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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing



The term “Graveyard of Favorites” comes in handy once in a while when some unbeaten prodigy finally tastes defeat at short odds giving horseplayers long faces. But like any rural legend, it’s an exaggeration.

On balance, the form in Saratoga in any given year is as good as it gets at any American track you could name—OK, Great Barrington notwithstanding—but favorites generally do fare very well.

As we head into the first full week of the Spa meet, some trends, or at least a few early stats, to provide a picture of what’s been going on between the fences. For instance, favorites are 13-for-41, a 31.7% win rate, pretty average.

Linda Rice leads all trainers with three victories, thanks in large measure to the kind of races that helped her become the first female leading trainer in Saratoga history in 2009–the same year Rachel Alexandra became the first filly to win the storied Woodward: Turf sprints. Five trainers are currently tied with two wins each.


Jose Lezcano has picked up right where he left off, as Belmont leading rider at the recently concluded Belmont summer meet. Lezcano is tied for first with Irad Ortiz Jr., each with five wins.

Interesting to note that Irad’s younger sibling, Jose, is next in line with four, tied with Javier Castellano and Junior Alvarado… and Jose missed Saturday’s Spa program.

All Jose did was to hop on a plane to Delaware Park to win as many stakes in one day than all the winners he rode in three days at Saratoga, all stakes. Two biggies, both for Bill Mott, were among them.

The first was was astride the turf mare Capla Temptress. But the coup was his Delaware Handicap title defense aboard Elate, a disdainful 10-furlong thrashing of hopelessly overmatched rivals, whether the measure was class or ability at the trip.

Would be an interesting match with Midnight Bisou, who is scheduled to run on the Haskell undercard Saturday. Or perhaps, the boys?


Business opening weekend was huge considering it was Saratoga’s earliest opening–since the 1800s. Total paid attendance for the first four days of the 2019 season was 105,690, which fell 4,000 short of 2018. Last year opened on a Friday through Monday schedule; this year Thursday through Sunday.

Not quite sure these are the same kind of apples. For comparison purposes, all-sources handle figures might be a better metric. Saratoga attracted $73,441,101 in wagers, almost $2 million more than last year. It’s the Thursday vs Monday number that confuses.

But here is the big point: With the early opening, Saratoga got first run on Del Mar. When it comes to comparing internal all-sources figures, Del Mar always opened first; a shared spotlight. But without competition from Del Mar, one could surmise that Saratoga’s all-sources figures would be higher.

This year wasn’t exactly a walkover even without Saratoga’s biggest summer rival. In the interests of fairness, not provincialism, the Spa did have to compete with big-event days at Delaware Park, Arlington and Indiana Grand.


That’s one really fast filly Brad Cox saddled Sunday. His 3 year old lass Break Even is undefeated in six lifetime starts, including victories on fast, wet and grassy surfaces. Her debut should have been the tip-off, breaking maiden by five in the slop, a key race producing four next-out winners.

Heaven knows what Sunday’s score in the Coronation Cup will mean in the future, given that she never had an anxious moment and stopped the Mellon Course timer in 1:01.59 for 5-1/2 furlongs. No, we’re not kidding.

The scary notion is that this equine bullet by Country Day seems limitless sprinting. The young sire’s offspring has shown an affinity for grass racing, as demonstrated in Break Even’s turf debut Sunday. The young sire has compiled gaudy statistics as a grass progenitor.

And it’s like owner Richard Klein has said, she’s no runoff. She speed-popped without need of quarter-horsing from Shaun Bridgmohan. She was within herself but still went a half-mile in 43.50. And, no, we’re not kidding.

The owner said they are considering the G2 Prioress back on dirt at the end of August, or could await another turf sprint at meet’s end. Should she run and win the Prioress, they would need to think about the Breeders’ Cup Sprint vs. males at 6 furlongs: Extreme speed + weight concession = victory.


Considering the amount of talent in his shedrow, Bob Baffert’s had a relatively quiet 2019. That might no longer be case in the next five weeks.

We’ll get an idea after McKinzie, who has a legitimate chance at Horse of the Year should he run the table including a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, run in his own back yard.

But first there’s the little matter of a race called the Whitney on the first Saturday in August in upstate New York. Trivia question: How many times has Baffert won the Whitney? The answer might surprise you: Zero. Do you think he wants this race on his Hall of Fame resume?

Everyone saw McKinzie’s troubled trip in the Met Mile and he figures to be a better horse going a furlong farther and around a second turn. And the competition won’t be anything he couldn’t handle on his ‘A’ game.

Yoshida will be there, as will Gunnevera. Vino Rosso is highly probable, given that Todd Pletcher has won the race thrice. John Kimmel has said he’s seriously considering the race for streaking Mr. Buff. And who knows where world traveler Thunder Snow will show up next?

As far as the Travers is concerned, that would be well within the Baffert wheelhouse. He won it with Point Given in 2004 ad back to back with Arrogate and West Coast in 2016-2017. He’s already said he’s following the West Coast playbook with McKinzie.

