Friday, August 31, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 38

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We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Friday - Noosh’s Tale was just atrocious. . . I should’ve known better. And how about that freaky performance by My Happy Face in the first? That’s at least the third horse I had as a top pick to come back and win.

Saturday - Race 10 - GI Woodward S., 3yo/up, 1 1/8m - Cease (10-1)
   It feels like there's enough tactical speed in here to soften up Mucho Macho Man, who's the most formidable of the favorites. After him, it's wide open. Cease has an excellent record at both the distance and Saratoga and figures to be charging late. He's three-for-three at The Spa, all at this trip, and took Sam Houston's Maxxam Gold Cup H. in his only other dirt run at 1 1/8 miles. The Claiborne/Dilschneider homebred's best career Beyer Speed Figure of 102 came in an emphatic graduation romp here a year ago, and he exits a visually impressive allowance tally July 25. Closing into a below-average early pace, Cease circled the field and powered home in the lane to a somewhat workmanlike, but decisive victory. He only earned a 95 Beyer last time, but since he's run faster before, it's not much of a concern and can only help his price. Play: $25 Win. Alternate 1: Race 8 - $25 Win on #4 Dominus. Alternate 2: Race 9 - $15 Win on #3 Isn't He Perfect. Bankroll: $1,280.90 - Record: 33-4-4-5.

Sherack: Friday - Ughhh. Not again. My alternate pick Conspiracy delivered at 5-1 in the seventh, but the top selection on the day Beer Is Good was anything but good in the finale, chasing the early leader before folding in the stretch. Looks like you still have the lead for now DiDonato, unless you’ve got some more hot Pat Kelly firsters up your sleeves?

Saturday - Race 9 - GI Forego S., 3yo/up, 7f - #6 Emcee (9-2)   I hope there’s still some room in the Godolphin/McLaughlin trophy case for one more Grade I win at the Spa this summer. I’ve been on the Emcee train the entire season, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets his paws on one of these. The lightly raced 4-year-old showed his class while making his third career start, dueling with the fleet Royal Currier throughout and collecting third in game fashion behind inner track specialist Calibrachoa and the classy Caleb’s Posse in the GIII Tom Fool H. over the Big A’s winterized surface Mar. 3. I was banking on the GI Carter H. to be Emcee’s shining moment, but it clearly wasn’t meant to be after he lost all chance badly missing the break en route to a disappointing fourth-place finish. Wisely given a shot to regain his composure in his next try at Belmont May 5, the son of Unbridled’s Song did exactly what he was supposed to do as the 1-2 chalk in a $50k optional claimer, stalking on the outside in third and pouncing in the stretch to post a smart 4 1/2-length victory at this distance, good for a gaudy 107 Beyer. Freshened following that score, he was drawn on the inside and forced to duel early through :21.99 and :44.61 in the six-furlong GI A.G. Vanderbilt Aug. 5, and ran his heart out to be a close third after doing all of the heavy lifting over a tiring and harrowed muddy strip. This race figures to set up much more like his aforementioned score downstate with him being drawn to the outside and the price will be right to make a nice score here. Play: $40 Win. Alternate 1: Race 2 - $25 Win (Turf Only) on #2 Knock Rock. Bankroll: $1,204.30 - Record: 37-8-4-4.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 37

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We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Thursday - Wow. . . That’s hilarious. I picked Miami Cat last time when Leparoux absolutely butchered the ride and he finished a much-the-best fourth at 9-1. Sherack didn’t even like the horse today (who would’ve been 15-1 on his own and would’ve interested me)--he liked the other half of the entry--but he ended up benefitting from the rider change and our stupid decision to count both halves of an entry to make things very close going into the last four days of the meet. I’m not happy, Sherack. This means war. Oh ya--and my pick Run for Riches didn’t run for anything. I knew I should've made Archwarrior my top pick.

Friday - Msw, (S), 2yo, 5 1/2fT - Noosh's Tale (6-1)
   Goodtolook figures to be a big favorite trying the turf here, and while the Disco Rico on the grass angle is at play, I think you're supposed to look for regression and try to beat him. He was bet down to 7-5 favoritism when unveiled on the main track Aug. 22, but faded to fourth after setting a below-average pace (seven points below par early on the Moss Pace Figure scale). Trainer Gary Contessa must have had Goodtolook cranked up first out considering the money he took, and the conditioner's stats in similar spots to this leave a lot to be desired. According to DRF Formulator, Contessa's 0-for-15 over the past five seasons with maiden second timers trying turf in sprints. The trainer stats on Noosh's Tale aren't any better, but he's got a big-time pedigree for this. His dam Upper Noosh (Red Ransom) took the GIII Miss Grillo S. by five lengths as a juvenile over the Belmont sod, and she's produced five surface winners from six foals to race. Noosh's Tale's siblings include familiar MGSP turf sprinter Yield Bogey and Upper East Sider, a very impressive first-turf graduate at 12-1 in 2010. Trainer Pat Kelly did run third at 18-1 with another 2-year-old firster over this course and distance on the 17th, so there's reason to believe Noosh's Tale can be well-enough prepared to let her pedigree shine. Play: $20 Win (Turf Only). Alternate 1: Race 4 - $15 Win on #4 Ear D' Rhythm (Turf Only). Alternate 2: Race 4 - $15 Win on #2 Dancinginyourdreams. Bankroll: $1,300.90 - Record: 32-4-4-5.

Sherack: Thursday - Not quite the way I drew it up, but I'll certainly take it. The other part of the entry Miami Cat saved me big time with a powerful late surge to deliver in the Equalize. Extra sweet throwing a little salt in the wound cashing on DiDonato's trip horse from last time and getting right back within striking distance here. Feeling pretty good driving home from the Spa after this hit and run job.

Friday - Race 9 - Clm 35000B, 3yo/up, 5 1/2fT - #1 Beer Is Good (12-1)
   Beer Is Good has a lot more going for himself besides having a great name. The Mid-Atlantic shipper proved he belonged in these parts with a strong second to Precious Metal (returned off the Jacobson claim to run a career-best 86 Beyer behind the in-form Mineswept at the Spa Aug. 20) after dueling throughout and leading in deep stretch in a $20k beaten tagger for conditioner Robert Bailes July 26. Claimed by Team Clear Star Stable and trainer Rick Schosberg out of that effort, the son of Bob and John returned on relatively short notice hiked up to this level Aug. 10, and just never showed up, flashing early speed and tiring to finish a well-beaten ninth at 5-1, but he does have some excuses to consider. The skies opened up in upstate New York while they were in the paddock for the opener that day, and the turf course turned into a complete swamp, clearly not to Beer Is Good’s liking after posting three straight big efforts on firm ground for his former connections. He’s now had the proper time to adjust to Schosberg’s program, has breezed twice since (he didn’t even get a work in prior to his last start), has smart speed, is drawn on the rail, and Johnny V taking over the reins from Lezcano is a major plus as well. This isn’t the easiest spot ever, but I think he can be dangerous at a nice number if able to kick clear on the turn for home if the course stays as firm as it’s been the past few weeks. Play: $30 Win (Turf Only). Alternate 1: Race 7 - $25 Win on #2 Conspiracy. Alternate 2: Race 8 - $25 Win on #2 Alaura Michele. Bankroll: $1,234.30 - Record: 36-8-4-4.

