SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (8/30/20)


BANKROLL: $598.20

I wish I could provide something that is, at a minimum, mildly amusing in this space today. I enjoy doing that, especially for people who really enjoy reading my stuff. However, a family emergency makes that impossible. Thankfully, all parties involved in this particular situation are physically okay, so things could be far worse.

It’s been a lousy year for a lot of people, and being divided on seemingly every possible issue hasn’t helped. My plea in this space today: Be nice to each other. We don’t know most of the struggles our fellow human beings are going through, and there may not be a whole lot we can do in those instances. However, being there to listen goes a long way. Do that.

SATURDAY’S RESULTS: When your best result is a scratch, you know it’s been a lousy day at the office. My three remaining win-place bets all fizzled, and I dropped $30.

SUNDAY’S PLAY: Once again, it’s tough to dive in without being 100% sure of the track condition. However, I think we may get a fair price on #5 ZONIC in the sixth. I’ll put $20 to win on him and hope trainer Orlando Noda continues his hot streak.



Best Bet: Dubb entry, Race 4
Longshot: Sol Del Sur, Race 10


Thin White Duke
Sam and Sy
Boss Bear

#13 THIN WHITE DUKE: Needs some luck to draw in off the AE list, but he’ll be very tough if he does. He’s run well in all four of his prior starts and took a step forward figure-wise when a tough-luck second last time out; #3 SAM AND SY: Comes in off a pair of bullet drills ahead of his unveiling. He’s by promising young sire Speightster and from the same female family that produced Group 1 winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Sakhee; #2 BOSS BEAR: May have needed his debut earlier this month, and the rough start certainly didn’t help. Mike Maker’s horses often need a race or two to get going, and Irad Ortiz, Jr., sees fit to ride back.


Blood Moon
Super Wicked Charm
Buona Fina

#2 BLOOD MOON: Hasn’t won this year but takes a gigantic drop in class for aggressive connections. He’s run third against a pair of starter allowance fields at this route and should be on or near the lead early. If he gets comfortable, he’ll be tough to catch; #1 SUPER WICKED CHARM: Tried turf at Monmouth last time out and gets back to his preferred surface here. Red-hot reinsman Luis Saez has the mount, he’s won going two turns in the past, and he’ll likely be a pretty nice price; #3 BUONA FINA: Won a pretty ugly maiden claiming event a few weeks ago and faces winners for the first time. He did, however, run a decent second two back in the slop when chasing a next-out winner, so perhaps a step forward is in the offing.


No Mo’ Spending
Elusive Site
Rosey’s Peach

#4 NO MO’ SPENDING: Was third beaten less than two lengths in her local debut and has turned in two strong drills since that effort. This seems like a weaker group than the one she faced last time, and another step forward could make her tough to beat; #6 ELUSIVE SITE: Can’t be dismissed given the barn she comes from and the solid gate work on August 21st. However, that work was a pretty sharp improvement from months’ worth of prior drills, so I’m not sure how much confidence can be gained from it; #2 ROSEY’S PEACH: Debuted by running fourth in the same race my top pick exits. She’s got some ground to make up on that rival, but it’s not inconceivable to think she can step up to grab a piece of it.


Dubb entry
Ian Glass
Golden Decision

#1A HIEROGLYPHICS: Responded to a big drop in class last time out with a romp over several foes that also show up here. He’s won three of six starts on this turf course, and if this race stays on the grass, a fourth victory looks likely; #9 IAN GLASS: Wired a weaker group last time second off the bench beneath a heads-up ride from Joel Rosario. That pilot gets back aboard, and the Ray Handal barn has been sending out live runners for most of the meet; #2 GOLDEN DECISION: Hasn’t won in a while, but drops down in class for this race and won his most recent start for anything close to this claiming price. The faster they go early, the better his chances figure to be, and there’s some early zip signed on here.


Cease and Desist (MTO)
Red Ghost
So Enchanting

#5 RED GHOST: Sports several strong works ahead of her debut for world-class 2-year-old trainer Wesley Ward. She’s a half-sister to six winners, and her second dam is a Grade 2-winning full sister to the great Alysheba, so there’s plenty to like from a pedigree standpoint; #9 SO ENCHANTING: Sold for $275,000 at auction last September and debuts for top-notch connections. She’s by top turf sire More Than Ready, has been working well for Chad Brown, and may be talented enough to overcome the wide draw; #7 PERFECTION: Is bred up and down for turf and is worth a look at a big price. Her second dam is champion Possibly Perfect, and sire Malibu Moon has been known to throw horses with ability on the grass.