This year’s edition of the Midsummer Derby, should all the pieces fit into place, will be the 3-year-old race of the year and a possible road to an Eclipse championship in a division that’s wider than the Mississippi.

The Los Al competition he beat was questionable but not so the awesome performance. Whether it will be good enough to defeat the top Haskell, Jim Dandy or Curlin finishers, or contenders from other Derbies to be named later, remains to be seen. Whatever, it’s going to be one helluva horse race.

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⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

14 Responses

  1. Aah! Great Barrington. Just a few miles from my castle. Along with Green Mountain, I discovered a second source of income back in the late sixties and seventies. Word has it that Great Barrington will once again offer Thoroughbred racing via some kind of connection with Suffolk Downs.

    Favorites are winning at a 32% rate at Saratoga. Shouldn’t the next inquiry be ‘how many horseplayers betting on Saratoga races are showing a profit (excluding grandmothers and first time bettors)?

    So, the Midsummer Derby is gonna be the three-year-old ‘race of the year’. Wow! What’s the winner gonna pay? I’ll bet that I will have a winner at Parx , Delaware, or Laurel that will pay more.

    What to hell is ‘race of the year’ suppose to mean. Don’t all races pretty much look the same, offer the same payoffs, etc? Shouldn’t ya’all be promoting Thoroughbred racing all around the country instead of giving three or so trainers all your ink?

    1. You see, that while this is a gambling game for all, some, like me, still think of it as a sport–you know, an athletic event where horses show speed, will, and guts, and jockeys perform death-defying tricks on horseback. We are known as fans.

      It’s the “greatest game played outdoors”– and I’ll be damned if I can remember who originated the phrase. I want to say Whittingham, but can’t remember for sure. If somebody out there knows…

      I write about the best horses in the country because “fans” care and “bettors” support these races more than others with their dollars; you can look it up.

      Then again, you know this, and have written this–I don’t know–hundreds of times here?

      Finally, after all these years, if you don’t know what a good horse looks like, you’ve wasted an awful lot of time. There other other things to bet on.

      Finally, if I weren’t a fan, if I didn’t love looking at horses, didn’t enjoy the competition, or the intellectual exercise of figuring out about 10-20 puzzles a day, I would walk away. These things still provide enjoyment to me.

      But because of greed, on the backside and front-side, I would have already walked away; it’s not the good gamble it used to be and won’t be until there’s fixed odds wagering of some kind. However, the industry will get together and some committee will screw that up, too.

      The problem is I have nowhere else to go. I enjoy betting on NFL, and occasionally college sports. But then, parlays aside, all bets are even-money shots every time. Where’s the fun in that?

      And, yes, Great Barrington is scheduled to reopen this fall.Wish I still lived in the neighborhood, but I’ll be in and out of Saratoga before kids go back to school. I’ll miss the midway, the parade of chalk, and dinner at the Red Lion Inn.

  2. I know you are a dedicated horseplayer who has spent virtually your entire life promoting Thoroughbred racing. I also find that you and Mr. Jicha to frequently use the word ‘best’; I understand where you both are coming from, but the best racing isn’t only at Saratoga, Del Mar, or Churchill. A thoroughbred is a thoroughbred: all are bred from a select group of sires, thus they all look the same and race the same; in fact, the first six/seven finishers in a race are two seconds apart – two seconds! So, how can the word ‘best’ be applied to only the thoroughbreds racing at two or three racetracks?

    You both always use wagering pools and crowd size as the criterion for determining where the ‘best’ racing occurs. Turf writers, over the years, have wrongly influenced people following Thoroughbred racing via their commentary that Saratoga and Del Mar offer the best racing. (this is the 106th time I have written this paragraph at HRI).

    Thoroughbred racing’s attraction is the betting window, not the thoroughbred; and the ‘game’ is not in any way a sport (96th time I have written this sentence). Yet, all I read here at HRI is how great racing is at a select three or four race tracks and how the forty or so other racetracks around the country, with their cheap claiming races, are not worthy of ones attention. Simply not fair commentary.

    I do know what a good horse looks like: it is a thoroughbred that finished first and I have a win ticket in my sweaty paw with its number printed on it. Further, if you didn’t have a program in your hand you would be unable to determine if the next race was a claiming race, allowance race, or stake races. Thus, it should follow that racing at other racetracks must be the same. What I don’t get is how any horseplayer can wager on two-year-old thoroughbreds.

    Well anyway, Philly is operating today. Doesn’t get any better than that. And, I hope I see a few ‘good’ horses to wager on.

  3. John: After all of the many thousands of posts by our friend, Wendell, I have finally realized who he must be, to wit, the Democratic Congresswoman from NY’s 14th Congressional District. Just like AOC, Wendell pedantically refuses to listen to reason, facts or any other argument. Has anyone ever seen them together in the same room? When reason, common sense, and history are used as disposable byproducts of human waste, then the irrational, intransigent and totalitarians fill the vacuum.

