|For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at HorseRaceInsider.com.
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Vox Populi and Streams From the Subconcious
September 4, 2012—Perhaps you were expecting consciousness, after 46-½ days of racing?
I know, only 20 more races were run at Saratoga this year than in 2011. Of course, last year there were 39 days of racing, one less than 2012.
But when compared to a typical downstate race-week, five days per week with 10 on weekends—Saturdays, anyway—it was as if 7-1/2 weeks were condensed into 6-1/2.
Immediately following were the comments/questions from three of the HRI faithful that were posted here on Labor Day weekend, edited for context and length.
From Denny M:
“Saratoga has lost that special feel for me. I’d be happy with five days a week [plus Labor Day], nine races a day [maximum] on weekdays, 10 on weekends and 12 on Travers Day…
“…Can anything be done about the turf course rails obstructing the view of the main track on the turn? I’d actually like to see which horse is which when [I’m] watching on TV and, in particular, when there in person.”
Most New York regulars, especially local fans and service businesses, restaurants and bars, would love to see the downstate schedule instituted upstate.
If 10 and 11-race cards are the tradeoff, most probably would settle for that, according to the results of informal crowd canvassing we conducted on closing day.
But when racing concentrates on serving two constituents; the state and the horsemen, fans finish what racetrackers would call “a bad third.”
Build it and they will come no longer is axiomatic, although Saratoga has a way of bucking those trends.
For the most part, despite one additional day this year, attendance was flat.
But we were dead wrong about the projected handle. It’s the sense we had by watching people leave the track in significant numbers two or three races before the finale.
This, in a sense, underscores the beliefs of many wagering theoreticians that there’s a finite amount of betting money to be spent in any one session, whether that time frame is nine of 12 races long.
Trust us that handle increased in direct proportion to winning favorites. Favorite players tend to bet larger amounts in the straight pools and they will “churn” that money all day long.
And it’s no accident that this country’s largest racetracks in New York, Kentucky and California have on average the lowest takeout in the straight wagering pools of about 16%.
Now imagine, all you state regulators, of what would happen if churn and lower takeout were combined? I’ll save you the time; more churn, more handle, higher revenue. But I digress.
All-sources averages (read predominantly simulcast handle) were up significantly at $14.7 million daily, a 9 percent increase, which makes complete sense.
Simulcast wagering is always a “compared-to-what” experience. Saratoga is not only bullet-proof but continues to gain in popularity.
The brand, as it should be, is the strongest in American racing, no matter how much quality is diluted at every level but the highest class levels.
Adds Denny: “Ramon is great but how many would [Angel] Cordero have won with 47 days’ worth of races? [Manuel] Ycaza?”
The presumption would have to be as many, given their extraordinary talents. The other presumption is that, as long as Ramon remains healthy, he is on course to be considered one of the greatest of all-time, if he’s not there already.
The best part is that Ramon is a complete gentleman and both he and his agent, Steve Rushing, give all outfits a chance.
And any family man that wins as many races and big pots as Ramon Dominguez and still drives a Honda is emblematic of how unaffected he is by his success and fame. In a game where megalomania rules, Dominguez is the antithesis.
As far as the outside turf rails are concerned, the view of the horses on the far turn is indeed obscured. Perhaps the problem can be addressed by 2013, and perhaps not. The condition did improve, however, when the hedges were trimmed back.
Now with all this money, it would be great if the association would address the sound system. I watched about a dozen races from the press box roof at the meeting, about 50 feet from the announcer’s booth. Tom Durkin’s calls were inaudible.
Dennny…we had to rely on Mr. Caposella to tell us where our runners were...I still get chills listening to his call of Buckpasser, referring to him as “the big horse!”
“Just a note to thank you for another year of your Diary… However, I do not wish to jump on the anti-Saratoga bandwagon. I came up three times this year and it NEVER fails to deliver.
“…When I no longer get “chills” as I enter the Exit 14 ramp for Route 9P (Union Ave. for the uninitiated), I will know that Saratoga has run its course. Oh, I’ve only been coming up here every year since the Travers of ‘78.
