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In 75 Words or Less
At the end of a dismal ESPN telecast that dwelled on breakdowns and revived the inane "miles-per-hour" graphic, the racing-challenged network host asked Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss to comment on "the champions we crowned today." Their understandably blank looks confirmed that no champions are crowned the first weekend in October. What we actually had in the space of 2 1/2 hours were eight graded stakes at Keeneland and Belmont that probably yielded some of the favorites for the Breeders' Cup juvenile races, some winners who don't fit any of the BC races particularly well, and some starting berths for a few longshots who will be hard-pressed to repeat their victories next time out.
The quickest of quick takes on Saturday's octet of Keeneland and Belmont stakes, in the order they were run:
*Kee race 5: G3 $300k Thoroughbred Club of America S. 6f-Poly
Wild Gams ran her way into the BC F&M Sprint winning by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:10.00, faster than the Phoenix for males half an hour later. Baroness Thatcher had a rocky trip from the inside, ran decently for third.
*Kee race 6: G3 $250k Phoenix S. 6f-Poly
Event marred by fatal paddock accident to Dream of Angels and in-race career-ending breakdown of Teuflesberg, who will undergo surgery to try to save his life. The race, a weak G3 which should never have been a BC Challenge auto-qualifier, was won by 13-1 Off Duty in an uninspiring 1:10.17.
*Bel race 7: G1 $400k Champagne 1m
War Pass now 3-for-3 and possible BC Juvenile favorite after impressively wiring field in stakes debut. Cherokee Run-Vue colt, Zito's first G1 winner in two years, went opening half in quick 45.72, opened 5, held on by 1 1/4 lengths over 32-1(!) Pyro in 1:36.14. Majestic Warrior, closer than expected to early pace, showed nothing finishing dull sixth at 1.05-1; Ready's Image showed less running last at 5-2.
*Kee race 8: G2 $400k First Lady, 1m-T
Vacare visually impressive running down Precious Kitten from the inside to win by a half in 1:35.85 but what now? She got a berth in the 11-furlong F&M Turf but that's 11 furlongs and she's never raced beyond 9. Lady of Venice a dull fourth, extending bad run for Biancone at Keeneland thusfar.
*Bel race 8: G1 $400k Frizette, 1m
Race inexplicably neither designated a BC Challenge event nor televised by ESPN probably yielded the BC Juvenile Fillies favorite in Indian Blessing, who followed up her blowout Saratoga debut with a blowout G1 romp. Second early, she ran away from the field around the turn, opened an eight-length lead, and was taken in hand down through a slow final quarter of 27.34 to win by 4 1/4 over Backseat Rhythm. Indian Charlie filly gives Baffert a strong 1-2 punch for BCJF along with Oak Leaf winner Cry and Catch Me.
*Kee race 8: G1 $500k Breeders' Futurity, 1 1/16m-Poly
Arlington-Washington Futurity winner Wicked Style now 3-for-3 like War Pass after front-running score through slow fractions from post 12. Rusty Arnold-trained Macho Uno colt from Trempolino mare got half in 49.64, six furlongs in 1:14.65, and had plenty left to score by 3 1/4 over Slew's Tiznow, who chased from second throughout. Winner's time of 1:45.21 only 0.54 faster than 2-year-old maiden race earlier on card. The Roundhouse checked in dull sixth as 2-1 chalk. Gold Train broke down, had to be euthanized.
*Bel race 9: G2 $300k Jamaica H., 1 1/8-T
Perhaps the most impressive performance of the day: Nobiz Like Shobiz had won his two previous grass starts but stamped himself a star on the surface here, relaxing early for the first time and then accelerating powerfully in deep stretch to win by four lengths in a quick 1:46.80 over a good group that included Secretariat 1-2 finishers Shamdinan and Red Giant. He could be an intriguing possibility for the BC Mile, but trainer Barclay Tagg is likelier to send him to the Hollywood Derby.
*Kee race 9: G1 $600k Shadwell Turf Mile, 1m-T
Biancone appeared to have his first winner of the meet when Cosmonaut opened a 2 1/2-length lead at the eighth pole, but 20-1 Purim ran him down to win by a neck in 1:35.56, 0.30 faster than Vacare's First Lady. Purim, a 5-year-old Dynaformer homebred, had races as good as anyone's including a close third to Kip DeVille and Showing Up in the Maker's Mark on this course last spring, if you were willing to overlook his recent form.
Steve/Fellow Bloggers, Does anyone have a way of judging a trainer's true success? For example Todd Pletcher has won numerous Grade I races with horses like RTR, Octave, Panty Raid, Ready's Image etc.. yet he has had a year which most would agree is well below par given the depth/quality of his stable. Based on a trainer's stable size, value of horses, age distribution etc... is it possible to derive a stat that shows how much a trainer has under or over-performed. The baseball sabermetricians have a stat called VORP - Value Over Replacement Player which (theoretically) tells us how much better Player X is compared with a replacement player that would step into their position during a lockout or strike. Can we derive a similar VORT statistic (Value Over Replacement Trainer) for Pletcher, Asmussen etc...?
