Peter Fornatale at Saratoga

Peter Fornatale details the victory of big talking horse Gilda Marie and nominates his horses to follow from the Spa last weekend.

  • Wednesday 31 July
  • Blog
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It’s a phrase you hear often at the racetrack in America, especially during a meet like Saratoga. There is so much information around in the form of tips, opinions, clocker reports and occasionally even accurate whispers on the backstretch.

You don’t need to even hear the word on a lot of these horses to know who they are because the money talks. There is an art to reading the money on the toteboard at Saratoga. I feel like nine times out of 10, the horses being bet in an unexpected way are the same ones being buzzed about.

This is particularly true in Saratoga where the Morning Line maker, David Aragona, does an excellent job of predicting how the crowd “should” bet. For the uninitiated, the Morning Line is not a real line – not one dollar gets bet at these prices. Instead, the Morning Line, in an effort to help guide bettors’ decisions, is simply a prediction by one person – in this case David – of what the crowd is going to bet.

As a quick and dirty rule, a horse getting bet below its line is “warm” on the board and a horse well over the line is “dead” on the board. It’s very far from foolproof but it’s an interesting piece of information and I believe there is signal in it – especially with unraced horses and horses coming off of long layoffs. The idea is that these horses are bet for some reason that can’t be seen in the form – the horse is training well, particularly well meant for today etc.

When one of these warm orders wins – often at the expense of the logic of traditional form study – the appropriate lament is simply to say, “They knew.”

The 2019 Saratoga meeting has featured some of the great “They Knew” horses of all time. In my nearly 25 years up here I’ve never seen a better exhibit of the phenomenon than GILDA MARIE.

Gilda Marie, trained by Chris Englehart, hadn’t been out in a year. David guessed – appropriately – that she’d be 15-1 against the group. The first word I head on the horse came the race before she ran, from the cousin of a known associate of mine who came literally running up the steps to the Veranda at the Paddock Bar.

“Guys, you gotta bet this horse in the eighth,” he said, half out-of-breath. “She’s training great, today’s the day, EVERYBODY on the backstretch is betting her. They’ve been waiting all meet for one like this.”

Now before you get too excited when you hear something like this, you must understand that I have heard versions of this speech on horses approximately 100 times over the years. Of the 100, I would guess that 90 are still out there running.

Another friend pointed out that he saw some racetrack veteran types, people with backstretch connections, looking very merry in a gazebo down by the paddock rail. “Those guys are never here just hanging out,” he pointed out. “Something is up.”

Sometimes these horses get bet, sometimes they don’t. But all in all, that’s a good piece of information to have. I looked at the probable pay screens for the Double and sure enough, Gilda Marie was buried, projecting to somehow be 3 or 4 to 1 when I looked and did the math.

I decided to make some inquiries and I learned that the morning workouts were impressed with her last morning move. So what we had here, I came to believe, were two potential sources that can move the betting market – backstretch insiders and clockers who work for big bettors – zeroing in on the same horse.

When the win pool opened, the money started coming in and it steamed in all the way until they popped the gate. 4-1 became 7-2 became 3-1 became 5-2 and the odds landed as 2-1, just $0.10 in price from favoritism off a 15-1 morning line.

Gilda had a fight on her hands the whole way. Another filly off a long layoff gave her all she could handle. But in the end, Gilda Marie prevailed by a half. And from the screams and shouts down in that insider gazebo you’d have thought it was Rachel Alexandra winning the Woodward all over again.

They knew.

But lest you think it’s that easy, just a few races later a first-time starter sent off by connections very much tied in with industry insiders was taking no money at all off a 12-1 Morning Line, 25-1 when I looked and drifting from there. Many, including myself, assumed that Heartstrings was short of fitness and would need a race. That’s what the board was telling us. Heartstrings came from last and passed them all, paying $81.50 for every $2 bet.

They had no idea.

And that reminded that there is a racetrack truism that trumps “They knew.” Its origins are from the film business – legendary screenwriter and author William Goldman in fact. But its lessons resonate throughout the world of racing and markets in general:

“Nobody knows nothing.”



ASSAULT BREAKER is the first of many in this piece I’ll not as having spent time on a rail that was not the place to be this weekend, especially on Friday. This one was bet like a good thing, showed speed in a hot pace and completely flattened out. But I believe he had an excuse and will look to bet next time in all likelihood.

LOOKING AT BIKINIS was bet off the board and spent time on the dead rail. He’s better than this. Might have to face a potential monster (see Sunday) if he cuts back for the Allen Jerkens, and probably doesn’t want the Travers distance. But I’m not holding this effort against him.


ACRE is a horse who wowed me physically and it made sense that he might need a race given that his pedigree suggests that both grass and distance will be his friends and that distance will be his friends. He also spent time on the dead rail. I’ll be betting back. In the same race, the winner, SHOPLIFTED, was very impressive and should stretch out. And I thought ALWAYS MISBEHAVING looked short of fitness and ran huge.

There were a few issues with MITOLE’s trip. It wasn’t the cleanest of getaways and he spent time on the dead rail. If all the hype goes to others (see Sunday), he’s still probably a valid contender for the BC Sprint. Wouldn’t mind seeing him get a little time off though. This effort might have taken more out of him than the paper suggests.

I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss YA PRIMO is a divisional player. I thought he had a tricky trip in the Bowling Green, not breaking well and making his move into the fastest part of the race, just going down to Channel Cat. Worth another look next time, especially if a bit more forgotten in the market.


NYRA’s Maggie Wolfendale noted on the TV broadcast that STANHOPE had a big turf hoof, indicating he might improve when he gets to that surface. The dirt race might not be as bad as it looks either as he spent time on the dead rail. Plus, Shug McGaughey’s runners typically improve with their racing.

NEW AND IMPROVED will be on every watch list. Was touted like the next Chad Brown rocketship and did not disappoint, winning easily in the end despite a poor beginning and doing so without the benefit of a pace setup. Looks like graded stakes material for Chad Brown. In other news, the sun will set in the west tonight.

SHANCELOT hardly needs to be pointed out as a horse to watch after running a hole in the wind on Sunday in the Amsterdam but I’ll make a quick mention anyway. The effort was immense – he looked like a dirt sprinter version of Frankel – and between that and the records three-year-olds have in the race it’s worth taking a look at his ante-post prices for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. I’d say 6-1 NRNB would get me very excited but might be a pipe dream.

Peter Fornatale at Saratoga
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