Friday, August 14, 2009

Death Panels. Dirt vs. Turf.

The International Day of Racing inspired a lot of thought about how American racing compares with other countries. Our industry is enormous and perpetual. We race our horses from gate to wire throughout the year. The Euros race much less and they typically race on grass courses with diverse layouts, the real running doesn't begin until two furlongs out. About 2/3rds of American races are dirt one-turn sprints. In Europe many horses train at private farms and aren't confined to a stall for 23 hours a day. In America horses are stalled at the track where they are timed in workouts and only the lucky ones are given time away from training.

We are obsessed with speed and even though our legendary horses like Eclipse would never have raced on dirt, most American fans feel a cultural and traditional bond to dirt racing. It makes sense in certain ways, since our regal lines came from Arabian decent as well as European, and our Wild West wasn't carpeted in lush sod.

With the surface debates lighting up before the Breeders Cup, stats are being released that point to synthetics not holding up to the promise of better safety. It was never the intention for synthetic surfaces--all created by Brits--to increase safety, but to allow for racing in any type of weather. More racing! But there was a general notion that while the American industry could not support more horse-friendly turf-style racing (impossible to maintain year-round and under so many hooves) the synthetics would, like grass, be easier on the joints, would not require much maintenance, and offer consistency to prevent against bad footing.

I'm hoping that synthetics might at least lessen the demand for cheep speed and influence breeders to go for a sturdier horse and break us out of the cycle where racing secretaries are unable to fill routes and breeders can't sell routers because so many races are sprints. But with Curlin's loss and Andy Beyer's ridiculous speed-figure protectionism, some see this change in style as a threat to American style racing. The debate rages on.

I also thought a lot about speed figures before the International Day of Racing, and why North America is the only region using them. It was during this time that Quality Road broke another track record, though the timer at the Spa had malfunctioned. Beyer initially overcompensated for the malfunction, giving Quality Road a ten point regression after breaking a track record in a sprint. Not a bad way to regress right? Anyway, the biggest problem I'm having with the Beyer figures is his failure to publish the track deviations he uses (not to mention the time if it contradicts published). Why not publish that figure and the individual horse's raw figure so we can tell if a horse runs better in certain conditions? By equalizing the numbers so they can be comparable to any other track and at any distance, you mask the horse's ability in certain conditions. If all horses responded to, say, a deep track the same way this wouldn't matter, but horses like Mine That Bird that skip over deep tracks have their proclivities masked (until they win on the slop or off track).

So my theory for why American racing is unique with its figures, is that dirt racing may be less dependent on the "going" though the going is still a factor we pay to have removed and this may be convenient for dirt sprints, but in a race like the Million the "going" is the difference between Precious Passion stealing the race and finishing far up the track. All this is almost enough to shake the railbird into creating his own figures. Almost.

Let's Get to the Million!

A Million dollars isn't enough to get the creme de la creme from other countries anymore, but some good horses made the trip. Black Bear Island had competed against top horse Sea the Stars and Stotsfold and Cima de Triomphe had made a Conduit sandwich. Not chopped liver. The railbird correctly slotted Stotsfold for third. The magic lasix may have had something to do with it, though Cima didn't bleed. I guess that's another major diffference between American and European racing -- the race-day meds -- and a significant one. Lasix not only protects horses from bleeding through the nose it also dehydrates them, allowing them to shed a lot of weight before a race.

The Secretariet

Clearly not Grade I grandeur in this field, but the stretch battle made it the most exciting race. Take the Points took the bump from Black Bear Island who Murtagh had on the front thwarting the very plausible theft Take the Points threatened when it seemed the grass, though tiring, was playing to early turn of foot. Take The Points hung in there, rising above his detractors who claimed the horse didnt know how to win. He won this with his fists. Great race!
Beverly D
Desormeaux was hamming for all the cameras in the post parade. No pressure at all. The cool cucumber. Who would have thought this is the guy who choked miserably on what should have been a triple crown winner last year? He reeled in the first two Grade I's. In this he had an overlooked filly from the Mott barn who Pure Clan had dusted about a month ago. ET Baird showed more gate riding taking Tizaqueena as far as she could go, ending outside the frame.
The Million
Who would think Einstien would have problems over a surface? The fight we saw in him in the Foster, his last at Churchill, wasn't there. He looked tired and out of form. Give the guy a break, advises the railbird. He's earned the right to one. Gio Ponti was the story. He looked great turning for home. I'm really happy Cristophe Clemente notched his first million.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Arlington Million

I've studied this card for a couple days now. That doesn't ensure winners, but it means the horses have been racing in my head now for some time. Sometimes they slip into my dreams, but then they're not racing on poly they're racing on cotton candy or cheese so that form prolly won't transfer. Anyway, Million Day has arrived. It's drizzling and somewhere the sun is spraying some binaca in his mouth and getting ready to lay his rays down on Chi-town. He's gotta Lollapalooza to scorch.

