Arrived late Wednesday afternoon to clouds and drizzle and nothing has changed in 48 hours. It’s dark and gloomy and the Monmouth track is a quagmire. Too bad, because this track is full of charm and history. It reminds me a lot of the old Gulfstream track, before its multi-million makeover turned it into a much less appealing environment to most that I know. This Jersey shore track has a three-level open-air grandstand, plenty of nooks and crannies, and what I would imagine to be a very festive atmosphere when running during its normal summer months.

However, the weather has really put a damper on festivities. The track is extremely wet and the turf is yielding. Who knows which horses are going to handle it? Today, in the Filly and Mare Sprint, speed collapsed and SoCal-connected MARYFIELD rolled up on the outside to score the 8-1 upset for trainer Doug O’Neill. Her half-length victory in 1:09.4 (after early fractions of 21.29, 44.19) over longshot MIRACULOUS MISS surely was aided by the condition of the track. A look at her wet-track record showed three wins from four previous starts.

In the Juvenile Turf, the lead changed hands a number of times before NOWNOWNOW ($27.20) got the best of favored Euro invader ACHILL ISLAND. Well-regarded PRUSSIAN set the pace but wilted and the horse I liked, GIO PONTI, was blocked hopelessly through the final 100 yards and might have been right there with a clean trip. He is worth playing back next time—hopefully in the Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park during the Turf Festival.

In the Dirt Mile, CORINTHIAN dominated under Kent Desormeaux. What a difference a year makes. I’m not sure how many mounts KJ had in last year’s BC, but he rides eight of the 11 races this year. The winner ran past pacesetter (and my choice) GOTCHA GOLD, who finished eight lengths clear of the third horse in what amounted to a two-horse procession. Another tough beat on the Best Plays, since I keyed the runner-up on a pair of tri tickets but threw out overbet DISCREET CAT (3/2 odds), who mananged to nose out WANDERIN BOY for the distant show.

It’s supposed to continue to rain until about 1:00 (Eastern) tomorrow afternoon, just about post time for the Juvenile. The strip can’t help but be anything but sloppy, with another yielding turf course. Remarkably, horseplayers poured it in, with over $30 million bet ($5 million on track, with an announced crowd of 27,803) on the card. On the three BC races alone, nearly $20 was wagered. What would those numbers have soared to had the conditions been ideal?

NOTE: Late scratches for Saturday’s BC card: SLEW’S TIZNOW in the Juvenile and WAIT A WHILE in the Filly and Mare Turf…don’t be surprised if AFTER MARKET joins them.

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If you are consistently beating this Oak Tree meet, I’d like to know your secret. I don’t mean one big score that has put you ahead for the meet, I mean showing a profit in at least three of the first four weeks.

Personally, I have found this meet to be inscrutable. And coming off the heels of outstanding and profitable Hollywood Spring/Summer and Del Mar meets (leading both meets among public handicappers while picking 31-32% top-choice winners and doing very well at the windows), I thought I had this synthetic track thing all figured out. Oak Tree has always been one of my favorite meets but not this time. I’m picking an embarrassingly low 20% winners in my graded handicap and haven’t made a significant hit on my Premium Play sheet since Oct. 13.

This has been the toughest meet I can remember in my 22 years of professional handicapping. Favorites are winning at a shockingly low 23.66% after 186 races. Over the weekend, there were a total of three winning favorites (from 20 races) as double-digit winners scored in 15 of those races, with prices ranging from $10.00 to $75.40. Normally this is a good thing—who wants short-priced chalk all day long? However, the difficulty has been in stringing together this steady stream of upsetters. In this era of multi-race rolling bets, it has been nearly impossible to put together enough consecutive winners to hit Pick 3′s and Pick 4′s, let alone a Pick Six.

For example, there was only one winning ticket in Saturday’s Pick 6, paying more than $500,000. And no one got close on Sunday, leading to a $142,000 carryover into Wednesday’s card. Saturday’s Pick 4′s paid $3,280 and $5,942, with only two winners in the Pick 5, paying over $57,000 each. On Sunday, Pick 4′s paid $1,670 and $1,897, with no one hitting the Pick 5. Pick 3 payoffs ending in races 5-8: $1,286, $6,183, $1,856 and $1,182. Like I said, tough to string ‘em together. Hopefully I will get things turned around in the next two weeks. But I’m not too sad about leaving this place for Monmouth on Wednesday. Breeders’ Cup can’t be any tougher than this.