Summer Bourbon
Lazarus Project

#5 ZONIC: Rallied late to be third against similar company last time out in his first start for this barn. Improvement is logical second off the bench, especially for a hot trainer, and it helps that he’s never been worse than third in three local starts; #2 SUMMER BOURBON: Ran third when in for twice this tag last time out. The drop from a state-bred $25,000 claimer to an open $12,500 claimer isn’t huge, but his tactical speed is an asset; #4 LAZARUS PROJECT: Hasn’t won in a while but showed significant improvement when third against similar early in the meet. Renowned gate rider Kendrick Carmouche should have him on or near the lead early, and perhaps being able to save some ground will help.


Good Credence (MTO)
Barrel of Destiny

#2 BARREL OF DESTINY: Ran too poorly to be true last time out, so I’m drawing a line through that effort. She won three in a row before that, gets the services of Irad Ortiz, Jr., and may be a bit of a price given the last-out clunker; #7 DANCINGWTHDAFFODLS: Came flying late to take an allowance event going shorter downstate. Two turns is a bit of a question mark, but there’s certainly plenty of speed in this event, so if she’s ever going to get this route, it may well be in this spot; #1 SHORT POUR: Lost all chance when hard to handle early several weeks ago. When she’s right, she’s got a ton of early speed, and Luis Saez will likely send her to the front to capitalize on the inside draw.


Gandy Dancing
Harris Bay
Flying Finish

#4 GANDY DANCING: Chased a well-meant returnee last time out at this level, but still managed to run a solid second. With so much early speed on paper, I’m exclusively going with closers in this race, and he seems like the best of the bunch; #8 HARRIS BAY: Was third in the race my top pick exits and hasn’t really run a bad race to this point. He’s spent most of his career against stakes foes to this point, and the faster they go early, the better his chances figure to be; #6 FLYING FINISH: Came storming home with, well, a flying finish to graduate two back at Belmont. I think the cutback to one turn and the return to state-bred competition will help him here, and Irad Ortiz, Jr., coming back to ride is also encouraging.


Royal Flag
Golden Award

#9 ROYAL FLAG: May not have liked the Monmouth Park surface when a distant third in the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher. She won three in a row at three different tracks before that and has worked steadily ahead of her run in the Grade 3 Shuvee; #3 LETRUSKA: Wants to go as fast as she can for as long as she can, and that strategy has led to three wins since coming to the states late last year. She’s shown she can get a two-turn route of ground, and if she gets left alone on the lead, look out; #5 GOLDEN AWARD: Was second in the Summer Colony earlier this summer, but should sit her preferred trip here. She seems a bit better when she has a target to chase, as opposed to being on the lead. That situation should materialize here, and she could have every chance to win this event for the second year in a row.


Modern Science
Sol Del Sur
American Diamond

#3 MODERN SCIENCE: Hit the front in the stretch last time out, but had to settle for second that day. He bested the third-place finisher by daylight, and a similar effort here will likely put him in the winner’s circle for the first time; #5 SOL DEL SUR: Showed late interest when fifth in his debut, which came in that same event. Bill Mott’s runners usually step forward with experience, and this son of Medaglia d’Oro is bred to get better as he gets older; #12 AMERICAN DIAMOND: Merits a look at a price if he draws in off the AE list. This son of American Pharoah is bred up and down for turf and sports an impressive 369 turf Tomlinson rating, the highest such number in this field.

SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (7/21/19)



My favorite story about the late Marylou Whitney involves Birdstone’s upset of Triple Crown hopeful Smarty Jones in the Belmont Stakes. She was the winning owner of a horse that just won one of racing’s most prestigious races. Her first instinct, though, was not to celebrate, but to apologize to the crowd that came to see a coronation and largely went home disappointed.