Race Against IBD Disease: 100 miles by bike to raise funds for research

--Mark Cramer

On Sept. 8, Alan Kennedy and I will be off on a 100-mile charity bike ride to support research on two related incurable diseases that receive little public attention. We will follow the wild Loire River through castle country, from Orléans to Tours. In Tours we’ll attend a country race meet on Sept. 9, whose amazing card includes three genres of races: thoroughbreds, hurdlers and trotters.

On Sunday, Oct. 7, we’ll add the second and final leg of the journey, culminating with our arrival at Longchamp in Paris, for the world’s most prestigious horse race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Alan is an art curator and specialist in Asian art who finds poetry in horse racing and bicycling. I’ve been a writer of books on horse racing, travel and fiction, and I work as a racing journalist and university teacher.

If you cannot join us in person, we hope you’ll contribute to the cause:

IBDs (inflammatory bowel diseases) such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, arise from an inappropriate immune response against substances and tissues normally present in the body. In other words, the immune system mistakes some part of the body as a pathogen and attacks its own cells.

People with IBDs can lose their jobs and the joys of leisure activities, and, in extreme cases, lose their intestines.

Medications can put the disease in remission for some patients, but not without problematic side-effects. The race is on. The sooner researchers come up with a cure, or at least more dependable ways to put the disease in remission, the more the victims will be spared from the dire consequences of IBDs.

One of those victims happens to be my son. He’s philosophical about his illness and has asked me to not use emotionalism to promote this cause. But the message needs to get out. You will never see a movie character with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. IBDs are not trendy enough to trigger unsolicited donations.

What do autoimmune diseases have to do with horse race handicapping?

Before we had ever heard of ulcerative colitis, we moved to a city just north of Paris. By pure coincidence, before knowing our son would be stricken, we had chosen an apartment across the street from a hospital which, as it turned out, has one of the world’s best facilities for treatment of IBDs.

When the simple and more benign treatments did not work for our son, the team of doctors sent him home with a pile of "past performances," consisting of information and statistics on potentially successful medications. When I began reading these documents, taking notes, looking for the pros and cons, my wife said that it looked as if I were handicapping a horse race.

In fact, she was right. The process is quite similar. (One of the best horse race handicappers I know happens to also be a successful medical researcher.)

Not one of the medications was a lock. I found myself making a morning line. The raw percentages and narrative in the documents were not enough for a clear choice. Then there were potentially serious side effects to consider. We ended up choosing a medication which was particularly able to suppress one aspect of the immune system with minimal effects on the others.

Infusions of this medication put the disease into remission, and our son was able to live normally and hold a job. But after a few months, he suffered a violent allergic attack; the doctors suspended the medication. Suddenly, we were pouring over another "field" of medications, spread out before us like racing pages. I argued for one of them in particular because it functioned like his previous medication but with a lower probability of side effects.

This new medication was a longshot. At the time, it had not shown any conclusively success in tests of patients with ulcerative colitis. However, there were successful results for Crohn’s disease. The doctors went along, telling us they had also "handicapped" in favor of the same choice.

Our son had to inject this medication every two weeks, but it worked. He was able to hold his job and the remission continued. He moved back to his own apartment, kept his job for more than a year and a half, and received a raise. We thought we had a winning "system". But there was another violent allergic reaction and the treatment was discontinued.

Within a short time our son was once again getting painful and debilitating intestinal flare-ups. He had to ask for extended sick days from his workplace. We were back to square one.

Most of the medication alternatives offered were no better than 8-1 in the morning line. Instead, we chose a 50-1 longshot, a medication that had no proven track record and was in Phase 2 of research (clinical trials in humans progress through three stages). This particular medicine did have proven success with other autoimmune diseases, but not yet the one our son has. Phase 1 study results had been promising.

However, there was a catch. Since this is only Phase 2 of the research, our son can only take the medication for a few months. During this time, neither he nor his doctors are told whether he is one of the 67% of study participants receiving the real medication, or one of the 33% getting a placebo.

Meanwhile, he’s been able to go back to work part-time. The company understands that if he has to take a break because of a flare-up, he simply stays later to make up for the lost time. He’s fortunate. Many victims of IBD end up losing their jobs.

You might ask how we, the handicappers, could have chosen a medication that might be a placebo and that, even if successful, would be discontinued after the trial period. We understood that there are other medications currently in testing that work in a similar fashion, so if this one does indeed work well, he’ll have better odds in the near future.

There is no "cure" for most autoimmune diseases but medical research provides hope. For this reason, Alan and I are asking you to support our bike trip by sending a donation to support research into for inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s and UC). The association we have chosen to support, called AFA (Association François Aupetit), is a French non-profit that finances research and helps people cope with IBD. Though this is a French association, research is worldwide, and AFA is associated with the international community of medical researchers. Our son, for example, is participating in a test for a product being developed by an American pharmaceutical company.

There are no borders when it comes to medical knowledge.

Those who suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases must handicap the past performances of possible medications and choose the one with the best possible return on health investment. They are engaging in calculated risk, just as we do at the track. Provided we are not betting the mortgage money, our risk at the track is considerably less frightening than that of choosing a medication that may or may not win.

Alan and I will be making a wager at each of the two tracks visited, symbolizing the uncertainty of choosing treatments for IBDs. If we win, the proceeds will be added to the pool of donations.

Since the Arc de Triomphe is simulcast in the USA, we will let you know our exotic wager for the IBD charity on this blog and you can follow the bet.

We hope you will support our race against IBD diseases by making a donation. Here’s the link:

Click on the upper right, which will either say DONATE or FAIRE UN DON in French. If the next page comes up in "français" (upper right hand corner), just click on the down arrow next to "français" and you will have the English-language version. The instructions are simple. (At this writing, 10 Euros is 12.55 US$ and that exchange rate has not been fluctuating too much of late.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 36

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We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Wednesday - Nine O Wonderful got a weak ride, failing to go through a wide-open seam at the top of the lane. When finally guided clear after being stymied on the inside, he flew home fastest of all (:22.96) to finish a close fifth. Probably would’ve been right there with better handing.

Thursday - Race 4 - Msw, f, 3yo/up, 7f - #6 Run for Riches (15-1)
   Steve and I were both going to pick Buleria, who had an awful trip last time and figures to get a ton of pace, in the fifth, but for the good of the contest, we agreed to stay away from her. There were some real tense cat-and-mouse moments there and I was trying to calculate the best amount to bet if we were both going to take her... I’m glad it didn’t come to that. Instead I’ll go with Run for Riches, who feels like she has to be better than she showed on debut. Bet a bit at 6-1 when unveiled going a mile at Aqueduct in November, the grey showed early interest before stopping badly. She’s worked very well in preparation for this return--apparently in company with well-bred expensive unraced 2-year-old Cue the Moon, who may be one to watch for depending on how Run for Riches does. More interesting is trainer James Bond’s past success when making this sort of move. He’s scored twice since 2009 with maiden second-timers turning back off the bench at Saratoga--both were 8-1 and had similarly uninspiring running lines first out. Play: $20 Win. Alternate 1: Race 9 - $20 Win on #7 Twilight Eclipse (turf only). Alternate 2: Race 3 - $2 Win on #3 Archwarrior. Bankroll: $1,320.90 - Record: 31-4-4-5.

