop the madness this instant.

THURSDAY’S RESULTS: We were washed out of our action when the third race was moved to the main track.

FRIDAY’S PLAY: Honestly, this card looks chalky to me, so I can’t invest too heavily. I’ll focus on $5 doubles linking the seventh and eighth races of the day, ones that start with #5 BIG BIRTHDAY and #7 FRENCH EMPIRE and end with #7 NAPLES PRINCESS and #10 DANCING ALL NIGHT.



Best Bet: Chiclet’s Dream, Race 1
Longshot: Naples Princess, Race 8


Chiclet’s Dream
Barrel of Destiny
Dreamers and Me

#1 CHICLET’S DREAM: Has run second at this level on three straight occasions, but seems to catch a below-average field in this spot. She may have moved a bit early last time out and will likely be a very short price; #2 BARREL OF DESTINY: Was fourth in a state-bred stakes race earlier in the meet and comes back to the maiden ranks here. She may have been compromised by the yielding going last time out; #5 DREAMERS AND ME: Rallied to be second in her debut downstate and stretches out to two turns. While the added distance is a question mark, Bruce Levine has had a strong meet to this point.


Champagne Papi

#4 APARTFROMTHECROWD: Takes an alarming drop second off of a long layoff, but does so for a trainer probably looking to set the record for wins at a single Saratoga meet. As such, the drop doesn’t really scare me; #5 PLAYWRIGHT: Has run one poor race since late-2016, and it came off of a considerable layoff. He was second against similar-level opposition earlier this month and figures to be prominent early; #2 CHAMPAGNE PAPI: Merits a look underneath at a huge price. This race may set up for a closer, and he’s coming off of a runaway win at Monmouth Park.


Global Impact
My Mr. Wonderful
One More Tom

#7 GLOBAL IMPACT: Broke last in his debut but rallied to salvage third money. Chances are he got a lot out of that race, and he’ll be tough (especially with a clean break); #4 MY MR. WONDERFUL: Drops way down in class and comes back to dirt. His best race may have been his debut, where he ran second over this track; #3 ONE MORE TOM: Didn’t do much running earlier in the meet, but he adds blinkers on a drop in class, and that could be enough to wake him up.


My Impression

#6 RYMSKA: Reeled off three wins in a row last year before going to the sidelines. Horses often take big leaps forward from age three to age four, and her best effort would make her formidable; #5 PENJADE: Won four of six 2017 starts, and like my top pick/her stablemate, she makes her 2018 debut here. She may be a bit more pace-dependent than the fellow Brown trainee, though; #1 MY IMPRESSION: Has run against plenty of top-tier turf distaffers in her career and may have been hurt by the yielding going last time out. These connections must be respected, and she may be a price.


Quiet Company
Lady Grace

#5 QUIET COMPANY: Led most of the way in an off-the-turf event last month, but had to settle for third money. She could take a step forward at second asking, especially over a surface she’s bred to like; #8 LADY GRACE: Fetched $300,000 at auction earlier this year and has been working well. This barn has been ice cold, but offspring of Kantharos tend to excel on grass, and this filly seems well-meant; #14 EGOLI: Needs lots of luck to draw in but must be respected if she does. Wesley Ward is tremendous with debuting turf sprinters, and the most recent work hints that she’s ready to run.


Scarf It Down
Bar None
Divine Interventio

#3 SCARF IT DOWN: Drops in class a bit after tiring at this route earlier in the meet. He hasn’t won in a while, but there doesn’t seem to be much speed signed on, and the likely race shape could play to his tactical speed; #2 BAR NONE: Ships up from Belmont and cuts back in distance. He’s run well going seven furlongs in the past, and the Ortiz/Rodriguez combination merits respect; #6 DIVINE INTERVENTIO: Was impressive when rallying to a runaway win earlier in the meet. This spot seems a bit tougher, and the pace may not be as fast, but there’s a chance he’s recaptured his early-2017 form.


French Empire
Big Birthday
Baccarat Fashion

#7 FRENCH EMPIRE: Cuts back in distance after running third going seven furlongs. She appears to have ample tactical speed and could still be improving; #5 BIG BIRTHDAY: Wasn’t sharp at short odds earlier in the meet, but her race two back going today’s distance was solid. A repeat of that effort would make her a player, but chances are we won’t get any sort of a price; #4 BACCARAT FASHION: Has shown lots of early speed on the Mid-Atlantic circuit and ships up for a barn that doesn’t run many horses on the NYRA circuit. Luis Saez sees fit to ride, and she figures to be a sizable price.


Dancing All Night
Naples Princess
Quick Quick Quick

#10 DANCING ALL NIGHT: Has made a habit of collecting minor awards, so the addition of blinkers could be a big help. Between that and the cushy outside draw, this seems like a “now or never” spot; #7 NAPLES PRINCESS: Has shown a strong closing kick and could be helped by the likely race shape. She was third in a tough allowance race earlier this month, and the faster they go out of the gate, the more this one figures to like it; #11 QUICK QUICK QUICK: Broke her maiden here last summer, and while she hasn’t won since, she returns to a sprint distance, which could be more up her alley.


Pocket Change
Big Rock
Rocket Heat

#8 POCKET CHANGE: Didn’t break well going a mile and ran into eventual Fourstardave winner Voodoo Song. He returns to his preferred distance and class level and will likely be backed heavily at the windows; #6 BIG ROCK: Found himself on the lead last time out, and that’s not the trip he wants. He’s 3 for 4 at this route of ground, and he could sit a perfect stalking trip; #3 ROCKET HEAT: Aired by four lengths at this route earlier in the meet and was claimed out of that event by a small barn that doesn’t claim many horses. He’ll likely set the early pace, and there’s a chance he’s fast enough to work out a comfortable trip.


Heaven’s Creation
Problem Solving
Claire’s Kitty

#4 HEAVEN’S CREATION: Was claimed by Robertino Diodoro earlier in the meet and comes back to one turn. Toss out her turf races, and you’re left with a hard-trying filly that fits very well in the Friday finale; #5 PROBLEM SOLVING: Comes back to dirt and drops in for the lowest claiming tag she’s ever run for. Rosario and Baker make a very strong team, and she’s shown an ability to do her best running late; #3 CLAIRE’S KITTY: Comes back to dirt after a failed attempt on turf last time out. Her maiden win two back was fine, and she was third at this distance earlier this season.