You don’t need to be a follower of racing’s social scene (and trust me, I’m not) to understand and appreciate what Marylou Whitney brought to Saratoga. In addition to being a link to the aristocrats of the mid-20th century that congregated in the Saratoga clubhouse each summer, she facilitated a gigantic volume of service to the sport and those around it while asking for nothing in return.

By any measure, Marylou Whitney lived a full life. She was 93 years old when she passed away Friday, just a few weeks away from her induction into racing’s Hall of Fame as a “Pillar of the Turf.” If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s this: Saratoga is a lesser place without her in it.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: After many chances, Andretta graduated out of the maiden ranks in the third race and spoiled Pick Four and double tickets. We dropped $30.

SUNDAY’S PLAY: I’ll concentrate on the seventh race, where I like a pair of debuting runners. I’ll key #5 MERITATEN and #10 SEQUIN on top of $3 exactas that include those two, #1 FLY SO PRETTY, #7 MOM’S PASS, and #8 QUEEN OF SHADES underneath. Additionally, as a value play, I’ll use them to finish off $3 doubles that start with #6 MAMMA DEE (my longshot of the day) in the sixth.


– – – –

BEST BET: Guarana, Race 4
LONGSHOT: Mamma Dee, Race 6


Whitman’s Poetry

#1 MARKHAN: Has won three in a row and is undefeated since coming to North America. He seems to be in career form right now, and he looms large as the one to beat in the first steeplechase of the meet; #4 RENOWN: Tossed his rider last time out, but has a solid body of work. Prior to becoming a solid steeplechase horse, he was stakes-placed on the flat and ran third in last year’s John’s Call; #7 WHITMAN’S POETRY: Always seems to fire, but is winless in his last eight starts. He can’t be ignored underneath, but he’s tough to trust on top.


Business Cycle
Brush Country

#6 BUSINESS CYCLE: Has misfired in both of his 2019 starts and takes a gigantic drop in class for this event. There’s a chance he peaked last year, but he did show some late interest last time and may not have to run to his 2018 form to win; #3 BRUSH COUNTRY: Was competitive when third against $40,000 claimers last time out at Churchill. In a race full of class-droppers, he seems fairly logical, especially given that his last two races have both come at this distance; #7 HEYITSNRICOPALAZO: Makes his second start off the layoff here (almost certainly to the delight of track announcer Larry Collmus) and showed some speed last time out. This barn is 2-for-2 so far this meet, and a step forward would make him a candidate to hit the board at a price.


Borough Boy (MTO)
Value Engineering
Bad Boy

#9 VALUE ENGINEERING: Is one of several dropping in for a tag for this barn Sunday, and like most of the others, he looks tough. He’s been very competitive against straight maidens, and several of his prior opponents have come back to win; #8 BAD BOY: Drops back in for a tag and was competitive against similar-quality foes this past winter at Gulfstream. The return to a two-turn route should suit him; #5 CRYPTO GOLD: Merits a look underneath at double-digit odds. He crossed the wire first two back before being DQ’d and should be moving in the right direction late.


Point of Honor

#1 GUARANA: Certainly seems like the best horse in a below-average group of 3-year-old fillies, and she’s strictly the one to beat in the historic Coaching Club American Oaks. She’s never been two turns, but with her pedigree, such a trip shouldn’t be a problem; #5 POINT OF HONOR: Has won three of four starts and rallied to take a Grade 2 last time out at Pimlico. She may not get as much pace to run at here, but if nothing else, the distance won’t beat her; #3 BOXWOOD: May very well be the lone speed if Guarana’s rider opts to sit back. She was second in a solid optional claimer last time out and could hold on for a piece of it with the right trip.


Per Capita
Majority Rules
Scars Are Cool

#2 PER CAPITA: Tops a strong 1-2 punch for Chad Brown, who may very well sweep the early Pick Four. He was third in a very fast maiden race last month at Belmont and has the pedigree necessary for this two-turn trip; #6 MAJORITY RULES: Was a close-up second in his debut going a mile back in May. The layoff is a bit of a concern, but he boasts a few strong local works and could improve at second asking; #4 SCARS ARE COOL: Tries two turns for the first time after running a close-up third at Churchill Downs. The pedigree says he may want turf, but this barn’s quietly had an excellent year and cannot be ignored.


