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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, August 25, 2014 at 12:00 AM



(Travers Report Wrap Up – Part III)

By Jim Hurley

There could be little doubt that trainer James Jerkens had to feel pretty good as he entered the paddock and walking ring about 30 minutes prior to Saturday’s Grade I Travers Stakes.

He had uncoupled stable mates Wicked Strong, a winner of the Grade I Wood Memorial and Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes (the local key prep for the Travers) as well as tough luck yet nonetheless solid effort performer in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in fine fettle, and based on conversations in days leading up to the race seemed to indicate that he wasn’t all that worried about Bayern stealing the Travers Stakes because he believed that V. E. Day, the last out winner of the Curlin Stakes (a day before the Jim Dandy) might surprise people and show good early speed.

And then they ran the race and everything was turned upside down.

Yes as expected, the speedy Bayern, a daylight wire-to-wire winner of the Grade I Haskell at Monmouth in his most recent plus dominant blowout win over a good field in the Grade II 7 furlong Woody Stephens Stakes on Belmont Stakes day broke sharply and was quickly in front a few steps out of the gate. At this point all those pundits who said there just wasn’t anyone to run with him early might have muttered “you see.” But Bayern hadn’t even reached the clubhouse turn when he suddenly had pressure from not one but two contenders for the front end.

And there was the field, not yet into the turn and the race had already been turned upside down.

In Friday’s preview of the race, in my comments regarding Bayern I made a point that Bayern might not be as big a “cinch” as the lone speed gurus and the ML maker (2-1 favorite) believed. At the time I said, Given those performances [meaning the Haskell and Woody Stephens] and the makeup of this field it is understandable why many bettors will consider him unbeatable if he gets an easy lead. All those plusses being registered there are other ways to look at Bayern that should make a serious handicapper/bettor circumspect at best. In the Arkansas Derby he was contested on the front end, although he set the pace he was under pressure and gave way to Danza and Ride On Curlin, both decent 3-year olds who reached their level and did not get past it. Even in the Derby Trial, when facing lesser, essentially allowances horse he was pressured to the finish and got that nose victory before the DQ but would have been passed if the race was a few jumps longer. Of course the Preakness tells us little but isn’t it possible to consider that on both the Woody Stephens and Haskell occasions he was most definitely on speed favoring tracks and even in the 9 furlong Haskell he ran over a surface that plays much more like a one turn speed track than a two turn level surface. And sure enough after Bayern was looked in the eye he held the front end for a while but was finished before they approached the 3/8ths marker and retreated to dead last.

However, since I have mentioned being right about Bayern it is time for full disclosure. As I said above, the race turned upside down before the field even settled into the clubhouse turn because the two runners who went up to challenge Bayern were not V. E. Day or Charge Now, another with tactical speed who was stepping up and might have wanted to be a bit closer early on, but none other than Tonalist and Wicked Strong. While both have shown versatility I did not expect each to be so “heartily” involved early on.

Certainly Tonalist had shown enough tactical speed in both the Belmont Stakes and his runner up effort behind Wicked Strong in the Jim Dandy, but he was seemingly hustled shortly after leaving the gate as jockey Joel Rosario made the decision that if no one else was going he had to and that lead to a 10 furlong trip in which the Belmont Stakes winner was never allowed to relax.

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Rajiv Maragh was more tactical on Wicked Strong and took after Tonalist as that one chased the pace setter. This was a reversal of the Jim Dandy in which Wicked Strong, with blinkers on for the first time broke right on the flank of pace-setter Legend through slow early fractions and drew clear in the lane as Tonalist, behind him in third and then second when the longshot front runner plummeted to the back of the pack and finished an unthreatening second.

With their positions reversed from the Jim Dandy Tonalist and Wicked Strong ran 2-3 down the backstretch and in review it appears quite relevant that the Maragh, on Wicked Strong might have lost the nose decision at the finish right there at the start as he went into that clubhouse turn 5 wide before moving back in to the two path after entering the back stretch clear of the latter pursuers. Maragh did save ground down the backstretch but when they entered the far turn and moved to the lane he had to once more angle out 4 wide for a clear run. Did that cost him the nose loss?

For his part, Tonalist did hold the show spot after Wicked Strong cleared him to take the lead inside the furlong marker but neither could withstand the late charge of V. E. Day, who while Bayern was motoring and Tonalist and Wicked Strong were following in perhaps worried attendance, was taken right to the rail down the first straightaway by Javier Castellano. Castellano then remained chilly as he never went further off the rail than the two path as they rounded the clubhouse turn, settling the “other” James Jerkens runner, the stable mate of Wicked Strong, a lightly raced an stepping up colt the conditioner said might show more early speed than the analysts expected. As the race developed and the jockey could see the second and third favorites (Tonalist and Wicked Strong) continue to hold position as they were about to pass a retreating Bayern and he remained patient as he never ventured far from the rail and saved crucial ground even as the field straightened into the stretch.

Castellano began to get into the son of English Channel as they entered the lane and finally at the sixteenth pole edged off the inside and mounted a relentless assault that toppled the occupying forces at the top of the east coast’s 3-year old division. The move was vintage Castellano as he took the colt between Wicked Strong and Tonalist, continued to chase the former as the latter was finished and claimed a nose win in the final stride.

