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Aug 17, 2007

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


It's been all craziness at Saratoga...A look back at Monday's card and More

For example, what were the odds that Cornelio Velasquez at this point would have more wins than John Velazquez?

But such is the case. Cornelio booted home yet another bomber (Fresh Episode at $34.20) in race one Monday, giving him a meet-high 20 winners, four more than Johnny V., who was shut out from a mere three mounts. And maybe you could have gotten say 500-1 that jockeys Cornelio and Desormeaux would be one-two in the standings at the mid-point.

But, just as stretch-runners have been dominating the races, look for jockeys Gomez, Prado and, yes, Johnny V., to overtake the top two in the second half of the meet.

Indeed yesterday closers, like on most days, swept the dirt races. I've been watching Saratoga races since the days of Damascus, and I can't remember such a bad meet for speed. It seems the worst place to be at the quarter-pole is on the lead.

Taking a look back at the first race, it pays to note that Jersey-based trainer Greg Sacco, who became eligible to claim when he ran Foreverness in the West Point on Sunday, stayed overnight to take Banque Royale, the fast-closing runner-up.

Look for Banque Royale to make an immediate impact at Monmouth and The Meadowlands.

Later in the card, I was shocked that the Pick Six went unhit. The gimmick comprised Pay Attention ($6.20), the afternoon's only winning favorite; a $7 horse, an $8 horse, an $11 horse, and a pair of 7-1 shots.

As a result, the players will chase a 60K carryover into Wednesday's card, which is highlighted by a most unusual running of the Adirondack Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.

Unusual because none of the nine fillies in the field have finished worse than second. Their combined record is a remarkable 11-5-0 from 16 starts.

I'll have my pick-6 selections so we can cash that ticket and all the exotics within those 6 races. Just $30 gets you Wednesday's Pick-6 at Saratoga. Click here to get started.

Back to Monday...

Jockey Jara, who made a huge splash as the regular rider of Horse of the Year Invasor, bid farewell to New York with a second-place finish on old friend Indian Hawke in race eight. Jara, who rode only one winner in the three weeks at the Spa, is switching his tack to southern California.

Jara showed unusual poise and talent in his rides on Invasor, especially in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

On the other hand, I was very disappointed with his decision to fire agent Randy Romero. Romero, one of the class acts in the game, deserved better.

And (no surprise) Jara's numbers have declined dramatically since he dumped Romero.

A half-hour later, jockey Coa once again showed why he is the $2 bettor's best friend.

In mid-stretch, hopelessly blocked in traffic, Coa tried to bull Silver Timber through horses, and caused a chain reaction that eliminated the favored Afrashad.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Coa wnt to extremes to get his horse home.

In this case, Silver Timber settled for third, and was DQd to fifth, no doubt prompting a suspension from the three wise men.

Personally, I don't mind seeing jockeys penalized for not giving 100 per cent. But I'm not thrilled when riders are penalized for giving 200 per cent...as Coa did.

The crowd on Monday was 17,607, or about one-fourth the announced attendance on Sunday when folding chairs were the attraction.

This is the AP lead in Monday's New York Times:

"Racing before a record-setting crowd of about 72,000, Classic Pack beat 13-1 odds to win the West Point at Saratoga."

Record-setting crowd?

And I'm dating Selma Hayek.

My question is: Why, in a sport based so much on integrity, can a major racetrack  announce a record-breaking crowd of 72,000 when maybe there were actually 30,000 fannies in the seats? Is there anyone out there stupid enough to believe the bogus number?

(Hey, pro football does the same. Management listed the attendance for the Jets-Falcons pre-season game last Friday night at The Meadowlands as 75,000....or about five times the actual number.)

Actually, the attendance and handle numbers at the Spa virtually mirror those of last year, which is not a bad thing.

On the other hand, this has been a rough meet for some of the game's biggest names.

D. Wayne starts the second half of the meet 1-for-31, and Pletcher and Asmussen are a combined 13-for-87, capped by Noonmark, second at 3-5 in Monday's third race. About half of those losers were first and second choices. This is worse news than the $5 cover charge they put in at the Siro's backyard.

What's worse though is that Pletcher and Asmussen are skipping Saratoga's two marquee races with their marquee horses. Pletcher won't run Rags to Riches in the Alabama and Any Given Saturday in the Travers, and Asmussen is keeping Curlin in the barn on Travers Day.

In each and every case, Pletcher and Asmussen cite the fact that these two races don't fit in their stars' campaign leading up to the Breeders' Cup.

This is unfortunate. The Breeders' Cup was founded in order to help the game. Not hurt it.

Asmussen told this writer some years back in Hot Springs that each and every day his main concern is making money for his owners. Clearly, his quotes in Monday's papers confirm he hasn't changed his position.

Says Steve:

"What's the difference between the Breeders' Cup Classic and the Travers? Five million to one. (The Classic is worth $5 mill; the Travers one mill.) With Curlin in the running for the top 3-year-old and Horse of the Year, I'm influenced by my responsibilities to the horse and the people who own him.

"Running Curlin in the Travers, and then keeping him at that level for another 60 days is unrealistic, as opposed to backing off, and targeting it directly.

"The best way of getting Curlin to the Breeders' Cup is by running him in the Jockey Club Gold Cup."

As a result, the Travers will be a virtual re-run of the Jim Dandy, in which Street Sense, coming off a layoff, won handily under jockey Borel. As a result, Street Sense looks to  be the shortest Travers favorite since Damascus exactly 40 years ago.

Damascus won by 22 lengths at 20 cents to the dollar.

Speaking of Borel, it's worth noting that Borel and his best Cajun buddy Albarado, both of whom won Classic races this year, booted home longshots in big-money grass stakes a half-hour apart last Saturday.

Borel won the $500,000 Sword Dancer at the Spa on Grand Couturier at $33.20, and Albarado the Arlington Million on Jambalaya at $17.10.
 
I imagine they are still partying down on the Bayou.

Meantime, I won't be far from that action this weekend. I'll be at Oaklawn Park competing in a handicapping contest based on the races at Saratoga, Monmouth and Arlington, et al.

Hopefully, I'll have a better week than Jose Cuevas, the "Exercise Rider for the Stars."

The Spa stewards socked Jose, now trainer Frankel's chief New York assistant, seven days for "failure to follow proper saddling procedures during the fourth race on Aug. 1." 
 
As a result, Elisa's Energy was one whole pound light, and wound up getting disqualified from second.



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