The list is legion: I'll Have Another, Bodemeister, Paynter, Union Rags, Hansen. I'm not as disappointed about this year's remaining three year old races as I am thinking about the dearth of good handicap division horses, a cupboard bare now and not getting much of an infusion of talent next year.
I won't prattle on about my opinion on why so many good three year olds have been retired, it's not really important or informed. When you have a problem it's easy to sit around and bemoan who isn't in the room with you to solve it. I find it's always better to take stock in who is there when times are tough, those who have stuck with you and are presently in the here and now. I refuse to allow myself to loose one bit of sleep about who isn't racing anymore: As long as they retired I am happy for them and in three years I'll look for their children and be excited, as excited as I am now when I see Street Sense, Hard Spun, Lawyer Ron (Pest in Peace), Invasor and Bernardini, Flower Alley and Pleasantly Perfect to name just a few.
In the same vein, a handicapper has to have a short memory when it comes to the failures. The Pick 5 on Arlington Million day was for the Turk, a flaming failure. I misjudged the fine line between good and firm turf and overvalued domestic runners and undervalued grade 2 European horses. The handicaps were failures but I limited my betting action and the losses were not of the Greek Tragedy variety. i do listen to what I preach; Pick easy targets. 5 turf races filled with unknown quantities is not an easy target.
Today's not much easier, but as a racing fan, I'm compelled to pay attention and I'll take a run at some vertical and horizontal action on Saratoga's signature day, Travers Day. I haven't been to the Spa on a Travers Day since 2007 when Street Sense held off Grasshopper and Hard Spun won his elusive Grade 1. I wait every year to be wildly inspired to see a particular three year old and I'm still waiting.
The late pick four offers an interesting collection of challenges: a turf race, two dirt sprints and then the classic distance dirt. The names of most of the contestants are easily recognized by even casual fans and there isn't any sort of European past performances to deal with. By all accounts the dirt will be fast and the turf firm. I think the weather is a non event. It's always good to eliminate tricky variables. One challenge the past performances offer are the runners exiting the Jim Dandy ran on a fast, sloppy strip. We'll factor that in a bit.
Let's just get after it!
I'm going to let my base handicaps speak for themselves right now. My P4 base handicap is a $135 bet that I won't make: it doesn't offer much value. I'll slim down and single one race, possibly Contested in the Test as well as slip back to only four covered in the Travers, sneaking Steelcase in for value. I'm going to play the individual races hard, focusing on exactas/tri's and possibly Supers. Again, there are much easier targets than Saratoga, especially turf races and classic distance events, but we'll have some fun and try to keep the bet risk reasonable.
The injury/retiree that bothers me more than the three year olds is Winter Memories. I cannot find the words to describe my love for that horse and her loss has left me a bit numb and I'm feeling it badly today as I handicap the Balston Spa. I like Hungry Island, Zagora, Tapitsfly and Summer Soiree very much, imagine a field with Winter Memories too. There I'm doing it, Pity Party. I'm so glad Winter Memories retired and didn't die on the race track. It's going to be a good race still without her.
Whatever your play is, have fun with it. The Turk will be ensconced in his new leather man of the house chair, with HRTV streaming through a Mac Mini and into the TV. I have my laptop going and I am in my glory. I am a better handicapper in my house than at the track. I'm feelin' it today.