By Ed McNamara
The pedigree screamed turf. Her sire was Irish River, winner of seven Group 1 races in France. Her damsire was Roberto, hero of the 1972 Epsom Derby. It was August 1988, and I couldn’t wait to bet on Meadow Mist.
Her career debut was rained off the turf, and she finished far back in the slop. A few weeks later, she was entered in a mile grass race at Saratoga, and it was go time. I touted my friend John Quinn, who said he was on board.
This was long before internet accounts and smartphones, so my action place was OTB. (For all you millennials, that’s an off-track betting outlet.) I walked up to the teller and put $10 across the board on Meadow Mist and boxed her in exactas with the two favorites. Almost nobody gave her a chance, and she went off at 43-1. Uh-oh, dead on the board. I stood beneath my lucky TV, fantasizing about the best but expecting the worst.
To my delight, the 3-year-old filly immediately went to the lead and stayed there. I screamed as she drew away by three lengths and sent me to pari-mutuel paradise.
“Oh, yeah!” I yelped as the payoffs appeared on the screen: $88, $31.40, $17.20, plus a $388 exacta. Yahoo! Hours later at work, Quinn flashed the wad he’d won and bowed to me. Hall of Famer Alysheba was the 1988 Horse of the Year, but not for us.
We occasionally reminisce about Meadow Mist, and how much easier it once was to find huge overlays, especially at Saratoga. By the early 1990s, the market became flooded with information on pedigrees, trainer tendencies and European form, and suddenly there were few secrets. It became a lot harder for a small player to cash big tickets, and it still is.
That never kept me from playing, although I don’t bet nearly as often as I used to. In the days of Meadow Mist, I’d often bet five or six races on a Saratoga card. In the past week I placed a total of only five bets during the Spa’s first five days. The handicapping was right there (four seconds, one third) but I lost about $75. Let’s see if I can turn around this mini-slump Saturday at the Spa and at California’s Saratoga by the Sea, Del Mar.
Division leader Malathaat (1) will be heavily favored to improve to 6-for-6 in a four-horse race in which she has a pace advantage. None of her rivals is fast early, so expect John Velazquez to revert to the front-running tactics of her first two races. She’s unlikely to meet much resistance, and if she does, Johnny V can just wait and pounce.
Clairiere (4), like Malathaat a daughter of Curlin, was three lengths behind the top choice in the Kentucky Oaks and 4 1/2 lengths ahead of Maracuja, whom she meets again. Maracuja (2) will be a much better price, and Clairiere is no star, so I’ll be playing a straight exacta with Maracuja underneath Malathaat.
Caravel (1) and Robin Sparkles (2) are clearly the best two on paper, and I’ll side with Caravel because of her versatility and her 4-for-4 record at the distance. Robin Sparkles is 5-for-6 on grass, with all of her wins wire to wire. Caravel has enough speed to stay close and fire late, and she consistently zips the final furlong in around 11 seconds. Djakarta (6) has enough early foot to push Robin Sparkles early, which should provide a nice setup for Caravel.
Defending champion United (2) may have a tough time repeating against a solid field. In a tight fit, I’m leaning toward Smooth Like Strait (6), who showed his class in a Grade 1 on Kentucky Derby day when third by a neck behind dead-heaters Domestic Spending and Colonel Liam, two of the country’s top grass runners.
Smooth Like Strait could set the pace if Umberto Rispoli wants to, but I think he’d prefer a stalking trip behind improving former claimer Award Winner. United won’t be far from the early lead, either, and if they go too quickly, it will benefit uncoupled stablemates Say The Word (3) and Count Again (4), strong finishers trained by Phil D’Amato.
I’ll be betting Smooth Like Strait to win and place and boxing him in exactas with United, Say The Word and Count Again.
Irish import Going Global (2) looks like a standout off a 4-for-4 record (all stakes at Santa Anita) since making her U.S. debut in February. Closing Remarks (11) ran second to Going Global twice, by only a neck and three-quarters of a length, so it would be no shock if she turned the tables. Post 11 won’t help, though. Madone (9) has beaten her by 1 1/2 lengths and has a decent shot at getting into the exacta.
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.