Sherack: Wednesday - Da Mi Basia Mille had every chance in the P.G. Johnson, but just didn’t kick on in the stretch like she did in her debut to finish a disappointing fourth at 5-1... Of course my alternate pick Corinzia came charging in the nightcap to light up the tote board at $25.00... Hoping a day trip to the Spa turns my luck around today.

Thursday - Race 9 - Equalize S., 3yo, 1mT - #1 Csaba (3-1)
   Was convinced that I found a horse that could get me back in the lead in this thing with Buleria in the fifth, so you could only imagine my frustration when DiDonato confirmed via email Wednesday morning that he was on the Empire Maker filly as well. At least I can still bet plenty of real currency on her though. I couldn’t have been more impressed by Sonofasamurai’s maiden breaker Aug. 18 (you just don’t see 2-year-olds split horses the way he did in the stretch and continue to punch on home) and couldn’t wait to bet him back, but shouldn’t the man aboard that day, David Cohen, be even more impressed than the guy that was watching on a television screen 200+ miles away in Red Bank, NJ? Cohen is instead listed to ride stablemate He’s So Fine, and after still kicking myself for landing on the wrong McPeek horse in the Travers, I’m going to look elsewhere for my main play today. That leaves me with Csaba. Loved him on either surface for the GII Hall of Fame S. (click here for my Aug. 10 analysis), but had to swallow a much shorter price when the rains arrived. He still ran great that day, coming up only a nose short while delivering an ultra-game performance. Shorter distance will help, gets a favorable rider change to Castro and should be out there winging from his inside draw. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s coupled with Brian’s trip horse from Aug. 19 Miami Cat, either. Willing to take a shorter price than usual to help bridge the gap with DiDonato. Likely favorite Finale certainly looks vulnerable in this spot off the bench. Play: $50 Win (POE). Alternate 1: Race 10 - $25 Win (Turf Only) on #2B Sonofasamurai. Bankroll: $1,056.80 - Record: 35-7-4-4.

Thewifedoesntknow Training Blog: Updated Photos and Conformation Analysis

Thewifedoesntknow, aka Ally-Gator
One of my favorite parts of doing this blog is watching this lovely mare's physical development from week to week. Ally-Gator, you've come a long way, baby.  In June, she retired from the track sound, and very fit. By August, she already had the beginnings of the muscling of a show horse. Below is a series of conformation photos, taken on June 16, July 7, and August 25:

Photo taken June 16, 2012. Just a few days off the track.
Photo taken July 7, 2012, into her 4th week of training.
Photo taken August 25, 2012, into her 10th week of training.

Photo taken June 16, 2012. Just a few days off the track.
Photo taken July 7, 2012, into her 4th week of training.
Photo taken August 25, 2012, into her 10th week of training.

I asked my friend Karen Hagy, a lifelong equestrian and accomplished dressage rider, to share her thoughts on Thewifedoesntknow's conformation. Over the years, I've learned a lot from her. Here's what she had to say:

"When I do a conformation analysis, I always start at the head and work my way back. 

This mare has an attractive head and an intelligent eye. Her expression tells me that she's engaged, and interested in her surroundings. Thoroughbreds are known for being smart and willing. She looks like she fits the bill. 

She has a shapely neck that is nicely set on her shoulder. Her shoulder is big with adequate angle. Her humerus, which is what allows a horse to lift and tuck the front legs over a fence, is long and open. She should be able to lift her knees up and tuck her legs with little effort.

Her topline is medium in length and well developed. Her withers reach well into her back. 

The "motor" on a horse is their hip. This is where they get their power and impulsion. This mare has a nice hip length that should serve her well in the hunter ring.

Her legs look clean with good-sized tendon attachments. Strong tendon attachments aid in long-term soundness. Her back legs are a bit on the straight side, which should aid her over the fences. Her joints are of adequate size, she has decently-set hocks and good-looking feet."

 And speaking of feet, here's a series of photos of her front hooves and the transformation they have made in the care of farrier Craig Farrell:

Photo taken June 16, 2012. Just a few days off the track.
Photo taken July 7, 2012, into her 4th week of training.
Photo taken August 25, 2012, into her 10th week of training.

 This is Part 11 in a weekly series of training blogs about Thewifedoesntknow, a Thoroughbred mare made famous by a viral YouTube video and who is now in training to be a show hunter with New Jersey-based trainer Carole Davison.   

 -Sarah Andrew

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 35

We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.
DiDonato: Monday - Chief Gaga left himself with a bit too much to do and could only muster a mild bid to be fourth. He might be interesting stretching out on the turf next time.

Wednesday - Race 6 - Win S., 1mT, 3yo/up - #5 Nine O Wonderful (8-1)
   While speed figures are much less reliable on the turf due to the slow early pace of most grass races, come-home times can be very useful for uncovering runners who are better than they look on the figures. Nine O Wonderful is that type of horse--his 82 and 84 recent Beyers don't compare favorably with the 90+s of many in this field--but he absolutely flies home. Let go at 13-1 in a first-level allowance at Belmont May 13, the 4-year-old covered his final furlong in :22.03 to best decent French GSP runner and subsequent winner Barocci, who covered his last eighth in :22.64. Nine O Wonderful was dismissed at the same price in an optional claimer on opening day here, but looked like a winner at every point in the race and put in a final furlong in :21.83 to get up by a measured neck. Stakes-winning runner-up Followmyfootsteps was clocked in :22.47. Group 1-placed Salto, who had a bit of trouble, was the second-fastest closer in :22.03. I'm not sure the fields Nine O Wonderful exits were much weaker than this one, and I'm positive he's better than he looks on the Beyers. The projected early pace might not be as fast as I'd like, but I know who will be moving quickest in the lane. Play: $30 Win (turf only). Alternate 1: Race 8 - $25 Win on #6 Skyfall (turf only). Alternate 2: Race 5 - $10 Win on #9 (turf only). Bankroll: $1,350.90 - Record: 30-4-4-5.

Sherack: Monday - My Barclay Tagg firster Judy G took more money than expected at 4-1, but didn’t run to it, coming up empty in the stretch to finish sixth after briefly leading once the pacesetter bolted on the turn.

Wednesday - Race 8 - P.G. Johnson S., 2yo, f, 1 1/16mT - #5 Da Mi Basia Mille (6-1)
   The price is just going to be too nice to pass up on impressive debut winner Da Mi Basia Mille here. Overlooked at 8-1 while attempting this same distance in her unveiling over the Mellon course July 23, the gray bided her time toward the back through fractions of :22.55 and :46.99. With Jose Lezcano aboard, Da Mi Basia Mille crept up closer down the backstretch, hit the gas with an impressive wide move on the turn for home and exuded class while charging down the center of the course to win by a geared down 1 1/4 lengths, earning a respectable 71 Beyer in the process. Fifth-place finisher that day Broken Spell came back to earn her diploma Aug. 19, and returns on quick notice for this contest. Da Mi Basia Mille will have more than enough pace to run at with several sprinters stretching out here, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that she represents one of  the top barns in the country in the Christophe Clement stable. Nothing but respect for Pletcher’s big two of Top Tier Lass and Tara From the Cape, and the European invader Watsdachances (Ire) certainly merits attention as well, but just think that they will all be running for second in this one. Play: $40 Win (Turf Only). Alternate 1: Race 10 - $20 Win (Turf Only) on #9 Corinzia. Alternate 2: Race 9 - $10 Win on #2 Slamm’n Lou. Bankroll: $1,096.80 - Record: 34-7-4-4.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 34

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We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Sunday - Wish I could gloat about Owen Rico romping and paying $14.60, but since I got greedy and played a big daily double with Royal Delta instead of a win, I’ll go bash my head against the wall instead...

