Monday, July 28, 2014

Thoughts about the weekend racing on both coasts

Thoughts on an excellent weekend of racing at Saratoga and Del Mar...

On Saturday at Saratoga, there were eleven races won by eleven different trainers and eleven different jockeys. How neat is that?

It's pretty rare for something like that to happen and while it would almost be an impossibility at a small track where one or two trainers rule the roost, it's a testament to the quality and depth of racing at the Spa. Many big name trainers captured a win on Saturday: Mott, Pletcher, Matz, Tagg, Violette, Tony Dutrow, J. Larry Jones and Sheppard, to name a few. The win by Sheppard in the sixth race meant that he has had at least one winner at each Saratoga meet since 1969! 

I mention this as I remember the days some eight to ten years ago (and even after that) when Todd Pletcher would win multiple races a day (as many as three or four) and clean up every year in the trainer's standings. Nothing against Pletcher, who is having an excellent year again, but how nice for the industry and for fans wagering on these races to have such balance.


Speaking of Todd Pletcher, the trainer unveiled another of his promising two-year olds on Saturday when Competitive Edge destroyed his competition, winning by 10 and 1/4 lengths, covering the 6 furlongs in 1:09 and 4/5 (the time certainly could have been faster, by why push the horse in his first race when he's got that big a lead in the stretch?). What made this performance even more impressive was the fact that trainer Chad Brown unveiled one of his two-year olds named Aldrin (by Malibu Moon out of the Unbridled mare Tap Your Heels) in this race. One had to note this horse, if only for the fact that his purchase price at the Keeneland sale this April was one million dollars! Early talk mentioned Aldrin being a monster; that same description was also being used for Competitive Edge. Aldrin never found his footing, finishing a dull seventh in an eight-horse field.

Any performance such as the one Competitive Edge turned in, especially from a Pletcher two-year old, gets one to think about the Breeders' Cup, followed by the Derby trail in the spring, but given that this colt is by Super Saver, Pletcher's lone Kentucky Derby winner (in 2010), the buzz will naturally be rather strong!


There was another exceptional performance by a 2-year old over the weekend, this one a California-bred filly named Desert Steel (by Desert Code, out of a Cozzene mare), who won by an easy 5 and 1/4 lengths in a track record time of 56 and 3/5 seconds for 5 furlongs! Breaking from the rail, the filly went wire to wire and never had an anxious moment (the horse is trained by Simon Callaghan). I'm sure this will be a key race; keep an eye on the 3rd place finisher Soul Flyer, a beaten chalk who had to break from post position nine. This horse ran a fine race, but when the rail horse runs that fast and that easily, there's not much you can do.


Saratoga and Del Mar are the jewels of American thoroughbred racing, so it makes sense that their analysts are among the very best. At Del Mar, John Lies takes the fan through every horse, pointing out previous form as well as breeding - he's especially thorough when it comes to naming the full or half brothers or sisters of each horse. You can tell he's done his homework and I enjoy his matter-of fact descriptions of the field; for Lies, each horse is worth a look - a fact that escapes too many handicappers.

So he's got an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the horse for each field, but it was something he said during his analysis of Sunday's final race, a 6 furlong event for three-year olds and upward maidens with a claiming price of $50,000 to $40,000. Talking about the favorite Q'Viva, trained by Mark Glatt, Lies noted that this would be his first race on polytrack; in his previous five races, he had run on either dirt or on the turf. He then mentioned how sometimes you shouldn't worry about that; instead you should look at his form and see how he shapes up against the other horses in the race - is he a deserving favorite? In the opinion of Lies, this was the best horse in the race.

We all love to examine the past performances from all sorts of angles - is the horse cutting back in distance? Is he coming off a layoff? What are his speed figures and how do they compare to the competition? Etc., etc and this leads to the old "paralysis by analysis" situation where you can't select one horse, as you're stuck between two or three (or maybe more). So how nice that Lies did what more handicappers should do - he simplified things.

By the way, Q'Viva, the best horse in the race in the opinion of John Lies was made the post time favorite and won by 4 and 1/4 lengths, paying $6.40 for the win with a $2 exacta of $61 and a $1 trifecta of $142.30. Sometimes, the obvious play is the right one!