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TrackNotes: Racing Luck

Racing luck, in my game, is a term used to describe almost anything good that happens to a horse and rider in the course of a race.

Saving ground in tight parabolas around the track is great, but being allowed to save ground by horses who don't challenge is racing luck.

Being in the eye of a storm of traffic is bad, but when it's a bubble of protection, like a round flying wedge, you break out and finish forwardly, that's racing luck.

Pestered anywhere on the track, the slow ones fall by the wayside, you slingshot from ginger footwork on the turn on the rail out to the four- or five-hole into the stretch and cruise to the wire. That's not only racing luck, it's also getting, or being handed, a great trip. Woo-hoo.

Or the odds-on doesn't get out of the gate, that's racing luck.

But let's face it, the term is rarely used for the players, the handicappers. Any bettor who doesn't feel at least some luck after a nice win is lying. Granted, your wonderful race-picking know-how is massaged, but there's always a big exhale.

In limited but must-play appearances on just a few race cards recently, I was able to feel the joy that racing luck can bring. Tomorrow's another day, but today is today and it sure is fun.

But there were nagging distractions all during the stint.

There was a boot camp of work at The Real Job that evolved into a monastic routine of shut-eye, sustenance and work. And I don't mean a four-furlong breeze five days out from the big stakes race. Just this week, we knew we had pulled it off.

There's more, Rod Serling.

Proving the theory that fresh air can kill city rats, I inhaled too much of the stuff during a thoroughly enjoyable Kwik Trip to Wisconsin's Fox Valley, came down with a throat and a chest, as Wanny would say, that then became an upper body, as Coach Q would say. Me? I would say that the full barrel of the rib cage hurt so much from coughing - never one Lucky Strike in my life - that it must be what a jockey would feel like if he got kicked in his flak jacket from all four sides by a mean three-year-old colt not yet gelded.

In a Walter Mitty-ish kind of way, with the help of cough syrup that worked quite well but I don't remember it ever making me so dizzy and that's not a complaint, I hallucinated being the tough-as-nails Calvin Borel, Willie Shoemaker or even Red Pollard. Imagine, me and a few of my heroes, all in the same boat!

But maybe I was just like them. Sleeping in the jock's room, with my valet (pronounced VAL-ett in racing) crusty old Emerson C. Radio, waking me just in time to fire up the wagering sites and video feeds, my version of donning the silks, and "riding" the most important stakes races of late summer and this side of Labor Day.

The revered Travers Stakes, the "Summer Derby" from Saratoga on August 25th, was a good day in the TB ward.

In a packed 14-horse field, I eyed Gronkowski, who figured well two off the break including a gutty Place performance in the Belmont Stakes. Fortunately, Vino Rosso was taking stupid Noo Yawk parochial money that rose to 8-1 very late - the suckers lost their money early. Good Magic, Kentucky Derby runner-up - more on him later - was a reasonable 7-5 favorite. Analyst Maggie Wolfendale loved the filly Wonder Gadot, but 'Gadot being a serial bridesmaid in the big Spring stakes for the females I wisely said no, I'm married to others. She finished last.

Way out in the 14-door was Catholic Boy - I'm not gonna say a word about that name. He romped in the Remsen for rookies last December, looked decent, but verklempt, since then and lacklustered (80 Beyer Speed figure) in the Florida Derby in March. But what's this? He won two gradeds at Belmont - his wins had all come at New York tracks - with sneaking-up Beyers of 96 and 99. That is a TrackNotes angle. But those were on turf, you say? Well, um. But JJ Castellano rides again! I also gave Mendelssohn another chance. The way he ran in the Dubai Derby, like the way Kris Kringle spoke Dutch to that girl. I believed.

Bingo! Catholic Boy, wavering some in the stretch, romped by four with Mendelssohn behind him, 7-1 and 14-1. Prices like that, it was across the board both and also $145 Exacta'd.

Fourteen more in the September 1st Woodward Stakes, Saratoga, you had some nice runners, the most famous being Gunnevara, the one-eyed Patch, Discreet Lover and Seeking the Soul.

I liked Japanese-bred Yoshida. He won the Turf Classic on the Derby undercard and was a very respectable fifth in the little-finger-to-the-skies Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. Only fifth in the Fourstardave, I just figured Bill Mott had him ready. I ignored the turf-to-dirt angle again.

Running a nondescript race, Yoshida bided time, swung wide into the stretch and won by two at 6-1. Gunnevara took second. I should probably not scratch my head anymore over Gunnevara, especially on the first weekend in November. It was a more modest payout, but profit nonetheless.

Luck of luck was in an $80k allowance race the same day. Like a Three Stooges - October 21 at the Arcada Theater in St. Charles - through-the-door routine, the 10 was Oreo sandwiched between the 8 and 4 in a most eventful stretch run. The inside 8 drifts out, bumps 10, who drifts out and moves the four outward, then 8 and 4 put a serious squeeze on the 10. They finish 8-4-10. I've got only the 10-8 exacta, objection and inquiry. I'm figuring 4-8-10. But the stewards put 8 down second and DQ 4 to third. Bang! Zoom! Cough, cough. I was puzzled about 20 seconds. Another $80 exacta.

I'm not boasting. I acknowledge the luck and felt good about the absolutely scientific - har har - hunches. As The Great One, Jackie Gleason, once said, "Be nice to the people you meet on the way up, because you're going to see the same people on the way down." A horseplayer can go up and down two, three times a year. Even that might be lucky.

What it means is that the bankroll is healthy, intact and ready for the 2018 Breeders' Cup, November 2-3 at Churchill Downs, home of the evil Churchill Downs Inc. If I say "evil Churchill Downs" one more time in the next month or so, please write in and tell me to shut up. The good thing is that, like the NFL at Super Bowl venues, the Breeders' Cup commandeers and runs the races at the site. I hope they say to CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen just once that weekend: "Shut up! We're runnin' things around here!"

I'm not going to ask for a wellness check tomorrow, although I wouldn't turn it down, because the nest egg is going to be cracked on Jockey Club Gold Cup Day at Belmont Park.

It was championship day before the Breeders' Cup happened. Where scores might be settled, horsey trophies won. But it is a great day of racing with graded stakes peppered throughout including the Vosburgh, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and Grade III Pilgrim for the kids.

In the feature, we'll see the 4-5 Diversify, Gronkowski and Mendelssohn. I promise to take it easy, be careful.

Wish me luck.

Strange Magic
Good Magic, runner-up to Justify in the Kentucky Derby, has been retired.

If you read the release, Justify was a super horse and Good Magic was a leading runner of his generation. Good Magic won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, beat nobody in the Bluegrass and won the Haskell over the compelling mere money earner Bravazo. Big deal.

Can't believe I'm saying this, but good riddance to him and Justify. Who won the frickin' Triple Crown! Justify is gone even from the rearview mirror and they'll never make his case of greatness either as a Crown winner or down through the generations.

They're saying Justify's stud fee will be higher than 'Pharoah's next year.

But I'll know the Pharoah's runnin'. For a long long time.


Tom Chambers welcomes your comments.

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