Monday - Race 10 - Msw, 3yo/up, 5 1/2fT - #1 Chief Gaga (12-1)
   Chief Gaga tries the turf here for low-profile owner/trainer Tamzen Johnson, and figures to get lost on the board despite having run Beyer Speed Figures that compare favorably with this group. Johnson claimed the bay for $20,000 from Steve Asmussen out of a runner-up effort here July 25, and brought him back to run a decent-enough sixth against maiden special weight company Aug. 4. Chief Gaga earned a career-best 69 Beyer for that effort--the co-best fig in the race--so it’s not as if he regressed off the trainer change. He now tries the surface he’s best-bred for on the bottom and shows a three-furlong blow-out over the Oklahoma sod Aug. 22. The son of Indian Charlie is a half-brother to Well Monied (Maria’s Mon), GSW and MGISP on the lawn; and Jimmy Simms (Lost Soldier), MSW and GSP over turf. Play: $24 Win (turf only). Alternate 1: Race 7 - $20 Win on #4 Joanne’s Halo (turf only). Alternate 2: Race 10 - $10 Win on #10 Belvoir (turf only). Bankroll: $1374.90 - Record: 29-4-4-5.
Note: I had a bankroll miscalculation yesterday... not used to actually tallying winning pay-offs lately. It’s right now.

Sherack: Sunday - Man, I liked this contest a lot better when DiDonato’s top picks were getting scratched every day... Got the price that I was looking for on Lord of Love, but he could do no better than a non-threatening sixth at 9-1.

Monday - Race 7 - Msw, 2yo, f, 5 1/2fT - #3 Judy G (8-1)
   First Samurai has been on a nice roll of late with his juvenile grass runners, including recent maiden winners Sonofasamurai ($15.40) at Saratoga Aug. 18 and Rutherford Rd ($42.20) at Woodbine Aug. 24. Banking on his daughter Judy G, the first foal out of the grassy Grade III-placed Miracle Moment (Chester House), to keep the ball rolling for the Claiborne stallion. In addition to her pedigree, the bay certainly looks well-meant for the green stuff, boasting a handful of sharp moves on the infield, most recently covering five furlongs in 1:01 3/5 around the dogs over the Oklahoma turf Aug. 24. It’s been a quiet Saratoga meeting for the well-respected Barclay Tagg barn, but that could change in a hurry if this filly shows up ready to play. Play: $30 Win (Turf Only). Alternate 1: Race 2 - $14 Win (Turf Only) on #6 Arch Support.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 33

click for details
We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Saturday - Well, that was nice. Summer of Fun, who I’ve been waiting to cash on since OBSMAR, got the job done to the tune of $24.80. Looks like we’ve got a contest on our hands again...

Sunday - Race 11 - Msw, (S), 3yo/up, 5 1/2fT - #12 Owen Rico (6-1)
   I’m not sure what the ROI is, but a Disco Rico trying turf for the first time is a very profitable angle. All you have to do is look at the recently run pair of New York-bred turf stakes for 3-year-olds here to see that he throws runners who love the lawn. Owen Rico makes the switch to the infield and has tons of other things going for him. Dismissed at 20-1 for his seven-panel unveiling here Aug. 9, the Edition Farm homebred was part of an above-average pace (five points above par early on the Moss Pace Figure scale) before settling for fourth in a race that came apart in the end. Trainer Tom Bush has had very little success with firsters in recent years, but he’s four-for-14 with a $2.51 ROI over the past five seasons with second-time-starting maidens trying the turf (courtesy DRF Formulator). The cut back in distance should help and, perhaps most interestingly, he’s a new gelding. Play: $49 Win. Alternate 1: Race 5 - $20 Win on #9 Lawyer Jim (turf only). Bankroll: $1099.20 - Record: 28-3-4-5. 

Sherack: Saturday - Looks like I’m going to have to actually start handicapping again if I want to pull off a wire-to-wire job here. Well done, DiDonato. Should be an exciting stretch run as we approach the final week. As for my pick Saturday, Atigun ran good in the Travers, but not good enough, finishing a close fourth at 8-1.

Sunday - Race 5 - Msw, (S), 3yo/up, 1 1/16mT - #11 Lord of Love (5-1)
   Lord of Love has looked like a new horse in two attempts at three since returning from a December layoff in mid-July. He’s posted consecutive career-best performances while being stuck on the inside in the stretch, including a strong rallying third, to come within a half-length of the winner at 10-1 last time. Great to see the Hertler barn enjoying a banner Saratoga meeting, getting a pair of wins out of Jitney and also saddling another maiden winner earlier this week. There’s a good chance, or at least I’m hoping, that Lord of Love goes off nearly double his morning-line odds in this one. Dare to dream. Play: $20 Win (Turf Only). Alternate 1: Race 3 - $14 Win (Turf Only) on #3 White Sangria. Alternate 2: Race 11 - $8 Win (Turf Only) on #5 Saguaro Blossom. Bankroll: $1,146.80 - Record: 32-7-4-4.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 32

We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Friday - All Due Respect got loose like I thought at 20-1 in the Ballerina, but just couldn’t hold off Turbulent Descent or Derwin’s Star and settled for third. Right idea, but she just wasn’t good enough.

Saturday - Race 6 - Msw, f, 2yo, 1 1/16mT - Summer of Fun (15-1)   I guess I'm sort of married to Summer of Fun, who I liked at the OBS March sale and who I picked as a "turf only" selection in her rained-off debut Aug. 5 (here's the case I made that day). She didn't run terribly considering she was on the wrong surface and going too short--she never looked comfortable in the sloppy going, but chased an above-average pace to race into contention until fading to fifth in upper stretch. While I'm not sure how relevant it is considering Summer of Fun was turf meant in her debut, trainer George Weaver is four-for-24 over the past five seasons with maiden second timers going dirt to turf (courtesy DRF Formulator). I do fear the runner-up and third-place finisher coming out of Summer of Fun's heat, and will probably box her with those two in my personal plays. Second-place finisher Tap Twenty One was much the best and only got beat by a questionable ride, while Anita Chica figures to love the turf stretch-out. Neither of those shorter-priced runners, however, are going to help me narrow the gap with Sherack. Play: $33 (turf only). Alternate 1: Race 12 - $30 Win on #2 Five Sixteen. Alternate 2: Race 3 - $30 Win on #8 Security Analysis (turf only). Alternate 3: Race 5 - $30 Win on #4 Mulheb. Bankroll: $690 - Record: 28-2-4-5.