“The only caveat is…what will Prince Andrew do? One can merely pray that the Prince is intelligent enough to stand aside and let the professionals do the work…
“I’m afraid that Albany politics will “kill” the golden goose. “We’ve never seen those criminals fail to steal from the public trough even when they know everybody is watching.”
God willing we’re all back to open Saratoga 145.
Bets 'N Pieces:
If Kiaran McLaughlin keeps this up and wins a few more Grade 1s in big spots, why can’t he win an Eclipse Award as Trainer of the Year? Last year Bill Mott compiled his Eclipse resume on one huge afternoon. That could happen to McLaughlin…Kudos to Todd Pletcher on his third straight and ninth training title overall. It’s one thing to have the horses; another to know what to do with them…
Of Chad Brown’s 29 Saratoga winners, all but five (or six) have come on turf. We’re saying that that’s an all-time record turf victories at one race meet. I’d call the Elias Sports Bureau to verify but--it just has to be, right...? In its way, maybe the dead heat wasn’t as singular a Travers event as the Jaipur-Ridan head-to-head epic of 50 years ago…
Could someone place the Travers canoes in an area of the pond that everyone could see next year...? Not a bad first complete meet for Rosie, finishing eighth behind Ramon, sandwiching a couple of graded stakes for 2-year-old between winning the first and last race of Saratoga 2012.
Written by John Pricci
Monday, September 03, 2012
The New “King of Saratoga”
September 2, 2012—We’re not be facetious or mean spirited, although inevitably some will take it that way, that the final day of Saratoga 144 comes as a relief.
It’s what happens when about 47 days of racing are condensed into “only” 40. But it is what is and what it did was, despite the questionable quality of the fare on many days, produced damn good finishes race after race on many days.
And whatever the supposed “quality,” or lack thereof, it boils down to competition, and good competition makes for good betting, and good betting’s good for business.
The handle locally, whatever the final numbers say, would have been higher if the racing office didn’t wear out its customers about every other day.
But all-sources handle keeps climbing because the Saratoga brand is virtually indestructible. Spa regulars may be disappointing in the quality of the racing but, on balance, it’s still the best anywhere.
The graded stakes have been excellent, alternately creating or confirming stardom, and some terrific two-year-old have been on display—not all of them owned by the estate of the late Jess Jackson, an outfit that’s had quite a Saratoga.
Not as good as the Godolphin/McLaughlin team, who still has a major player in the Hopeful. Of course, when Fortify broke its maiden impressively it was for Darley Stable; on Monday it moves up to the varsity.
But, ultimately, the meet belonged to Ramon Dominguez.
One might wonder what would have happened had newly minted Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez rode the entire meeting, just to see how many winners the great Ramon would have had.
You’d have to guess less than the record-making 66, achieved by winning six races on the today’s program, including a 10-1 upset of the G3 Glens Falls with Unbridled Command. But that's completely academic.
The fun won’t stop there; Dominguez’s scheduled to ride in all 11 tomorrow. The record of 65 was previously held Velazquez, the only other rider ever to win six in one day at Saratoga.
Written by John Pricci
Sunday, September 02, 2012
To Honor And Serve Redeems Himself in Woodward
September 1, 2012—Very seldom does a horse race live up to the hype, and very seldom do two horses who met as babies meet again for much of the marbles in a Grade 1 at Saratoga.
Actually, this is the fourth time that To Honor And Serve and Mucho Macho Man have met. Advantage To Honor And Serve, by a count of 3 to 1.
To Honor And Serve was always the more precocious; Mucho Macho Man was from Day 1 the promising late developer who would mature into the big horse, figuratively, to go along with his height of 17.3 hands tall.
They always put on a good show. THAS beat MMM twice at 2, in the Nashua and Remsen. Then MMM laid it on THAS in the Suburban, with mucho gusto.
