The Tradition Continues

Saturday was one of those days that make me feel slightly sad for all the people who don’t know what fun horseracing can be—my father, brother, and I sat in the simulcast area of the harness track for three and a half or so hours, bet a little, drank a little, talked a lot…won a little, lost a little…I mean, how could staggering through Best Buy and Old Navy with thousands of other holiday shoppers be more appealing?

This is the third year that we’ve done this on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I can confidently say that it’s turning out to be a pretty good handicapping day for me, for some reason. I don’t know whether anyone else has these experiences: particular days that are, year in and year out, generally successful. (And yes, I know, I’m about to ruin this by talking about it.) The Preakness and the Belmont are generally good days for me; the Travers often; the Wood Memorial, not so much. And while I didn’t walk out profitable on Saturday, I did hit a few races, which was gratifying.

A quick rundown/recap:

Race 2: Loved Barclay Tagg’s first-time starter, Groomedforvictory (though I hate those strung together names). Bet him win and place and thought for a bit in the stretch that he was going to get there…but a $13.60 place payment was decent consolation. No need to mention that the winner was a Contessa first-time starter who went off at 42-1.

Race 3: Talked myself off of Marylou Whitney’s Legacy Thief, only to regret it when he came in and paid $26.00. Adding insult to injury was that my exacta finished second and third. Nice win for Mike Luzzi, who had a good day overall, with two wins and a second.

Race 5: The Grade III Discovery for three-year-olds. Nick Zito’s Helsinki was awful, and thus, so were my bets.

Race 6: Finally, a filly/mare race with a decent name! I’ve written in the past about what I consider the foolishly-named Spinster and Matron, but here we have the Grade II Demoiselle, for two-year-old fillies. As NYRA’s website notes, “demoiselle” is French for a young lady, particularly one of refinement and good breeding. The Demoiselle was first run in 1908 and is a race I look forward to every year. Two years ago I had Wonder Lady Anne L, and last year Boca Grande; other recent winners are Sis City and the estimable Ashado. In 1998, Better Than Honour won it—she’s better known as the dam of the last two Belmont Stakes winners, Jazil and Rags to Riches.

Given the name of the race, how appropriate, then, that a beautifully bred Empire Maker filly, who cost $1.6 million at the Saratoga sales last year, won it masterfully. This may have been the best race on the Aqueduct card, with the entries relatively evenly-matched…but my eyes kept going back to Mushka. I liked her breeding; I liked her connections (Mott/Zayat/Velazquez); I liked her running lines; and I liked that she was making her first start on a fast track after winning on a sealed one. And when the race was over, I liked her $10.40 payout. When I heard Durkin say that she was eight lengths behind the pack and I looked at the fractions, I figured that she had no chance to make up the ground, given the reasonable pace, but as she jumped up around the turn and inhaled horses, I knew that she had a pretty good shot. Félicitations, Mushka!

Race 7: The Grade II Remsen, for two-year-old colts, is named for Colonel Joremus Remsen, a leader of the Revolutionary forces at the battle of Long Island (NYRA). Previous winners of the race, first run in 1904, are the greats, Northern Dancer and Damascus; more recently, Go for Gin (1993) and Thunder Gulch (1994) went from winning this race to winning the Kentucky Derby. Bluegrass Cat, second in the Derby, won it in 2005, and last year Nobiz Like Shobiz took it.

Despite the relatively modest record that Atoned brought to this race (6-2-3-0, at Delaware and Monmouth; his only finish out of the money was at Belmont in June, giving me pause about his ability to handle the New York circuit), I couldn’t throw him out, and I ended up boxing him in an exacta with the favorite, Court Vision, and another longshot, Springs Road.

Talk about an eventful race; comfortable at the back of the pack, Atoned clipped heels with the horse in front of him and nearly went down—there goes that exacta, I thought. But he steadily made up ground and came off the turn into the stretch with the lead, and I was so busy watching him that I didn’t pay any attention to the shenanigans going on behind him, as Court Vision and Eibar Coa played bumper cars with any horse that got in their way, then cruised up to nip Atoned at the wire, turning a $60 exacta into a $12 payoff. After a lengthy objection and inquiry, the result was let stand; there was much conversation about where Court Vision would be placed if he got taken down—did he interfere enough with Big Truck, who finished fourth, that he’d be placed behind him (Big Truck’s running line, “in trouble throughout,” might indicate otherwise)? Or would he be placed second, significantly increasing my winnings?

All irrelevant, and I had to be happy with my paltry payout, and that Bill Mott, one of my favorite trainers, swept the juvenile stakes at Aqueduct.

More later on the Cigar Mile and other bits of weekend racing news.

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