Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 8/31/17


BANKROLL: $926.35

Seeing a field of five signed on for Saturday’s Woodward was disappointing, but not surprising. Gun Runner is arguably the top older horse in training, and the defections of Grade 1 winners Shaman Ghost and Cupid weren’t small ones. However, the Grade 1 Spinaway only getting a field of five is insulting to that race’s history, as well as the history of the track it’s run at.

Saratoga has the reputation of a track where 2-year-old prospects burst onto the scene. To be fair, the field does include runaway Adirondack winner Pure Silver and flashy first-out graduates Separationofpowers and Lady Ivanka. However, with 2-year-old races run every single day this meet, a field double the size of what will line up Saturday wouldn’t have been shocking. Long story short: This race deserves better.

WEDNESDAY’S RESULTS: I was right in my theory that the late Pick Four would pay well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with With Anticipation winner Catholic Boy despite having half the field on my ticket. As a result, we dropped $30.

THURSDAY’S PLAY: I’ll take another swing at the late Pick Four, and my ticket is built around #3 ORBOLUTION in the P.G. Johnson. My 50-cent ticket: 5,6,8,10,12 with 2,6,8 with 3 with 1,4,6,9,11.



Best Bet: Ultimateenticement, Race 5
Longshot: Saratoga Charlie, Race 10


No Wunder
Balance the Budget

NO WUNDER: Was second at this level earlier in the meet and seems logical here. He found stakes company too tough two back, but he’s fit right in here before; GIZA: Was in good form before his last start, which saw him leave the course early. He should be prominent early for powerful connections; BALANCE THE BUDGET: Was fifth in the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick last time out and gets significant class relief here. He led midway through that race and could make the lead in this spot at a bit of a price.


One More Round

FORGE: Takes an aggressive drop in class after three starts against straight maidens, none of which were bad. The early pace last time out was probably too fast, and he should have an easier go of it here; IRST: Was a close second in his first start at this level a few weeks ago. Few are better with new acquisitions than Linda Rice, who claimed him out of that race; ONE MORE ROUND: Had a strange trip last time out in his first start off a long layoff. He’d traditionally been a speed horse, but was well off the pace in the slop. He fits with a more conventional go of it here.


Control Group
Minsky Moment
Born for a Storm

CONTROL GROUP: Has won two in a row, including a wire-to-wire score against claiming company at this route earlier in the meet. This is a tougher spot, but he should make the lead from his inside post; MINSKY MOMENT: Has done very little wrong in four starts and has never finished outside the top two. He was a close second behind a winner who sat a perfect trip last time out, and these connections merit respect; BORN FOR A STORM: Tries two turns for the first time and has the running style to embrace such a route. He’s been a bit one-paced in two starts this meet, and he did run an OK second at a mile last year.


Cozzy Spring
Shimmering Moon
Jules N Rome

COZZY SPRING: Won two in a row before a failed turf experiment last time out. There’s some speed signed on here, but she seems quickest of these out of the gate and is a real threat to go wire-to-wire; SHIMMERING MOON: Cruised home in her first start for Michelle Nevin earlier this meet. This may be a tougher group, but she has the potential to sit a perfect trip just off the speed; JULES N ROME: Comes back to state-bred competition after a third-place finish against open company. She loves this track, and while she may be a bit off her best form, she could easily get a piece of this.


Candy Zip
Five Star Bunt

ULTIMATEENTICEMENT: Was a strong second in his local debut to a well-meant Chad Brown trainee. He was four lengths clear of the rest of the field that day, and his experience is a big plus against this largely-inexperienced field; CANDY ZIP: Has worked well of late here for a trainer that can have debuting runners ready to roll. The August 3rd bullet jumps off the page, and he’s clearly one to consider; FIVE STAR BUNT: Was fourth behind two next-out winners last month (including a stakes winner). He’s had issues at the gate in each of his two outings, but Javier Castellano signing on could signal this barn’s intent.


