July 20, 2001

Del Mar Update
So far, so good. During the first two days of racing where the turf meets the surf, two of the trainers on last week's win-early Del Mar list have struck at healthy odds.

On opening day, it was the Bob Baffert-trained Ecstatic going off at 10-1 and prevailing. Thursday, perennial Del Mar favorite Howie Zucker sent out anything but a favorite in Special Matter, who won at 9-1.

While layoff horses (especially those from the barn of the unconscious Bill Spawr) have done some quality running, the two-year-olds are just being trotted out, and with them, several vulnerable-favorite scenarios should emerge.

Here's to continued success.

Starting Saratoga
By this time next week, the venerable Saratoga will have been underway for two days, and hopefully there'll be similar hot-starting-trainer action already to write about.

But first things first. Let's take a similar approach to dissecting the first two weeks of Spa action, the way we did last week with Del Mar.

The so-called Graveyard of Favorites is anything but that, at least during the first two weeks of the 1999 and 2000 meets. During the opening stages of 2000, the Spa favorites prevailed at a healthy 35 percent rate. The year before, their frequency of success bordered on the obscene: 47 for 109, or 43 percent.

As you might imagine, odds-on favorites had a lot to do with that sturdiness; however, there were instances in which the superfavorites had their difficulties.

Interestingly enough, those instances of vulnerable or false odds-on favorites were eerily similar to the negative patterns pointed out last week for the start of Del Mar. In particular, the lightly raced, frontrunning animal who now might face much more severe early pressure was especially endangered. As at Del Mar, the pace battles at Saratoga are protracted and very intense, and horses who have had things all their own way before suddenly find themselves with too much to do too early. So feel free to take a swing against relatively inexperienced frontrunners who haven't had to duel yet in their careers.

Obviously, many two-year-olds fit that bill. And as at Del Mar, the overhyped and way overbet two-year-old first-time starter is not usually worth all the hooplah, or risk, for that matter. Odds-on juvenile debutantes, regardless of pedigree or trainer, have obstacles to overcome. They are easy to upset.

As far as the trainers go, Saratoga differs markedly from Del Mar. At Del Mar, there is no heavy regional shipping. There are no barns from New England or New Jersey or Delaware or Philadelphia -- and even Chicago and Kentucky -- to raid the local races.

But at Saratoga, any number of accomplished horsemen who don't usually spend the early summer, spring, autumn or winter in New York descend upon Saratoga Springs as though it were Mecca, a six-week haj that seems not to discriminate against the fellow-travelers.

Kentucky conditioner Dale Romans is a perfect example. He sends a string to Saratoga each year, and when his charges get overlooked in the wagering, they seem to outrun their odds with startling frequency. He's definitely one to look out for.

So are August interlopers Mohammed Moubarak and Frank Brothers.

Several low-profile New York-based trainers also seem to emerge during the opening two weeks of Saratoga. These talented but unheralded conditioners include Gary Contessa, Richard DeStasio and John Kimmel.

But if you want to land upon the King of (early) Saratoga over the past two years, look no further than the man, Mr. D. Wayne Lukas. No one else comes close, and if Lukas is really as dead this year as so many have proclaimed him to be, it quite possibly could be the first few weeks of Saratoga that will give rise to a Mark Twain-like rebuttal by him. (Of course, if he doesn't snap out of it here, then maybe the obituaries make sense.)

Finally, if it's Saratoga, it's torrential downpours on any given day, and that means jocks and trainers who do well in the off going are going to be dangerous.

Among the trainers, Neil Howard seems to perk up when the precipitation falls. So do Carlos Martin, Shug McGaughey and Contessa.

The riders are a different group, too. Sure, Bailey will do well in the mud and slop, but he's no match for the Patient One, Pat Day. Day and Jorge Chavez did best on wet surfaces the past two years during the opening two weeks. Also coming to life in the wet are Marlon St. Julien (a question mark this year) and John Velazquez. And too bad Shane Sellers gave up riding, because slop season at Saratoga accounted for some of his most productive periods. Oh, well.

And that'll do it. Best of luck at Saratoga this year, especially early.

Specials, Contests
Dont' forget to enter the July Free-Form/Iron Survivor Preliminary Edition of the Big-Prize Handicapping Contest. It's fun, and now you choose how you want to play. Also, remember to get down on our very special summer offer for the acclaimed C&X Report. You'll find more info in The Handicapping Store.

As always, thanks for your continued readership.

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