|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.
Saturday, September 01, 2012
Handicapping Spa Features 2.0: The Art of the Mulligan
August 31, 2012-Today’s featured two Grade 1 stakes offers an excellent handicapping study is to the art of applying the mulligan.
Horseman say throw the race out, or strike a line through it, but whatever it’s called, it needs to be part of the betting arsenal, if for no other reason than to maintain mental health.
The subject is apropos because I’ve been a fan of Mucho Macho Man since the day he finished second behind To Honor And Serve in the Remsen in the fall of 2010.
The time to give Mucho Macho Man his mulligan was before he ran in the Suburban earlier this summer, after he had run such a disappointing race in the Alysheba at Churchill Downs.
It’s not that he ran terribly that afternoon; he didn’t. It’s just that when you’re expecting a wow! Effort and find your horse sitting in pluperfect position ready to pounce, only to finish up one-paced, it’s hard to accept.
I realize that it was Successful Dan, who absolutely freaked on the day, that won the Grade 2, and a horse called Fort Larned, the eventual Whitney winner, finished second, six lengths in front of MMM, but it was tough to take nonetheless.
Even though trainer Kathy Ritvo gave MMM nearly two full months after his career best effort in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, apparently it wasn’t enough.
Then when he showed up in the Suburban at 5-1 with a new partner, SoCal Smith, it was an omen.
Ironically, the horse we thought couldn’t lose the Suburban was his nemesis, To Honor And Serve, coming off a tough trip effort in the Met Mile.
Well, he never showed up in the Suburban, won by Mucho Macho Man most impressively in 1:46 2/5 for 1-1/8 miles, and it might not have mattered if he had.
After nearly four decades, I still don’t completely trust my eye but THAS looked fretful in the paddock pre-race, a bit headstrong, just something I hadn’t noticed before.
The next day Bill Mott talked about how the colt was “agitated,” perhaps adversely affected by the extreme heat and humidity.
Well, Mott’s in the Hall of Fame, I’m not, but was happy to have whatever my suspicions were confirmed and, unfortunately, the horse ran to his looks that afternoon.
Now it’s his turn to get a mulligan; a horse that had a legitimate excuse. These are, after all, cold-weather animals.
But then you look at the big picture. ‘Macho Man’s’ 4-year-old campaign has been carefully managed, allowing the 17.3 hands colt to grow into that frame, having turned 4 on June 29—way late.
And his Equiform energy figures keep marching, incrementally. You couldn’t draw it up any better.
Then To Honor And Serve is faster on his ‘A’ race and switches to a rider that won on him the last time he was asked to race 1-1/8 miles at Saratoga; Hall of Fame Johnny.
What to do?
What’s worse is that 30 minutes earlier in another Grade 1, there are two mulligan horses; Jackson Bend and Shackleford.
The former is a horse that loves to run inside of horses and lost far too much ground in his prep, the James Marvin, which he won last year en route to a Forego romp.
But is he the same horse at 5 as he was last year? I don’t know that yet, either way. And, if he starts, Nick Zito will change the karma by making a switch to Junior Alvarado.
Meanwhile, Shackleford had several excuses for his poor AG Vanderbilt; a distance at which he’d never been successful and the inside of a drying-out muddy track that stuck to his shoes like glue, a true mulligan.
But his career best performance, a gut-wrenching nose victory in the Met Mile, stretched him as straight as a string. Was it too enervating? Did it contribute to his awful Vanderbilt performance?
Not that he needs the exercise or the conditioning, but he’s worked only once in the last month since the Vanderbilt, a soft half-mile in :50 4/5. What's that about?
This process is not meant to be easy and some days are tougher than others. But like the game itself, knowing when to use the mulligan is an art and not science. Sometimes the gut knows what the mind can’t.
Speaking of art, perhaps paddock and post parade observation will offer some clues.
Written by John Pricci
Friday, August 31, 2012
NYRA’s Auto Pilot, Sophomoric State Rule, Fails Again
August 30, 2012—How much of a hit did the state’s coffers take today because, parimutuelly speaking, someone was asleep at the switch?
Check that, this is the new NYRA, where the game’s on automatic pilot: No one was asleep at the switch prior to today’s featured Grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes; there was no one AT the switch, or didn’t know where the switch was.
Very likely, the switch-thrower was halfway down the Thruway on their way back to Belmont Park.
There was no superfecta wagering available on the Grade 2 for juveniles, a 10-horse field. Why? Because of the asinine state rule prohibiting superfecta wagering on races containing coupled entries.
You know, as if horseplayers can’t count to five.
The thing is that when superfectas are lost due to insufficient entrants or a preponderance of races with couplings, the mutuels department generally adds a superfecta here and there, in stakes races and even in some smaller fields.
