Monday, September 28, 2009

Closing Time

Arlington Park plays the worst music imaginable, but you don't go there for that right? That song Closing Time, used at every bar that's trying to kick its patrons out, plays during the races and at the close of races, a Freudian slip not jibing with its uniformed, smiling ambassadors. But it has officially come to pass, the closing of Arlington Park 2009. A year best forgotten with the exception of a couple of ascendant stars. I'm talking first of Junior Alvarado and second of Peyote Patty. I've talked glowingly of Junior for awhile (but watch the last race of the meet for an exclamation point that encapsulates the jockey race. Grahm appears to have the latest kick on Here Oui Go Again, but Junior comes from out of the clouds to take Grahm down on his preferred surface and on a longshot). The Million this year was spectacular, and all the turf racing was great.

I haven't talked about the filly, in this the year of the filly, Peyote Patty who finished the meet 4 for 4 and is on a streak of 5. I remember watching her act up in the gate and vet scratch out of the Isaac Murphy, she was jumping in class and I had her on my ticket. She's the type of filly I always find myself cheering for, a continual class riser, who rises with her conditions no matter who's riding her.

So as the song Closing Time suggests, with an ending comes a new beginning. Hawthorne is back.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Claire Novack for ESPN and xxxxx for the Chicago Tribune have recently published articles about the polytrack surface at Arlington. As with everything in the sport, it's hard to loosen the truth from its beholden betting interests; anyone asked to comment on how they feel about the surface is dependent, in some way, upon track management. The line that everyone seems to tow, more or less, is that the safest surface for a jockey is one that is safest for the horse. The fact that hitting poly is sort of like hitting cement has been well documented and accepted as the better alternative. The real nuance I found in the Novack article is from Albert Stall who claims that the poly has lost some of its springiness this year. I'd like to know how this happened, and what's being done. The surface has been in England for awhile, and maybe there are similar problems there, but maybe Chicago's frigid winter and blazing summer factors in. So what can Woodbine tell us?

From the Tribune article it was Catalano who explained what he thought was the most unsafe surface and that's a frozen surface that has just begun to thaw, leaving a sheet of ice just below a layer of mush. This happens a lot at Hawthorne, and the caliber of horse is usually lower at Hawthorne (where more breakdowns occur). An abberrant to this pattern is Hawthorne, which has had very few breakdowns, less than Arlington.

This summer, the summer of the false pace, the polytrack has played more slowly. It's in these paceless races, where the jockeys are darting for position at the top of the stretch that the horses are in great danger of clipping heels, or so the theory goes. Does the running style synthetics promote as well as lack of kickback it creates make the horses and riders more prone? It's hard to buy this argument when the incidence of breakdown on turf races, where the running style is similar is much smaller.

Finally, track management is resolute. There is no surface debate for them. The big question: Is there a correlation between the polytrack surface and the staggering injuries, not to one but two jockeys this summer? I don't think there is. With Rene Douglas, his mount was pushed into a slowing speed horse. His horse cartwheeled over top him. The surface had nothing to do with his injuries. For Mike Straight, he hit the track at a terrible angle. It's not as cut and dry with this accident, maybe more give in the surface might have helped. But if you land wrong on your neck, it really doesn't matter if its dirt or synthetic.

Polytrack doesn't seem to pose any increased danger, but it also hasn't shown any enhancement to safety.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Inquiry Sign is Lit

Decided to hit the oval on Friday. It's nice to be there when the crowds are elsewhere. The fields were pretty big late in the card, though the day starts with three paltry-fielded 5k claimer sprints.

My brothers and I all live in different cities and are planning to meet up at Keeneland in October. One brother follows the Triple Crown and knows well how to handicap. The other knows nothing about the sport and hates gambling. He's an engineer. And a lawyer, so may not have much patience for the pseudoscience (engineer) of capping and no free time (lawyer) for the frivolous pursuit of horseplay. Anyway I thought I'd try to set the hook with a lesson using the fifth race on Friday at AP, an allowance with only 6 runners. The favorite had sterling figures and visibly impressive flanks, her name was Knockout Bertie. One thing she didn't have was experience over polytrack or a win at the distance, 7 furlongs. This is a really tough distance to cap. I thought it would be a nice race to suss out how pace and surface-switch play such a big role in polycappin at Keeneland. Also, the BRIS sheets showed Knockout Bertie as lone speed, but there was a horse on the rail that clearly had early foot and would prolly show it. Show it she did, and she burned up, taking Knockout Bertie with her. The race held some nice jockey work by Jesus Castanon who nailed a nice hole on the inside and got a lot out of a horse that hadn't shown much lately. I thought Knockout Bertie's jockey might have known better and kept out of the early fray, but maybe there was no avoiding it. In any event, the race showed the importance of reading pace and the advantage to having a really good jockey who makes his move at the right time.

