Not the most fun day at the races today. Humid; rainy; small crowd. Despite a couple of good races and temperatures in the 80’s, it felt like the beginning of the winter racing season, when people go the track simply to bet, not to hang out.

The treat of a steeplechase kicked off the day, and also a pattern of betting woes (now there’s a shocker). I don’t pretend to know anything about jump races, but I do know how to read a program, and in fact, I came closer today than I expected, betting a $1 exacta box of the entry of Mon Villez/Sweet Shani, Good Night Shirt, and Best Attack (this last at least in part because I discovered that he is owned by a family whose son once attended the school at which I teach). I threw out Orison for the entry…and while Good Night Shirt won the race, half of my entry finished fourth, with Orison finishing second. Oops. Shoulda reversed that.

In a recent edition of Thoroughbred Times, NYRA track announcer Tom Durkin was quoted as saying, “I enjoy trying to use different rhetorical techniques and vocabulary to make it sound fresh to people and keep me on my toes.” Poor guy had a tough time of it in this first race, which was run at two and a half miles and finished in 4:42.45—during which time the race order didn’t change until the horses hit the stretch. That’s four minutes plus of horses in the same order running relatively slowly around the track….and you could tell Durkin was trying hard to think of something to say other than, “Still in the same order that they were two minutes ago…”

Smoke’n Coal, a two-year-old first-time starter, took the second; a Smoke Glacken colt who sold for $550,000 at Ocala earlier this year, he led wire to wire and won by three. He’s owned by Darley and trained by Tom Albertrani and beat a field of nicely bred colts, including those by Tiznow (Tizbig), Point Given (Tough as Teak), Sky Mesa (In Orbit).

Was close in the first two races but finally cashed a chalky exacta ticket in the third when favored Les Grands Trois came out from behind a wall of horses under Kent Desormeaux at the top of the stretch (Durkin characterized it as “a perfect trip”) to overtake Silver Source just before the wire. A finish in reverse order would have paid more, but still…it was a winner. I’ll take it.

The sixth race ripped my heart out. New York-bred two-year-old maidens with seven first-time starters in a field of ten. Kiaran McLaughlin’s Pygmalion was bet down to the major favorite; I couldn’t decide where to settle my bets and foolishly did a four-horse $1exacta box with the Leah Gyarmati entry; Desormeaux on Scott Schwartz’s Be Bullish; and Missinglisalewis, because I know someone named Lisa Lewis. No win bets, in an attempt to be slightly frugal.

Agony! The agony! My horses finished first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth. And did I bet Desormeaux to win? Noooooooooo….so of course it paid $19.80. The agony! Another great example of my good handicapping, bad betting.

No big surprises in the short-field stakes races; Cuaba went off as a slight favorite over Jazzy, but Jazzy ran a great race and Pussycat Doll threatened but didn’t have enough left to finish. After finishing first, first, and second in three consecutive Grade I’s late last year and early this, she’s run four disappointing races. At the age of five, you have to wonder whether she can still compete at this level.

And what’s up with Sightseeing? Two major duds in a row, after a series of races that made you think he could be a major competitor at the end of his three-year-old season. He was “excused” from the post parade and rumor has it that he’s sort of a head case. Blinkers on for the Travers: he finished fourth of seven by eleven lengths. Blinkers off for the Brooklyn: he finished last in a field of five. Shug must be scratching his head about this colt.

When I watched Any Given Saturday in the Wood last April, I wondered whether he could get the mile-and-a-quarter of the Derby; he was staggering as he crossed the finish line. He’s run great now in a couple of races at a mile-and-an-eighth; has he matured enough physically to get the classic distance?

Next weekend is a monster of racing at Belmont, with three stakes races on Saturday and five—including four Grade I’s with “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup implications—on Sunday.

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