Sherack: Friday - Frivolous Alex, sent off as the 2-1 favorite (still have no idea why she was 6-1 on the morning-line), was allowed to set an easy enough pace under a heady ride by Joel Rosario, but got swallowed up in deep stretch and finished fourth. 

Saturday - Race 12 - GI Travers S., 3yo, 1 1/4m - #7 Atigun (12-1)   Made my case for Atigun in the GII Jim Dandy S., then made my case for a rider change following a disappointing sixth after he was strangled for most of the running. Well, I got my wish with Mike Smith taking over the reins, and Atigun can only benefit from the added real estate here and, hopefully, a fast surface. It won’t be easy, but the price will seem generous if he runs back to his strong third behind Union Rags and Paynter in the GI Belmont S. Plenty of great betting opportunities on this loaded 13-race card, including alternate play Which Market, who I really love in the eighth. Play: $25 Win. Alternate 1: Race 8 - $30 Win (Turf Only) on #4 Which Market. Bankroll: $1,171.80 - Record: 31-7-4-4.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 31

We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Thursday - Kamchatka was bet down to an underlaid 7-2 and got bounced around a bit in the lane before settling for fourth. To top it all off, Sherack found another winner in Central Banker. My only hope at this point may be if Bernanke announces QE3 for my bankroll.

Friday - Race 9 - GI Ballerina S. - #2 All Due Respect (20-1)
   Ready for the craziest DRF Formulator stat you've ever seen? Over the last five years, trainer Todd Pletcher is two-for-31 with a $0.19 ROI with new acquisitions in graded stakes. That's enough for me to play against heavy favorite Turbulent Descent, who I've always thought was a bit dressed up (going to assume It's Tricky will scratch as expected). Unlike the GII Honorable Miss H. that featured one of the hottest paces you'll see here three weeks ago, there's very little speed in the Ballerina. Turnback All Due Respect figures to be on the lead, and while her 2012 form isn't really up to par with these, she has races further back that fit well. Conditioner Rick Dutrow scores at a 31% clip with a $2.53 ROI turning back and going turf to dirt, and All Due Respect could add to those solid numbers if she gets clear here. Play: $30 Win. Alternate 1: Race 2 - $15 Win on #8 Pure Treasure. Bankroll: $720 - Record: 27-2-4-4.

Sherack: Thursday - Nice tally by Central Banker ($7.80) to get us back in the win column and open up some more daylight on DiDonato as we hit the homestretch. My Asmussen firster came running late at 12-1 in that one too, coming within a neck of completing the exacta. Time to start rolling again.

Friday - Race 7 - Clm 20000N2L, 3yo/up, f/m, 1 1/16mT - #3 Frivolous Alex (6-1)
   Frivolous Alex looks like the right one here at a very generous morning-line quote of 6-1. She’ll certainly appreciate this drop to $20k non-winners of two lifetime after graduating in wire-to-wire fashion in a $40k tagger at Monmouth July 15 and finishing a respectable fifth after leading in the stretch in a $35k beaten claiming event over this course Aug. 2. The bay has some decent early foot, gets a great speed rider in Joel Rosario, and hails from the very dangerous George Weaver barn, which has been rolling throughout the entire meeting. Play: $25 Win (Turf Only). Alternate 1: Race 3 - $14 Win on #3 Perfect Trippi. Bankroll: $1,196.80 - Record: 30-7-4-4.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 30

We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Wednesday - Just for Today was too far back and couldn't make up any real ground in the lane. Looking like I'm going to need a miracle and going to have to take some big swings in the final week.

Thursday - Race 6 - Msw, 2yo, 5 1/2fT, #4 Kamchatka (5-1)   I didn't love anything on this card, to be honest, so I'll take a shot with a horse who just has to be better than he showed in his debut. Kamchatka sold for $550,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale after breezing an eighth in :10 2/5. It was a nice enough showing--he has a high action that might be good for the turf--but the breeze and his page which, again, is decent, doesn't scream $550,000 to me. I'm going to assume someone who knows a lot more than me about that kind of thing liked the horse for good reason. Given a 9-2 chance first out on the dirt at Churchill June 17, Kamchatka basically tried to prop early, made a brief move and then stopped. It wasn't particularly promising, but he returned to work a third-fastest-of-52 five furlongs on the training turf here July 30 and could improve with the addition of blinkers. There's a little turf in his pedigree--Tale of the Cats like the lawn and his dam's a half to a GSW in France and England--and trainer Mike Maker does alright switching to grass second out. According to DRF Formulator, Maker maidens score at a 31% clip with a $3.14 ROI trying the turf in their second starts--slightly higher ($3.28) from a small sample size when reduced to just sprints. Play: $20 Win (turf only). Alternate 1: $20 Win on #1 Espiritu Libre. Alternate 2: $15 Win on #11 Never the End (turf only). Bankroll: $740 - Record: 26-2-4-4.

Sherack: Wednesday - Knock Rock (took a very large win bet late to go from 10-1 to 6-1 once they sprung the latch; I swear it wasn’t me) sat a perfect stalking trip behind the eventual winner, and just got tagged in the final jumps to get nailed for second.

Thursday - Race 6 - Msw, 2yo, 5 1/2fT - #2 Central Banker (4-1)   I, too, didn’t find anything that I loved on this card, so I decided to go with a runner in Brian’s race to make the day in the office slightly more interesting. Central Banker, a $200,000 KEESEP yearling graduate, gained valuable racing experience in his unveiling, finishing a clear-cut distant third behind the very impressive Canadian shipper Jocosity in his Saratoga debut Aug. 3. Love Speightstowns on the grass, and this guy’s dam Rhum was a steady stakes performer on the green stuff, too (16-7-2-1). Central Banker’s half-brother, the very in-form sprinter Gantry, handled turf quite well earlier in his career, getting a win and also a close fifth-place finish in the GIII Jaipur. Also like that Central Banker went out for a four-furlong spin around the dogs on the training turf since the debut. Hoping to pair him up in the gimmicks with the Asmussen firster at a price. Play: $20 Win (Turf Only). Alternate 1: Race 8 - $14 Win (Turf Only) on #2 Star Torina. Bankroll: $1,138.80 - Record: 29-6-4-4.

Thewifedoesntknow Training Blog: Ally-Gator Gets a Massage

In previous blog posts about Thewifedoesntknow (nicknamed Ally-Gator), I introduced you to her breeder, trainer, and jockey. I photographed and shared 5 training sessions with you. This week, it's time to sit back, relax, and have a spa day. On Saturday, my friend Christie Kerr did a massage session with Ally-Gator. After the massage, Christie answered a few questions about her background, her experiences working with Thoroughbreds, and what benefits horse owners and trainers can expect from equine massage therapy.
Christie Kerr works on a pony at Helping Hearts Equine Rescue in Perrineville, NJ.
TDN:  What is your background with horses, and how did you get started with equine massage?

Kerr: According to my mother, my love of horses started in my preschool days when I would wander off and play with the neighbor's pony; there weren't any kids nearby, and my sister was in school.  Despite a lifelong love and admiration of horses, I only became actively involved with them about 18 years ago. To some of your blog followers, that may seem like a long time, longer than they have been alive, but as the saying goes, "the more I learn, the less I know." I’m an avid pleasure rider, and am currently enjoying exploring the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area with my young mare, Brigid.  Recently, I began volunteering at the Horse Park of New Jersey through the Friends of HPNJ.

