|Cliche: Defense wins championships|
With four races to go, however, including three from a typically deep-fielded Saratoga, I was not entirely secure about my position despite a sizable bankroll edge over many competitors in Friday's contest.
Yet, as unlike many days where I have little advance prep time, I had Friday afternoon all to myself (kids on a sleepover, the wife out after work) to engage in serious handicapping and noticed that scratches pared several of the late-card races, and the contest finale (The Ballerina Stakes) was a mere six-horse field featuring Turbulent Descent (9-to-5 morning line) -- a virtual shoe-in to win versus a so-so field.
Time to buckle my chinstraps and play defense.
The premise of my handicapping is, typically, to identify playable long-shots, but on Friday I angled especially high on the odds board in hopes of preventing other contest players from jumping the leaderboard with horses 10-to-1 or above. Two of the last four races (7, 8 and 9 from Saratoga, and 9 from Monmouth Park) were especially conducive to this strategy.
- Saratoga, Race 7 -- Sally's Dream scored at nearly 9-to-1 on a nice ground-saving ride by Rajiv Maragh, while Rosie Napravnik (consistent with other times I have landed on a Rosie-run horse during the Saratoga meeting) ran my selection, 23-to-1 Grisaille, 3-4 horses wide and finished in seventh. The $26.10 combined win-place payout would have been nice, but I remained in the top six.
- Monmouth Park, Race 9 -- I knew 5-to-2 morning-line favorite Just Chillin Boss was credible, but not THAT good. The Ramon Moya-trained Just Chillin Boss annihilated eight others in setting a five-furlong turf record :54.66 in a $22k optional claimer. (See race video). I did pick up $5.80 of notional place winnings on runner-up Tanzana to move up to fourth in the standings at $64.80. (Oh, by the way, Caffe D' Oro, who blew up the tote board during last month's NHC handicapping contest at Suffolk Downs, finished out of the money.)
- Saratoga, Race 8 -- Really a dumb, contradictory decision on my part, but I felt like Silver Timber (1.9-to-1) was simply the best horse in the field and went with my gut, rather than making my alternate choice, Chernobyl's Hero (20-to-1), my top selection and recognizing the value of the big long-shot. Silver Timber petered out in the stretch, while Chernobyl's Hero lost by a mere neck to 6-to-5 favorite Isn'tlovejustgrand. The outcome was not damaging, as none of the top eight in the standings had Chernobyl's Hero, but I was kicking myself nonetheless for picking a chalky horse.
- Saratoga, Race 9 -- After 8-to-5 morning-line favorite It's Tricky scratched, Turbulent Descent appeared the standout of the six-horse Ballerina. Considering I only needed to finish in the top six to win a $195 Horse Tourneys credit, I threw out three horses -- Turbulent Descent, Nicole H (4-to-1 morning line) and Derwin's Star (5-to-1 morning line) -- since players trailing in the standings could not conceivably win enough with any of those horses to pass me. I focused my handicapping, instead, on Island Bound, Belle of the Hall and All Due Respect -- 10-to-1, 15-to-1 and 20-to-1, respectively, on the morning line. I settled on All Due Respect, who got little respect from the bettors and went off as the second-longest shot but seemed logical, as I saw it, considering the horse's front-running style in a race lacking a pacesetter. I thought the other horses were stalkers and closer-types, which absolutely played out as All Due Respect easily held the lead most of the way before fading to third. No harm done, considering the 1-to-2 favorite won and Derwin's Star paid just $5 to place.