As the field for the Woodward turned into the stretch, Johnny Velazquez on To Honor And Serve, having gotten Trickmeister to put just enough pressure on Rule to keep things honest, made his move, surged to command with three-sixteenths of a mile remaining, and braced for the challenge that surely would come.
Mucho Macho Man could have been luckier, a lot luckier.
Breaking about a half-length slow, as big horses sometimes do, he wasn’t helped when Gourmet Dinner came out soon after the start and bumped him, temporarily finding him last in a compact field of seven as the group approached the first turn.
Mike Smith moved him swiftly around Gourmet Dinner to secure rail position but this guy wants to be out there free running, speedily stalking a rival. But in the end there were no excuses. The Macho Man had every chance to get by but didn’t.
The 4-5 favorite rallied on the far turn while saving ground, angled out for room just as his rival surged to command, reached even terms, but failed to successfully look To Honor And Serve in the eye.
The winner drifted about three paths wide under the punishing left hand of Velazquez, which carried his rival out, but no contact was made.
For Mucho Macho Man, it was his chance to get his Grade 1 and possible move to the top of next week’s NTRA poll. In the end, however, all he lost was a photo, none of the stature he had going in.
But for To Honor And Serve, it was redemption for the Met Mile and Suburban defeats, especially the latter, and now he’s back in the hunt for end of season honors.
“I knew he had it in him,” said trainer Bill Mott. “I told my story the last time about how the heat had him agitated.
“He didn’t do very well in the 97 degree heat that day and just threw a real stinker. But he did come back today and prove he was a pretty darn good horse.”
Fall may be approaching rapidly, but the Eclipse battles are just beginning to heat up.
...And the 'Trainer of the Meet' Is...
Can it possibly be anyone else than Kiaran McLaughlin?
Of course, the buzz all meeting long was could Chad Brown, who’s having a completely break-out meet, saddle enough turf winners to catch Todd Pletcher, armed with a barn full of 2-year-olds?
But let’s count the ways that McLaughlin earned the recognition of the HRI Trainer of the Meet: Travers, Grade 1; Alabama, Grade 1; Coaching Club American Oaks, Grade 1; Forego, Grade 1.
Parenthetically, not that anyone can remember, but there will be four jockey statues at the entrance of the clubhouse adorned in Godolphin Blue.
Of the four Grade 1s, all Alpha did was make history with his courageous late surge to dead heat with Golden Ticket. And all Questing did in the CCAO and Alabama, and Emcee in today’s Forego, was dominate the opposition.
The speedy Unbridled’s Song colt won the Forego the way you might draw it up in McLaughlin’s barn office:
Break sharply, stalk the speedy Pacific Ocean, pounce when ready, draw away in 1:21-flat for the seven-eighths and win by 4-1/2!
The smiling on Alan Garcia’s face in the winners’ circle said it all: “Thank you, boss.”
What he really said was: “All I wanted was for him to break good and take it from there. He did it the right way.”
Said McLaughlin: “It’s an honor to train for Godolphin. To have such quality horses makes my job easier. I have a great team behind me and it’s been an unbelievable meet. It’s hard to believe. It will take some time to sink in.”
Pace [Doesn't] Make This Race
There were a lot of pedigree wise guys waiting for Dominus to make his turf debut, being a classy son of Smart Strike, from a Lord At War mare.
But who needs pedigree when you can engineer a half mile in :48.63 and 1:12.26 going 1-1/16 miles on a super-firm course.
Sorry, it’s not exactly hard but it sure has been speed favoring most of the meet.
Anyway, after that halfhearted excuse for a pace, who needs a hard course? However, the sprint home was very, very strong.
Turf times are not always written in stone, but it’s certainly possible that a horse of Dominus’ stature could throw a :22.23 at you, forcing you to spin your wheels to catch up.
Then, just to seal the deal, a final sixteenth of :05.83 will get that job done with lengths to spare.
“I would have been disappointed if he’d gotten beat after the [:48 half],” said his trainer, Todd Pletcher.
And that was no equine tomato can; it was the gifted Data Link who made his customary late run but, given the fractions, couldn’t make a dent.
Written by John Pricci