by Doug Salvatore
A fascinating statistic will be put to the test in the opening leg of the $27,469 Pick 6 on Wednesday at Saratoga Race Course where 8-to-5 morning line favorite Girlabouttown will try to end the “A.P. Indy curse” by becoming the first progeny of her now-pensioned super sire to win a race at six furlongs or less on the main track at either Saratoga or Del Mar.
That’s right. No horse sired by A.P. Indy has ever won a race at six furlongs or less at the either of the premiere summer racing venues.
It was 2006 that I first shared this fact with current New York Racing Association analyst Andy Serling when we were neighbors for the meeting, and the curse has endured many strong tests since.
If you're curious how many A.P. Indy offspring have started at six furlongs or less at Saratoga or Del Mar. The answer is 91.
They're winless in 67 tries at Saratoga, and in 19 of those instances, the runner’s odds were 5-to-2 or less. At Del Mar, A.P. Indy offspring are 0-for-24 in races at six furlongs or less.
Amazingly, A. P. Indy has sired 154 different stakes-winning horses. He even sired a horse who won a steeplechase race at Saratoga. However, his winless streak in this scenario is quite remarkable indeed considering his success using any other metric and the amount of money these particular offspring has burned.
Anyone who remembers watching A.P. Indy compete will tell you that he had an unusual running style. He kept his head extremely low to the ground, and he possessed a very long, sustained run. He was definitely not a quick-footed or tactical horse.
When A.P. Indy himself debuted, going six furlongs at Del Mar, he broke cleanly, but was never involved at any stage and finished a well beaten fourth as the 2/1 favorite in a field of just seven. He never raced at six furlongs or less again, and won his next seven starts, a win streak culminating with a victory in the Belmont Stakes. Later on that year, A. P. Indy capped off a Horse of the Year season by winning the Breeders' Cup Classic at age three, in what would be his final career start before retiring to the Farish family’s Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky.
The main focus of this blog is to handicap two-year-old maiden races, so let's shift gears to a different maiden race on Wednesday's card, and get down to business.
Race 2, MSW at 5 furlongs on dirt
Before I offer betting strategy and make my selections, let's take a closer look at each horse in the field.
1. Designer Soxx: Bred very well for speed and precocity, on top and bottom. Her sire Half Ours won his career debut at Keeneland by 10.75 lengths going just 4.5 furlongs. Two-year-old first-time starters sired by Half Ours win at an impressive 19%. Designer Soxx is out of a multiple stakes winning mare, and is a half sibling to Designer Legs, a Grade 2 stakes winning two-year-old sprinter. While there's a lot to like from a pedigree standpoint, I'm not crazy about any Dallas Stewart trained debuter who foregos lasix and draws the rail in a five furlong sprint.
2. Margaret Reay: A former Baffert assistant, trainer Michael Wilson has been excellent over his brief career. Wilson is 9-for-49 (18.4% wins with a $4.59 ROI) on this tough NYRA circuit. One category where Wilson has struggled, is with first-time starters. He's 0-for-6 with debuters, and each one of them has been defeated by at least 13 lengths or more. Wilson trained debuters tend to run a lot better second time out. However, this is Saratoga and Wilson gets a big opportunity here, as the Zayat Stables machines owns this horse. This horse has a fairly light worktab, and we're hoping Wilson is just giving him one. This daughter of Pioneerof The Nile could have a look later on in the meet.
3. Empressive Humor: This is a daughter of excellent debuter sire Distorted Humor, out of a mare who was unusually quick for an Empire Maker offspring. Trainer Steve Asmussen is an excellent 38-for-110 (35% wins and $2.73 ROI) in sprints of less than six furlongs, on the Saratoga dirt. Empressive Humor reportedly worked evenly with a nice Asmussen debuter named Bold Conquest, a colt who finished second to Pletcher's highly touted Blame Jim last Saturday. You have to respect her chances.
4. Diannestillworks: This is yet another horse who has some things going for her. Her sire Scat Daddy was a very precocious two-year-old and he's passed that trait along to his offspring, as they win at a respectable 16% in two-year-old MSW races. This filly is out of a mare who won her career debut by 6.75 lengths going five and a half furlongs, and paying $17.40 in the process. Trainer Rudy Rodriguez is 6-for-23 (26% wins and $5.19 ROI) over the past five years, with two-year-old debuters in Maiden Special Weight dirt sprints.
5. Southern Gem: This Todd Pletcher trained daughter of Smart Strike was a failed pinhook. Originally purchased for $150,000 as a yearling, Southern Gem previewed and went through the sales ring at two different two-year-old sales, before finally selling for just $90,000 at the Timonium May sale. While the Pletcher stats are dazzling with debuting two-year-old in these type of races, the belief is that her stablemate Overspending is the far better horse.
6. Kisses For Romeo: Reportedly impressed clockers with the gate speed she demonstrated on July 16th drill, after she broke sharply and got the best of an unraced New York Bred two-year-old filly stablemate named Isthatallthereis. The dam of this filly is a stakes placed turf router who wasn't especially precocious. The positive sign is how well she's reportedly been training in the morning, but other than that, she doesn't have a whole lot of appeal.
7. Yippee: Here is a rundown of Bill Mott trained two-year-old first-time starters at Saratoga since 2008 ...
Combined total: 0-for-99
That is a pretty phenomenal level of futility from the Hall of Fame conditioner. Remember, since the start of the 2012 meet, field sizes are capped at eight. Even with Rosario accepting the call, and Yippee drawing a favorable post position, it's hard to see a glimmer of hope.
8. Overspending: She was forced to scratch on opening day, after failing to draw into the body of the race. Initially purchased for $100,000 as a yearling, Overspending re-sold for $340,000 at OBS March after a visually impressive under-tack drill which you can watch here.
This daughter of Harlen's Holiday has workouts on her tab from as far back as April and Pletcher is sure to have her extremely well prepared for this. The workout reports have been fairly lukewarm and somewhat wishy washy on this girl. But, my expectations are that she'll very likely prove herself to be a runner.
Betting Strategy: Todd Pletcher has been absolutely lethal with debuting juveniles in five furlong dirt sprints at Saratoga. Over the last five years, his horses are 25-13-5-2 (52% wins and $4.06 ROI) in this precise category of race. What's more, in four different instances, Pletcher ran uncoupled entries in those races. That means that he won 13 out of the 21 races. This is important to note, because I believe one of his two runners in this race (Southern Gem) will not hit the board. While Southern Gem must be opposed in the exotics, I simply can't justify opposing the other Pletcher horse (Overspending) in any way shape or form. She should be keyed in the top slot of exotic wagers.
3rd: Empressive Humor
4th: Margaret Reay