On a sour note, there was a Catalano horse, Touch Appeal (same sire as Knockout Bertie), entered in the third that broke down. Hard to tell if it was catastrophic, but very likely was. It was a 5k claimer and Catalano had Danush Sukie, a rider he never uses, in the irons. Jessie Campbell who rode him in his maiden score, Touch's prior race, opted off the less-than-even-money fave from the Catalano barn for a 15-1 longshot. It all seemed fishy, but you go against Catalano at your peril here. I can only hope he didn't put everyone in danger by racing an unsound horse.

The breakdown makes 16 for the meet, 15 on the polytrack. The number is significant, and makes clear polytrack offers no increase in safety. Polytrack was not invented for safety, but for training (in England) in any type of weather. A lot of people make this incorrect assumption about the synthetics after the state of California mandated their use to curb excessive equine tragedy. Arlington Park also started using polytrack after a couple meets of 20+ breakdowns, but the synthetics current safety stats are no better than dirt. Maybe over time, as tracks learn how to take care of the surface, they'll be more effective, but the same could have been said of dirt.

Now that steroids are illegal and surfaces have been experimented with, maybe all eyes need to be cast on breeding. The Friday card at Arlington had 8 one-turn races out of ten. Why don't we have more horses bred for bottom-end? I thought maybe poly might influence the way we breed, but that's not all that likely with the big money east coast tracks still running on dirt. Is there a way to card more routes? How can we even out the number of sprints with routes and get more turf races? The Railbird has lit the Inquiry sign.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Eddie Razo Ok. Slated to Ride on Thursday

With all the amazing real-time gadgets, Twitter feeds, "blogs" and jazzy information features, AP was still unable to release information about Eddie Razo who took a nasty spill on one of the favorites, Da Mamma, in the 6th on Saturday.

I understand the red-script magnolias that spell ARLINGTON at the entrance are what the track would rather you see and smell than the backside, but wouldn't it have been a refreshing headline: "Jock Ok After Nasty Spill"? Who doesn't want to read that? Arlington knows well how attentive it needs to be to its PR, hence all the technological gadgetry it hopes can somehow mitigate the risks and realities of racing. A fool's gambit, even they know this. Maybe they think these technologies can wipe away the idea that they are not on top of things. This fancy track, these fancy features all act as hedge against how they are perceived. But these technologies can backfire and draw more attention to their superficiality and the institutional callousness they spring out of if not used well.

Ok, ok the Railbird should pull back from this screed just a bit. It's not like all these Twiiter feeds and whatnot are evil, and I don't hate AP for trying to "up" their offer, and yeah the line about the magnolias was a cheap shot -- truth told I'm not even sure they're magnolias. Let's redirect with just a simple note to track management:

We fans care about the welfare of the jockeys and animnals we cheer for. Please let us know, if, God forbid, there is an accident, how they are doing.

That's all. Someone help me down from this soap box.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Triple Recap

For research purposes, the Chicago Railbird took in a mule race at CalExpo. There was a fractious mule who ran all over the place behind the gate till finally getting caught only to get loose again. It was about ten minutes of watching mules brey in their gates, while one ran zigzags behind, ears flopping. The crazy mule went on to win by a neck. The Arlington Washington was much less exciting. The 3/4 mile came in just under 1:20. How was ET Baird allowed to crawl on the lead like this??? With a Morning Line favorite racing 2 furlongs shorter than his preferred, a West Coast invader that had raced three times in the past month and an extremely fractious tote-fave Wicked Style; the table was set for theft. Wicked Style's connections failed to saddle this ornery guy correctly and it had to be fixed by the starters who were lucky not to get a hoof in the midsection. Let's hope the trainer avoids this in the future. So with no pace battle, the closers never had a chance and we were left with an uninspired slack, wire job in the feature race.

