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Secrets of the Spa

Posted by Brian Mulligan on 7/19/2010 3:51:55 PM

Besides the beautiful views, both human and equine, and the great classic racing, Saratoga Race Course offers handicappers a number of difficult things to examine on a day-to-day basis.

For the 142nd time, Saratoga will swing its doors open this Friday and the Grade 3 Schuylerville for juveniles will kick off the stakes action. The highlight of the first weekend is the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks.

Mother Nature will come into play at this meet for sure and we all know the weather will come. It can ruin a grass schedule quicker than you can say flash thunderstorm and just like on the dirt track, all turf courses can play different when they get some moisture seeping in.

Saratoga has been called the Spa, and the Graveyard of Favorites, and you better pay strict attention to last moniker before eating chalk this meeting.

A good handicapper must also try to identify key races before they become super obvious. One of the tools to help with that task is the Beyer Pars that are published in DRF Simulcast Weekly. Starting from a $15,000 claimer, then going to the N5X level, the Beyer pars are listed. Generally speaking a $75,000 claimer would be on target if that runner posts a 95 Beyer figure. If you witness a race where the winner for that level records something in the 101 or 102 range, you may be on to a key race far ahead of the crowd.

Just like at most other venues, speed is extremely potent going short on dirt and you can go wire-to-wire going long on dirt under the right circumstance.

On the grass, it can pretty much be pick a number at the top of the lane. The fields will be competitive, with comebackers, Europeans, and shippers mixed in with those coming up from Belmont.

One thing to pay attention to is the main track only runners. They will be designated in the Racing Form as such and will be in the outside slots generally. If the rains come, and grass races are taken off the sod, these horses are prime time contenders. First off the race will be losing quite a bit of luster as the top bred grass runners are gone and the fields will be in all likelihood short and sweet and compact.

Even with all the regally bred runners that have been positioned to debut at Saratoga, the experienced runners could offer the best value. They have a race or two under the belt and are more accustomed to what could shake them up at race day.

Don’t be scared to take shots with comebackers at this meet. All the pretty people have likely instructed-their well-paid conditioners to save some live runners for this meet. Nothing can be finer than to take a nice little contingent down to the winner’s circle before dinner and drinks at some fancy restaurant.

As far as the humans are concerned, the usual suspect as in trainers will dominate. These of course are the Bill Motts, the Todd Pletchers, the Steve Asmussens and the Barclay Taggs of the world.

Last year was kind of a freaky deal as Linda Rice won with just about everything she saddled. She was the leading trainer over Pletcher by one race despite saddling 60 fewer horses.

Barring the strange fickle finger of fate, Ramon Dominguez will retain his Saratoga title.

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