Today in Racing, Aug 17, 2014

In the third race at Saratoga on Friday, Cap’n Raymond ($8.50) won for trainer Gary Sciacca; his first winner of the meet, coming with his 19th starter.  Later on, Sciacca watched as Saratoga Snacks, the now five-year old son of Tale of the Cat who he nursed through three successful seasons punctuated by long periods of absence, made his 2014 debut, under the care of Bill Mott.  It was a coach’s decision.

Former NFL coach and general manager Bill Parcells made an executive decision since his 5-year-old ridgling Saratoga Snacks last ran.  He moved the son of Tale of the Cat, owned by Parcells’ August Dawn Farm, from the barn of trainer Gary Sciacca to that of Bill Mott. [Daily Gazette]

I thought Sciacca did a good job keeping the horse sharp despite all the layoffs.  He’d won each time in his first race back; but not on Friday, when he settled for 4th in the state-bred John Morrissey.  While I don’t know if Sciacca received any financial interest in the horse for his efforts, it may have been a satisfying day for him all the way around.

Weekend Hideaway ($15.40) set a fast pace in the Morrissey and just kept on going; the first of two winners over Fri-Sat for trainer Phil Serpe.  We mentioned this barn the other day as being sharp; and Serpe now has five winners from his last ten starters, plus a very close third last Sunday with the 7-1 shot Killer Crossover.  Weekend Hideaway had shown improved speed in his prior two tries, and put it all together here.

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 11.58.12 PMEarly pace figures of 125 / 116, and his raw final time figure was, accordingly, upgraded from 108 to 112.  (Our speed figures take pace into account; click here to learn more). Note also the irregular pattern of figures, as the horses who were closer to the pace were awarded for their efforts.  Weekend Hideaway, a four-year old son of Speightstown who sold at auction for $40,000, pushed his earnings northward of $400,000 with the win. Serpe has trained him throughout his 16 starts (six wins), dating back to 2012, when he won two of his first three career starts over this track.  (Yeah, you might have missed that if your past performance lines cut off at 12.)

On Saturday, Serpe won with Cozy Kitten ($12.80), who held off Jacobson’s 4-5 favorite Grand Rapport after surviving a spirited tussle with Knights Nation.  This 6yo Ramsey-bred gelded son of Kitten’s Joy started his career racing for his breeder, showing much promise with a 2nd and a 3rd in graded stakes on grass….but he was claimed away after dropping for a 35K tag after the second of two long layoffs around a single race. However, Ramsey apparently saw enough from his prior race, a 3rd at 26-1, to claim him back here for the same price; he’ll race for Michael Maker.  His 4yo full brother With Exultation has two seconds at this meet for Mike Trombetta and Live Oak.

Tom Albertrani is another trainer going well; he also had a winner on each of the last two days; and a second on Friday with 8-1 Half Nelson.  On Saturday, Smooth Daddy ($21.40) absolutely stole the 11th and final on the lead with jockey Jose Ortiz.  After lazy opening quarters of 25.07 / 24.74, Ortiz picked up the pace with a 24.02 third quarter; and then blazed an insane split of 21.89 seconds to sixteenth pole…..or at least according to the Equibase chart! Trakus has that split as a far more believable 23.26, and I think we’ll go with that one.  Either way, it was quick enough to get the job done, and helped spark the second huge superfecta ($38,830) of the day (though not as huge as the $71,440 payoff in the 8th).  It was the second career win in 11 starts for Smooth Daddy, a 3yo son of Scat Daddy, pushing his earnings to $134K, still short of his yearling purchase price of $170,000….not to even mention all those expenses incurred over the last two years.

Stopchargingmaria ($4) earned a sluggish TimeformUS Speed Figure of 93 for her win in the Alabama….the 22nd win, from 84 starters, for Pletcher; twice as many wins as leading pursuer Chad Brown.  Personally, I think that NYRA should consider shortening this race from the present mile and a quarter to a mile and an eighth.  There is nothing at all appealing about watching thoroughbreds be pushed to run further than they want to go. Even the Breeders Cup has figured out that even older fillies and mares don’t want to go beyond nine furlongs.  The 10th furlong of the Alabama has proven to be simply unnecessary in seven of the last eight runnings.  In each of those seven, the leader at the eighth pole has widened her margin to the wire despite slowing down beyond the boundary of what I would consider to be “race horse” time (unless we’re talking about pacers).  Stopchargingmaria’s final quarter of 25.43 was at least better than that of Proud Delta (26.02) and Questing (who drew away while walking home in 26.23 seconds).

Bruce Brown continues to be sharp; another winner on Friday with Latigo Trail ($5.30) in the 5th; and another third – his 13th from 42 starters! – with 16-1 Gourmet Dinner, who missed by just a length and a half in Saturday’s 7th.

Speaking of near misses….I know I’ve been giving a lot of mentions to Gary Contessa, a trainer with a winning percentage of just 11% (six-for-56).  But I hope you’ve been including some of his horses somewhere on your tickets.  In the 2nd on Saturday, his Thomas Hill missed by a head at 7-1 to Ramsey’s Mish Mosh (8th winner from 32 starts for Michael Maker; a solid 25%).  Then, Duff One held on stubbornly for second at 12-1 in the Grade 2 Knob Creek Lake Placid. (And though I’m a bourbon guy myself, it seemed somehow inappropriate, given all the talk of ridding drugs from the sport, to see bottles of Knob Creek being passed around the winners circle as if it was Gatorade).  And in the 9th, Contessa’s Glowing Ember set the pace at 15-1 and settled for third.  The barn has one entrant today, Ode to Sami (8-1) in the 8th.  She goes second off the layoff after winning in her first start in 227 days, and doing so despite being up close to the pace on a track we have rated as strongly favoring closers (race rating shaded in dark blue).

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