Too Many Races: Why has Oak Tree piled on so many extra races at this meet? Oak Tree alternates between five- and six-week meetings every other year. Last year, despite having 26 days, Oak Tree ran only three 10-race cards on Saturday and one 10-race card on Sunday. Cal Cup day ran its traditional 11 races on the final Saturday of the meet. This year, for some reason (let me guess, greed?), Oak Tree has run 10 races on every Saturday and Sunday card. Quantity over quality, since that extra race usually is comprised of another cheap maiden claimer or $10,000 plater. And they’re just getting warmed up. On Friday, the first day of Breeders’ Cup (referred to as BC Lite by DRF’s Jay Hovdey), there will be 10 live races to go along with the three BC races from Monmouth. On Saturday, seven live races (including the opener at 9:15 a.m.) to accompany (or dilute, depending on how you look at it) the eight BC races. Then, roll right back with 10 more on Sunday. As we have often talked about in the past, thoroughbred racing is the only sport in the world that plays its championship game (Breeders’ Cup), then comes right back and plays again the next day. Wouldn’t it be great for the sport to shut down after the BC Classic, with every track in the nation closed until Wednesday?

Bad News for Horseplayers: After reporting months ago that major rule changes were upcoming in the case of dead-heats and scratches in Pick 4 and Pick 6 races, I received the following email from Mike Marten, spokesman for the CHRB:

“Scientific Games has informed the CHRB that due to technical limitations associated with the transferring of wagering data over the telecommunications system, we are prevented from implementing rule changes to allow for proportional payouts for deadheats in multiple-race wagers involving four or more races and from creating consolation pools when scratches occur in Pick Four races…a representative of Scientific Games gave a presentation to the CHRB Pari-Mutuel Operations Committee yesterday. He apologized for giving us incorrect information when we first asked Scientific Games months ago if these changes could be done. The answer at that time was yes. But upon further review, Scientific Games realized there are those technical limitations, which they overlooked on first consideration. The commissioners were very disappointed to hear this, as they wanted to make these changes for the benefit of fans. They were told Friday that it could be one or two years before the wagering protocols are updated and these changes might become possible.

Thanks for making these suggestions to us, and we’re sorry we can’t carry out the plan.”

Once again, the horseplayer takes it in the shorts. We keep coming back for more but, for me, the overracing and bad rules slowly but surely erode my passion for the sport.

To View Free Samples of Premium Plays from past two weeks, click on the links below: Premium Plays for Oct. 10Â Â Â Oct. 11Â Â Â Oct. 12Â Â Â Oct. 13Â Â Oct. 14Â Â Â Oct. 17Â Â Â Oct. 18Â Â Â Oct. 19Â Â Â Oct. 20Â Â Â Oct. 21

With the news of John Henry’s passing at age 32 earlier this week, I tried to recall how many times I had seen him run in person. My memory is not good enough to come up with the exact number but it was more than a handful. I started in the newspaper business in the fall of 1985—after John had retired—but I was able to see him run numerous times as a fan. What I recall most was his tremendous desire to win, often re-rallying near the wire after being passed in the stretch. Going through his lifetime past performances the other day, I was surprised to see that he had won the last four starts of his career (three Grade I’s) on his way to a Horse of the Year title at age nine. Thirty nine wins from 83 starts, running from early in his 2-year-old year until late in his 9-year-old season. Different jockeys, different trainers, different surfaces, different distances and different running styles. What a horse.

Last weekend at Santa Anita we saw the final round of Breeders’ Cup prep races. You had to be impressed with TIZ’S TOUGH SIS’s game win over HYSTERICALADY in the Lady’s Secret. And IDIOT PROOF got back on the winning track when defeating an unlucky GREG’S GOLD in the Ancient Title. All four are headed back to Monmouth for their respective races on Oct. 27. I’m sure I think this every year, but this seems like one of the most wide-open Breeders’ Cups in history. FABULOUS STRIKE, the one horse that I felt was the biggest lock of the day, is out of the BC Sprint because of a lung infection. Ouch.