There were three stable couplings in the With Anticipation. However, two were entered Main Track Only and the other a very late scratch, which is permitted in stakes up until 45 minutes to post time. Sonofasamurai, the #2B, was that very late scratch.
Resultantly, there were 10 entrants with no couplings, and a superfecta could have been added, even under the silly rule, but wasn’t.
In the previous race, the 10-horse Equalize Stakes, there was no Super wagering because of a stable coupling. The race was won by Miami Cat, which many believed was the weaker half of the entry. It’s just such a waste.
But it will all get better soon. Just you wait and see.
Sophomore Class Takes Another Hit
The 3-year-old division took another hit this morning when it trainer Chad Brown announced that Street Life, who was vanned off after finishing last in the Travers, had been retired.
The winner of his Curlin Stakes Travers prep in his penultimate start, his stakes season began with a win in the Broad Brush Stakes at Aqueduct last winter.
But it wasn’t until he finished third in the G2 Peter Pan that he gave some indication he was coming into his own and become a serious race horse.
And now he’s gone, off to the breeding shed following the lead of last year’s juvenile champion, Hansen, and the winners of all of 2012 Triple Crown events, Belmont winning Union Rags and Derby and Preakness hero, I’ll Have Another.
Finally, after waiting several days for the soreness to calm down, it was determined that indeed he had ruptured a ligament in his left front pastern.
“[The injury] is not unprecedented but it’s new to me,” said Brown, “I’d never had that happen before.” And having studied at Cornell before apprenticing with Shug McGaughey and Bobby Frankel, he should know a thing or two about equine anatomy.
“To not only lose the race but lose the horse for his career, a horse that I felt had a tremendous amount of potential and could have gone on to accomplish great things, is harder to take.”
Amen to that, for it was his Curlin victory that indicated he might have broken through. Even though he added blinkers for the Peter Pan and wore them while finishing an interested fourth in the Belmont, it wasn’t until the Curlin that he demonstrated the kind of acceleration that separates a good horse from a very good horse.
And now we’ll never know. At least his contemporaries had a chance to show what they had at the highest levels. It’s its fashion that makes it even worse.
Gets Those Winter Book Bets Down Early
But not to worry; we’ve seen the future, “the fastest horse in the world.” Now let’s see what Archwarrior, who debuted in today’s third race, can do when he meets seasoned winners.
Lest anyone get the wrong impression, “the fastest horse…” is a little cheeky, but he was impressive and his next start will be anticipated with great interest.
Having missed the post parade, we picked up the binoculars with about four minutes to post and the juvenile colts were on the backside.
Through the looking glass, he was what you’d expect; four legs a mane and a tale.
On a serious note, he appeared to be a bit short-coupled and built a tad downhill, not quite but reminiscent of a sprinter type.
But for a colt who worked in :10 2/5 at the Ocala breeze-up sale, and reportedly outworked last year’s Travers winner before today’s debut, he rated kindly down the backside, content to follow the very speedy second-starter, Transparent.
Approaching the quarter-pole, Johnny Velazquez asked the Todd Pletcher trained son of Arch, from the Seeking The Gold mare, Winner’s Edge, to engage the leader in earnest.
He went about his business, as the racetrackers say, drawing out to break maiden in 1:10.03 by 3-1/4 lengths over a strong finishing fast-working newcomer, Malachite: As to the running time, the fast track was no speed highway.
“I worked him behind horses,” said Velazquez, “so it’s not he’s been on the lead in the mornings. I knew I could rate him. He’s not very quick away from the gate.
“He’s not going to win by 10 or 12 lengths,” the newest Hall of Famer continued. “He’s just kind of steady. He should run all day long.”
And, as for his next start? “We’ll play it by ear and see how he comes out of this,” his trainer said.
Written by John Pricci
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Saratoga 2012: Dark Days for The Spinner
Saratoga Springs, NY, August 29, 2012--Time to face facts. This meeting has had its ups and downs; good and sometimes great racing; bettable cards but yet many unbettable races, and racing days that never seemed to end.
Too much of a good thing? You bet. In fact, according to the calculations of my former Newsday colleague, Paul Moran, there will be an extra week of racing this year after you add up all those 10, 11, and 12 race-cards.
The association gets a pass for August 25, though; on Midsummer Derby Day, anything goes. Will the handle reflect that extra week? Do bears really use Charmin?
But there’s one local group that will be especially sad to see it end, even if it was the darkest period in their history. However, the assemblage has a final chance to leave the track smiling. It happens this Sunday, the final premium giveaway of Saratoga 2012.
We are, of course, referring to that special breed of individual who comes to Saratoga only on those premium-giveaway days. He is androgynous, neither male nor female, neither horseplayer nor tourist. In the vernacular, he is called The Spinner.
