The above caricature of a race tracker has been a representation of my alter ego for many years. A former student drew it for me some twenty-five years or so ago. I love everything about the jacketed DRF-holding, sandwich-eating, computer-checking figure you might have encountered on any bench or picnic table at Saratoga Race Course. He is, of course, Howie Pixum…and everybody, even horses in the paddock, wants to know Howie Pixum.

Enough has been said and written about this uniquely and historical race meeting I will not belabor the point. As we head into it, however, I remain convinced that analysis of a race, any race, must begin with the morning line favorites. Of course, many handicappers start their process in advance of morning line. Others totally dismiss the line, either making their own or preferring to avoid letting the line influence their notion of contention. But…

The morning line begins what evolves into the “live odds” identification of the type of race the betting public faces. Just think of the number of races in any season where a Chad Brown turf runner, regardless of class or distance, was the predicted line favorite in a race at short odds. The line indicated the race might be a one-horse race or, if the 2nd line favorite was also short odds, a two-horse race. The idea of race type should inform one’s approach to the race.

“Howda ya pick’em?” and “Who da ya like?” These are the quintessential personal and “mutual” aspects of most discussions of Thoroughbreds about to race. Once we “Pixum”, it’s off to the pari-mutuel window or on-line device to wager our individual opinions into the betting pools…either with or against the betting crowd.

Luck always. Be well. Stay safe and most informed about our game with

Race 4 Perfect Sting 4100k

August 14, 2020

4 (9-5) Altea races as one of two uncoupled entrants from trainer Chad Brown. What jumps off the page is Altea’s career record on turf (20-2-7-4) and record at today’s 8.5-furlong distance (10-0-5-2). She is a deep closer rarely within a length of the leaders at the eighth pole. Three of her seven placings have been in close finishes beaten two necks and a nose. Despite facing graded stakes rivals in three of her last fou,r Altea remains eligible for Allowance N2x conditions. She is proven capable of firing off workouts following long layoffs, a Brown strength. This line favorite certainly might win but looks vulnerable to pace and trip.

1 (2-1) Café American is the other Chad Brown. This one makes her four-year old debut following a 307-day vacation. While Brown has excellent stats for this length of layoff in turf routes, (29% win / 59% in the money overall and 27% / 73% at Saratoga), he has but a single third place finish at Saratoga when running in overnight stakes. Mixed signals again from a trainer whose runners generally fire off long layoffs but have been doing “less well”, to quote friend Anthony Mormino, in 2020.

7 (3-1) Secret Message will meet the starter for her third race of this new form cycle, a 17% winning move at this distance and this overnight stake class. This five-year old mare owns more wins than any runner in the field. She is a mid-pack sustained stalker with tactical speed to lay near a soft pace and finishing kick to benefit from an honest pace. She carries high weight for a G3 win over 5 rivals in the 2019 Nassau at Woodbine and a 30May win in the G3 Mint Julep at Churchill Downs. Both efforts over this turf course are a tad “hidden” for facing much tougher in both the G1 Diana and G2 Ballston Spa. John Velazquez opting for a third consecutive ride here over a sharp and improving (6) Chaleur is a “tell”.

5 (5-1) Feel Glorious owns the most wins at today’s specific distance (3-2-0-0). She, too, races third after a layoff for the Clement barn (a 20% / 53% proposition overall in overnight stakes and 5-2-1-0 at this distance) while getting significant class relief dropping from a pair of graded stakes at longer distances. She is a sustained front-half runner and will race withing striking distance throughout. Feel Glorious handles any turf condition and a rock-firm Saratoga turf course might be to her liking at fair odds for this trainer enjoying a banner meet (31-8-3-5 in turf routes & 18-4-2-4 at today’s distance}.

6 (6-1) Chaleur enters in sharp form for Bill Mott, third after a layoff as well, and steps up in class from Optional Claiming/Nw2x to meet proven stakes competitors.

Race 8 Saratoga Derby Invitational $500k

August 15, 2020

Four of the eight runners entered in this race were entered in the July 18 G2 Hall of Fame. Three ran and one, (5) Gufo scratched out, reducing that race to a field of five.

2 {7-5} Decorated Invader proved best in the Hall of Fame in what on paper appeared to be a two-horse race. I wrote that day that this colt should have won on debut here at Saratoga in 2019 but came up a bit short after a wide trip. Since then, he is undefeated except for a lost in the G1 Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf. He has done little wrong, demonstrating ability to gain tactical position and deliver a strong finishing kick. Today, the odds are shortagain, but for lacking a win at today’s distance, a distance he certainly is bred to handle, it is difficult to knock this deserving favorite. The subsequent scratch of co-favored Gufo eliminated Decorated Invader’s main rival. (8) Get Smokin, the main speed, skipped out to a long lead, and Decorated Invader did what we thought. He used his tactical speed to sit 2nd throughout, and his class to reel in the loose leader in the final eighth. Today he will be asked to go longer at this 1 mile and 3/16 distance. Rival (5) Gufo is back, with additional rest. Decorated Invader should once again get first run on the leaders but will face a greater task holding off a strong rival returning from a six-week freshening.