Having dealt with a chronic knee condition for most of my life, I developed an interest in both complementary and alternative therapies for humans and animals. Equine massage is one way I can give back to the horses I enjoy so much. I love how massage is a natural extension of the grooming and care that we do on a daily basis with our horses. I enrolled in a self-study program in order to learn proper techniques and their application. My late mare, Mary, was a trooper about being used for practice. Although the recent increase in demands of my “9-5” career prevents me from dedicating as much time as I would like to equine massage, I have been working on my new horse, Brigid, some friends’ horses, and some local rescue horses.  
Thewifedoesntknow enjoys her massage session with Christie. Her ears are relaxed and her eyes are soft.
TDN: How did you like working with Thewifedoesntknow?
Kerr: It was an absolute joy- she is such a sweet, expressive mare.  She has heaps of personality and impeccable ground manners. The rewards of working with such a pleasant horse are priceless.
Click on the two videos below and watch Ally-Gator enjoy her massage session:

 TDN: When you massaged Thewifedoesntknow, what muscle groups were strong and supple? What muscle groups were sore/tight?

Kerr: In general, she is a nicely-muscled mare. Her tender spots varied from side to side. On her left, she was quite reactive from her withers through to her tail set.  She also had a bit of tenderness near her girth area.  She seemed to enjoy having her neck and haunches and inner thigh worked on.  On the right side, she was more reactive in her upper neck and girth area, and most liked the work on the haunches.
As you can see by her expression, Ally-Gator was a little tender through her girth area.
TDN: During your massage sessions with Thoroughbreds, have you noticed any particular muscle groups that commonly tend to need more work than others?   

Kerr: Problem areas tend to be due to discipline more than breed, but most of the Thoroughbreds I’ve worked on are off the track and tend to have tension in the shoulder and hind end.  Generally, the tension builds in the left front and right hind.  One of the things that does stand out about Thoroughbreds is that they have such well-defined musculature.  That makes it very easy to see and feel the tension in the various muscle groups.   
On the left side, Ally was reactive to pressure from her withers to her tail set. On her right side, she was reactive in her upper neck and girth area.
TDN: What benefits can a person expect to see under saddle from a horse who is receiving regular massage therapy sessions? If a person is training an off-the-track Thoroughbred, what type of massage schedule do you recommend?    

Kerr: While the primary goal of the type of massage I do is to prevent injury, the benefits manifest in many ways. An example of this is freeing up tension in the shoulder area, which allows a longer, more open stride.  By releasing tension in a given muscle group, you not only help that area, but you also help avoid any problem that might arise in the opposing muscles due to compensation.  Massage can help horses remain relaxed and supple as they strengthen and even out the muscles needed for a new discipline.

The frequency of massage depends on the horse as an individual and the intensity of the work. If treating a specific condition, the severity of the condition is also a factor. In general, a massage every two weeks for a horse in regular competition is ideal.  Horses in light work or occassional competition can be massaged as needed.
Ally returns the favor and "massages" Carole.
 This is Part 10 in a weekly series of training blogs about Thewifedoesntknow, a Thoroughbred mare made famous by a viral YouTube video and who is now in training to be a show hunter with New Jersey-based trainer Carole Davison.   
 -Sarah Andrew

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 29

We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Monday - After the Bell was an even fourth. Starting to run out of time, but really like my horse today, so we’ll see. 

Wednesday - Race 8 - Str/Opt Clm, 3yo/up, 1 1/8m - #8 Just for Today (15-1)   After two middling tries at Churchill this spring, Just for Today overcame tons of adversity to earn his diploma in a $50,000 maiden claimer over track and trip here Aug. 6 (making him the only runner in the field with a win at Saratoga or at the distance). Dropping out of it early after an awkward beginning, the Claiborne homebred looked hopeless as he lagged towards the back of the pack behind an opening half in :51.01, good for a 53 Moss Pace Figure (22 points below par). He inched closer to the frontrunners entering the stretch, however, and mowed them all down to get up by a nose despite a little greenness. Just for Today only earned a 67 Beyer, but that'll help his price. There's no way the final time could have been fast considering how slow they went early, and the 81 final Moss Pace Figure Just for Today received seems closer to what he probably ran Beyer-wise. A figure around 80 is very likely to take this against a field of shaky dropdowns and distance question marks, and it's worth noting that trainer Al Stall, Jr. elects not to dangle Just for Today in for the $50,000 optional tag. Stall hits at a 33% clip with a $2.37 ROI in dirt routes off a maiden win, according to DRF Formulator, and he's scored at a 38% rate with a $2.74 ROI in dirt routes at the Spa over the past five seasons. Play: $35 Win. Alternate 1: Race 6 - $25 Win on Impetuous Spirit (turf only). Alternate 2: $15 Win on #1 Goodtolook. Bankroll: $775 - Record: 25-2-4-4.

Sherack: Monday - Opalite looked loaded while under a tight hold down the backstretch, but never really fired in the stretch, reporting home a non-threatening sixth at 14-1.

Wednesday - Race 6 - Clm 35000B, 3yo/up, 1 1/16mT - #5 Knock Rock (8-1)   The versatile Knock Rock returns on quick notice against slightly tougher following a strong third after an eventful trip versus $25k taggers Aug. 13. I’ve made my case for him in each of his last two starts, and he’s produced career-best efforts on both occasions, including his long overdue maiden win July 25. He’s run big on short rest before--co-career high 75 Beyer in salty Belmont maiden 13 days after a fifth-place finish in the GIII Pilgrim S. as a maiden last October--and love seeing him spotted aggressively here. Don’t think you’ll get the 8-1 quoted on the morning-line, but he should still present good enough value on a horse-for-the-course that’s in top form at the moment. Play: $25 Win (Turf Only). Alternate 1: Race 10 - $14 Win (Turf Only) on #5 Snookie Slew. Bankroll: $1,163.80 - Record: 28-6-4-3.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 28

click for details
We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Sunday - And Steve thought Atigun’s ride in the Jim Dandy was bad... Wow. That was some serious ineptitude aboard Miami Cat at 9-1. Let’s go to the videotape... Off a bit awkwardly, the Florida invader was strangled back off a pace that never really developed (maybe because he was supposed to be involved in it?). He tried to pull himself closer on the turn, but was instead strangled back and buried in between horses. Dropped all the way out of it to last at the head of the lane, Miami Cat flew home on the far outside to be beaten a length and a neck in fourth.  

