The late trainer/driver Dave Vance once told me that when he handicaps a harness race, he pays attention only to each horse's last three races.
No matter what the horse's record says, "he is what he is in his last three races," Vance said.
With that in mind, a handicapper at the Batavia Downs Labor Day doubleheader might have come up with three nice winners --- Badlands Bay Boy ($9.80), Nora's Dream T ($8) and Fire And Art ($22.60). All had terrible records (without a win this year) but all showed signs of rounding into shape in their previous start or two.
Badlands Bay Boy was 0 for 21 for 2009 and leaving from the far outside post 6 for driver Jack Flanigen and trainer Jim Graham. But in his last start he had led all the way before getting passed in the stretch and finishing second by 1 1/2 lengths. Both a front-running loss and a second-place finish are signs of better things to come.
Nora's Dream T, driven and trained by Ken Ball from post 6, was 0 for 14 for the year. But the last two times out she had been a beaten odds-on favorite, another good indicator. This time she led every step.
Fire And Art was 0 for 20 this year for trainer Gerry Sarama. But after her 19th loss, back on July 8, Sarama gave her six weeks off and then brought her back with two qualifying races. In her second qualifier, on Aug. 26, she went on Lasix medication for the first time, and she responded with a five-length win in 2:02. She raced poorly in her first betting race after the layoff but on Monday she got a driver switch (from Kevin Cummings to Ray Fisher Jr.) and led all the way to win in 1:58 2/5 at 10-1 odds.
Layoff, driver switch, second-time Lasix. They all added up to her best race in years.
For those keeping track, the three pacers mentioned by Todd Haight and Joe Zambito as horses to watch in a recent blog all returned with good efforts.
Rivendell finished second in last Saturday's second race at Batavia and Minus Twenty was third in Monday's fourth race at Batavia.
The best race came from Bono's Rainy Lady, who showed up in the first race at Tioga Downs on Saturday, where she won by a nose and paid $78 and topped a $430 daily double. Sometimes it pays to pay attention.
--- Bob Summers