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TrackNotes: A Lo-Res Horizontal Squeeze

There's not a weight allowance in existence for this kid, but it was back in the saddle again as the Fountain of Youth, a prep for a prep (Florida Derby) for the Kentucky Derby was run Saturday at sunny Gulfstream Park, Hallandale, Florida.

But let's be clear. It was this saddle, not this one.

I don't really pay much attention to two-year-olds and betting them in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is more like pub darts. But once they turn the corner into the new year, you start looking in. Always keep in mind the three-year-old coming out party happens when the calendar turns, not because they're three years old. Derby buzz boy Upstart won't really be three until April.

It started with a chronic irritant as I turned on the Television Games Network (TVG) and found a weird distortion in the picture's aspect ratio, which, also, to add insult, is low resolution. The jockeys looked like basketball players and the horses had a horizontal squeeze going on. Why proportion a lo-res picture? Wasted effort. Also noticed that the Gulfstream turf course was really beat up.

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I didn't win on the day, but it started well in the Gulfstream Park Sprint.

Mean Season was a 9-5 favorite, but I didn't like what I saw. Although five years old, he had only run three races, registering triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last two, but they had come off of layoffs of nearly three months and 51 weeks coming into Saturday, and they were merely optional claiming races. Huge time off and no stakes experience? Nope.

C. Zee had won two stakes races at Gulfstream last year and showed heart after a bothered clunker at Saratoga last summer to run respectably in his season finale at Keeneland in October and a $100,000 claiming race - usually just a cobweb cleaning - in his first start of 2015 at Gulfstream.

Happy My Way won three of five at Gulfstream from late 2013 to March 2014 and comported himself well in heady company at Belmont and Saratoga last summer. Horse for the course.

Mean Season gave it a try but C. Zee and Happy My Way were always at the front. Irad Ortiz wisely eased up Mean Season and he finished last. C. Zee and Happy My Way finished 1-2 and I had 'em both.

If you want to see a great turn of foot, and then classic ground saving, and then total heart at the wire, take a look at Ekati's Phaeton, the 25-1 winner of the Grade II Davona Dale for three-year-old fillies. She put herself firmly in the very early conversation for the Kentucky Oaks on Derby Friday.

Luis Saez took the No. 10 horse (red silks), untouched, directly to the rail and stayed there in the two path. She was never headed and there came Eskenformoney next to her and Birdatthewire on the outside. Ekati's Phaeton just would never yield and beat Bird' by a long neck, who bested Esken' by just a nose. It was also impressive because 'Phaeton had beaten what had been a negative bias on the inside part of the track; the middle was the place to be before that.

To answer your question: No. And EP paid $55.60 to win.

I came into Saturday to see which three-year-old might impress and Ekati's Phaeton was the first one.

But it's also fun when the experienced veterans bring it, as Main Sequence did in the 11-furlong, Grade II turfer, the Mac Diarmida.

Here's a six-year-old gelding who came to the U.S. in late 2013 after a mediocre-at-best string of races in Great Britain. After an eight-month hiatus, all he did last year was be perfect in winning the United Nations, Sword Dancer, Turf Classic Invitational and the Breeders' Cup Turf. It garnered him Eclipse Awards as Champion Turf Horse and Older Male Horse of the Year.

The 3-5 prohibitive favorite, coming out of the one post, started slowly, Rajiv Maragh content to trail the field. He was able to keep clear sailing in front of him as he sized up the field on the backstretch. Maragh took him wide on the turn and Main Sequence positioned like a chess piece. Money Talker looked like he might bear out on 'Sequence, but MS downshifted and the afterburners kicked in right at the eighth pole. Main Sequence accelerated all the way to the wire and won by a full length, minus his tail. Wow.

In the big one, the 8.5-furlong, Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes, Upstart (5 post) came in the darling after a 106 Beyer and impressive win in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream in January. But with horses this tender in age, you have to at least look elsewhere and I'm glad I did.

I liked Itsaknockout (7 post), the Tapit colt out of the Deputy Minister mare Fast Cookie. Grandpappy was Pulpit. Trained by Todd Pletcher, known for getting and winning with young horses, 'Knockout came in off of two nice wins at Gulfstream and was on the improve. This is a point-to race and Pletcher does that all the time.

I also like Frosted, runner-up in the Holy Bull.

But there was controversy this day. Jose Ortiz worked Upstart to get him to third on the turn behind the dueling tandem of Frosted and Bluegrass Singer. Frosted cruised around the turn, Upstart dispatched Bluegrass Singer and there was Itsaknockout chugging outside like a locomotive.

I believe Irad Ortiz fell asleep on Frosted and Jose Ortiz on Upstart made him pay and snatched the lead just into the stretch. Itsaknockout still coming, Upstart floated inside and then outside, ever-so-subtly causing 'Knockout to slow a bit. He came back out again, putting his hindquarter in 'Knockout's face and then maintaining for the win.

But wait! Stewards' inquiry and jockey objection light up the board. In this day and age of the copout "It is what it is," I never thought they'd take down Upstart. Certainly, the head-on video looked a lot worse than the side view. But the DQ came out and I was happy with the $12.80/$5.00 win and place. These things are always hotly debated and although there was minimal, if any, contact, Upstart was like the guy in front of you on the elevator swerving and walking just slightly slower than you so you can't get out in the clear.