Mamma Dee
Chestnut Street
Art Buff

#6 MAMMA DEE: Was second against similar company at Belmont and comes back to two turns, a configuration she ran very well at this past winter at Gulfstream. Turf closers have run with aplomb so far this meet, and she figures to get a pace to run at; #1 CHESTNUT STREET: Has not run in nearly 11 months and drops in for a tag for the first time. She showed some talent here a season ago, but neither of those are strong signs for a 5-year-old mare that will likely be favored, so I’ll try to beat her; #9 ART BUFF: Comes back to turf, and while her lone prior turf start was a disaster, there’s reason to think she’ll improve. Her dam was a stakes-winner on the lawn, she boasts a strong 310 turf Tomlinson figure, and this barn’s horses tend to need some time to get going.


Fly So Pretty

#10 SEQUIN: Fetched $500,000 at auction, and the pedigree says she’s a runner. Early returns on young sire Bayern are promising, and her dam is a half-sister to both Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve and Grade 1-placed filly Mother Mother; #5 MERITATEN: Debuts for a barn that can have first-time starters ready to roll. Her dam is a full sister to multiple Group 1 winner The Gurkha, and she was also Grade 3-placed in Ireland; #1 FLY SO PRETTY: Was third in her debut despite a very wide trip and draws more favorably here. Javier Castellano hops aboard, and the Mark Casse barn merits respect.


Three Technique
Yankee Empire

#6 BASIN: Was beaten a nose by By Your Side, who went on to roll in the Grade 3 Sanford earlier in the meet. That flattering result, plus the potential for improvement at second asking, make this one the one to beat; #2 THREE TECHNIQUE: Was a good second in his debut, and the colt owned by Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells is another that could take a step up. The pedigree screams “turf router,” but this barn has done well with 2-year-olds; #3 YANKEE EMPIRE: Ran well when chasing my second selection in his unveiling, and did so for a barn whose firsters aren’t always fully-cranked. The recent bullet workout looks very attractive, and I think he’s a must-use in the exotics.


Bernin’ Thru Gold

#10 HOBOE: Ran well here twice a season ago and has the right running style for how the turf is playing. The outside post isn’t ideal, but he likes two turns and will be rolling late; #7 MORRISON: Is another with solid local experience, as he won an optional claimer here last year before running a competitive fourth in the West Point. He likely needed his last start off of a long layoff, and if you’re looking for a price to light your fire, this one may be it; #1 VARIANT PERCEPTION: Lost a photo last time out at Monmouth, but did so to a next-out winner after coming home very quickly. If he brings that form north, he’s definitely a contender for powerhouse connections.


Restoring Hope
Majestic Affair

#2 RESTORING HOPE: Wired a solid field of optional claimers in his 2019 debut at Gulfstream back in March and returns here. This distance should hit him right between the eyes; let’s just hope his journey here doesn’t spark as much outrage as his last one in New York did; #8 BORRACHO: Rallied to finish third in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens, and it’s a bit surprising to see him turn up here rather than in a stakes race. The faster they go early, the better his chances are; #9 MAJESTIC AFFAIR: Steps up in class off a win for Robertino Diodoro, but loves this seven-furlong trip and gets Jose Ortiz. The outside post and a perfect stalking trip could make him a contender.


Significant Form
Broadway Run

#4 SIGNIFICANT FORM: Overcame a slow pace to win her return to the races in the Grade 3 Intercontinental last time out. The cutback to 5 1/2 furlongs is a question mark, but she showed some maturity in her 2019 debut, and I think she can handle it; #5 MORTICIA: Is the other logical top choice in here and always seems to fire. She’s hit the board in 19 of 22 career starts, won nine times, and has a win over this turf course; #2 BROADWAY RUN: Was a close-up fourth behind Significant Form last time out, but seven furlongs may have been a tad long for her. She won a stakes race at this route a season ago and could relish the shorter trip.


Daddy Knows (MTO)
Bad Guy

#10 PIPES: Gets my top pick in what I consider the toughest race of the meet to handicap to this point. I can’t feel too strongly about anything here, but he checked hard last time out and lost all chance, so if nothing else, this is a value play for me; #11 BAD GUY: Has tried two turns on turf once in the last year, and that race was his lone win in that time span. The outside post is an obstacle, but he should be running well late; #8 INTERNET OF THINGS: Tries turf for the first time and may not have to be much to pick up a check. Chad Brown’s numbers with first-time turfers are strong (shocker), and he’s shown some versatility in the past.


