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.

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