NOTES: Many fans emailed with their displeasure over the late odds drop on MOJITOVILLE, who was a wire-to-wire winner on Thursday. Entering the gate at 32-1, MOJITOVILLE dropped to 22-1 in the final click after the gates opened (exactly 14 seconds later). This is the standard delay as out-of-state money filters in. However, those watching at home on TVG, due to the 45-second television delay, did not see the drop until after the horse had crossed the wire. The perception is bad but nothing untoward happened here…Paula Capestro-trained RIVER’S PRAYER injured a sesamoid and has been retired. Too bad because she had a huge shot in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint after going five-for-five this year…trainer Patrick Biancone appealed his one-year suspension and received a stay, which means he will be the trainer of record for his numerous BC runners. However, he lost one starter with the retirement of ASI SIEMPRE…THE GREEN MONKEY bombed again today at Belmont (at even-money). This $16 million yearling has been a disaster from the get-go.

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Has a sire ever produced three Grade I winners in a single day? Let alone in a span of an hour and a half at the same track? Well, that’s what Smart Strike accomplished on Sunday when FABULOUS STRIKE, ENGLISH CHANNEL and CURLIN took home Grade I’s on Belmont’s “Win and Your’re In” Challenge day. Standing for $75,000 (raised from $50,000 last year and sure to jump again next year), Smart Strike sired horses that won at 6 furlongs, 1 1/2-miles on turf and 1 1/4-miles on dirt. Talk about versatility.

CURLIN and LAWYER RON turned in an epic battle in the JC Gold Cup, with CURLIN prevailing narrowly at the wire in 2:01.1. Depending on what happens in the BC Classic on Oct. 27, CURLIN has a chance to be Horse of the Year and/or top 3-year-old colt, or get shut out of year-end awards if he finishes behind Street Sense or Any Given Saturday. However, one indisputable fact: CURLIN has been involved in three of the most exciting races of the year (or any year) when winning the Preakness, narrowly being defeated in the Belmont, and taking a thriller in the JCGC.

In other weekend races from Belmont, FABULOUS STRIKE looks like a legitimate favorite in the BC Sprint after his impressive, front-running win in the Vosburgh; ENGLISH CHANNEL beat nothing but bravely squeezed through inside to outclass his foes in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic; and UNBRIDLED BELLE overcame all kinds of traffic trouble to narrowly defeat stablemate INDIAN VALE, with favorite GINGER PUNCH finishing a flat third in the Beldame. On Saturday, LAHUDOOD got a rail run to win the Flower Bowl, with odds-on WAIT A WHILE finishing a no-excuse third; and TRIPPI’S STORM defeated favored AFTER MARKET in the Kelso.

It also was a huge weekend at Santa Anita, with NASHOBA’S KEY running past soft-trip pacesetter CITRONNADE in the Yellow Ribbon to remain undefeated on her way to the BC Filly & Mare Turf; CRY AND CATCH ME stretching out from a 5 1/2-furlong maiden victory to become a Grade I winner in the Oak Leaf; and TIAGO returning from a layoff and facing older for the first time when gamely holding off AWESOME GEM (who doesn’t seem to want to run by horses) in the Goodwood. On Sunday, DIXIE CHATTER handled SALUTE THE SARGE and a bunch of patsies in a weak edition of the Norfolk. ‘SARGE is a nice colt that appears to have serious distance limitations but the winner might be okay going forward. He’s lightly-raced, improving and obviously likes the two-turn game.

NOTES: Big weekend for a resurgent Mike Smith, who was aboard both CRY AND CATCH ME and TIAGO in Satuday’s stakes wins…Jose Valdivia booted home three winners on that card, including longshots GABRIEL’S HILL ($86.80) and import WING FORWARD ($31.00), the second of trainer Mike Puype’s wins that day. Talk show host Jim Rome was in the winner’s circle following the victory…Victor Espinoza also scored a hat trick on Saturday…Tyler Baze took both halves of Sunday’s early double…both of Doug O’Neill’s winners paid over $30…top jocks Michael Baze and Joe Talamo will each receive an additional day’s suspension for riding in more than one designated race on Saturday. I’d say that worked out okay in Talamo’s case (Nashoba’s Key), not so well for Baze.

Reading Between the Lines Dept.: Oak Tree issued a statement on Sunday that the Microbrew Festival scheduled for Cal Cup Day (Nov. 3) has been postponed. According to Excecutive Vice President Sherwood Chillingworth, the demand for infield space and the desire to “ensure that all those in attendance continue to enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship” of the day were the reasons given. The decision probably had nothing to do with the fights or police helicopter flying over the infield after Saturday’s first microbrew day.

There is a Pick Six carryover of more than $121,000 into Wednesday’s card.

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