Hard Scramble (MTO)
Grand Sky
Rate for Me

GRAND SKY: Took a step forward first off the claim earlier this month, rolling home for powerful connections. He’s got two wins and a second at this route, and he should be rolling late; RATE FOR ME: Has won two in a row and seems to be figuring things out. He may not have beaten a tough field last time out, but this barn has had a strong meet, and further improvement would make him dangerous; HOLD ME BLACK: Was run down late in his local debut and had to settle for second despite a big effort. He nearly overcame a far-outside post, and today’s assignment is a bit more forgiving in that regard. DIRT SELECTIONS: HARD SCRAMBLE, PORTANDO, HOLD ME BLACK.


Zonic (MTO)
Summer Mischief
Appealing Briefs

SUMMER MISCHIEF: Showed improved early speed last time out, pressing a decent pace and hanging on for third. This race doesn’t appear to have a lot of speed signed on, and he could clear most of these going into the first turn; APPEALING BRIEFS: Was second in that same race, but sat a much better trip rating well off the pace. He seems to have a habit of running second, and it wouldn’t be too shocking if he breaks through; GRAND VALOUR: Was distanced early in his debut but somehow rallied to salvage fourth, making up nearly 14 lengths in 5 1/2 furlongs. This is a tougher group, and Castellano taking off isn’t encouraging, but I need to throw him in. DIRT SELECTIONS: ZONIC, GRAND VALOUR, CATCH A CAB.


Jupiter Rising
Storm Prophet
Manifest Destiny

JUPITER RISING: Was probably left with too much to do last time out in his first try against winners. He’s since been transferred to the Todd Pletcher barn, and two turns shouldn’t be a problem; STORM PROPHET: Is extremely consistent, but has not won since October of 2015. His usual effort almost certainly gets him a piece of it, but I have a tough time endorsing horses like this on top; MANIFEST DESTINY: Hasn’t won since his debut, but he’s woken up a bit going long on turf. He figures to be prominent early, and note that he beat this race’s likely favorite home last time out.


Life Time Citizen

ORBOLUTION: Woke up last time out in her turf debut, rolling home against overmatched maidens. She’s one of just two in here with two-turn experience, and continued development would make her tough to beat; MENTALITY: Went wire-to-wire in her debut downstate back in June and stretches out here. The pedigree suggests she should handle the added distance, and she’ll likely make the lead early on; LIFE TIME CITIZEN: Has a running style that indicates she’ll love two turns. She was one-paced in a similar-level race going shorter a few weeks ago, so this trip could suit her.


Hy Brasil
Saratoga Charlie

BUNYAAN: Was an OK second going two turns last month and makes his first start for new trainer Linda Rice. She’s in the midst of a stellar meet, and this one gets the nod in a wide-open finale; HY BRASIL: Took advantage of the class drop last time out with a win in his first start for a tag. His race three back at this distance wasn’t horrible, and this barn merits respect; SARATOGA CHARLIE: Figures to be a big price off of two clunkers, but those races came against much better horses. Additionally, he’s done some of his best work at this distance, with a win and a second in two starts at seven furlongs.

THE DARK DAY FILES: Short Fields in Big Races, and How to Stop Them

Sunday’s Shuvee at Saratoga made handicappers from all walks of life wince. The race named for a mare that won back-to-back renewals of the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1970 and 1971 (back when that race was the biggest race for older horses on the east coast), one that boasted Grade 3 status and a healthy $200,000 purse…drew just a three-horse field.

This is a recurring theme this year, and it’s a growing concern around the country. The Beholder Mile, a Grade 1 race for older fillies and mares at Santa Anita, saw another three-horse field. Sharp Azteca demolished just three others in Sunday’s Monmouth Cup. Saturday’s Jim Dandy, the main local prep race for the Travers Stakes, had a five-horse field, as did the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch at Del Mar a day later.

What’s going on here? These races are the ones fans care about, and, allegedly, they’re the ones big-money owners get in the game to compete in. If that’s the case, why are top horses continually avoiding these spots, leaving the track, fans, and gamblers to suffer and grouse?

As I mentioned in Sunday’s edition of The Pink Sheet, there’s no easy answer to this problem. What we’re seeing here is a combination of factors, ones I hope to shed a bit of light on in this edition of “The Dark Day Files.” Got something to add? Think I nailed it? Think I’m full of…something? Send in your questions and comments. I promise, I read every one.