Wow Cat
She’s a Julie
Golden Award

#5 WOW CAT: Gets a tepid top selection in a very strong renewal of the Grade 3 Shuvee. I don’t like the layoff, but there’s a lot of early speed signed on (including her stablemate), and that could set the table for last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff runner-up; #1 SHE’S A JULIE: Has developed into a very good 4-year-old for Steve Asmussen and won a Grade 1 two back at Churchill. She was second in last year’s Alabama, so we know she likes the track, and she should have enough speed to use the rail to her advantage; #3 GOLDEN AWARD: Has a resume that looks far better if you draw a line through the Grade 3 Doubledogdare. She was a good second last time out, when she was beaten a nose by a next-out winner at this level, and the recent bullet workout is attractive.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 7/29/18


BANKROLL: $867.50

If you read Saturday’s Pink Sheet, you saw a cool article on fellow handicapper Sam Hollingsworth. He’s a very good horseplayer, but an even better guy that puts up with almost-daily requests from some annoying dude based in California to pass along the pick box. If you missed the article (written by this year’s hardest-working man in show business, Stan Hudy), it’s up on The Saratogian’s website.

SATURDAY’S RESULTS: Engage looked to be in perfect position turning for home in the Amsterdam, but Promises Fulfilled had something left in the tank, repelled the charge, and turned the $20 double ticket into confetti. One note: While California Swing ran second in the second race, that $5 win-place bet was cancelled when the race was switched from turf to the main track. If you’re curious, I would’ve made a whopping 75 cents on that wager.

SUNDAY’S PLAY: From a betting standpoint, this hits me as an excellent card. I’ll focus on the late Pick Four, where I’ll attempt to get a pair of singles home to finish off the program. My 50-cent ticket starts in the seventh, and is as follows: ALL with 1,2,5,6,10,11 with 4 with 1. I’ll also play a cold $5 double linking my two singles (Wow Cat in the ninth, Powerstroke in the tenth).



Best Bet: Wow Cat, Race 9
Longshot: Uno Mas Modelo, Race 7


Lou’s Chardonnay
Summer Punch
Promises Broken

#5 LOU’S CHARDONNAY: Hated turf last time out and comes back to dirt while also taking a steep drop in class. It’s always tough to predict if Churchill form will travel, but the recent local workout inspires some confidence; #6 SUMMER PUNCH: Has never missed the board on dirt and recently drilled a weaker field downstate. She’s been off for a bit, but this barn connects at a high rate with similar returning runners; #7 PROMISES BROKEN: Hasn’t won in a while, but cuts back in distance and takes a slight class drop third off the layoff. She’s shown ample early speed in the past, and the cushy outside post is a plus.


Ultimate Cause
Lady Love

#2 MIKO: Is one of many in here exiting a strangely-run race on July 4th. I’m not crazy about the race itself, but this one seems like the lone early speed in the field. She won over this turf course last year and could sit a picture-perfect trip; #10 ULTIMATE CAUSE: Stretches back out in distance after finishing fourth against better turf sprinters downstate. The outside post isn’t idea, but John Velazquez getting the call should mean she gets a chance at an OK trip; #1 LADY LOVE: Found her form at Tampa this past winter/spring and ran on well in her first start for Charlton Baker. The lack of early speed hurts, but when this barn gets horses going in the right direction, they tend to stay on the correct path.


Leah’s Dream (MTO)

#8 FACTORING: Won two in a row before a wide trip last time out. She finished fourth behind a next-out winner that day, and if this race stays on turf, she strikes me as the horse to beat; #7 GLOSSY: Beat weaker foes pretty easily last time out and is another that would benefit from a fast pace. She’s worked well downstate and is certainly a major player; #6 TEXAS MUSIC: Seems like the main pace presence here off a win at Presque Isle. Ricardo Santana, Jr., has gotten off to a strong start this meet, and she could get brave on the front end. DIRT SELECTIONS: LEAH’S DREAM, TEXAS MUSIC, PARANOIA.


