They're Off at Saratoga




During the break in New York, I made four selections on the opening-day card Wednesday at Del Mar on the John Piesen Hot Line (888) 612 2283.

Those who called the service hit the jackpot because I merely wentthree-for three- race five: Ballard Ruler, a Sadler firster, $11.80, and Life A Riley completing a cold $59.80 exacta; race six: Midnight Cruise ($10.20), capping a $41 cold double, and race eight: Killer Bear, $6.80.

Click here to sign up for a summer full of winners from Saratoga and Del Mar.

It got me to thinking that if I can hit a grand slam at Del Mar, where I have never been, what will happen when I hit Saratoga, where I have spent a lifetime of summers, and where I know every jockey, every trainer- and most every owner- on a first-name basis?

No, I'm not expecting perfect days on a regular basis, but I'm confident that I will nail more than my share of Hot Line winners, starting Friday when the Spa kicks off its 40-day meeting with a 10-race card, featuring two stakes, and huge fields top to bottom.

The huge fields will be a daily occurrence, simply because the purses, fueled by the downstate casino money for the first time, will be off the charts. All you need do is look at race one, a two-other than allowance boasting a purse of $90,000. You read that right. Ninety K for an allowance race...or about twice the size of the same race five years ago.

Rosie Napravnik, a Jersey Girl who, as A.R. Napravnik, was taking out her apprentice license about that time, rapidly is becoming one of New York's superstars.

Just last Saturday, Rosie rode four winners at Belmont Park, and, on Friday, she has eight calls, including major players in both stakes- Jackson Bend for Nick Zito in the $100,000 JamesMarvin, and Fully Living for Ken McPeek in the $150,000 Schuylerville.

This will be Rosie's first ride on Jackson Bend, who is merely four-for-four at the seven-furlong distance, and two-for-two at Saratoga- last year in the Marvin and Forego (Grade One).

Jockey Nakatani, who had been Jackson Bend's regular rider, has returned to the West Coast full-time, opening the door for Rosie.

Jackson Bend, a five-year-old millionaire, is one of those rare sprinters who can handle post one. In fact, he's won three graded stakes, including the Forego, from the rail. This time, JB drawsoutside in a field of seven, normally a good thing.

Down on the rail is Caixa Eletronica, from the same people (owner Repole and trainer Pletcher) who gave us Uncle Mo last year.

At age seven, CA is in career form -- two graded stakes wins in his last three starts, and is two-for-four at the Spa. His owner and trainer topped the standings last year, and his rider, Castellano, would have done likewise if he didn't take off the final day to ride in Philly.

With Jonny V, last year's champ, sidelined with a broken collarbone, Castellano and Dominguez no doubt will fight it out for the Spa riding title this year.

But JC and RD are not necessarily the Spa bettor's best friends. Neither have ever shown a flat-bet profit at the Spa, and that's not likely to change this year. Both tend to get overbet.

On the other hand, jockeys Nakatani, Castro, Leparoux and Desormeaux all showed flat-bet profits at the Spa last summer. Ironically, Nakatani, whose plus $106.20 was by far the best in the Spa jockey colony, won't be back. But I expect the others will do well, especially Desormeaux, who's back in trainer Romans' good graces.

You'll recall that, back in June, Kent flunked a breathalyzer test, and main man Romans dumped him.

As for Lezcano, he's never had much success at the Spa, but he's never come into the Spa on a roll quite like he's on now.

We will get a sneak preview on Friday when Jose replaces jockey Elliott on Golddigger's Boy in the Marvin.

Lezcano lost his best horse, Royal Delta, to Mike Smith for Saturday's Delaware Handicap. Pending the race, RD is the best in the game, and trainer Mott may bring her to Saratoga for the Personal Ensign or Woodward. Bet against at your own risk.

But Lezcano is riding everything else in the Mott barn, including Bellamy Brew for the Steinbrenner family in a Saturday allowance at Saratoga.

As for the Schuylerville, it's not every day (or any day) that we find every horse in a race exiting a win. In fact, six of the seven 2-year-old fillies are one-for-one, the exception -- Can't Explain (one-for-two).

The intrigue here is Baby J, from the barn of Rick Dutrow Jr., whose 10-year ban was upheld in court on Thursday, will be the favorite.

Baby J will be the favorite because she had the best Beyer number (84) in her win. Only if life was that simple. I know I will try to beat her.

Baby J re-unites Dutrow and ownerPompa from Big Brown fame in '08.

An interesting outsider is So Many Days, who won her Philly debut by eight. Her trainer is Tony Dutrow (Rick's brother), her owner is Maggi Moss, a national champion but Spa neophyte, her rider is Castellano, and she breaks from the outside, a major plus at the six-furlong distance.

Unlike the Marvin, where Jackson Bend will be a short price, the Schuylerville is wide-open...but I do like my pick (click here to get today's races).

With Johnny V on the DL, Pletcher turns to Lezcano for Can't Explain.

The Toddster is shooting for his eighth Spa training title, and no doubt will get it, his relatively poor Belmont meet notwithstanding.

Pletcher, Mott, Dutrow, and the red-hot Chad Brown (Bob Frankel's protege') will top the leaderboard by meet's end, but again there's no value playing these guys.

You might want to take some shots with trainers Violette, Serpe, Hushion and Weaver.

The Toddster is sitting in the catbird seat for Saturday's headliner, the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks with precisely one-third of the six-horse field.

Pletch is running the fresh and fit In Lingerie, who figures to keep the favored Zo Impressive on her toes, and the stretch-running Disposablepleasure.

With Dominguez at Delaware Park to ride Awesome Maria for the Toddster in the Delcap, Rosie gets the call on Disposablepleasure.

Looking for a longshot in the CCAO?

You might want to check out Funny Proposition. Her trainer is Spa native Mark Casse, for years the top gun in Canada.

The first of many 5 ½-furlong sprints on the Mellon turf course will be run as Friday's 10th race...and already Pletcher catches a break.

Top Position, 4-1 overnight with Castellano, has drawn the five-hole in the field of 12 maiden-claimers.

The reason?

Post one is not the place to be in these races. Over the last three years, the one-hole is 3-for-49.

In this case, a 5-year-old first-starter named Running Made Easy drew the one. Obviously an inappropriate name.

Saratoga is unique in that it has two grass courses- the Mellon and the inner. As a rule, the Mellon plays closers, and the inner plays speed.

And with good weather predicted for the opening weekend, we'll get a quick handle on how the various strips are playing.

Thanks for tuning in. Make sure you join me at Saratoga (and Del Mar), go Buccos, and we'll see you back here next Friday.


Today’s Hot Plays