The first thing to consider is the declining foal crop. When you start off with less possible horses and have the same number of races, average field size is going to decrease. This, unfortunately, is a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon, nor is there anything resembling an easy solution. Thankfully, there are other factors the industry can influence that may lend a hand in solving the short field conundrum.

I’ve talked at length in past columns at many previous stops about the breeding industry and how the tail wags the dog in many instances. In prior decades, horses were bred to run and did just that for many years. It wasn’t uncommon to see top horses run 10-15 times per year for multiple years. Now, though, if you’ve got an exceptional 3-year-old male, stallion rights are often purchased very early, and the priority often becomes getting them to their second careers unscathed.

From the financial standpoint of owners and breeders, this is logical. A male horse can only earn so much money in a career, and will earn exponentially more at stud. Take, for instance, American Pharoah, who commanded $200,000 for his breeding services in 2016 and had dates with more than 200 mares. On paper, that results in a cool $40 million, and we won’t even know if his offspring can run until 2019! That we didn’t get to see him race against California Chrome and Arrogate as a 4-year-old is unfortunate, but given these financial figures, we should be extremely grateful we got to see him run three times after he made Belmont Park’s grandstand shake.

I have nothing against breeding operations, many of which double as some of horse racing’s top owners and do great things for the sport. They’re taking advantage of a proven business model, as they have every right to do in such a competitive industry. With that said, here’s the most important question that we need a definitive answer to: Are we still breeding to race, or are we racing to breed?

If we’re breeding to race, let’s breed for stamina and soundness instead of pure speed and, ahem, “brilliance.” Let’s make sure the horses that rise to the top of the game are given the chance to stay there and can run more than once every two or three months, and let’s give fans chances to see them do their thing at racetracks around the country. If we’re racing to breed…well, then that opens up a can of worms this column can’t address.

Meanwhile, there’s also plenty that tracks can do to solve the problems short fields bring. They’re hurt by those in many ways, from the negative publicity they result in to the lack of handle they generate. NYRA, in fact, buried the Shuvee as the first race on Sunday’s card, so as to keep it out of the Pick Six and Pick Four sequences.

The most obvious answer is to reward the horses and connections that run multiple times at the highest level. Give them additional reasons to show up, perhaps bonuses for horses who sweep certain races or finish best in a certain series. Forever Unbridled skipped the Shuvee, a race she would’ve almost certainly been favored in, to await the Personal Ensign on Travers Day. Would that decision have been made if, say, $250,000 was to be awarded to connections of horses who win multiple graded stakes races at the same Saratoga meet? I don’t know, but I bet that carrot being dangled would have at least gotten the connections thinking about it. Furthermore, that could’ve easily brought a mare or two from Monmouth’s Molly Pitcher (which somehow drew eight horses for half the purse) up north earlier than anticipated. To go further still, imagine what such a bonus program would do for 2-year-old races at Saratoga, which are already considered some of the most competitive in the world.

Del Mar has gotten rave reviews for their “Ship and Win” program, one that helps ensure fields are full and brings in connections that don’t normally frequent California meets. Install a similar program at Saratoga, one that provides travel reimbursement and purse incentives, and you’ll likely see an increase in field sizes, especially for big races. NYRA can certainly find the money to make all of this happen, and for the sake of the product and to avoid future embarrassment in graded stakes races on big stages, they should do just that.

There are other, smaller things that can be done, of course. Let’s get a neutral study on the effects of certain race-day medications (like Lasix) on a horse’s long-term soundness and strength. Let’s forgive horses that lose (looking at you, Arrogate bashers), or horses that win, but not the way we want them to (looking at you, Songbird bashers). Let’s appreciate the horses that stick around for a while and make us remember why we fell in love with the game, rather than attempt to nitpick their resumes for what they didn’t do (looking at you, Wise Dan bashers who couldn’t stand that he raced mostly on turf).

I’m a handicapper, a gambler, a social media producer, and a writer. Above all, though, I’m a fan of this great game, one where you can be closer to the athletes than anywhere else and legally make money if your opinion is correct. I sincerely hope that this trend of short fields goes down as an unfortunate fad akin to the pet rock, the Macarena, and male rompers. If it doesn’t, top-tier racing, with the exception of a few big days, could be in for a world of hurt.