Always Shopping
Into the South

#6 ALWAYS SHOPPING: Debuts for Todd Pletcher and is bred to be a good one. She’ll be ridden by John Velazquez and has worked fairly well leading up to her career debut, where she’ll likely be a short price; #3 INTO THE SOUTH: Was disqualified from second in her career debut at Churchill Downs, but unlike #1 MERADA (who exits the same race), she’s worked well since then. Improvement is logical at second asking; #5 ROTATE: Is very intriguing, even though Bill Mott runners often need a race or two to get going. She’s worked very well leading up to her unveiling and could be a square price.


Anazara (MTO)
Alternative Energy
Tapping Colors

#4 ALTERNATIVE ENERGY: Fetched $280,000 at auction despite a modest pedigree and has worked well ahead of her debut. She boasts an impressive 336 turf Tomlinson rating and should love the grass for live connections; #10 TAPPING COLORS: Has had her chances, but stands a big chance here if she can repeat her efforts downstate. She’s been second at this level twice in a row and should be coming late; #7 MY BRONX TAIL: May have bounced last time out after a strong effort two back off the layoff. She has plenty of zip and could show the way early. DIRT SELECTIONS: ANAZARA, FACE IT, ALTERNATIVE ENERGY.


Rugbyman (MTO)
Strike Me Down
Own Agenda

#5 STRIKE ME DOWN: Gets my top pick in an event that hits me as the best betting race of the day. He had a nightmare trip in the Queen’s Plate, but still rallied to finish fourth behind Wonder Gadot, one of the top 3-year-old fillies in North America; #12 OWN AGENDA: Graduated last time out and tries winners for the first time, but is bred to love the turf and should be pretty prominent early. With that in mind, he strikes me as an overlay at anywhere close to his 15-1 morning line price; #4 PRIORITIZE: Won at first asking going two turns at Gulfstream, which is never easy to do. His most recent race wasn’t bad, and it came in a fast race for the level, so there’s reason to believe there’s talent here. DIRT SELECTIONS: RUGBYMAN, PONY UP, PROVEN RESERVES.


Lerner entry
Uno Mas Modelo
Have Another

LERNER ENTRY: I prefer #1 RUNAWAY LUTE, although #1A HONORABLE TREASURE could win, too. The former earned a 103 Beyer Speed Figure in a big win over state-breds, and a repeat performance would make him a major player in this wide-open event; #8 UNO MAS MODELO: Cruised home at this distance last time out at Churchill, and his record looks much better if you toss the two-turn races. His flexible running style is a plus, and I think he merits a look at a price; #5 HAVE ANOTHER: Missed the break a bit last time out and won two in a row before that effort. He’s 2-for-2 at this distance, and it certainly looks like he’s in career form.


New York’s Finest
Battle in Seattle
Rocket Heat

#6 NEW YORK’S FINEST: Has not lost in four races at Saratoga, which makes him a must-use in all multi-race wagers. He looked sharp last time out at Monmouth, and he should be prominent early on; #2 BATTLE IN SEATTLE: Just missed when flying late last time out at Belmont, and the ample early speed signed on could set things up for a closer. He’s improved in all three American starts and could keep progressing here; #10 ROCKET HEAT: Is incredibly fast out of the gate and was second in back-to-back stakes races ahead of this event. The outside post hurts, as does the other speed signed on, but it’s tough to ignore him.


Wow Cat
Pacific Wind

#4 WOW CAT: Did not lose in eight starts in her native Chile and has been working very well for Chad Brown. This isn’t a field of pushovers, but all indications are that this filly is the real deal; #7 FARRELL: Has run very well in a pair of high-profile races lately, and she looks like the main speed in this race. It’s likely that she’ll be the one to catch going around the far turn; #6 PACIFIC WIND: Won two in a row before chasing Abel Tasman in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps. Her best race would make her a player here, although it’s fair to question if she’s better around one turn.


