Day 4 – Coaching Club American Oaks

On the fourth day of our trip to Saratoga, we have settled again into the routine of biking to the track for the morning workouts, sipping coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts as we watch the horses and trainers from the box seats at the finish line, returning to Circular Manor for a delicious breakfast and nice conversation with the couples from New Jersey. We discuss how we did yesterday. I had only two winning beats on Friday, both were FTG’s and MTO’s and FTG’s in races that were taken off the turf.

Let me briefly explain some of this racing lingo. Races at American tracks are run on dirt or grass (turf). Horses are specifically bred and trained for one surface or the other. A few rare horses, such as Catholic Boy a few years ago, find success on both dirt and turf. Each race on a given day has a set of conditions that a horse must meet in order to be qualified for the race. For example, Race 4 on Friday was for maidens (a horse who has never won a race), three-years old and upward, and foaled in New York state. The length of the race was set to be 1 mile and 1/16th on the turf. If it has rained, the turf course may be too slippery or soft, and the stewards (the officials in charge of the races) may decide to move the race to dirt, which will be less dangerous for the horses and jockeys and where racing will not do so much damage to the track surface. Trainers analyze these various conditions and possibilities and enter their horses in races where they stand the best chance of winning. Occasionally in turf races, trainers will enter their horses with a “main track only” (MTO) condition, meaning that the horse will run only if the trace is switched to the dirt. Otherwise the horse will be scratched (removed from the race). A standard handicapping angle is to bet on an MTO horse in a race that is moved to the dirt.

Another good bet is to pick a horse marked FTG (first-time gelding). This indicates that this race will be the first time the horse has run since being gelded, usually with the intent of calming the horse down and making it more focused. (This, of course, also means that the horse will never be retired early for breeding.) Some joke that this is the ultimate equipment change, far more serious than adding or removing blinkers, shadow rolls or other pieces of equipment intended to give a horse an advantage.

In Friday’s races, I bet on two MTO and FTG horses: in Race 5 #5-Too Early and in Race 10 #14-Cold Hard Cash. Unfortunately, many other bettors followed the same angle, and both horses were the favorite in the race, so my winnings were small: $6.20 in Race 5 and $5.70 in Race 10. Four of my other eight bets on the day were long shots that came in second. As a result we were down $2.60 from our first day bank roll.

Today is another day. In fact, today has one of our favorite races at Saratoga, the Coaching Club American Oaks. We have been here for the race nine times and seen some real stars, such as Song Bird, Abel Tasman, and Monomoy Girl. Mike Smith, who won the Triple Crown aboard Justify two years ago, was the jockey for both Songbird and Abel Tasman. The entries into today’s running of the Oaks are not as well known as those horses, but it will still be an exciting race for top-notch three-year-old fillies.

After the races we will head back to Circular Manor, relax on the porch with a scotch, lick our wounds or count our winnings from today’s races, and then freshen up for dinner at Fish at 30 Lake, a small seafood restaurant on Lake Avenue three blocks from the Manor. It’s usually not as crowded on a Saturday night as the restaurants on Broadway, and if the weather is nice they have some sidewalk seating.

Then it’s back to Circular Manor to close the night early, since it’s been a long day, and we will be up early Sunday for another set of morning workouts. Gosh, how we love this!