Then it was a flip over to Fair Grounds - thank goodness for online streaming - to watch the three-year-olds in the Grade III Rachel Alexandra and the Grade II Risen Star, the start of the Louisiana road to Kentucky.

Using every foot of the 8.5 furlongs, Florent Geroux sat patiently on I'm a Chatterbox and reeled them in to win by more than two in the Rachel. A 21-point Beyer improvement in her last race had my money on her nose.

I was digging on International Star, the son of Fusaichi Pegasus, in the Risen Star, 8.5 furlongs on the main track. He came in with a win in the Lecomte at Fair Grounds, was generally on the Beyer upswing, and threw in a bullet workout a week before.

Near the rear early, 'Star saved ground on the rail. With just a peek of daylight, he scooted up the rail and drew away to win by just more than a length. The win vaulted him to the top of the Kentucky Derby points standings. As with all of them, we'll keep an eye on him, but there's no reason he can't impact this year.

TV Stew
Good news, bad news. Nah - it's bad news.

TVG has purchased Horse Racing Television Network (HRTV) and will probably have operations merged before the Derby.

TVG is carried on DirecTV, and the smaller-reach HRTV is on the Dish Network. Either or both are available on some cable systems. Satellite subscribers of either service have not been able to see key tracks or races at various times of the year because they were being shown on the other one. Like having either the National League or American League, but not both.

I have spot subscribed to HRTV streaming online in the past and found it to be very informative, concentrating on racing news and more pure handicapping.

TVG is the laughingstock of the game and its fans. Begun as an adjunct to its betting platform (where it once cost 25 cents per bet to wager!!), TVG, based in Los Angeles, is an assemblage of on-air clowns with a subversive agenda. Rather than handicap for winners and contenders, its blatant emphasis on gimmicky Pick 3s, Pick 4s, and Pick 6s is clearly meant to drive those higher-cost tickets to its betting arm. Watching, you wouldn't know there were any other kinds of bets.

Being Left Coast, it would rather show you the post parade from the first race at Santa Anita, saving a stakes race from Saratoga for video replay later.

While TVG may have one or two analysts who are alright but not over the top, HRTV includes Laffit Pincay III, former jockeys Richard Migliore and Zoe Cadman, once a major player on the Chicago circuit, and TVG defectors Frank Mirahmadi and Christina Blacker, who looked like she couldn't wait to get out of TVG in her final days there. HRTV is also much stronger in developing feature pieces and analysis besides the racing.

I can't figure out how this merger is going to work. Many important races go off at the same time, especially in the summer. If both networks try to show the premier tracks it blacked out to its viewers in the past, what will happen to the smaller tracks, like Hawthorne, and even Arlington Park? Even if the new entity works to get both the old HRTV and TVG pipelines to coexist on all cable and satellite platforms, you can't merge all of the races they each used to run on one channel. Seems I'll need a mini-OTB type setup with multiple monitors to see all the races. I'm pretty much doing that now, streaming the majority of the quality races on the iBozoputer and filling in with TVG.

By being located on different programming platforms, neither really had to compete with the other to be better. TVG chose to go with cheap yucks and questionable handicapping approaches, seemingly to attract newbies; the better to ingrain the multi-race bet culture on the unsuspecting. HRTV chose to be good.

Will the new organization somehow blend the strengths of both to build a true go-to for both new and veteran fans? Dream on, Seabiscuit.

Snow Show
You had to wonder why they were running in a blizzard at Aqueduct Saturday.

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It could be that all the snow they've had has insulated the track to keep the base from freezing. Besides, if it gets bad, the jockeys will complain and stop riding, making the decision themselves. They ran the full card of nine.

Stoppage Time
It's zero minutes to post, but on Saturday you could count on getting an extra five or seven. Gulfstream is pretty notorious for that, but Fair Grounds did the same, so is that going to be a trend this year?

Monday Night Horseball
Why did TVG change only a few notes and develop its own militaristic drama music coming out of the breaks, just like the NFL? Can't we ever get away from the NFL? If I see a horsebot, it's over.

College Bowl
DirecTV has what, 325 channels? Why was Butler-Xavier on 80 of them Saturday?

Meow Meow
One of my cat's names is Storm Cat. Long story. So when there was a breeding commercial for Sharp Cat, "PROGENY OF THE LEGENDARY STORM CAT," my Stormy did a Curly Howard double-take. He likes to watch the horses.

The 'Biscuit
Speaking of Seabiscuit, they'll be celebrating March 7 the 75th anniversary of his famous, epic win in the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap, the Big 'Cap.

A new statue, this one including jockey Red Pollard, will be unveiled, to complement another statue of the 'Biscuit just standing by his lonesome. It will be one of many nice touches.

If you haven't read Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit: An American Legend, pick it up. It's authoritative, you'll be a horse racing expert by the end, it's way more than just a sports story, and Ms. Hillenbrand's copy just sings. If not, catch the movie. It's terrific and it syncs with the book beautifully.

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Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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