Monday - Race 1 - Msw, 3yo/up, 1 1/8m - #3 After the Bell (8-1)
   The top four favorites (two are coupled) in this six-betting-interest affair have a combined record of 39-0-12-9. Yuck. After the Bell, however, still has plenty of upside. The Darley homebred was devoid of speed when unveiled going seven panels at Belmont May 19, dropping far out of it after a slow break before showing some late interest to cut his losing margin to 12 1/2 lengths while checking in seventh. It seemed visually like more than just a clunk-up--he was doing some actual running--and three horses from that heat, including two who finished behind him, returned to break their maidens next out. More distance certainly helps After the Bell, as his pedigree is exceptional for 1 1/8 miles. By excellent stamina influence Empire Maker, the dark bay is out of GI Ashland S. winner and GI Kentucky Oaks runner-up Rings a Chime (Metfield), making him a full-brother to MGISW router Country Star. If that's not a nine-furlong pedigree, I don't know what is. I'm still a bit concerned that After the Bell may find himself too far out of it, as the works since his debut are incredibly slow, but that's how all Tom Albertrani horses work, and I'd think that After the Bell would be adding blinkers here if his lack of speed was that much of an issue. Play: $25 Win. Alternate 1: Race 8 - $40 Win on #8 Geisha Gal (Turf Only). Alternate 2: Race 2 - $10 Win on #7 Good Law. Bankroll: $800 - Record: 24-2-4-4.    

Sherack: Sunday - Better Lucky sat the trip in fourth and had every chance in the stretch, but was simply not good enough when the real running began in the Lake Placid.

Monday - Race 8 - Msw, 3yo/up, f/m, 1 1/8mT - #3 Opalite (15-1)
   Opalite caught my attention with a strong third at 12-1 going 1 3/16 miles last out at the Spa July 29, and can make some noise at a big price in this one. Hard held in eighth that day through a half mile in :48.56 and six furlongs in 1:13.90, Opalite hit the gas with a good four-wide move on the turn for home and kept on coming in the stretch to finish within 3 1/4 lengths of the impressive winner Riolama. The bay has continued to improve since receiving a freshening in the spring and switching to turf in her last two, and should save all the ground with an inside draw here. Deep closer should have more than enough pace to run at to make an impact and cutting back to 1 1/8 miles should be right in her wheelhouse. Play: $14 Win (Turf Only). Bankroll: $1,177.80 - Record: 27-6-4-3.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 27

We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Saturday - Elmutahid, let go at a generous 12-1, set easy splits and gave me quite the thrill before Sonofasamurai showed an impressive burst of speed to blow by him. He was game to battle back for second, though.

Sunday - Race 6 - Str/Opt Clm, 3yo, 1 1/16mT - Miami Cat (12-1)   An abundance of early speed signed on scares me a bit, but I can't help but think that Miami Cat is entered here for a reason. The chestnut's Calder form is decent--he earned an 86 Beyer Speed Figure for a 6 3/4-length off-the-turf allowance win in May, and was subsequently flattered when the runner-up came back to score twice. Miami Cat pressed a hot pace (nine points above par early on the Moss Pace Figure scale) last time in the also rained-off Mambo Meister S. May 26, but faded to sixth. That field featured a trio of next-out winners, including a pair who took stakes. One of those stakes winners was fellow Phil Gleaves trainee Csaba, who was second by a nose in the off-the-turf GII Hall of Fame S. here last week. Miami Cat clearly accompanied his stablemate from Florida, and could be poised to follow in that one's footsteps and give a good account of himself. The pair worked in company over the turf in Miami July 30, covering four furlongs around the dogs in a quick :48 flat. It's hard to imagine that Gleaves, who bred and co-owns Miami Cat, couldn't have found a spot at his home track for this runner. He's got no pedigree whatsoever to suggest the surface switch will suit him, but I'm betting that Miami Cat proves very well-meant. Play: $20 Win on #4 (turf only). Alternate 1: Race 8 - $20 Win on #3 Medolina (turf only). Alternate 2: Race 9 - $15 Win on #6 Marvelous Margaret. Bankroll: $820 - Record: 22-2-4-4.

Sherack: Saturday - Sea Island had the perfect set-up in the Alabama, but just never fired behind the ultra-impressive Questing.

Sunday - Race 8 - GII Lake Placid S., 3yo, f, 1 1/8mT - #4 Better Lucky (5-1)   While much will be made about the unlucky trip that last year’s GII Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf heroine Stephanie’s Kitten’s received when fourth as the favorite in the GII Lake George S. at the Spa July 25--and rightfully so--things didn’t exactly go according to plan for Darley homebred Better Lucky that day, either. Checked hard repeatedly while entering the clubhouse turn, Better Lucky was forced to trail the field of eight early, but wanted no part of it, and immediately started making a solid middle move into quick fractions of :23 2/5 and :47. She impressively kept the momentum rolling with a four-wide sweep on the far turn to challenge for command and kept on fighting on bravely in the stretch in a very roughly run race to come up only a neck short of the streaking Centre Court. The daughter of Ghostzapper proved that she was a quality runner when annexing her turf debut against graded company with a game nose tally in Belmont’s GII Sands Point S. May 28, and should only move forward with the added distance in her second try since. If she’s ridden aggressively early, Better Lucky should be in a perfect stalking position behind Medolina in second, and will have a nice jump on the aforementioned big two, which may be the deciding factor. Play: $30 Win (Turf Only). Alternate 1: Race 2 - $14 Win (Turf Only) on #3 Johar Beauty. Bankroll: $1,207.80 - Record: 26-6-4-3.

The Sandman at Saratoga: An Evening With Mariano Rivera

--Jessica Martini

   If you are a racing fan, there is no place better than Saratoga in the summer. If you happen to be a racing fan and a baseball fan, it was Christmas in August last week as Siro’s at The Lodge hosted an exclusive dinner with New York Yankees mega-star closer Mariano Rivera. The event was held to benefit the Mariano Rivera Foundation, founded in 1998 to provide educational opportunities to underprivileged children in both the U.S. and in Rivera’s native Panama.
   I had the extreme good fortune to attend the event, along with about 100 other Yankees fans, including former teen heart throb and current racehorse owner David Cassidy, Denali’s Craig Bandoroff, Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero and NYRA’s Dan Silver.
   Seated at a table that we self-dubbed “Table 42" in honor of the killer closer, I found myself in easy conversation with a group of people bound by a love of all things Yankees.
    Andy Belfiore, former TDNer and now Director of Communications for the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association--and the woman I blame for my Yankees addiction--was there, as was Ed Fountaine of the New York Post and Ginny Terrill, daughter of trainer Red Terrill, although she admitted her husband was more the baseball fan of the family. The Table 42 crew also included Chase, an attorney from Nashville who said he had always wanted to attend the races at Saratoga and an evening with Rivera was just the thing to entice him to head north. And Brooklyn was definitely in the house with Mark, a mortgage broker, and his girlfriend Carly.
   Over a spectacular meal, there was a wonderful mixture of racing talk and baseball talk, but as David Cassidy took over at the piano for a rendition of “Piano Man,” we had to get down to business. There would be a Q&A with the great closer and we had to be ready.
   Every closer needs a good set-up man, and on this night one future Hall of Famer introduced another as jockey Johnny Velazquez set the stage for Mariano. Velazquez, on the eve of his induction into Racing’s Hall of Fame, admitted he hadn’t written his induction speech yet (you obviously didn’t need the practice, Johnny!) as he took some questions from the crowd.
   Soon it was Rivera’s turn and the lanky right hander, still recuperating from a torn ACL, charmed the crowd while answering questions from around the room.
   Who taught him his signature cutter? “God.” Would he be back pitching this year? “I hope so, but you can’t push it.”
   Finally, it was our turn. Mark started off. “You are the most revered and respected closer in baseball history and you have suffered a serious injury,” he said, before pausing and admitting he had to hand this one over to our own closer. “Why is it so important, why do you want to come back and pitch again?” Andy finished. Mariano thought for a second, smiled and said, “Because I am competitive. I want to be out there.”
   After an auction of baseball and football memorabilia came the highlight of the evening for me--photos with Mariano. After all the post-season games Mo, Andy and I had played ... well, Mo played, Andy and I pretty much just yelled and high-fived a lot, it was appropriate the three of us finally had a close-up. And Andy didn’t even notice I snagged the pitching arm side!

