Keeping Score: A quick and easy Saratoga primer

  • This photo, courtesy of the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame shows bettors at Saratoga Race Course circa 1950. Submitted Photo

Friday, July 14, 2017

Good morning!

The 147th Saratoga thoroughbred meet begins Friday and will continue through Labor Day — 40 programs and 400 races including a dozen steeplechase races. The day begins with the national anthem and ends with Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”

General admission is $5 and coolers filled with beer and soda (no glass) are permitted in the picnic area and on the track apron. Giveaway days are July 23 (Saratoga baseball caps), Aug. 7 (T-shirts), Aug. 21 (cooler bags) and Sept. 3 (clocks).

Years ago a trainer with a small stable of decent horses gave it a go at Saratoga. Afterward he said, “It was like bringing a knife to a gun fight.”

It is indeed a place where the wealthy strive to have their pictures taken in the hallowed winner’s circle. They breed the best and hire the best to get it done.

The Spa lived up to its reputation as the graveyard of beaten favorites in last year’s Travers Stakes when an unknown colt trained by Bob Baffert named Arrogate paid $25.40 to win and Exaggerator finished 11th as the 5-2 favorite.

Yet about 40 percent of all favorites win at any racetrack, and that includes the Spa.

How to spot a winner? Look for the connections.

According to equibase.com, the only four jockeys with combined triple-digit wins the last three years are Irad Ortiz Jr. (167), Javier Castellano (163), J.R. Velazquez (137) and Jose Ortiz (134).

Similarly, the only trainers with double digit wins over that time are Chad Brown (94), Todd Pletcher (93), Rudy Rodriguez (38) and George Weaver (33).

Lastly, look for the three stable owners with the most wins since 2014, Klaravich Stables Inc. (30), Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey (25) and Mike Repole (23). (Repole lives to win at Saratoga; He’s a billionaire who was born in Queens, N.Y.)

Circle those names and if you get three on the same horse, run to the betting window. You won’t win a lot of money, but it’ll get your heart pumping and it will feel like standing in the winner’s circle.

Harness driver Herve Filion died last month on Long Island at age 77. Filion won 15,179 races and could’ve won more but was charged with race fixing in 1995 and couldn’t race for seven years until the charges were dropped.

The Quebec-born Filion sat in the sulky at tracks throughout the Northeast and Canada, including up the road at Hinsdale Race Track. Asked to describe Filion’s driving tactics, Hinsdale OTB owner Bill Faucher’s caustic reply was brief and to the point: “Very, very aggressive. He always thought he was the best, and of course that’s why he died broke.”

Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass was a guest on SXM’s “Remember When” with Ed Randall and Rico Petrocelli last weekend. The Pittsburgh right-hander won 103 games in 11 seasons from 1964-74. “I was quite proud because more than half were complete games,” said Blass.

Asked about his only home run in 546 at-bats, Blass deadpanned: “It was so long ago I don’t remember much, except it was Sept. 5, 1969, against the Cubs. Ken Holtzman was on the mound. It was partly cloudy, overcast winds out of the west at five mph, 42,612 in the stands, humidity at 45 percent … The rest of it’s kinda vague.”

Ten Yankees have made their major league debuts this season, the latest being Clint Frazier whose three-run blast beat the Brewers in the Bronx last week. 

Frazier was traded by Cleveland at last year’s trading deadline for southpaw reliever Andrew Miller, who helped the Indians reach the World Series. He picked up the save in Tuesday’s All-Star game, and Boston’s Craig Kimbrel got the win.

Editor’s note: The 11th Yankee to make his debut this season came Friday night against the Boston Red Sox when first baseman Garrett Cooper debuted.

UMass softball coach Kristi Stefanoni named Veronica “Ronnie” Gajownik her new assistant coach this week. The Florida native has prepared herself well for the game she played “a thousand times” as a child.

Named All-Conference at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Gajownik transferred to the University of South Florida to learn under coach Ken Eriksen who doubles as Team USA’s softball coach.

Gajownik made Team USA women’s baseball team — yes baseball, not softball — and had one at-bat and made an infield assist during its run to the gold at the Pan Am Games in Toronto.

She comes to UMass from Liberty University where she earned her masters in exercise science and worked as a grad assistant.

In Toronto, she told a reporter she’d prefer playing or coaching outside Florida. “I hate the humidity,” she explained.

Gajownik learned about the weather from her father, Glenn Richards, who is the chief meteorologist at WOFL-TV in Orlando.

BASEBALL NOTES: Those four players the White Sox got from Boston in the trade for Chris Sale are bouncing along in the minors. Yoan Moncada is batting .282 with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs in Triple-A, flame-thrower Michael Kopech is struggling with his control in Double A, Luis Basabe is batting .214 in High Single-A, and pitcher Victor Diaz was demoted from Double-A to Single-A. … The Red Sox went into the All-Star Break still mired in 26th place with only 92 home runs this season. … Kimbrel threw 25 pitches in the ninth inning on Tuesday and somewhere Red Sox manager John Farrell was screaming at manager Brad Mills to get him out of there. … No team has won a World Series and made the playoffs the following season when they were under .500 at the break. Guess what? The Chicago Cubs were 43-45 at the break. … Mookie Betts leads the American League in at-bats, tied a Major League with eight RBIs from the leadoff spot, and is flying his own private jet. All that and he’s making under $1 million. … David Price, Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello and Pablo Sandoval — underperformers all — account for 41.83 percent of the team’s payroll according to spotrac.com. … O’s manager Buck Showalter and KC’s Ned Yost have successfully appealed 72 percent of their challenges. The Yankees’ Joe Girardi is third (70 percent).  John Farrell is 24th at 36 percent and Marlins skipper Don Mattingly is last at 25 percent. … The Dodgers and Cardinals have both sold over two million tickets thus far, according to baseball-reference.com. The Red Sox rank 12th in that category (1,398,141). … The Indians are averaging more than 4,000 per game this year; the Royals are averaging 5,600 fewer. … Memo to Obie and Eck: Dick Stuart hit a fly ball off the ladder during a game in the 1960s, and the sloth-like first baseman touched every base for an inside-the-park home run. So yes, it has happened before Jackie Bradley Jr. did it. … Vista boxes cost $175 on Stub Hub for the All-Star Game. Typical Florida, a vista box means they’re so high you can get a view of downtown Miami.


SQUIBBERS: If a crossword puzzle ever asks for a “long-ball hitter named Xander” and “Bogaerts” is three spaces too short, try Xander Schauffele, who’s Top 25 on the PGA money list. … The Las Vegas Sun reported that the Aug. 26 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor will cost $99 on high definition pay-per-view. … The AP reported that two-time Olympic skier Tom Corcoran died last month. Corcoran founded the Waterville Valley Ski area in 1966. He was 85. …“Competitive sports are played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch court,” said golfer Bobby Jones. “The space between your ears.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.