Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Spa Daze

Saratoga, one of the premier meets in the American TB flat racing year, is about to begin. Though always called “the August place to be” it’s actually turned into the July-August-through Labor Day only place to witness the best racing offered in the country, maybe the world. There is no other track quite like Saratoga, with its’ rich history, huge purses, and a constant parade of fashionably-bred two year old colts and fillies, starting out their promising careers.
The magic that is Saratoga fills the air and is the most intoxicating at trackside, in the early morning hours.Whether you are at the main track, or across the street at Oklahoma, the energy is invigorating. Horses go out in sets, often accompanied by trainers. There are workouts on the turf at Oklahoma, several days a week. Horses are excited to be there, as are most of the exercise riders. You can see it, you can hear it, and you can feel it. There’s happy chatter; horses are feeling healthy and strong and looking to do more. Spring water may have been what brought people here a hundred years ago, but there is something about the cool Adirondack air that just brings out the best in horses and in people. If workouts lasted all day long, I don’t think I would ever leave. To me, it’s the best part of the day. It’s electric and soothing at the same time, and it’s what makes the Saratoga experience so special.
My a.m. routine at Saratoga seldom varies. I usually leave the track around 9:30, but it’s never easy. If I stick to plan, I try to get in a quick walk through downtown, maybe - a stop into Impressions or Saratoga Saddlery for a look see, and most definitely a little shopping at Putnam Market for some goodies to bring to the track. Amazing how hunger grabs you right after the first race! I like to get back to the track before noon, so I can position my chair in the back yard near the paddock, weather permitting. It’s the time for me to connect with friends, many that I haven’t seen in a year. It’s fun to people watch, as well as watching horses schooling in the paddock before the races begin. That hour or so before the first race is the best time to settle in, and reflect on how lucky I am that I made another year at the Spa. Oh yes, there is the wagering, and it takes a sharp eye and a knowledge of pedigree to come out ahead at the Spa.…But with all the betting we do year round now, it truly takes a back seat to how it feels to be at Saratoga for a day of racing. Nothing beats live racing, especially here. So cancel your NYT for the next 6 weeks, forget who was leading trainer for the Belmont spring meet (yes, there should be an * by his name) and let’s not hear the name “Cuomo” till after Labor Day. You are not allowed to utter the word “Lasix” unless it’s “FTL”. Leave horseracing’s woes behind for the next 6 weeks and enjoy the magic that you can only find at the Spa.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why Not Endorsement?

There’s a very good group of older horses signed on for today’s Grade 2 Suburban at 1&1/8 on Belmont’s Big Sandy and it could turn out be THE race of the weekend.

Could it be that we are just seeing the best of the 5 yr old Endorsement?

On the Derby trail two years ago, this colt was injured and given 21 months off by the ultra conservative Bill Casner, formerly co-owner of WinStar farm. Perhaps reminiscent of another star of his, Well Armed, Endorsement seems to have come back to the races in excellent order. He managed to withstand some trouble in his last two, which tells me that he still has the will to win. Although defeated in his last, it was a game effort, and it could be that they ran him back a bit too quick. The horse is one of very few graded stakes horses that runs without Lasix and I admire Mr. Casners’ conviction. He is fortunate that he has such a high quality horse that does not seem to need the diuretic. He has now been freshened over at Keeneland, working seriously, every 7 days. Martin Garcia took him for a test drive in the Pimlico Special, and his numbers are improving.

12 to 1- Really???

OK, so it’s a tough race. The Pletcher entry is formidable. Both multiple stakes winners, Stay Thirsty is all class, And Caixa Electronica, all heart.

Buffum- lots of people on his bandwagon.

Hymn Book – the Donn was spectacular, but somewhat of an “in-and-outer”

Trickmeister – as speedy as they come

Mucho Macho Man – very capable

To Honor and Serve- very, very tough and also 9/5

There could very well be a little more upside to Endorsement, but he will have to run his very best to win. Will his class show up in today's Suburban?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

It's A "Shore" Thing

In handicapping a horserace, there’s never a “sure” thing. Horseplayers are an optimistic group though, and each and every race is a puzzle we need to solve.

Monmouth Park, on the Jersey Shore, will host the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes this Saturday. This is one of two Grade 1’s at Monmouth, the other being the Haskell. The United Nations goes as the featured 11th race, at a mile and 3/8’s, on the turf. It is a “Win & You’re In” which means the winner gets an automatic berth into this year’s BC Turf.

Here’s my take at the short, but salty field for ThoroFan’s Handicapping Corner.

From inside out:
1. Turbo Compressor /Pletcher/Bravo, breaks from the inside, and one thing is “sure”, he is the speed of the race. The Florida-bred by Halo’s Image is 2 for 3 since trying turf. He has gotten better since the surface switch, and appears he will run all day. Has never been this far, but with Jersey Joe signed on, I see no other way for him to go , but to the front with his “come and catch me “ style.

2. Brilliant Speed, the Live Oak homebred is the class of this field. The son of Dynaformer and trained by Tom Albertrani, is a GR 1 winner on Keeneland’s polytrack, but has shown his ability to excel on the lawn. Though his speed isn’t “brilliant” he certainly has enough tactical speed to get a good position for his run down the lane. He has the newly West Coast-transplant Joel Rosario in the tack, and he has every chance to secure his first Grade 1 win on turf, with a win here.

3. Slim Shady, the West Coast invader has blossomed under the care of the young Simon Callaghan. He brings his rider, David Flores, in to ride. He will enjoy the distance, and has enough speed for his stalking style. But he did have to SHIP, and with the extremely hot weather, one wonders if he will bring his “A” game.

4. Al Khali is a horse I have followed since Norberto Arroyo rode him. ( And I think he’s been MIA for at least 3 years) He looked talented from the get go, and for the most part, always gives a decent account of himself. He has yet to win a “Big One”, but continues to pick up checks in those Grade1’s. His best efforts have been going a mile and a half. He definitely fits here to get a piece and maybe round out the exotics.

5. Freud’s Honor is a nice, consistent New Jersey bred, but looks seriously overmatched in here.

6. Eldaafer was the winner of the 2010 BC Marathon. We know the horse loves to run a distance of ground. He has run just 3 times this year, and did improve some in the Brooklyn last out finishing 2nd by 10 lengths to Redeemed, on dirt. His “glory days” may be behind him, however.

7. Air Support rounds out the field. Solis is aboard and it’s always hard to ignore a Shug McGaughey runner. He is coming off two troubled trips, including some crowding at the start in his last. He will appreciate the extra distance. Shug always spots them where they belong.

It will not be a surprise that the up-and-coming Turbo Compressor leads the field from “flag-fall” to “that’s all” like he did in the Colonial Cup. Should Slim Shady engage him early and try to put some pressure on him, the pace could get “hot”, and then they will both have to beware of Brilliant Speed, Air Supply and Al Khali, who will all be closing in the stretch.

Be conscious of any course changes if there’s any rain- there’s always a chance of a passing thunderstorm this time of year. Take note of paddock behavior – is anyone either “dull” or “washed-out?” Watch the warm-ups – do the horses look comfortable, are they striding out, do they look enthusiastic?

Never a sure thing, but handicapping is a great game. Good luck with all your wagers. Here’s hoping you have some fun, enjoy the races and cash some winning tickets!!!

For some interesting history on the United Nation Stakes, check out Historian Alan Carter's piece at ThoroFan.