Singapore Trader
Cross Multiply

#1 POWERSTROKE: Seems like the lone speed, and on the inner turf, that makes him very, very dangerous. He was a good third in his first try at the level, and he may have things all his own way early; #14 SINGAPORE TRADER: Merits a long look if he draws in off the AE list. His races against maiden special weight foes were OK, and his best effort may have come here last summer when he was second behind a talented horse (eventual stakes winner Evaluator); #10 CROSS MULTIPLY: Ran the best race of his career last time out, when he was second at a price downstate. A repeat of that effort gives him a shot, but this is his first try going two turns, which isn’t an easy thing to do.

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.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 7/30/17



Three-horse fields in graded stakes races should not happen anywhere, let alone Saratoga, but here we are. Today’s Shuvee has only attracted three older fillies or mares, and with all due respect to the solid trio signed on, that’s just appalling. In an odd twist, today’s Molly Pitcher at Monmouth, which has the same graded status for the same division of horses and half the purse, has no such issues, with eight horses signed on. Is Chris Christie closing bridges again?

All kidding aside, it’s easy to point fingers and blame tracks, or horsemen, or any other group you want to yell at, but the problem goes much deeper than that. I’ll attempt to dissect it in this week’s edition of “The Dark Day Files,” which will be live on Monday night.

SATURDAY’S RESULTS: I had a really good day in the pick box, but Hunter O’Riley gave the bankroll a kick to the gut with his 16-1 upset win in the Bowling Green. It knocked me out of the Pick Five, but losses were limited to $24 after A.P. Indian scratched out of the Vanderbilt.

SUNDAY’S PLAY: I’m going to wait until the end of the card, as there are mid-priced horses I like in each of the last two races. I’ll put $5 to win and place on both #10 J.S. CHOICE (6-1, Race 9) and #6 NEW YORK’S FINEST (9/2, Race 10). I’ll also play a straight $5 double singling both horses. If one wins, we’ll likely squeak out a profit. If both win, it will be a very good day for this section!



Best Bet: Generous Kitten, Race 7
Longshot: J.S. Choice, Race 9


Terra Promessa
Paid Up Subscriber

TERRA PROMESSA: Figures to be the main speed in a Grade 3 that has inexplicably only drawn a three-horse field. The shorter fields are, the better early speed tends to be, and this one’s got plenty of quality; PAID UP SUBSCRIBER: Gave Songbird a challenge last time out in the Ogden Phipps, but this one may be better around one turn. Her lone two-turn victory of note was over a subpar field in the 2016 Fleur de Lis, and she may be outsprinted by her two rivals here early; APOLOGYNOTACCEPTED: Has improved with age and earned her first graded stakes placing last time out, but her lone race here was a complete dud.


Frozen Hannah
Bargaining Table

GOTACHANCETODANCE: Hasn’t won in a while, but drops in for a tag for the first time after chasing better horses for most of her career. Her back class could carry her a long way; FROZEN HANNAH: Has won two of her last three starts and was third in a listed stakes race two back. She was second here twice last summer and hasn’t run a bad race on turf; BARGAINING TABLE: Has won two in a row and will be well-supported at the windows. It’s tough to argue with her recent form, but most of her best races have come going one turn, and this race came up pretty salty for the level. DIRT SELECTIONS: SERVIS ENTRY, ENDURING ERIN, FROZEN HANNAH.


Augie’s Coming
Enduring Honor
Dunk a Din

AUGIE’S COMING: Steps up in class after a runaway win in his first start for trainer Rudy Rodriguez. He’ll likely be prominent early, and that could mean a perfect trip in a race I found very difficult to decipher; ENDURING HONOR: Rolled two back at Churchill and just missed last out in Indiana. His flexibility is a plus, and he’ll be a major player if he can bring his Midwestern form to Saratoga; DUNK A DIN: Takes a big drop in class for a barn that must be respected. His back class is substantial, but the two duds over this surface in the past present concerns.



AXTELL: Is an ultra-consistent turf sprinter that shouldn’t be hurt by the added sixteenth he gets today. There should be plenty of early speed to set up for his late kick; BOOKMAN: Has yet to run a bad race sprinting and should be prominent early. Joe Sharp is, well, sharp with new acquisitions; HELDATGUNPOINT: Had a nightmare trip here Wednesday and is run right back, which seems like a sign of confidence. He was second in a stakes race two back, and we might get a bit of a price. DIRT SELECTIONS: BOOKMAN, JUNKET, SIX SCHILLINGS.


