The Happy Handicapper often finds his annual Saratoga vacation a source of horseplaying inspiration. This year, the muses who haunt the ancient gambling grounds whispered in his ear at the start of his second afternoon under the trees.
That was on Aug. 6, right after a 3-year-old filly named Sea Goer, a daughter of the stallion named Go and Go, won the first race and paid $5.70.
"Have you noticed," the little voices asked, "that a lot of the winners lately have been descended from winners of Triple Crown races?"
He checked. The voices were right.
Not only was Sea Goer sired by the 1990 Belmont winner, but the $14.40 winner of the feature race the previous day was Furlough -- a daughter of Easy Goer (Belmont winner, 1989) and a granddaughter of Riva Ridge (Kentucky Derby, Belmont 1972).
On the day before that, the Lake George Stakes was captured by Caveat Competor, a $26.80 upsetter whose daddy, Caveat, won the Belmont in 1983.
And on the previous Tuesday, the day he spent at Finger Lakes Race Track, the winners there had included descendents of Go and Go (Going Nuts paid $3.60 and Colombia County paid $33.20) and 1965 Preakness winner Tom Rolfe (Comply With Di paid $15.20).
And wouldn't you know it, later on that same Aug. 6 afternoon, the Saratoga winner's circle was graced by a grandson of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew (River Wisdom, $6.30), a son of 1987 Derby-Preakness hero Alysheba (Ms. Calabash paid $26.40) and a son of 1977 Triple Crown winner Affirmed (Affirmed Success paid $2.70).
The H.H. at first dismissed these results as mere coincidences. And by the time he and the betmobile got home to Buffalo, he was back to more "logical" ways of picking winners by intensely studying the detailed past performances printed in the Daily Racing Form.
Then last Sunday morning he almost fell off his chair when he learned the outcome of the previous day's fifth race at Saratoga. The winner paid $140.50. His name was Unbridled Express. He was, of course, a son of Unbridled, the 1990 Derby winner.
At Woodbine the next day, the H.H. mentioned to a couple of his horseplaying compadres that he'd stumbled on this system that produced a $140 winner.
"You just bet on horses whose sires or dam-sires won Triple Crown races," he explained. They all yawned and went back to their speed figures.
The next day, in Monday's first race at Fort Erie, Serenity Empress, a 12-year-old mare known for her late-running ability, closed 21 lengths in the stretch, won by a nose and paid $18. She was, a glance at the program reminded him, a granddaughter of Needles, the Derby-Belmont champion from way back in 1956.
That did it.
It was time to climb aboard this Triple Crown Offspring (TCO) system with real money.
On Wednesday he took the bankroll to Niagara Falls and spent the afternoon at the Rainbow Center OTB Teletheater, the only local OTB that pays track odds.
After scratches, there were a total of 17 TCOs on the 10-race card at Saratoga. Every race but two had at least one contender and the final race, a 1 3/1 6-mile turf marathon for maidens, had five eligibles.
The day got off to a great start when the first horse on his list, a son of Summer Squall (Preakness, 1990) named Approaching Squall came from behind on the last turn and won the 2 1/1 6-mile steeplechase. He paid $11 and even after subtracting the losing bets from two other TCOs in the event, he was $5 ahead.
TCOs finished out of the money in the second race, third in the third and nowhere in the fourth and sixth and his bankroll soon fell into minus territory.
The method came up with a two-star selection in the seventh race, a 1 5/8 -mile claiming race on the turf. A 5-year-old gelding named Le Mistral was both a son of Summer Squall and a grandson of Tom Rolfe. The H.H. took great delight in watching him fan wide at the top of the stretch and win for fun. He paid $16.60 and suddenly, the bankroll was $9.60 ahead.
Two also-rans and a second-place finish sent the bankroll plunging to $3.60 by the time the final race rolled around.
The final contained five TCO contenders -- fillies whose veins coursed with the blood of Caveat, Affirmed, Dust Commander (Derby, 1970), A.P. Indy (Belmont, 1987) and Easy Goer. The H.H. bet a deuce on each one and hoped the eventual winner would not turn out to be Layounne, the huge 4-5 favorite out of a mare sired by Affirmed. If she won, the payoff would be so low, he would still lose money.
For a change, his wish came true. Admonish, a 4-year-old daughter of Caveat, edged Layounne and paid $17.80.
The day's arithmetic for the TCO system: 17 bets in eight races, three winners at prices of $11, $16.60 and $17.80. Total profit for a $34 investment was $11.40, or about 33.5 percent.
Pretty impressive. Almost the kind of result that makes you want to get an almanac, copy the list of Triple Crown race winners, and take it with you next time you go punting.
Unless, of course, the muses let you in on something better before then.