Powell's Saratoga Diary: Going 'Wild' for Opening Day
by DICK POWELL
It took longer than expected but I am officially excited about Friday’s Opening Day of the Saratoga Race Course. We all look forward to the start of the meet but we know how much work is involved to have a chance. I know; it’s not real work but it can be exhausting nonetheless.
But being at the track on Wednesday afternoon for the unveiling of The Stretch, the new hospitality area at the top of the stretch, and seeing the lush turf courses that have not had a hoof print since last year’s Labor Day makes me bullish on the work ahead.
Each race day, I will be writing a diary of the day’s races. In it, I hope to cover the races themselves with an eye out for track trends. The weather should be spectacular for Opening Day but then the humidity is supposed to be back so thunderstorms can always be a possibility. The storms can be very local and there are days when drenching rains hit five miles away but the track is dry – or, vice versa.
There will be as much turf racing as the courses can stand and the weather permits. The sprinkler system seems to be working great and even though we have been in a drought the past two weeks, you will see on the simulcast feed how green the turf courses are. The inner turf course plays very differently than the wider, Mellon turf course. The inner turf course has tighter turns and makes it harder for closers to get up in time despite the long stretch.
The Mellon turf course enable closers to come from behind without losing too much momentum. There are many times at Saratoga on the turf courses that you are way better off losing ground and being in the clear than saving ground and getting stuck in traffic. Pace is always an issue and sometimes an aggressive rider can dominate on the front end if they have the guts to send their mount.
Turf sprints have been enigmatic but they tend to be very fair. There were 59 of them run last year and the speed bias is 59%. If you can wrestle a lead from the gate, you might hang on. But we see deep closers get up in time on a regular basis and it is not unusual to see six of seven horses with a legitimate chance with less than a furlong to go. Watch replays and don’t get too excited about a turf sprint that goes in 1:02 and change -it’s about average.
Dirt racing is always subject to track maintenance and weather. My seats in Section C afford me with a perfect view of how the track is being conditioned and it can change as the day goes on. Sealed wet tracks favor speed and the toughest handicapping circumstance is a drying-out wet track.
We will keep track of all three courses each day and build up data as the meet proceeds.
Here is my advice with the human athletes. The top trainers and riders are no surprise and they tend to get overbet. The way to make money is to take the top 10 trainers/riders and focus on the bottom five. In other words, the pari-mutuel value is with the trainers/riders that are between six and 10. They don’t win as often as the top ones but pay a whole lot better when they do.
This is the first Saratoga meet with the new Internal Revenue Service tax rules. With a 15% takeout on the early Pick Five, my plan is to play it every day without exception. I won’t bore you with last year’s horror stories of three big ones that got away and now with less chance of having to have the winnings reported, I am out of excuses.
So, who do we like on Opening Day?
Race five is a maiden special weight event for 2YO fillies going 5 1/2 furlongs on the main track. Eddie Kenneally sent out WILD TYPE for her career debut going five furlongs and she was an even third as the 13/10 favorite after being bothered at the start. The horse that ran second came back to win a $100K stakes race at Lone Star last Sunday so the form of the race looks solid. She has worked well since then and gets top gate rider Jose Ortiz in the irons. At 6/1 morning line, she should be my anchor in the early Pick Five.