Certainly V. E. Day deserves the accolades as he made a huge class jump forward as he exited a non-graded stakes race (the Curlin) which had produced absolutely zilch in the Travers from 7 graduates in the last 3 years but this one belonged to a trainer combination that has been absolutely in command during the 2014 Saratoga meet and highlighted that status in the biggest race of the meet.

As good as Maragh and Rosario have been during the meet, as many winners as Velazquez can claim as he gets just about every Todd Pletcher ready-to-win juvenile and as competitive and surprising as Irad Ortiz and Jose Ortiz have been, the meet has belonged to Javier Castellano.

And as stuffed a winner’s satchel as Pletcher (5 times as many starters as Jerkens)and Chad Brown (3 times as many starters)  have at the meet it is noteworthy that it is Jerkens, with 9 winners, 4 seconds and a pair of thirds (39% winners…65% on the board) who has been without a doubt the most impressive.
Following the top three under the wire were the usually consistent and just-good-enough-to-be-beaten-close-up-at-the-level Kid Cruz, who legged on to catch Mr. Speaker, who appeared to be moving at the leaders approaching the furlong marker but was caught wide and got tired in the final strides.

Closing it out in order of finish were Viva Majorca, Charge Now, Ullanbator, Commanding Curve (who became the second straight Kentucky Derby longshot runner up to fail miserably in both the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes) and the early-on “no Mas” Bayern.


With all the excitement surrounding the running of the Travers Stakes on Saturday and Shared Belief’s triumph over older horses in the Grade I Pacific Classic (the highlight of the Del Mar Meet on Sunday) the announcement that Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome will return to racing in the Grade II Pennsylvania Derby on September 20.

Of course that race would help set the colt up for the BC Classic, but what you really have to like about the move is that the connections (from owners to trainer Art Sherman) of this once-in-a-lifetime colt aren’t the least bit circumspect about their plans. Not only is it a good spot schedule wise but a win in the $1 Million race could mean as much as $800,000 for the handlers.

By making the trip to PARX the group can collect $600,000 for the winning share but are “guaranteed” $200,000 simply for the colt leaving the gate…no matter where he finishes. This is because the Pennsylvania Derby offers $50,000 to the owner and trainer of the winner of each of five races, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, Haskell Invitational or Travers Stakes.

Once in a lifetime winner indeed.

Excerpted From A Current Report On
More than two years after being asked by regulators to look into the 2010 and 2011 takeout scandal at the New York Racing Association, a state investigative agency has concluded that key executives of the racing corporation were derelict in their duties to halt a practice that cost bettors more than $7 million.

The probe by the state Inspector General’s office also pointed criticism to everyone from the then-NYRA’s board to the regulatory agency that oversaw racing at the time.

New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott, in a report that largely tracked findings already revealed about the episode, said NYRA failed to follow state law that called on NYRA to drop temporarily higher takeout rates in September 2010. She also said the state’s chief racing regulatory body, the former Racing and Wagering Board, which has since become part of a new agency called the Gaming Commission, failed to "calendar" when the takeout rate should have changed to help avoid bettors from being overcharged.

The mistake was not caught, as reported at the time, until an unrelated review by auditors at the state comptroller’s office. From September 2010 through December 2011, NYRA collected nearly $7.4 million in higher takeout fees than it was legally permitted.

Of the $7.4 million overcharged to bettors, NYRA was able to refund $611,000 to its patrons who made wagers during the period on-track and at off-track betting entities.

Whether “returning” the remaining $6.8 Million is in the “process” of being “returned to bettors” (permit me a minute while I choke on my laughter) wasn’t subject to discussion.

Here’s a suggestion; why not REDUCE the takeout across the board on all straight and exotic bets until the $6.8 Million is “paid back to the betting public.” Of course the specific individuals that were cheated might not be properly recompensed but at least the betting money goes through the windows in the right direction. Heck, it might even create a bit of good will.

Further Note: That being said, I must also comment that once again, while at Saratoga it has to dawn on the public that the people who handle the wagers at Saratoga, the tellers who were years ago maligned by the bad acts and tax evasion of a remote few are by far the most courteous, good natured and helpful individuals race goers will encounter.


Year in and year out a very small contingent of “smart” bettors take advantage of the large amount of wagering done by amateurs that for the most part, if getting beyond family and pet names, birth and anniversary dates, favorite colors and favorite numbers very seldom go beyond the default level of top trainers and jockeys.
I bring this up because there was one of those perfect “smart money moves” in play on Sunday at Saratoga in a non-descript two turn NYSB MSW turf test. In the race a colt by the name of Slew’s Brew was properly listed at 7-2 on the ML after a pair of close up seconds in the last two at the level…both at this Spa meet.
As the betting unfolded, however, Slew’s Brew opened at 4-1 and gradually drifted to 6-1 and it is very reasonable to see this betting as a product of unknown trainer Jacqueline Falk (mainly a fixture on the Suffolk circuit, where she actually race rides many of the horses she trains and is only successful 4% of the time.) Added to the “public” dismissal was the assignment of jockey Dylan Davis, who was 1 for 40 at the meet.

Then with about 3 minutes left to post time the colt drifted down to 5-1, then 4-1 closer to the post and 7-2 as the gates opened. This was not public money and Slew’s Brew moved through on the rail and easily broke his maiden as much of the money returned to bettors went to the “smart” ones. 

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