JULY 25, 2008
by Dick Powell
Saratoga began its 140th meet on Wednesday and more rain fell during the card than last year's entire meet. Already, eight turf races have been switched to the main track in the first two days of racing, and with more than five inches of rain possible, who knows when turf racing will resume? Last year, only six turf races had to be switched to the main track.
As Wednesday wore on, the rain intensified and the track was a pool of standing water. After STAR PLAYER (Tale of the Cat) won the opener for local boy Chad Brown after sitting second early, horses on or near the lead did extremely well.
In the 2ND race, a very competitive juvenile maiden special weight going 5 1/2 furlongs, COGNITO (Langfuhr) gunned to the front for Shaun Bridgmohan from post 1, and the second-time starter was able to hold off debut runner Brave Victory (Lion Heart) by a half-length. Brave Victory, trained by Nick Zito, might have been best after bobbling at the start, racing wide to the top of the stretch and then re-rallying in the lane with one, final surge. By the red-hot Lion Heart, who has already sired nine first-crop winners, he should be tough next out -- especially if Zito adds mud caulks.
Cognito sold for $700,000 this past April at Keeneland and was a good second in his career debut at Churchill Downs going Wednesday's distance. He's a half-brother to Grade 2 winner COOL COAL MAN (Mineshaft) and is trained by Steve Asmussen.
The feature race on opening day was the 90th running of the Schuylerville S. (G3) for juvenile fillies going six furlongs. It attracted a good field of 10, and the betting public made Ocean Colors (Orientate) the 13-10 favorite. From the Asmussen barn, Ocean Colors is a daughter of the great Winning Colors (Caro [Ire]), who won the Kentucky Derby (G1) in 1988 but has yet to produce a stakes winner.
She'll have to wait some more as the less regarded Asmussen trainee JARDIN (Montbrook) stalked the early pace of Ocean Colors and Cameron Crazies (Lion Heart) and drew off to a convincing four-length win. A daughter of the speedy Montbrook out of a stakes-placed Valid Appeal mare, she sold for $425,000 at Ocala in February.
In her career debut at Churchill going five furlongs, Jardin stalked the pace while three wide and took over in the lane as the 3-2 favorite. Breaking from post 10 Wednesday, she was dismissed at 12-1 odds and essentially ran the same race as her maiden win. It was the third winner on the day for Asmussen who indicated after the race that the Spinaway S. (G1) on the last Sunday of the meet would be next.
When handicappers compare Saratoga and Del Mar, days like Wednesday are a major negative in the balance sheet for Saratoga. When it rains, it pours and racing is adversely affected. There were 44 scratches on Wednesday's card at the Spa with five races switched from the turf to a very sloppy main track. Has Del Mar ever lost a turf race to rain or has it ever been listed as anything less than firm?
Polytrack provides a consistent racing surface each day and now that Del Mar is watering it during the afternoon it is yielding relatively normal race times. Compare Del Mar's consistency to what we saw at Saratoga on opening day and how much the main track will change when it dries out.
Joe Talamo got off to a decent start at Del Mar with three wins in 18 starts and is tied for fifth in the rider standings. Rafael Bejarano leads with 10, Joel Rosario and Tyler Baze have seven and Victor Espinoza has four wins.
Still only 18 years old and riding without the "bug" all year, Talamo has proven himself especially adept on the turf. Most riders win at a lower percentage rate on the turf than on the main track. This is mostly due to the fact that turf races tend to have larger fields and are mathematically harder to win.
Amazingly, Talamo, who has won with 13 percent of his total mounts, is winning on the turf at an 18 percent clip and is showing a healthy flat bet ROI of +0.47. When you factor out his turf record, Talamo is winning 11 percent on the main track and 18 percent on the turf. Very unusual.
Ramon Dominguez might have to wait a few days to ride on the turf at Saratoga but when he does, pay attention. Dominguez is winning at a fantastic 27 percent this year overall. Like Talamo, Dominguez's winning percentage on the turf is even higher -- an incredible 32 percent with a positive flat bet ROI of +0.29!
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