A horseplayer will usually base his decisions on the great, broad principles of handicapping that he has known all his life. But every once in a while, he may catch lightning in a bottle and find an angle that works sensationally at one particular time and place.
I have found such an angle at Saratoga this season. And as a result of it, I may soon be planning my early retirement to a villa in Aruba.
On a couple of days early in the meeting, the Saratoga racing strip was like no track I have ever seen. There was some peculiarity in the texture of the track that made it extremely speed-favoring and kept even the most faint-hearted frontrunners from getting tired.
In the Whitney Stakes, the lightly regarded Fio Rito led all the way to beat some of New York's best horses; the stretch-runners behind him looked as if they were on a treadmill. The next day, Willow Hour led almost all the way at 18 to l to beat a field of vastly superior rivals in the Jim Dandy Stakes.
Now the track has returned to normal. The stretch-runners who were making ineffectual rallies on those speed-favoring days now have a chance to win. And they are winning with remarkable frequency, at remarkable prices.
On Aug. 2, Royal Jove tried to make a wide rally but finished fifth. He came back to pay $11.40. Silver Sloop could gain only a little ground in the stretch that day, but he won his next start at $38.60. Thrilled N Delighted actually managed to come from sixth place and win a maiden race on that speed-favoring day. On Monday, she stepped into the Adirondack Stakes and paid $74.80, as the cry, "I'm king of the world!" could be heard emanating from the press box.
One of the most impressive horses who rallied on the speed-favoring Saratoga track was an allowance-class 3-year-old named Brasher Doubloon. He is entered in Wednesday's seventh race and on paper he doesn't appear to have any particular edge over his rivals. Morever, he is facing older horses without getting a weight concession, which is usually a kiss of death. But on the basis of the way he ran last week, Brasher Doubloon should win it decisively.
Brasher Doubloon was instantly eliminated from contention against that tough allowance field; he bounced off the side of the gate and spotted his rivals two lengths.
In front of him, the two front-runners were setting a slow early pace. He could not possibly win under such conditions, but he gave it a magnificent try. He accelerated powerfully, running four-wide around the turn and drew within two lengths of the leaders. But the front-runners kept bounding along on the speed-favoring surface, and Brasher Doubloon finished fourth, beaten by 51/2 lengths.
The colt is obviously in peak condition, having worked five furlongs in 59 seconds since his last start. He will have plenty of speed in front of him Wednesday. Trainer Frank Martin entered him with a stablemate, Sly Flyer, who will keep any of the competition from getting loose early.
There are two highly regarded, stakes-caliber 3-year-olds in the field, Band Practice and Mambo, who have been training very fast for this race, and who might make the faint of heart consider betting Brasher Doubloon to win and place. (This could turn into a bonus if he and his stablemate run one-two, which is very possible). But in view of the way the stretch-runner angle has been working at Saratoga, hedging won't be necessary.