Did anybody hear about Kent Desormeaux calling in live to TVG and defending his questionable ride on a Mott horse who finished second on Belmont's turf course last week? He was responding to Mr. B.'s comments that the horse went too wide...had to hear his voice on television!
David, Although he's been somewhat cold over the last couple of months (though he has won several major stakes in that period), Pletcher actually hasn't had a subpar year. In fact, he's only a single percentage point off last year's win rate and has a shot of breaking the earnings record he set last year. He's also got probably 15 graded stakes winners in his barn, and at least that many grade 1 wins. I think people who think he's a little down this year have that impression because of his disappointing Saratoga.
I would love to know the winning percentages for the top 20 trainers in the country (by wins and money) since the snake venom bomb was dropped on Biancone. Is it just me or are some of the top trainers having trouble winning since then? As far as the one year penalty for Biancone, I believe it should be more like 5 years to life. Hey if jocks get 5 years for using a buzzer then trainers should get a similar penalty for using the juice. There are way too many guys out there who are graduates of Oscar Barrera U.
Do you think Clement would consider crossing over into the open Mile? Wonder if he could get in even if he wanted to. Also curious to see what Tagg does with Nobiz Like Showbiz. Both trainers seem to do what's right for the horse. Refreshing on a day when the headline concerned a leading trainer suspended for medication violations. As you noted in an earlier entry, woe to established grass form if it gets wet around Monmouth in the next three weeks. Anyone remember the ground Northern Spur had to travel over at Belmont mid-90's?
Yesterday's ESPN broadcast revived my longstanding gut feeling that horse racing, as much as I love the sport, needs to be kept as far from television as possible. What an awful downer! Among the telecasts lowlights (I have no doubt there were many more, but out of self-preservation I needed to constantly flip the channel and/or press the mute button): - The endless, maddening obsessing over breakdowns. These were sad situations, no doubt, but they're also a part of the sport and bound to happen. If ESPN can't handle it, they really need to stop televising racing. - The know-nothing play-by-play guy (missed his name), who's knowledge of the sport is depressingly meager and of whom the only positive thing that can be said is that he recited his talking points ("Win and You're In"; "crowning champions"; "Breeder's Cup Challenge") as well as any politician. - Randy Moss utterly stumped when, on being asked for an "under-the-radar" horse for the Shadwell Mile, he realized Astronomer Royal wasn't an option because he was the FAVORITE. He didn't know the horse was going to be bet?! - Jerry Bailey, who should be an interesting voice but who for the most part utters the insipid and obvious (Okay, ESPN, you feel Bailey needs to keep it simple for the unitiated, but do you REALLY think people who don't follow the sport are tuning in?). - Hank Goldberg, whose raison d'etre is obviously to fill the role of official ESPN "colorful racetrack personality." Unfortunately, his camera presence is nonexistent, he has trouble stringing together a coherent sentence, and he's NEVER RIGHT in his handicapping.
I watched a football game a few weeks ago where a human being was paralyzed on the field and it "was not" brought up after each commercial break as a dismal game- they updated 2x in the remaining 2.5 hours. the reality is that most people do not know anything about those middle tier horses and it will not resonate with them for long- my only gripe is that the announcer kept on bringing it up without adding anything more of substance
Of course the ESPN announcers put emphasis on breakdowns. they are career-ending and, all too often, life-ending events. Breakdowns are what stands in the way of the sport becoming mainstream. Oh, that, and high-profile doping (Biancone) and literally, whipping a horse to death (Baze, on a claimer recently). Be happy ESPN even wants to cover racing.
it seems to me that all the ballyhoo about the safety of synthetic surfaces occurred after a good showing at the initial turfway meet.over the past few months, more and more safety concerns are appearing and yesterdays tragic results continue to reinforce my opinion that the rush to synthetic will have no pronounced long-term effect on safety. like a poster said long ago, turf seems to produce the fewest injuries, so if safety is the concern, why not run all races on turf ? why not remove all race day meds ?
ESPN's coverage probably did dwell on/obsess over the breakdowns at Keeneland on Saturday, but it's pointless for horseplayers to complain about it. Storylines that "humanize" racehorses and all their frailties, whether their endings are inspirational or tragic, interest the casual viewer much more than the exacta payoff on the 2-5 combination or some esoteric handicapping insight. ESPN is a mass media outlet, not a racing channel, so by closely covering breakdowns it is merely acting in its own interest of trying to maximize its audience.