Courtesy Tom Sullivan
   Heading for the parking lot, we saw we weren’t the only ones enchanted by the evening. As we waited for the car, we stood next to two middle-aged businessman who could only be described as giddy as two schoolgirls. I swear, one of them gushed, “He shook my hand.”
   And it was all for a good cause. The evening raised over $100,000 that will directly assist children in need.
   The next day, Rivera toured the Saratoga backstretch with Velazquez in the morning and attended the races in the afternoon, presenting the trophy after the day’s third race. Asked how he enjoyed the experience, Rivera said he had had a wonderful time in Saratoga (don’t we all?) before reportedly admitting he was petrified of the horses. Ah, well. No one is perfect.
   Thanks for a memorable night, Mo. Best of luck on the comeback trail--I am looking forward to hearing ‘Enter Sandman’ reverberating around the Stadium for another season.
   For more information on the Mariano Rivera Foundation, visit  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 26

click for details
We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Friday - Leaping Lady chased the pace before fading badly in the ninth. One race earlier, alternate Crafty Push scored at 6-1. For once, I was rooting for a late off-the-turf announcement.
Saturday - Race 2 - Msw, 2yo, 1 1/16mT - #5 Elmutahid (8-1)
   Shadwell homebred Elmutahid was unveiled by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin going seven panels over the Belmont sod July 15, but was sandwiched at the start and dropped back. He got a bit headstrong down the backstretch and into the turn, and faded to seventh after pulling himself into contention. The dark bay should show more with a better trip today, and McLaughlin excels with maiden second-time starters stretching out on the turf. According to DRF Formulator, over the past five years, he boasts an 8-for-19 record (42%) with a $3.82 ROI in the relevant category. One of the runners who accounts for McLaughlin’s lofty numbers is Elmutahid’s dam Alwajeeha (Dixieland Band). Alwajeeha was fifth first out as a juvenile going six panels on the Belmont lawn in 2007, but broke through when stretched to a mile at Aqueduct next out. She’d go on to annex the GI QE II Challenge Cup S. at Keeneland the following year. Play: $25 Win (turf only). Alternate 1: Race 4 - $15 Win on #3 Bad Hombre. Alternate 2: Race 2 - $15 Win on #13 Never the End. Bankroll: $845 - Record: 22-2-3-4.     

Sherack: Friday - Chat Me Up was hammered down to 2-1 after a pair of gate scratches, but ran like she was scratched too, finishing last of five.

Saturday - Race 10 - GI Alabama S., 3yo, f, 1 1/4m - #1 Sea Island (12-1)
   Grace Hall and Questing will obviously be extremely tough to beat in this spot and are very deserving favorites, but I’m willing to take a chance at an enticing price with Sea Island, who may take a big leap forward with the added distance here. The Phipps homebred couldn’t have been more impressive when stretched to 1 1/8m at the Spa last time, defeating classy older fillies and mares, including St. John’s River and Acting Happy in a $50k optional claimer, clocking her final eighth in a sharp :12.67. Sea Island has since returned to the worktab with a best-of-36 four-furlong bullet in :48 1/5 over the Oklahoma training track Aug. 13, clearly a good sign for a barn that rarely works them fast. Sea Island’s dam Resort, a close sixth in this race in 2000, could run all day, finishing second in the CCA Oaks held at 1 1/2m that term. Stranger things have happened at the Graveyard of Favorites. Play: $20 Win. Alternate 1: Race 8 - $20 Win on #11 Ivanho. Bankroll: $1,227.80 - Record: 25-6-4-3.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Showdown at the Spa: Day 25

We have given our two TDN crack handicappers, Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack, a mythical $1000 bankroll and told them they can bet no more than 5% of that on any given day at Saratoga on a straight win bet. The winner, at the end of the meet, gets $100 in a TVG betting account, along with bragging rights until next July.

DiDonato: Thursday - No Nukes was completely ignored and let go at 19-1 in the sixth. He needed a busy ride to keep up with well-meant firster Stoneless, but kept on going in the lane to finish second behind that runner. Alternate pick Gombey Dancer was also a nice-priced runner-up, so we’ve definitely been on overlays. Just need one to break through.

Friday - Race 9 - Alw, (S), f/m, 3yo/up, 5 1/2fT - Leaping Lady (10-1)   Leaping Lady's form doesn't look quite as strong as it could because she's been on wet tracks for three of her five lifetime starts. Her two dry track runs make her very competitive here, however, and she figures to be even better on the lawn. The chestnut was third at second asking last October at Belmont against a tough group that was headed by subsequent GSW Agave Kiss and that featured several other eventual stakes performers. Her other dry-strip run came two back at Belmont May 27--she set a very hot pace (12 points above par early on the Moss Pace Figure scale), but kept on going in the lane to best a next-out winner and earn a 78 Beyer Speed Figure. That number puts Leaping Lady right there with the favorites in this race, and the speed she showed that day puts her at an advantage in this relatively paceless affair. On pedigree, the turf should be Leaping Lady's preferred surface. Sire Mass Media seems to produce winners on both surfaces, but both Leaping Lady's dam and her lone sibling to race earned career-best Beyers on the lawn. That sibling, Bounding Bi (Outflanker), is three times stakes-placed in turf sprints. Play: $25 Win (Turf Only). Alternate 1: Race 8 - $20 Win on #4 Crafty Push. Bankroll: $870 - Record: 21-2-3-4.

Sherack: Thursday - Jennys Creek gave me a pretty good run for my money at 14-1, just getting tagged late for second to finish a respectable third in the finale.

Friday - Race 3 - Md 65000, 3yo, f, 1mT - #4 Chat Me Up (5-1)   Chat Me Up, claimed by Dominick Schettino for $25k off Mitchell Friedman out of a strong second-place finish to Bakin’ With Cindy (came back to run a solid third in a OC65k/SAL with a 74 Beyer) on the weeds downstate May 20, showed immediate improvement in her first start for these connections. Freshened and hiked to $65k, the dark bay delivered a career high Beyer of 69 when a rallying third at 12-1 July 12. Mother Nature failed to cooperate for her next start--she finished an uninspired sixth in an off-the-turfer going seven furlongs here Aug. 6--and she returns in a good spot off short rest. Not a big fan of any of her opponents who are dropping in from maiden special weights; the Clement firster from the rail with Ramon looks like the obvious main danger. Took a tough beat with her stablemate Hunter Forward a couple of weeks back; hoping this one makes amends for a barn that is currently firing on all cylinders. Play: $25 Win (Turf Only). Alternate 1: Race 9: $20 Win on #9 Akira. Alternate 2: Race 2: $40 Win on #5 Moment in Dixie. Bankroll: $1,252.80 - Record: 24-6-4-3.