Hopefully this Sunday, the Spinner will not reprise his final act of 2008, when he voted with his feet, essentially telling the association that it could take its stadium seat and, well, shove it.
Indeed, gone are the halcyon days of the much coveted portable folding lawn chair, fondly remembered as the acronym P.F.L.C.
At first blush, it’s hard to know a Spinner from a horseplayer. But unlike that solitary individual, the Spinner often travels in packs, sometimes cleverly disguised as a family, a social unit that uses children as beards to collect its free-gotten gains.
The Spinner knows what he wants and recognizes value when he sees it, like on that afternoon five years ago when he came in droves, 72,745 strong, his eyes squarely on the prize: the PFLC.
And if you believe he doesn’t take prizes seriously, think again. The Spinner is no fool. When only a seat cushion was offered, 26,905 fewer Spinners flipped the turnstiles and reported to the multiple-admissions area.
Because many professional Spinners don't usually stay for the racing, don't infer that they’re anti-social. He is the antithesis of the Squatter--one who queues up at admission gates before dawn, pays his admission, then hurdles fellow Squatters to snatch the choice picnic tables closest to the horses, or a shade tree, or a self-service betting terminal, a machine they call SAM.
But the Spinner can't afford to expend his energy like the Squatter. If he is to make a score, he needs patience, conditioning, and needs to time his move perfectly. If not, he’ll stand in line for hours, sometimes five or six deep.
Then he must queue up all over again and, at long last, he finds the redemption area: Spinner Ground Zero.
If he were a race horse, the Spinner would need what horsemen call scope. The good Spinner is never built downhill, though he does need tactical speed. The Spinner’s game is neither for the short of wind nor faint of heart.
When the Spinner came in record numbers in 2007, he had to stand in three lines for the PFLC. The first line got him into the building, the second to a coupon booth, then, at long last, redemption. Praise the Lord.
I’ll never forget the Sunday afternoon several years ago in this historic place when I first encountered the Ultimate Spinner. He was resting alongside a herd of Squatters on the grassy knoll hard by the fence lining Union Avenue.
He sat contentedly on his PFLC, using the seat cushion for ballast: Waste not, want not, is the Spinner’s creed.
On the northwest corner of a red Saratoga stadium blanket, he was resplendent in his classic Saratoga Tee, circa 2003, and a red 2007 Saratoga baseball cap, upgraded this year to a Grade 2 offering.
Then, almost on cue, he clandestinely lifted a cold one from portable Saratoga ice cooler, stealthily concealed inside a tattered Saratoga sports bag, surreptitiously sipping his brew from the versatile Jerry Bailey beer stein, which doubles as a world class pencil holder.
Shading him from the harmful ultraviolet rays was a red-and-white striped Saratoga umbrella. The moment is as indelibly etched as Jaipur and Ridan, Affirmed and Alydar
That was the year fortunes were made on E-Bay, the PLFC going for $19.95 per. Shipping was included, I recall, if you were among the first 50 to order. Those were heady times in Saratoga Springs for the Spinner.
But like so many in the country this election year, the Spinner has fallen on hard times. Oh, the beer glass was nice enough and so, too, the G2 baseball cap, emblazoned with Saratoga front and back, so you could be seen coming and going.
But at what cost the decision not to offer the Spinner’s staple, the trusty Saratoga Tee, handsome enough for wearing outside of a pair of red cargo pants but with the utility of a buffer to help insulate the wearer from the harsh Saratoga winters.
And, of course, it is essential sleepwear for all seasons.
Sadly, the karma is not likely to improve this Sunday when the Spinner comes to gather his fleece blanket, his shield against the crisp autumn breeze just around the corner.
The NYRA marketers tempted fate this year and paid dearly for not offering the premium Tee. An umbrella might have saved the day but, alas, not even a slicker to provide shelter from the storm. No money will be made on E-Bay this year.
Several years ago, HRI suggested a way to not only bring back a popular discontinued notion but also as a means for the association to show its appreciation for the unique contribution made by all Spinners to the fabric of this meet.
A likeness of the typical Spinner, something for the mantle place that says I’m proud to be a Spinner and I support my local racetrack.
How fitting would it be to have the loyal Saratoga fan spin for his likeness in all its bobble-headed glory? Nothing says thank you for coming quite like your own immortal image. The Spinner deserved better than he got this year.
But then that’s the kind of season it’s been, the highs and the lows of the Thoroughbred world. No one ever promised that the Spinner would be sheltered from 2012’s cold reality.
And so, when the Spinner exits the turnstile never to return this year, his head will bob only in disappointment. All he can do is mark the days until the 2013 premium-giveaway items are announced.
For now, all the Spinner can do now is look back and remember what it was like in the best of times, knowing that tomorrow’s premium giveaway is guaranteed no one.
Written by John Pricci