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.

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