In the Futurity Dixie Band rewarded his fans, albeit very modestly. U Appeal to Me was right behind then the Jersey horse Piscatelli. Oak Motte ran evenly for 4th.

The Lassie also went as predicted with the Catman again notching top honors with She B Wild and Calhoun's daughter of Tiznow picking up the bits, just holding Place.

So the exciting news is that the Catman holds a couple powerful 2YOs. The filly will be pointed to the Breeders Cup and the colt, who the Catman says doesn't like the poly, will move to Churchill.

To anyone who's been fired or laid off recently, look to Wayne Catalano. Over the winter last year, Frank Calabreese took all his horses away from the Catalano barn, inexplicably. Shredding a long partnership and leaving the Catman to assemble a public stable. Catalano responded by blowing away all the trainers on the leader board while holding the regions most precocious 2YOs.

There are a couple weeks left at Arlington, though I get the sense everyone would like to put this meet behind them. Two seriously injured jockeys has taken the wind out of the oval. Maybe I'm making too much of the Washington, a stark contrast to the absolutely sensational Woodward. The Pacific Classic also made Arlington seem like a long Mule race.

Maybe next week will be better at the Heights. There's still a tight jockey race for wins, though Junior's percentage really blows Grahm's away and Grahm almost always rides the better horse. Watching Junior A rise through Hawthorne and AP has been a big pleasure for me. He gets the most out of his horses and is a future star, hope he stays in the midwest.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Stakes Triple

The Arlington-Washington Futurity lacks luster this year. Was it the stewards having to decide the winner last year (Terrain, RIP)? This seems like a nice prep for the Breeders Futurity at Keeneland, but I would guess only two of these might make the trip. Dixie Band will be the short-priced favorite and I'm going to try to beat him. He gets an outside post and the pedigree suggests he wants to route, but it was the lackadasical finish in the Spectacular Bid that has me searching for value. Piscatelli and Oak Motte are where I land. I like Amoss a lot and when he teams up with Eddie Razo the strike percentage is an amazing 58%. Another reason I'm going against Dixie is Dave Flores. Why not put Diego back in the irons? He's won on both Dixie and Stidham's U Appeal to Me, who grabbed second in the Spectacular Bid with one of the nation's leading jocks Desormeaux on board.

Piscatelli has the mile and shipped in early to acclimate to the surface. The pace should boil over with all the heat inside and he should have the most in the tank at the end. But I'm gonna put Oak Motte ahead of him because I like the connections and think he'll run smartly if the pace is too much. Rounding it out will be the Catman's Dixie Band.

Oak Motte
Dixie Band

The Washington
While the East and West get Rachel and Colonel John, the middle west gets Church Service. Oh well, still a good race here. No one seems especially primed for the effort, except Wicked Style who gets the nod from me. This guy looked like he could be prominent on the Triple Crown trail a few years back, but beaten 41 lengths by War Pass in the slop made the connections reconsider, though they did win the Futurity at Keeneland on the poly. And that's one of the reasons I'm going with him. The surface, distance and form suggest he could break out and make a memorable note for the season. Behind him goes the Usual Suspect, a Barry Abrams charge who also likes polytrack with the recent surprise win over Church Service at Del Mar in the Cougar. This horse has butte, blinks and lasix and very little rest, but he seems the type of warhorse that could prevail and gets the top jock. Rounding it out is the aforementioned Church Service who runs best with a few more furlongs, but wouldnt be surprised if he still conquered this field.

Wicked Style
Usual Suspect
Church Service

The Lassie
Referred to as little Rachel by the Catman She Be Wild should destroy this field. There will be no value here, but enjoy the race; she's fun to watch. Tiz Miz Sue enters from the Hobby barn and looks like a top caliber filly. Not enough to catch the winner, but good to be bridesmaid. Finally Thatswhatshesaid gets a nice post and could surprise here. I hope she hits the board, she's run very well.

She Be Wild
Tiz Miz Sue

Looks like I've picked Junior to figure first in two and second in the other. Maybe I have a bias for the top jock. He certainly deserves the honors. It's been a tough meet for the jockeys, elder statesman and perennial champ Rene Douglas and bugboy Mike Straight have no feeling below the waist. Let's keep them in our thoughts and hope their recoveries go well.