Scary Not Scared
Memorial Drive
Party Club

SCARY NOT SCARED: Is the latest first-time starter with strong works from this barn, which is prominent in Maryland and has made its presence felt up here. This one fetched $350k at auction, and she’ll be dangerous if she runs to her worktab; MEMORIAL DRIVE: Is another with a strong series of drills ahead of her unveiling. She’s bred to be a good one and traces back to Alabama winner Runup the Colors, her second dam; PARTY CLUB: Closed at first asking earlier this month at Ellis Park. That’s not easy to do, and she boasts a series of zippy works ahead of her second start.


Focus Group
Im the Captain Now
All About Voodoo

FOCUS GROUP: Ran into Oscar Performance in his debut last summer and likely needed his 2017 debut last out. That race has produced several next-out winners, and this one’s pedigree suggests he’ll embrace this marathon route; IM THE CAPTAIN NOW: Is one of only a few in here with experience going this far. He was third behind a next-out winner when last seen downstate, and this barn has racked up a few winners here of late; ALL ABOUT VOODOO: Encountered some traffic trouble when a close-up fourth in his debut. The distance is a lot to ask of a second-time starter, but if he’s anywhere close to as talented as his dam, Voodoo Dancer, he could be tough today. DIRT SELECTIONS: IM THE CAPTAIN NOW, STRONG SIDE, BUSHMILL’S LEGEND.


Generous Kitten
War Bond

GENEROUS KITTEN: Takes a massive class drop, and anywhere close to his best should top this field fairly easily. He was 5-1 in a Grade 3 last time out, and unlike many others here, there’s plenty to suggest the distance won’t be a problem; WAR BOND: Is a longshot play underneath. He takes a step up in class, but was very close to a scorching pace last time out and still hung on for a piece of it. He’s in capable hands with jockey Jose Ortiz, and he could spice up the exotics; INDEBTED: Is a consistent sort with 12 in-the-money finishes in 19 career starts, and he takes a slight drop in class in his first start for Joe Sharp. DIRT SELECTIONS: MILLS, FOR GREATER GLORY, MARRIAGE FEVER.


Cause for Surprise
Saratoga Giro

SYNDERGAARD: Ran his eyeballs out in last year’s Grade 1 Champagne when second behind Practical Joke, and it may be time to wonder if that race left a lasting impact. However, he’s been running against stakes competition since breaking his maiden, so if ever there’s a time for him to wake up, it’s in an allowance like this; CAUSE FOR SURPRISE: Has won two of his last three, and he and the runner-up were well clear of the rest of the field in his last outing. He’d benefit from someone hooking my top pick into an early speed duel; SARATOGA GIRO: Makes his first start since March for prominent Finger Lakes connections. The local rider coming here for the mount is often a good sign with such shippers, and he’s a contender if he’s ready to run.


Dogtown (MTO)
J.S. Choice

J.S. CHOICE: Likely needed the race last time out, and it came up very tough. That race’s winner won a stakes at next asking, and the runner-up has since come back to win as well. 6-1 would be a heck of a price on a horse with considerable talent; LUCULLAN: Took to the turf well last time out, breaking his maiden in swift fashion. Two turns is a question mark, but given the pedigree, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue; KANTUNE: Has won two of his last three in front-running fashion and would benefit from getting an easy lead. If such a scenario materializes, he may be tough to run down. DIRT SELECTIONS: DOGTOWN, PLANET TRAILBLAZER, RACE ME HOME.


Saratoga Charlie (MTO)
New York’s Finest
Tu Exageres

NEW YORK’S FINEST: Crushed maidens at this route two back and may have needed his last start, which came off a long layoff. He drops in class here, and has been gelded since his last outing; TU EXAGERES: Was the beneficiary of a DQ last time out at Gulfstream, but hasn’t run a bad race in three tries. This barn has been a bit cold to start the meet, but this one’s a contender here; PIONEER SPIRIT: Exits a swiftly-run race at Monmouth and won a key maiden race two back. The presence of Irad Ortiz, Jr., is a major plus. DIRT SELECTIONS: SARATOGA CHARLIE, PIONEER SPIRIT, SPEEDY SLEW.