The Europeans entered this year are B-list, but the Americans are top notch, so it looks like we may take back the flag. With the heat, Lasix becomes a bigger factor and is influencing my choice for Stotsfold, who seems to be just as good as Cima but at a fatter price. But that's for the gimmicks. I think it'll be an Yankee exacta.

Let's start with the undercard:

1. Block has been like the frog slowly boiling in the pot, but just when youre ready to stick a fork in him, he hops out and grabs a trophy and smacks your veal-colored face with it. If turf is graded soft, then I may give this guy a nod, but it's Wicked Style who gets a class break after placing or winning in last three. He has a Grade I victory, which is something no one in the Secretariet can lay claim to. If you're playing the pace game and see Wicked and the General locking horns with that Gator horse pushin em all wide, Caberneigh is the play.
Wicked Style-Caberneigh-General Charley

2. It's gonna be hard to swallow the odds Crowned Royal, a Gomez/Catman horse will yeild at AP, but it seems hard to avoid. I like the other Calhoun horse Early Final in this. He may be rounding back into form, but the polyrisk will be part of the long odds. I love his other sprinters (Mr. Nighlinger and Chamberlain Bridge). Red Baron could get less turbulence and winning trip with Grahm in the irons.
Crowned Royal-Early Final-Red Baron

3. I'm a Retap fan, but will we see the same Retap? It's a big risk for a small price. Fufty Too is the wise pick. Not sure what to put under yet. And look at that! Ramon Dominguez visits the colony. He fucking rocks! Horse in this one kinda sucks tho.
Fufty Too-Retap

4. Been waiting for ATM to reappear. He had nice company in last. Oak Motte bled and gets lasix after a great effort. Sky Tiger could do something.
ATM-Oak Motte-Sky Tiger

5. Deceptive Glory is no value but there's no value in a crumpled ticket and that's what you should have without him on top. Upperline and Surely Irish to finish out the frame of a race whose pace will melt.
Deceptive Glory-Upperline-Surely Irish

6. Pace makes the race and this one should have a lot. Pyrtania is the play for the pace, but I think Calabreses is gonna get this one with Romacaca. I know I'm defying my own logic, but this guy will take him some prize from the card today. Afternoon Stroll hit the Gozzip Girl buzzsaw in last. Pyrtania is on off a layoff but trainer does not race into form, she could take it.
Romacaca-Afternoon Stroll-Pyrtania

The Secretariet
Should be a contentious race with no Grade I winner in the field, only two Grade IIs (Reb and Black Bear Island) and a vulnerable favorite in Giant Oak. I still need proof that GO's late kick will be there at this distance. There was shoving and misbehavin in last, and the chart says "steadied" but if only this guy could find a lane and prove it, Giant Oak Nation would erupt in joy. The surprise entry Take the Points may defy his morning line and earn favortism. He's the only one with early speed and one of three with Grade I experience and even though he shows only 2 turf starts, that Pro-Ride at Santa Anita seems to play like the sod. On the downside, he also only shows two wins, but was beaten only 3/4s of a length in the Virginia Derby which came down to the wire. One of the others with Group or Grade I experience is Black Bear Island who was trounced by what looks to be one of the only three year olds in the same stratosphere, if not better than, Rachel Alexandra and that's the Irish colt Sea the Stars. Aidan O'Brien hasn't had much luck shipping to the States, but if the turf is anything south of firm, this guy is the pick.

Then there's Reb whose form reads, Head-Nose-Head in three consecutive victories. This guy has moxie as well as one of the best jockeys in America in Julien Leparoux who steered clear of trouble in last to best many in this field. He'll have to give more, but I like how he finds the wire. Another dark horse is from the coupled entry, Driving Snow has beaten Giant Oak, Black Bear Island and Quite a Handful in the past. He won a listed stakes in last and is in upform on return from an injury.

Take the Points
Giant Oak
Driving Snow
Black Bear Island

Beverly D
I'm a big fan of Pure Clan and so glad they went with a different colored hood in last. With masterful Leparoux on top she should get the wire. Alnadana is an impressive filly whose done well against the boys, but no lasix is a bad thing. Mad About You could surprise and be the bridesmaid as could Black Mamba. It's hard to know how good the Mamba will do on the Arlington turf. It's a lot different from California.

