Peter Fornatale at Saratoga

American racing expert Peter Thomas Fornatale returns to highlight a number of horses from last week's Saratoga action worth watching with future races in mind.

  • Thursday 22 August
  • Blog
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It’s a tradition unlike any other.

And no, I’m not talking about the Masters. It’s the Degenerate Doubleheader.

For the past 10 summers or so, my friend Brian Nadeau and I have made a point to spend one day/night during our time at Saratoga visiting both the Thoroughbred track and the harness track a few blocks away.

For those who don’t know, harness racing is a sport unto itself, where standardbred runners carry sulkies behind them which contain their drivers. A lot of the top old-school USA players learned about betting and specifically what we call trip handicapping through harness racing.

The date has floated around to different times of the meet over the years but this will be the second year in a row we’ve done it on the Wednesday of Travers’ week. Hopefully we start things off with a fun night tonight and keep the momentum going all the way through Saturday night when hopefully Tacitus delivers the goods in the meet’s signature race.

The DGDH, as it’s known, started with just me and Brian but has grown to include an international cast of characters including Tommy “The Hammer” Massis, a professional horseplayer from Toronto who earns his nickname by betting big to win and/or zeroing in on precious few combinations in his exotics tickets.

He also participates in betting competitions – contests, as we call them. When Found beat Golden Horn at the Breeders’ Cup back in 2015, Hammer had a $4,000 exacta and walked out that day $345,000 richer. He’s become a regular in recent years.

You can bet the flat night tracks from Saratoga Raceway and he’ll be focusing mostly on his home track, Woodbine.

In its earliest incarnations, the DGDH was an ultramarathon because we included a wagering requirement. Not only would we go to both tracks, we would bet every race at each one. That got old fast.

The event was saved circa five years ago with the addition of a dinner at Pennell’s – a classic, nearly 100-year-old red sauce Italian restaurant located pretty much equidistantly between the two tracks. Now we mosey over there for a lengthy dinner after the flats end, drink our dirty Martinis, and make the always difficult decision between the fantastic “Coach’s” steak, the veal parmigiano, or the lasagna.

I’m on a health kick (minus the drinking) so maybe this year the Lemon Haddock gets a look. And yes, there will be escarole, or as it is in the vernacular, ‘scrol’.

These days we might roll over to the jugheads – a not-so-nice nickname for the Standardbreds – for the last four of 13. We’ve identified a few useful tipsters over the years so we’re not drawing as dead as we used to be over there, but there is a limit to what can be achieved in a pari-mutuel pool where your $20 wager will make a horse go from 5-1 to 1-5. (Note: it’s not quite that bad but it’s close).

It’s a rainy, ugly day in Saratoga. That type of day I might have skipped entirely if not for the DGDH. But I’m not going to let the tradition die out over a little rain. We are not made of sugar.

In fact, the rain could help the day to be more interesting overall. Maybe I’ll keep the powder dry today and let that hour across the street determine the fate of my wagering day. Does anyone have any tips at Presque Isle or Evangeline?


There was a lot of insider buzz regarding Todd Pletcher’s firster CANDY TYCOON on Saturday. He broke poorly and then found trouble in the middle part of the race as well before finishing his race. This was a useful debut and one I expect to come on plenty for the run.

NAKAMURA was a nice-looking winner of an 11-furlong turf route, could be very dangerous right back against similar. It feels like the added distance really agrees with him even though he’s had plenty of success going shorter.

In the same race, DEVAMANI had a weird trip, steadying and never really finding a run. I think the effort was too bad to be believed.

Of the ones in the Lake Placid, I liked VARENKA best as she quickened best from further back off the crawl. Her figure won’t be great but her ability to quicken is impressive.


MRS. DANVERS was awesome in victory once again. Connections clearly had something in mind other than winning the race on Sunday – they were trying to teach her to rate. She was at first an unwilling participant in the lesson as it looked like Joel Rosario was going to rip her face off in the early part of the race.

She settled well enough, finished her race and earned a solid figure, all the more solid because she wasn’t running her fastest at all times. She looks a graded stakes winner in the making and maybe even a Kentucky Oaks filly down the line. It’s early days obviously, but I love this lovely gray filly.

SHADILEE won Sunday’s fifth race well enough but I was very intrigued when my podcast co-host Jonathon Kinchen pointed out to me that he was claimed out of the race by Mike Maker. Maker has a fantastic record off the claim and particularly so when he changes something up in terms of surface or distance. This is one to watch.

In Sunday’s featured race, VEXATIOUS impressed me more than even the winner, Blue Prize. Vexatious attended the strong pace and made the move that broke it apart, allowing a smooth run for home by the winner. She also looked very well pre-race in the paddock. I’m interested in her when she turns up next.

For more from me, check out and be sure to watch all the action from Saratoga live on Sky Sports Racing Stateside.

Peter Fornatale at Saratoga
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