    John, I refuse to be intimated by those who utilize the internet as their own personal toilet. Anyway, Saratoga has never just been about which “plater” can be turned into a couple a dollars. I have been visiting the Spa since the Travers of ’78 ( I wish I had saved and not cashed my $2 win ticket on Alydar). There has not been one time in the 40+ years since, that I have not been overtaken by emotion when leaving the Northway at Exit 14, and after traversing the Yaddo trees on Union Ave, looking left and eyeing the forever Red & White grandstand.

    I can only compare it to what Dorothy must have thought upon leaving her Dust-Bowl ridden Kansas farm, and landing in the land of OZ. If Wendell enjoys the same feeling watching the races from Keystone ( I’m old), on a twelve inch OTB TV, then more power to him. I will take the corner of Union and Nelson Avenues every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

  4. Fram, history isn’t worth very much these days.

    Toni did a little email research on a mint condition pin/button we have that commemorates the first moon landing having it’s 50th anniversary this year.

    Seems like we couldn’t get more than a double-sawbuck for it. Back in the draw it went…

    Come to think of it, I’ve never seen AOC and Dorothy in the same place, either!


  5. So, Framaco, ‘Wendell pedantically (big word, Alice) refuses to listen to reason, facts, or any other argument’; fortunately such conclusion is yours and not of, I hope, the majority. I can’t imagine anyone going to Saratoga for nostalgia purposes only. If you go to Saratoga for any other purpose than ‘which plater can turn a couple of dollars’ then why to hell are you there?

    I really am pleased that for over forty years you have never left the track not filled with emotion. How many times have you left the track with a fat wallet? Granted the ambiance is felt, but let’s not forget the objective of going there: to make money! Now, if I am wrong, then I have wasted exactly sixty years not understanding what Thoroughbred racing is all about.

    I doubt you will ever see AOC and me in the same room. I am only fifty-three years older than she is, but I gotta give her credit for standing her ground. She, and her fellow young congresswomen, are the future of this country.

    I have been to most of the racetracks in this country, both now operating and out-of-business. Even some in Canada. And, I can’t recall ever watching racing on a TV with a 12″ screen.

    I don’t appreciate your writing ‘by those who utilize the internet as their own personal toilet’; very crude and inappropriate to be read at this site.

    P.S. You will never see me at Saratoga; enjoy the nostalgia, arrive with a full tank of gas, and tuck a twenty in your sock before entering.

  6. Sad when a culture begins referring to persons with acronyms. AOC…..TTT? That is where her and I part company. Guess the world needs morons to balance things out. Having evolved into a specialist, knowing more and more about less and less, let me guide you into something that will simplify your existence, albeit it may tend to bore you somewhat. Win, place and show is all you got to know.

    1. …and don’t forget the Jack E. Lee call at Freehold as they approach the wire: “Jackie Mo, that’s all you gotta know!” My all-time favorite call was Larry Letterman at Atlantic City on a weeknight with hardly anyone present (I was watching at The Big M, Alice): “…and the crowd (what crowd) is on it’s feet and the crowd is screaming for more (as horses enter stretch).” This guy was a riot. Trevor Denman imitations, the whole shebang. Funny as hell.

  7. Yes, TTT, thanks to Internet speak, I-phones, short attention spans, and the normalization of evil, humanity has gone MIA. The bat-crazy right fringe may yet get their wish. Book me on the next flight to Meggedah.

    On a serious yet whimsical note, you are exactly right; I double thee Triple Threat Ted, as in Win, Place and Show.

    This afternoon at Del Mar, fans there will be able to make WPS parlays. Gee, with all the Pick Everythings available, why straight parlay wagering isn’t available nationwide everywhere is astounding when you think about it.

    OK, this is our fundamental wager as you enter the horse-playing space. Now that you’re here, fuhgeddaboudit! Don’t be so boring. All you need is a ticket maker and a dream. How’s your credit?

  8. Golf in the morning, Saratoga racing at the Spa in the afternoon, enjoying watching the beautiful creatures God made, and the horses as well, then wandering around downtown in the evening. You really don’t have to die to go to heaven. TTT is a DOM (Dirty Old Man).

    Fear is your enemy at the windows. Send it in proudly and with impunity.



  9. Careful Ted, someone might ascribe another monitor for you: King Leer… “Hot Fun in the Summertime.”

    Now enough already. Today’s work is done. Have PPs for tomorrow, let the mind-numbing process begin.

    Have fun at the windows today, and Happy Del Mar opener. Quick, cue the lovely ladies with the hats…

  10. Went online to check out whether Larry was still calling (very part time) and saw that the spelling of his last name is Lederman. Watched an interview which was pretty good. He went to Yonkers as a young person but said that eighteen years old was strictly enforced then. His father got passes since they knew the owners. He said some people hated his funny calls and some liked so he continued. I heard him call at a small harness track in MA once as a guest announcer. Interview online is worth a watch.

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