Pure Clan
Mad About You
Black Mamba

The Million
Garret Gomez on Recapturetheglory? Yes, it's Milliontime. Maybe in response to the European tote orgy last year, the States have stacked this race with the country's best. I'm talking about Einstein, Gio Ponti, and Precious Passion. Einstein has gotten tougher from his imperiled trip last year, but so has the Million. As an early contender for Horse of the Year, he got a brutal trip at Churchill Downs on the dirt, beaten by Macho Again who had a sneaky clean run on the outside and Asiatic Boy who was mounting a comeback. He's a lot better than that race suggests, but he faces the enfant terrible Gio Ponti who marks Christophe Clemente's attempt to shed the moniker top filly turf trainer for top turf trainer. Precious Passion guns it from the gate and this has worked well at places like Monmouth, Calder and Gulfstream, but will it work on AP's tiring turf? Will hee even make the gate? He can't run on anything but firm. If he does I expect him to land outside the frame. The horse that should really take to the Chicago sod is Gio Ponti. I expect Einstein to duel to the last steps; he always gives everything he's got and I'll box an exacta with him, but I think the morning line has it right. So now that I've fed you chalk I need to give my third place finsher who's a better buy. Yeah, I know takes a lot of guts to aim for the stars with the show horse, but I've long been a fan of Mr. Sidney who seems to like a yielding turf. This may be longer than his most desireable distance, but if Desormeax can get him to relax a bit he may be in a prime spot as they turn for home. And it will be all about finding an open lane in this race. With the exception of Recapturetheglory, this field is very tough and scouting that clear lane will be critical.

Gio Ponti

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Yep, that's right. Garrett Gomez rides Recapturetheglory in the Million.

Arlington Million
1 Einstein Helen Pitts-Blasi Julien Leparoux Midnight Cry Stables
2 Presious Passion Mary Hartmann Elvis Trujillo Patricia A. Generazio
3 Just As Well Jonathan E. Sheppard E.T. Baird Jonathan E. Sheppard
4 Stotsfold (GB) Walter Swinburn Adam Kirby Peter Harris
5 Mr. Sidney William I. Mott Kent Desormeaux Circle E Racing
6 Gio Ponti Christophe Clement Ramon Dominguez Castleton Lyons
7 Gloria de Campeao (BRZ) Pascal F. Bary Tiago Josue Pereira Stefan Friborg
8 Cima de Triomphe (IRE) Luca Cumani Christophe Lemaire Teruya Yoshida
9 Recapturetheglory Louie J. Roussel, III Garrett Gomez Louie J. Roussel, III and Ronald Lamarque

Beverly D
1 ALNADANA (IRE) Alain de Royer-Dupre Christophe Soumillon His Highness the Aga Khan's Studs, Ltd. (Pat Downes, Director)
2 PURE CLAN Robert E. Holthus Julien R. Leparoux Lewis G. Lakin
3 POINTS OF GRACE Malcolm Pierce Ramon A. Dominguez Live Oak Plantation (Charlotte Weber)
4 BLACK MAMBA (NZ) John W. Sadler Garrett K. Gomez Doubledown Stables, Inc. (Richard Templer)
5 MAD ABOUT YOU (IRE) Dermot K. Weld Patrick J. Smullen Moyglare Stud Farm, Ltd. (Walter Haefner)
6 TIZAQUEENA Michael Stidham E. T. Baird Darley Stable (J. Bell, et al)
7 DYNAFORCE William I. Mott Kent J. Desormeaux Dr. John A. Chandler
8 DENOMINATION Christiane Head-Maarek Dominique Boeuf Mrs. Alec Head

1 HOOSIER KINGDOM Ron D. Herrell Elvis Trujillo Ron D. Herrell, Keith Wexler & Brian Reed
2 PROCEED BEE Scott Becker Christopher A. Emigh William Stiritz
3 LAUREATE CONDUCTOR Christophe Clement Ramon A. Dominguez Castleton Lyons (Shane T. A. Ryan)
4 CLIFFY'S FUTURE Darrin Miller Fernando Jara Silverton Hill LLC (Tommy & Bonnie Hamilton)
5 OIL MAN (IRE) John W. Sadler Garrett K. Gomez D. Michael Talla
6 QUITE A HANDFUL Andrew M. Hansen Jermaine V. Bridgmohan Jean & Ted Barlas and Michael Porcaro
7 TAKE THE POINTS Todd A. Pletcher Kent J. Desormeaux Starlight Partners (Donald Lucarelli, et al)
8 DRIVING SNOW (GB) Darrin Miller Fernando Jara Silverton Hill LLC (Tommy & Bonnie Hamilton)
9 REB George R. Arnold, II Julien R. Leparoux Ashbrook Farm (Glenn S. Bromagen)
10 BLACK BEAR ISLAND (IRE) Aidan P. O'Brien John Patrick Murtagh R. D. Hubbard, Robert Masterson & Edward C. Allred
11 GIANT OAK Chris M. Block Eusebio Razo Virginia H. Tarra Trust (Virginia Tarra)

And the Morning Line:
9/4 Gio Ponti
7/2 Gloria De Campeao
4/1 Einstein
9/2 Cima De Triomphe
6/1 Mr Sidney
14/1 Presious Passion
16/1 Stotsfold
20/1 Just As Well
33/1 Recapturetheglory