6 (7-2) Colonel Liam is a new shooter, a lightly raced and improving colt from Todd Pletcher. He is a son of Liam’s Map, a two-time G1 winner of both the Whitney and Breeders Cup Dirt Mile. His dam, Amazement, is an unraced daughter of Bernardini, a two-time G1 10-furlong winner on dirt. The pedigree screams distance and dirt, but trainer Todd Pletcher successfully tried him on turf last out and opted to take a shot here. Colonel Liam has been fast enough. He has tactical speed to gain good position. He is eligible for softer AllowanceN2x conditions and will get class tested here as the 2nd line choice.

5 (9-2) Gufo and Decorated Invader are stablemates trained by Christophe Clemente. Gufo rides a 4-race win streak including a win in the G3 Kent at Delaware Park. This runner breaks at the rear of the field, gallops along, then unleashes a strong late finish. (8) Get Smokin, again, is the clear speed in a field of stalker/closers. That runner could face pressure from new shooter (7) Field Pass, who brings the ability to be forwardly placed as well. Pace has not foiled Gufo in the past; pace should not foil him this afternoon. In two wins at 9-furlongs, Gufo has blitzed the final eighth in 11.34 & 11.46. He and (2) Decorated Invader are sons of Declaration of War, a two-time winner at 10-furlongs. Distance should not be a question. Gufo will be running hard and fast in the lane and benefits most if the pace is anywhere near honest.

7 (6-1) Field Pass earned a top figure in winning the G3 Jeff Ruby Stake (no pun intended) over synthetic at Turfway Park. He broke poorly but finished full of run in his turf debut versus overnight stakes runners, took his next against similar and then took the G2 Transylvania over turf at Keeneland. This is an improving colt from hot trainer Mike Maker (56-14-10-2 overall & 34-10-2-2 in turf routes). Maker does not have a strong record with 3-year old turf stakes runners, but Field Pass is bred to go long, and Maker is taking his shot.

4 (6-1) Domestic Spending was tested for class in the Hall of Fame and came up wanting, finishing well from far back without threatening winner (2) Decorated Invader nor reeling in speedster (8) Get Smokin. He is eligible to improve but will need to be closer to the pace and finish stronger than (5) Gufo.

Race 9 Alabama G1 $500k

5 (1-1) Swiss Skydiver will meet the starter as a prohibitive favorite for her stellar record (8-4-2-1), and her most recent strong 2nd place finish against colts in the G2 Blue Grass. That was a monumental effort which begs the question as to how much that effort might have taken out of her. She is fast, earning Beyer Speed Figures better than most in the field. She has tactical speed to stalk up close to inferior speed or move immediately to the lead. She is the most accomplished runner, justifiably a short price, but must negotiate today’s 10-furlong distance knowing she has not won beyond 8.5-furlongs and the weight of those short odds.

2 (3-1) Spice is Nice is a daughter of the great Curlin, and the first foal to race out of a Bernardini mare. Distance should not be an issue. She is an improving Pletcher trainee who has danced two grade two stakes. She was no threat to favored (5) Swiss Skydiver in the G2 Gulfstream Park Oaks in March. Her return effort versus Optional Claiming/Nw1x rivals was encouraging, and Pletcher pointed her to this spot. Spice is Nice should be forwardly placed but doubtful jockey John Velazquez will take on the favorite in the early going.

3 (9-2) Crystal Ball fell short in a weak edition of the G1 CCA Oaks. This one-dimensional Bob Baffert speedster breaks closest to the rail will vie with (5) Swiss Skydiver for the lead and probably be able to take the field to the backstretch. This is an improving filly who, if the favorite is not up to the task, could take these a long way.

6 ( 10-1) Harvey’s Lil Goil is interesting as the only entrant with two wins going 9-furlongs, one turf and one on dirt. Her February win in the G2 Busanda was a breakout race. Rested after that effort by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, this filly returned to face today’s favorite off a February to May layoff. Harvey’s Lil Goil delivered a non-effort in a strong and competitive field. Mott opted to try turf again in the G3 Regret at Monmouth in June. That day, she showed the tactical speed on turf which she demonstrated in the Busanda and scored out at 11-1. Mott penciled in this spot. She will race 3rd after the layoff and a return to the Busanda effort makes Harvey’s Lil Goil a reasonable contender at a price.


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